Reply Wed 29 Aug, 2007 08:15 am
At a local philosophy discussion group which I attend, we got round to discussing the ethics of abortion (a hot topic, I know!)

I said that I was dissatisfied with my own ideas on this topic. I am clear that at the beginning of the pregnancy, all or virtually all the rights are with the mother. Equally, by the later stages, the preponderance of rights lie with the foetus. My problem is that I can find no clear point at which the foetus becomes a child with attendant rights. No such sharp transition exists, just as there is no single point at which a child becomes an adult. Both are developmental processes, not step processes. So when the law fixes an age at which the foetus "becomes" a child, or the child "becomes" an adult, we all know these are necessary fictions.

One consideration that would be relevant in determining the cut-off point for abortion is the stage at which the foetus becomes sensitive to any pain incurred during the abortion process. But when does pain-sensitivity start? Looking at different websites I see that estimates vary widely, from 15 weeks to 28 weeks - and guess what - these estimates are closely correlated with the ideological stances of the writers. Those who have a liberal attitude to abortion place the onset of pain-sensitivity late in gestation, anti-abortionists insist that it begins early.

Is there any hope of some neutral authoritative information on this crucial question?

Peter
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Aristoddler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Aug, 2007 02:15 pm
@Peter phil,
It varies from country to country.
Most often, abortions are legal in the first trimester only. An abortion in the second trimester is something that usually (again, varies from country to country) requires a medical expert's consent, with justification. Third trimester abortions are rare in almost every country, unless the mother's life is at immediate risk.

You can find information regarding this topic in your country's criminal code under Family Law.

Switzerland and Ireland are the only two places that I can think of, where it is 100% illegal unless the mother's life is in jeopardy.
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Aug, 2007 03:04 pm
@Aristoddler,
Thanks for that reply, Aristoddler.

In most jurisdictions, as I understand it, the time limit for abortion is based on the notion of foetal viability - the ability of the foetus to survive outside the uterus. I am interested in the idea of foetal sensitivity to the pain involved in the process as a possible criterion for a time limit. But to my disappointment I find that estimates for the onset of foetal pain-sensitivity vary considerably. It is on this last point that I am hoping for guidance.

Peter
0 Replies
 
Aristoddler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Aug, 2007 03:33 pm
@Peter phil,
12 weeks in most European countries...15 in North America.
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 Aug, 2007 08:01 am
@Aristoddler,
Aristoddler, I wonder if we are talking at cross-purposes. I want to zero-in on the question of whether the foetus feels pain during the abortion process. Are you saying that European neurologists estimate that foetal pain sensitivity begins at 12 weeks gestation while American neurologists estimate 15 weeks as the starting point? Surely not.
0 Replies
 
Aristoddler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 31 Aug, 2007 03:23 pm
@Peter phil,
No no...the law for the cut-off date is 12 in Europe, and 15 in NA.
Swiss and Dutch Doctors say that they have determined that the fetus shows signs of response to stimuli at roughly 15 weeks.
Their research was done during the cloning research that they did with Polly the Sheep...I think that was her name.
speakerchef
 
  1  
Reply Sat 20 Oct, 2007 10:48 pm
@Aristoddler,
Peter,

Abortion is indeed a very hot topic!

So my question is:

Why is pain the determining factor in abortion?
Furthermore, don't some foeti develop faster than others?
Would a person unable to feel (and likely unable to move) be not a person (human, whatever word you would like to use)?
How does pain decide a person's personhood?

Peter, I'd like to know your views.

Cheers!
-sc
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Nov, 2007 01:21 pm
@speakerchef,
We have to be careful when we use phrases like "person" and "human" when we talk about abortion and the fetus. A human refers to the species, so, regardless of development, the fetus is always human. The question is, when does this fetus become a "person", an individual who is assumed, generally, to have certain rights.

One thing I would like to bring up is: does it matter if the fetus is a person, or can feel pain at all? Judith Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" is pretty famous for examing this question:
Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion


Justin
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 01:06 am
@Peter phil,
hmm, interesting topic indeed. I've never discussed this topic in a forum so I'll inject my 2 cents in.

What difference does it really make? I mean,... the person is not the fetus. The person is a spiritual being and the fetus is earthly matter. Should that body not make it, that person in spirit lives on. Pain doesn't matter to the energy of the spirit. Pain is an illusion created by the perception of man. When does a fetus perceive their world?

I'm not saying for and I'm not saying against. It just seems that the abortion is an effect of a greater cause. We'll never understand and control the effects until we understand and utilize the cause.

