Life Not the Sum of Its Parts

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					                               Life: Not the Sum of Its Parts

       Thou shalt not kill; one-tenth of what may arguably be the most famous

guidelines of morality in the western culture, and also the main driving force for pro-life

advocates. The argument supporting their beliefs typically starts with the premises that a

fetus is a person, and to destroy or to kill a person is unethical. Therefore abortion, the

premeditated destruction of a human being, is murder, and consequently unethical. I deny

the fact that the fetus, what I will refer to as an embryo up to 22 weeks old, has the right

to live. The opposing argument is invalid because a fetus, although perhaps a part of

human species, is not formally a person. This leaves it simply to be a part of the woman’s

body, whose fate lies solely in the hands of the pregnant woman alone, no different from

a tumor she might have. By proving this, the abortion debate then becomes an issue of

women’s rights, something that is most controversial indeed. Furthermore, it is fair to

question the credibility of many people against abortion because of obvious

contradictions in the logic of their belief systems. The fact that this debate is relevant in

modern society is ludicrous since there is a simple and plausible solution to this problem

that could potentially end the debate for good, leaving both sides satisfied.

       In order for the pro-life argument to be valid, it must have both a true premise and

true conclusion. It falls short of validity by assuming that a fetus up to 22 weeks old is a

person, and has its own rights independent of its host, or what we often refer to as its

mother. First we must recognize the subtle, yet extremely important distinction between a

human being and a person. It is obvious that a fetus is a member of the human species. It

has a unique set of human DNA, uses oxygen for energy and uses the energy to divide

into more and more cells. It has the full potential of becoming a person. In that sentence

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is the distinction. A person has the right to live and to be treated with equal consideration

among the rest of the population. A fetus, although undeniably a human, is not a person,

and therefore does not have those rights. A single cell amoeba is extremely similar to a

human zygote, it also has a unique set of DNA, uses oxygen for energy that allows its

cells divide and grow just the same as a human zygote; but it would be absurd for

someone to defend the life of this amoeba because it has a right to live. To refer to a fetus

as a person that deserves rights is a blatant category mistake. A fetus is not a person in

the same right as you and I, it is a bundle of human cells with the potential of becoming a


          By arguing that the fetus has rights, it is implied that the fetus has a right to be in

its mother’s womb regardless of her consent. This is obviously false, considering the

mother has only let it be there by some form of her authorization. A fetus does not invade

a woman’s body against her will, there was an act that the mother took part in, willingly

or not, which allowed for a condition in which her egg was fertilized and began to mutate

into a larger clump of her cells in her body and subsequently formed a fetus. If the fetus

exists in a woman’s body only by her permission, how could we argue that it has a right

to be there against her will? We can’t. It would be just as illogical to pull a hair off of the

woman’s head, realize that it too has human DNA, and with new cloning technology it

too has the potential of becoming a person, and say that it was immoral to kill it. It is a

part of her body, and she has to right to do with it as she pleases with no consideration to

its rights as a potential person.

          Maybe even simpler, is realizing that the fetus ceases to exist without its host. Up

until the 22nd week of gestation, a fetus cannot live outside of the womb, even with the

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advanced medical technology of our day and age. If a woman delivers before that time,

the pregnancy will be considered a miscarriage. A finger that must be amputated has the

same chance of survival and moreover, amount of rights as a fetus aborted before the 22nd

week of gestation. The mother provides its sustenance with the food and water she

consumes, as well as with the breaths she takes. If she dies, so does her fetus. If this were

not true, there would not be so many physicians and activists urging woman to cease

drinking and smoking while they are pregnant. If the fetus were a separate entity, how

could one separate person, namely the mother, harm another or even miscarry another

because of her actions? You cannot define life by various parts of a body, but the entire

package. There is no legislation concerning the ethics of a woman getting liposuction.

Why should her fetus be considered different?

