Abortion Prior to Viability is NOT the Killing of a Person is Supported by Reason & Biology


[Irving] When Do Human Beings Begin?

[Kreeft1] The Apple Argument Against Abortion

[Kreeft2] Human Personhood Begins at Conception

[] The Case Against Abortion: Personhood

are extensive and quite interesting, let me further the discussion and describe some of the problems in those writings.


1.       We know that a chicken egg is not a (whole) live chicken.

2.       We know that state change occurs: e.g., gametogenesis—mature sex gametes are NOT primordial germ cells. With state change comes functional capability/utility/ability change. If this were not so, the state change would be unimportant. Thus, by logical necessity, for the human-being/personhood abortion discussion the anti-abortionist that believe the zygote is an individual human person have to argue (a) that state changes after achievement of zygote state are unimportant for certain important moral purposes/concerns; and (b) the state change to zygote is when certain individual human rights attach to that human biological material. 

3.       Metaphysical confusion is the result when/if one states/believes a zygote is a live (whole) individual human person. Let us even grant that a zygote is biologically unique and a human biologic entity (i.e., cannot become a chicken). However, let us not mix the ‘live individual human being’ status argument with the personhood argument.

4.       Human Being.

a.       “A mature sperm and a mature oocyte…each possess ‘human life,’ since they are parts of a living human being” [Irving] is a case of the logical fallacy of division. “Each human hair possesses ‘human life,’ since they are parts of a living human being” is a false statement though it conforms to the logic of the [Irving] statement.

b.      The statement “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)” [from Irving] by its terms identifies a future state (“beginning of”) NOT a current state (“new human being”). A zygote may be biologically unique and living, but it is not yet a live individual human being; at least one more state change is required for that to be true.

c.       In fact, we know this “new single-cell human being” is NOT a new individual human being precisely because it is not viable without the mother.  The only viable individual human being here is the mother. So, even if we grant that the zygote is a live human being, it is NOT an individual human being. The only entity with a ‘right to life’ here is the mother, as she is the only entity currently capable of individual human living. A right that cannot be fulfilled cannot attach. A biological right cannot accrue that cannot biologically occur.

d.      Some might argue that many people under medical care require technical assistance to stay alive and are not "viable" without it, so viability is not a valid test of whether a biologic entity is an individual human.  First, such human beings clearly can be differentiated from new single-cell human beings, so what might be applicable to them might not be applicable to single-cell human beings (state matters!). Second, this is at best a question of when rights detach and not of when they attach which is the discussion here. And, unless that discussion informs the attachment discussion it is not material here. For the moment, but not to concede the point, let us say that once the relevant rights attach, they do not detach before death.

e.      If we believe in individual human rights, they attach to individuals. Rights may be universal in the sense of applying to all, but they only attach to individuals and thus are individual rights. It is not possible to attach individual rights to that which is not an individual.

f.        If a unique human biological entity [e.g., zygote] cannot continue to grow to (or maintain) a viable state but for another human biological entity [mother] it is not an individual human being until that state change occurs. The state change to viable individual human being is a logical prerequisite to individual rights attachment to that entity; before that state change the only individual human being with rights attached is the mother.

g.       Being biologically distinct is not sufficient for being an individual human being. Individuality is required and that means independent biological viability is necessary. At least one state change post-zygote state is needed before there is a new live individual human being with rights attached. The occurrence of binary fission (for example, of amoeba) clearly establishes that individuality and being biologically distinct are not the same; to believe otherwise would deny that binary fission results in two individual entities.  


5.       Person(hood).

a.       For this discussion, let’s grant that when a human person begins is a philosophical question to be distinguished from a scientific question.

b.      Loose philosophical assertion such as “virtually any claim for so-called ‘delayed personhood’—that is, ‘personhood’ does not start until some point after fertilization—involves the theoretical disaster of accepting that the idea or concept of a mind/body split has any correlate in or reflects the real world… [which]was/is totally indefensible” are reflective of serious misunderstandings of the possibilities.

                                                               i.      For example, for simplicity, I will simply assert that personhood is delayed because a ‘person’ is an individual human being with moral responsibilities attached such that failure to execute those responsibilities accrues moral blame. Personhood as a purely philosophical question does not necessarily require biological correlates or mind/body splits. The above assertion makes ‘personhood’ a social construct, e.g., legal personhood, and not a biological construct.

c.       For some, personhood requires a soul. We can say without doubt that neither a zygote nor a nonviable fetus has a soul. A sperm does not have a soul. An oocyte does not have a soul. One perspective is that when the zygote is formed there is a concurrent union of the zygote with a soul and so the zygote is/becomes a person. There is no objective observable evidence that this is so. In this circumstance many might argue that only Case 2 or Case 3 {see [Kreeft2]} can apply. However, some abortion opponents try to claim Case 1. Others try to say if we only have Case 2 or Case 3 to choose from then out of caution we should assume Case 2. Since there is an admitted lack of knowledge, assuming Case 3 is logically permitted, therefore there is no knowledge on the basis of which to restrict others from acting on their belief of Case 3. We can do better.

                                                               i.      We know that for some period of time the zygote/fetus is nonviable. Non-viability (i.e., having never been viable) and Personhood are inconsistent (incompatible). Personhood (by definition) requires a live individual human life. A fetus that is not viable is at most merely an extension of another individual life (person) and not a different individual person [see 1-4 above]. Personhood does not occur before viability. This creates Case 4+ {see [Kreeft2]}: The nonviable fetus isn’t a person, and we know that [see 4c, 4e, 4f, & 4g above]. Further consideration are:

                                                                                I.            First, the natural order aborts fetuses with some frequency without this being examples of case 1 (murder), 2 (manslaughter), or 3 (criminal negligence)—abortion is part of natural processes as is age related death. Age related death is the cessation of life of an actual person, while abortion prevents the emergence of an actual person. If abortion before viability was the cessation of life of an actual person, we would have to believe that natural abortion is a wasting of souls.

                                                                              II.            Second, without viability outside the womb there is every reason to believe that the only actual person that exists is the mother and no reason to believe another person exists. This is certainly true in a biological sense by virtue of the meaning of viability, even if there are two biologically distinct entities. Philosophically that means a human life-form that is not viable (i.e., has never been viable) but for the life of another human life-form is not another person. So, if the termination of the growth of the nonviable and dependent life-form does not cause the death of the person, no person has been killed.

                                                                            III.            Third, we know that a nonviable fetus is not a person precisely because it is nonviable.  The notion of a nonviable person is hard to comprehend because it is so discordant. Though we may struggle to enhance when a fetus is viable, as long as it is nonviable it is not an individual person and there is no moral obligation to continue fetal growth (“Corpses have no rights” [Kreeft, Human Personhood] and a nonviable fetus has no rights).


To summarize: abortion prior to a state of viability is not the killing of an individual live human being (i.e., a person) because an individual live human being does not exist prior to a state of viability and thus there is no ‘right to life’ of an individual live human being that is infringed. Reason and biology support this conclusion.

© 2012 by Vernon V Chatman III  


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