I'd rather not kill anything... to tell you the truth. Just doesn't sit right with me. I kill a spider and feel guilty about it. Sad

So, in working to understand the cause of the effect, which is abortion in this case (the effect), I'm coming to the reality that the only thing one has control over changing is his or her perception. That same perception will create circumstances and 'coincidences' to manifest that which is perceived to be.

We... As in, Mankind... Must start with the cause. Abortion is an effect of many other problems world wide. What causes abortion?

Needless to say, if people start changing their thought patterns and perceptions, it will effect those around them. "Attitudes are contagious" - and the more people become balanced and in tune with their spiritual selves, the more positive energy they'll send out to light up the world. That alone would solve many of the effects we so often get ourselves entangled in.

Everything is going to balance and it's going to continue to balance for eternity. - This may not be the best response to abortion, but these are my thoughts.
NeitherExtreme
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 10:43 am
@Justin,
Justin wrote:

What difference does it really make? I mean,... the person is not the fetus. The person is a spiritual being and the fetus is earthly matter. Should that body not make it, that person in spirit lives on. Pain doesn't matter to the energy of the spirit. Pain is an illusion created by the perception of man. When does a fetus perceive their world?

This isn't a direct response, but while on the subject of the fetus and pain...

There is a time during pregnancy, I'm not sure when it starts, but I think it continues up to about 22 weeks, when the futus has full ability to feel physical pain yet has not developed the systems that we have to "shut off" pain above a certain level. They, of all humans, have the acute ability to feel uncontrolled pain. Sad Sad Sad
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Dec, 2007 02:04 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
Hi everyone. I'm returning to this thread after some weeks of unavoidable absence. Thanks to all who have contributed in the interval.

Speakerchef (#7) asks why is pain the determining factor in abortion? It's a question of values. I base my moral judgements mainly on the Utilitarian principles of minimising suffering and promoting wellbeing and happiness. For this to be valid, it doesn't matter whether you consider the foetus to be a human person or not. Whithout being an animal welfare extremist, I believe that suffering among animals is also undesirable and should be avoided in the absence of convincing justification. Similar considerations would apply to foetal pain irrespective of whether or not you accord the foetus human status.

Justin (#9) says that pain is an illusion created by the perception of man. Well, the last time I had toothache the pain was pretty real. Those who believe in a transcendant reality of greater validity than our common expericence should try asking someone in acute pain if their suffering is real.

My point in raising this question was that we are in the unsatisfactory situation that there is no definite point in the gestation process when the foetus suddenly becomes an independent person. In the absence of such a step change, I am suggesting that the onset of sensitivity to pain might provide an appropriate point at which our concerns for the foetus as an autonomous entity with a status separate from its mother can be dated from. The problem is there is not even consensus about when sensitivity to pain emerges.

Peter
0 Replies
 
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jan, 2008 07:45 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Hi, I've been thinking again about the article by JJ Thomson after first reading it following your posting in November. The article does seem pretty powerful but I've now realised that its reasoning contains a fatal flaw.

If you wake up in hospital to find that you have been wired up to act as a life support machine for another patient you would be right to complain because no one asked your permission to set up this arrangement. If a woman chooses to have sexual intercourse, on the other hand, she is choosing to perform an action whose biological function is to create a separate human being that will certainly depend on her for life support at the initial stages.

Because the consequences of sexual intercourse are reasonably predictable, those taking part in it bear responsibility for the likely outcome. Thomson's analogy with the life-support setup would only work if we imagine that the patient had given her or his permission beforehand - but this would rob Thomson's argument of all its force.

Peter
Tainted
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Jan, 2008 10:04 am
@Peter phil,
An interesting question.

I'm pro-choice, though I'm fortunate to have never been in that position of having to make the decision, both my children were planned and there was never any question.

However, I can imagine that if I was put in a position of having to make that decision, a knowledge of when the foetus feels pain would strike me as a very important question and something that would be imperative to the decision.

I'm no expert on pregnancy, but I have had 3 pregnancies (the last sadly ended at 32 weeks) and the one thing I can say is that, at least in my experience, there is a point in early pregnancy when I became more aware of life inside me. I wish I could remember exactly when, but i'd say it was around 10-12 weeks every time. This awareness was a transformation from being aware that something was growing inside me, to being aware there was someone growing inside me.

Of course every pregnancy carries life from conception (or the potential of life?) but perhaps this change was a subconscious one, perhaps I instinctively knew when the baby became a viable life and not just a tiny bunch of tissues.