        Some would argue that I myself, just committed a category mistake, but I beg to

differ. Many pro-life activists believe that the fetus has rights independent of its mother

because it has a distinctive DNA, and therefore is an individual. The hair follicle or fat

cells have the same genetic makeup as the woman from which they were removed. In this

instance I would have to point out that they are defining individuality by difference in

DNA; however my mother is an identical twin, and I do not think it would be appropriate

to refer to my aunt as “Mom”. They have identical DNA; however they live in two

separate houses, have different jobs, married different people and were given two

separate social security numbers. I would certainly hope for the sake of people with

identical DNA everywhere that something besides unique DNA defines life, rights, and

their individuality.

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        For clarity, maybe we should try to look at the definition of death rather than

approaching the issue by defining life, considering that murder is the main accusation that

is used towards the pro-choice group. When medics arrive to the scene of an accident the

first thing they typically do is try to talk to the person in need of medical attention, if

there is no answer they usually check for the pulse. If they cannot feel or find a pulse they

normally bend down close to the patient’s mouth so that they can determine whether he

or she is breathing. If all of these tests come out negative, the person is pronounced dead.

I presume then, that we can officially define death as lack of consciousness, breath and

heart beat. Now, of course the fetus does not breathe, however it does need oxygen to

survive. The trick in this case goes back to a point which was made earlier; the oxygen

that the fetus depends on for survival comes from its mother’s breath, and if the fetus is

removed from the mother before 22 weeks its lungs are not yet capable of breathing. A

fetus’ heart typically starts to beat about five weeks after conception, yet it is usually too

faint to hear, and is certainly not capable of beating without its host’s heart (Greenfield).

        Both heartbeat and breath are fairly grey areas in terms of death and fetuses,

giving neither pro-life nor pro-choice activists the edge. However, perhaps the most

important, not to mention declarative sign of death is lack of human consciousness; the

one unique thing that sets people apart from animals. I am not referring to merely waking

up from rest, but rather reason, or the ability for people to think critically and

communicate with each other. This is the same thing that would allow the

aforementioned person in medical need to answer the medic when asked a question. We

can reflect on ourselves, realize that we are different from other animals, and even ask

ourselves whether abortion is moral or not. This is what sets us apart from animals who

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as far as we can tell, cannot think about the world in the same sense that we can. It is also

what sets apart a person in a coma and an unborn fetus, from you and me. From the

minute a child is born he/she takes in and perceives everything around him/her;

beginning a long process of filtering some things and storing others. Although babies

can’t reason in the same sense older people can, they still have more faculties than a

newborn swine, and more importantly they are now an independent person who can live,

breathe, perceive, and feel pain and pleasure independent of another person. When

someone cannot reason or gain consciousness due to an illness, accident, or birth defect

there is a similar dilemma that rears its ugly head. Of course this person was gestated

with all the potentials for becoming a reasoning being, yet something along the way left

them dependent to life support or extreme assisted living to continue living and breathing.

When a person is left on life support for years and there are little to no brain waves, there

is an important decision for the family to make; whether to let them go or let them

continue to live a life that is questionably not worth living. What makes that question

different from a fetus that has little to no brain waves in the same sense that a brain dead

person does? Neither of the brains have the capacity to realize their existence nor their

surroundings, and neither have any advantages over the brain of a swine.

       This leads to a great contradiction that many people who argue for fetus’ right to

live, make. For ages people have thought of themselves as superior to animals; and for

good reason. As mentioned earlier, the main faculty that people have over animals is the

ability to reason and communicate logically and methodically with one another. It is

because of our superior intellect, however that we can realize that animals, though lesser

beings, can feel pain. When I step on my dogs little paws she yelps. This is not a mere

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coincidence, but rather the same exact faculty that makes our nerves shoot pain signals to

our brain is also being utilized by her, a lower animal. Now animals are born, have wills,

can live independently of others, breathe, eat and hurt. This is much more than we can

say about a human fetus, as has been covered extensively thus far. Moreover, the lack of

these essential things has thus far been logically argued as the reason why abortion is

right before the fetus is 22 weeks old. Interestingly, with all of the people who argue

against abortion, the average American consumes 261 pounds of meat per year, and 50

pounds of chicken (United States of America). This is more than any other country on the

planet. This is a major discrepancy in moral values. It is intuitively easy to admit that a

person’s life has more intrinsic worth than a cow, but the cows life is remarkably similar

to the fetus’ as thoroughly covered earlier. The fact that a cow can live independently

actually gives it an advantage over the fetus. To kill an animal is to kill in a literal sense.

