Challenge Response: This Is Not a Person

Posted: March 17, 2011 by Alan Shlemon in Do the Right Thing, Weekly Challenge

Here’s my response to this week’s challenge:

  1. Sam says:

    The picture doesn’t deny that the fertilized egg is human. It just denies that it is a person. So whoever came up with that picture might respond to you by agreeing with your distinction between the kind of thing something is and its level of development. And they might say that a fertilized egg is human, but it has not reached the personal stage of its development, and is therefore not a person, just as the picture says.

    I know the folks at STR don’t distinguish between a human and a person, but since it seems like much of the pro-choice community does, we ought to development some arguments. In most discussions, “persons” are always defined as beings that have certain capacities (e.g. consciousness, volition, etc.). But when it comes to the unborn, the definition seems to change for the pro-life community. In that context, a “person” is a KIND of being that has the potential to develop the capacity for consciousness, volition, etc. It doesn’t actually have to have those properties to be a person as long as it is the kind of being that can develop those properties later on.

    How do we get past this stalemate? After all, we’re just quibbling over the definition of a word, and words are defined by common use. It should be the substance behind the word that matters, not the word itself. So the real question, in my opinion, is whether something must actually BE conscious before it is worthy of protection, or whether something must only have the capacity to develop consciousness before it is worthy of protection.

    Or you could just say that “personhood” is irrelevant, and that being human is enough. If so, then you could agree with the point of the pro-choice picture. You could agree with the pro-choice definition of “person” as being a stage of development. You could agree that an embryo is not a person and dismiss the observation as irrelevant since the question is really whether or not its human. After all, the pro-choice picture does not dispute its humanity.

  2. Alan Shlemon says:

    Sam, i know what you are saying, but it’s not entirely clear to me what they are arguing. not everyone who uses the term “person” is making the human/personhood distinction in my experience.

    yes, i believe the distinction between human and person is artificial and when i ask abortion-choice advocates they offer all sorts of qualities that they believe make a human being into a human person. But all the qualities they offer are 1) arbitrary – they can’t explain why those particular qualities are relevant to the question of personhood and 2) their qualities would disqualify born people who share the same differences.

    i posted a video of my friend Scott who makes this point clear:

    i would also argue that making the personhood claim amounts to unjust discrimination because they are disqualifying some human beings from being persons (and therefore kill-able) based on arbitrary qualities (like volition, consciousness, etc. as you mentioned). and this is exactly the same kind of unjust discrimination that occurred with African Americans and Jews. Both of those groups of people were considered human, but not valuable (one could say not persons) based on arbitrary qualities (like skin color and ethnicity). the same kind of unjust discrimination is being done with the unborn and the video i just linked to above explains which arbitrary characteristics they choose and why they are not relevant.