Is it possible, do you think, that the age in which a developing foetus feels pain, is connected to when they become aware?
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Jan, 2008 11:14 am
@Tainted,
Quote:
If a woman chooses to have sexual intercourse, on the other hand, she is choosing to perform an action whose biological function is to create a separate human being that will certainly depend on her for life support at the initial stages.

Because the consequences of sexual intercourse are reasonably predictable, those taking part in it bear responsibility for the likely outcome. Thomson's analogy with the life-support setup would only work if we imagine that the patient had given her or his permission beforehand - but this would rob Thomson's argument of all its force.


Thank you for your comments on the article. But if I may say in defense of the article (devil's advocate here, I do not entirely agree with Thomson):

With regards to the biological function of sexual intercourse, sex does have function apart from creating new life.
As for the argument of responsibility, how is having an abortion not taking responsibility for the action - if she did not intend to become pregnant, does not want the child, perhaps she is not prepared to reaise a child, an abortion seems just as responsible as carrying through with the pregnancy.

Quote:
Thomson's analogy with the life-support setup would only work if we imagine that the patient had given her or his permission beforehand - but this would rob Thomson's argument of all its force.


In both cases, the woman who wants to have an abortion, and the person attatched to the violinist have not given anyone permission to use their body for any period of time. Is having sex this sort of consent?

Tainted - The room for abortion that I see is between conception and personhood. A person does have rights, and for a female's body to function properly should not be a suprise, so whenever that life becomes a person an abortion seems at least more difficult to justify. As for what the point is, the place between conception and personhood, I'm not sure.
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 09:29 am
@Tainted,
Tainted wrote:


Is it possible, do you think, that the age in which a developing foetus feels pain, is connected to when they become aware?


Thanks, Tainted, for returning this thread to the original question of at what stage does the foetus become capable of feeling pain and is this stage relevant to the problem of when to set the upper limit on abortion.

To attempt to answer your question, it does seem likely that the first thing the developing foetus would be aware of might be the simple sensations of pleasure and pain. Because of limitations in the development of the nervous system at that stage, it seems unlikely that the it would be conscious of any higher, more abstract forms of thinking, so the more concrete, basic sensations of pleasure/pain sound like good candidates for its first form of awareness.

Peter
0 Replies
 
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 01:57 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:


With regards to the biological function of sexual intercourse, sex does have function apart from creating new life.


Thanks for these thoughts, Didymos Thomas. It is certainly true that reproduction is not the only function of sexual intercourse but, despite the improvements in contraception, it is a reasonably predictable outcome which needs to be taken responsibility for. Is having an abortion equivalent to taking responsibility? This is precisely the point for discussion! My own view is that the woman has all the rights at the early stages of pregnancy but, by the time the later stages come, the foetus also has rights which need to be taken account of. My problem is that I can find no convincing point at which the early stages can be said to end and the later stages to begin. Any point which is fixed by law seems arbitrary. That is why I am suggesting the onset of foetal sensitivity to pain as a possible valid point at which this dividing line can be based.

I'm not sure about personhood as the criterion for the offspring acquiring rights. I suspect that any reasonable definition of personhood would involve social interaction and social recognition as an independent person. The trouble is that this is unlikely to occur until after birth, so personhood as the criterion would legitimise infanticide - not, I think, a route that we would wish to go down.

By the way, how do you manage to quote several different sections from the other person's posting? I can quote one section only.

Peter
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 04:57 pm
@Peter phil,
Quote:
My own view is that the woman has all the rights at the early stages of pregnancy but, by the time the later stages come, the foetus also has rights which need to be taken account of. My problem is that I can find no convincing point at which the early stages can be said to end and the later stages to begin. Any point which is fixed by law seems arbitrary. That is why I am suggesting the onset of foetal sensitivity to pain as a possible valid point at which this dividing line can be based.


My own difficulties with abortion rest on the same problem; and, like you, I am uncomfortable with arbitrary times established by law.

Quote:
I'm not sure about personhood as the criterion for the offspring acquiring rights. I suspect that any reasonable definition of personhood would involve social interaction and social recognition as an independent person. The trouble is that this is unlikely to occur until after birth, so personhood as the criterion would legitimise infanticide - not, I think, a route that we would wish to go down.


We seem to be on the same page with this issue - personhood initially seems to be the place to look. The problem, of course, is the definition of "person". Locke talked about our memory as being what is essential to us, but infants do not have memory, so if we only provide rights to persons, as you point out, infanticide is given justification - definately not what we want to do.