You must physically make it so that brain waves, breath and heart beat that were self-

sufficient before, no longer exist in a free-roaming animal. If you were to follow the 6th

commandment literally, it would necessarily follow that people should not eat animals.

The point is that the main reason anti-abortionists argue for the life of the child to be

respected is completely contradictory to killing and eating animals.

        Much more intriguing and controversial is capital punishment. How can people be

taken seriously about a person’s right to live when the United States is the only western

country that still utilizes the death penalty? This is particularly frightening when you

consider that over 120 people have been released from death row with evidence of their

innocence and 23 innocent people have died on death row (Death Penalty Fact Sheet).

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There is a stark contradiction between the argument for the right to life and the death

sentence. Enough said.

       Perhaps more engaging is the unfortunate reality of the poverty epidemic that not

only sweeps our nation, but also severely afflicts the world. Thirteen percent of the U.S.

is below the poverty line, and 44 percent of the world’s population “lives” on less than

$2.00 a day (Pogge). It would also be modest to say that the world has an extreme

overpopulation problem; in 20 years the projected world population will be about eight

billion people (Total Midyear Population for the World: 1950-2050). Aside from the

point that we shouldn’t encourage more population growth for the sake of future

generations that will most likely suffer from disease, poverty, hunger and the effects of

global warming as a direct result of pollution that will only be amplified by more people

on the planet, there is an urging matter that anti-abortionists should take into

consideration above the unborn; the absurd amount of living that need our help. All of

this energy should be shifted toward these people and the preventative legislation that

could be put into action to protect them.

       On that note, we must think about the impoverished and unfit people that the

majority of unplanned pregnancies happen to. Poverty and pregnancy are part of a vicious

circle in which young, unmarried or drug addicted women get pregnant and their chance

of becoming successful and above the poverty line are subsequently dramatically

reduced. When a teen becomes pregnant her chances of completing high school are

dramatically reduced and she is much more likely to be a single mother. “Almost one-

half of all teenage mothers and over three-quarters of unmarried teen mothers began

receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child (Teen Pregnancy – So

                                                           Life: Not the Sum of Its Parts    7
What).”6 On top of that, “one in three American women conceives before the age of 20

(As Teen Pregnancy Dropped, So Did Child Poverty).” This accounts for the United

States having the highest instance of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. This

equation leads to the conclusion that unplanned pregnancy leads to poverty, which is an

extremely prevalent problem that cannot go ignored much longer. If these young women

were denied the opportunity to terminate their pregnancy one could only imagine how

much worse these statistics would be. We should not only encourage safe sex or

abstinence among these populations, but also realize that for many the poverty was

already a part of their lives and they cannot afford some of the measures to prevent these

unwanted pregnancies including abortion, which I think is much better for a child than

being born into an abusive, drug addicting, impoverished family, or often cases all of the

above. That seems more moral for not only the unborn child, but the rest of the

population as well.

       This is not just a case concerning the rights of unborn children, but women in

general. There are 74 women in congress compared to 462 men (108th Congress

Scorecard). Not to mention the fact that not a single woman has ever been elected

President. These figures are much higher compared to the rest of the history of the U.S.

government, but women are still severely underrepresented considering that there are 6

million more women in the United States (His and Her Demographics). Considering that

women are the only people that can become pregnant, and the government, particularly

the legislative branch of government, decide whether abortion is legal or not, how is it

fair representation when there are over six times the amount of men in congress than

women. Shouldn’t women be in control of something that only affects women? If not,

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then they should at least represent theses issues evenly compared to men. This problem

goes back to the woman’s rights movement, through suffrage, and the equal employment

revolution. The problem of men ruling over women and controlling what rights they have

in the U.S. is as prevalent today as it was in 19th century, and it is grossly unfair to say the


         What about the horrible circumstances of other unlucky women. Is it not enough

that a woman is raped by her family member, but that she would have to keep that child

as a grim reminder every day of her life? What about rape victims in general? Is it really

fair to say that they are responsible for bearing and taking care of that child on their own?

The answer is clearly no. There are also many cases in which women, often teenage

women, are very likely to be extremely hurt or even die if they go through with a

pregnancy. It simply isn’t fair to deny those women the opportunity to choose to go

through with the pregnancy or not, particularly when the chance of the baby’s survival is

in question as well. Then there are the cases of babies that, thanks to new technology are

accurately predicted to be born without a brain, brain dead, or otherwise equally

debilitated. It is not fair to the mother or the baby, who may or may not live, to go

through that. These are all circumstances that are as unavoidable as they are unfortunate,

and it would be ridiculous to deny that abortion in right in them.

         The fact that Roe vs. Wade is being threatened in our society today is a grim

reminder of how this debate is still a large part of women’s life. It is not something that is

just going to go away. If or when it gets overturned there are still going to be

underground doctors, some competent, some not. There are tons of horror stories of

women bleeding to death and suffering major complications in times when abortion was

                                                            Life: Not the Sum of Its Parts    9
illegal. Is that really something we want to relive? With all of the good reasons there are

for people to believe that abortion is right, how can we revert to that? It would be

irresponsible to say the least with all of the technology that is available today. The

morning after pill was deemed safe for sale over the counter years ago however, due to

protests from the pro-life group it continues to be available only in clinics; places that are

frequently unavailable to most poverty-level and under-age women. It seems undeniable

that a zygote that is under 3 days old does not have rights. If these pills were made easily

available to the public, we could dramatically reduce the number of women who must

consider abortion, and curb the debate.

        Abortion is not only right, but a very valuable asset to modern society. It can help

poverty, troubled families, single teen pregnancies, as well as the world overpopulation.

It is not immoral because a fetus under 22 weeks old is not a person; therefore it does not

have rights and is simply a part of its host’s body for her to do as she feels necessary with

it. The fact that the fetus must be referred to as “it” is proof that it cannot be classified as

a person. Deeming abortion wrong, and threatening its legality is a direct attack on

women’s rights. There are numerous extenuating circumstances where it seems there is

no other option but abortion, and women need this alternative not only for their well-

being but also the well-being of their unborn child. This is not something that needs to go

on any longer, and there are ways in which to make both sides happy. We need to take

back our rights as citizens and end the question of the morality of abortion, so we can

move on to more important and prevalent social problems now.

                                                             Life: Not the Sum of Its Parts 10
                                  Works Cited

   Greenfield, Marjorie. “Hearing the Fetal Heartbeat” Dr. Spock 8 Dec 2001 5 April

    2006 <,1510,9851,00.html>.

   “United States of America” 1996 5 April 2006



   “Death Penalty Fact Sheet” Death Penalty Informaion Center 30 Mar 2006 7

    April 2006 < >.

   Pogge, Thomas “World Poverty and Human Rights”

    Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 19, No. 1 Spring 2005


   “Total Midyear Population for the World: 1950-2050” U.S. Census Bureau 26

    April 2005 8 April 2006 <>.

   “Teen Pregnancy – So What?” Feb 2004 8 April 2006


   Connolly, Ceci “As Teen Pregnancy Dropped, So Did Child Poverty” Washington

    Post 14 April 2005 14 April 2006 <


   “108th Congress Scorecard” WAND


   “His and Her Demographics: Women and Men 2000” U.S. Census Bureau


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Life: Not the Sum of Its Parts 12

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