Regarding this concern, I have two thoughts:
1. How are we going to attribute rights to non-persons? Do we have to in order to guard against concerns such as infanticide?
2. While some definitions of person lead to problems, is there a definition of "personhood" that we could find appropriate?

Quote:
By the way, how do you manage to quote several different sections from the other person's posting? I can quote one section only.


I write my posts in notepad. Instead of using the quote function on the web page, I type the html tags myself.
[-q-u-o-t-e-] and then to close [-/-q-u-o-t-e-]
Just take out the hyphens.
0 Replies
 
Tainted
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jan, 2008 05:20 am
@Peter phil,
I agree there are dangerous issues with assigning rights to personhood, whatever that may mean.

As I previously said, I have never been faced with the decision to abort or to keep, but my instincts tell me that there is a certain point, up to which I would feel more comfortable with the idea. To me, that point is around 8-10 weeks, though I am at a loss to explain why. It just feels that after that point the baby is more "established" and to terminate then would be more....I dont know....just less acceptable to me?

In answer to your questions about responsibility, I guess I'm old school and believe that if someone is mature enough to have sex then they should be mature enough to take responsibility for the outcome. This means a suitable level of protection against unwanted pregnancy and of course STD's, and if an accidental pregnancy does happen, they are then responsible for making an informed decision to terminate or to continue with the pregnancy. I think this is a decision that can easily be reached within 10 weeks (so theoretically around 6-8 weeks after the pregnancy has been discovered, assuming it is discovered within 2 weeks of a missed period..which tends to be the norm)

I have to admit I have never understood the reasoning behind terminations up to 20 weeks. Unless the mother really does not know she is pregnant until half way through the pregnancy (which is rare but can happen).
Peter phil
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jan, 2008 08:25 am
@Tainted,
Tainted wrote:
my instincts tell me that there is a certain point, up to which I would feel more comfortable with the idea. To me, that point is around 8-10 weeks, though I am at a loss to explain why. It just feels that after that point the baby is more "established" and to terminate then would be more....I dont know....just less acceptable to me?


Hi, Tainted. It's interesting that you should have this strong intuition that the baby is more real at 8-10 weeks (Not something I can confirm experientially!). I wonder if this corresponds to any objective stage in foetal development. Just before I started this thread I did a search on the subject of foetal sensitivity to pain, but the results were disappointing. By and large those who had a liberal attitude to abortion placed the onset of pain sensitivity at a late stage in gestation, while the anti-abortionists put it early. It seems impossible to get an objective insight into this question, which is what I am after.

Regarding your point that there is little need for legal provision for abortion as late as 20 weeks, yes, as with other areas of social policy, if the law only had to take account of responsible people then the task of legislators would be simple indeed. But in this case provision has to be made for individuals who are disorganised/don't know dates/deny having had intercourse/can't tell parents/can't tell husband/face cultural barriers to abortion, etc. In practice the numbers of women seeking late abortions seem to be quite small and I am very happy that this is the case.

Didymos Thomas wrote:

1. How are we going to attribute rights to non-persons? Do we have to in order to guard against concerns such as infanticide?
2. While some definitions of person lead to problems, is there a definition of "personhood" that we could find appropriate?


Yes, Didymos Thomas you are right in referring to memory (especially memory of a continuing self) as the foundation of a sense of personhood, and it is clear that there is not much scope for a foetus or neonate to have much opportunity for that. But it is surely relevant to note that memory is a special application of consciousness; conversely, consciousness is a precondition of memory. I am wondering, then, if it would be legitimate to identify the beginning of personhood with the onset of conscious awareness in the developing foetus.

Thanks for your info on how to quote separate points from another post. Smile

Peter
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jan, 2008 10:52 am
@Peter phil,
Quote:
Yes, Didymos Thomas you are right in referring to memory (especially memory of a continuing self) as the foundation of a sense of personhood, and it is clear that there is not much scope for a foetus or neonate to have much opportunity for that. But it is surely relevant to note that memory is a special application of consciousness; conversely, consciousness is a precondition of memory. I am wondering, then, if it would be legitimate to identify the beginning of personhood with the onset of conscious awareness in the developing foetus.


But even using conciousness may be problematic. For example, what is conciousness? Does a fetus ever have it? What I recall from psychology is that conciousness still develops in young children... I wish someone who knew more about fetal development could help us out with this one.
 

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