Ireland has a Minister for Children named Katherine Zappone. She supports abortion. She was asked recently about the “inherent contradiction” between her support and her position as Minister for Children.
She responded, “I believe that the fetus holds the potential for human life that develops over time. And I think my views in relation to abortion and the legislation are consistent with that view.”
If the fetus is only a blob of tissues that “holds the potential for human life,” then it must be that at some point in time the blob is transformed from a blob into a human being.
The only way this can happen is by magic.
It has to be magic because there is no biological mechanism that operates as a switch that turns a lump of non-human flesh into a human being. So if the switches happens, it must be magic.
Some say the lump is partly human and gradually accretes humanness to itself. It somehow accumulates enough humanness to be called human. Let’s see why this requires magic, too.
Some say the fetus has accumulated enough humanness that it becomes human upon birth. If so, it must be that the magical contact with air imbues humanity into the blob. One brief moment before it was a blob. A quick puff of air and — hey, presto! — a mass of tissue becomes a tax deduction.
Others say the fetus has reached human-being level when it is “viable”; which is to say, when it can live outside the womb.
A century and more ago, with rare exceptions due to Cesarean births which occurred about the same time as a normal term birth, no fetus was viable before normal birth. The technology to preserve the fetus, whatever the fetus was, had not yet been invented.
Nowadays, the fetus taken from pregnant women can survive outside the womb at very early ages given the aid of certain medical devices and drugs. The age this occurs grows earlier and earlier with each advancement in medical technology. It’s not even science fiction to suggest that this age will progress to the point of conception.
Indeed, some fetuses are first created outside the womb in test tubes, and only later implanted. (We can here ignore the ethics of this.) It’s reasonable to suppose methods will be invented that allow the fetus to grow entirely outside the womb.
So, clearly, viability cannot be what determines humanness. Why? Because viability depends on the skill of the surgeon. A baby removed from the womb prematurely in the United States because of its advanced science will be called a baby. But one removed in some poor place that lacks advanced technology must not be called a baby, but a lump of non-human flesh, because it’s not viable.
This is an absurd contradiction. Those who rely on viability to describe the point at which the lump of flesh turns into a human also rely on magic, or at least magical thinking. This is because believing in viability is no different from believing a normal term birth turns the lump of flesh into a human. It is the magical contact with the outside world that turns the lump into a human.
The only possible solution is to assume the baby is a human being upon conception. It’s a human being at a very early stage of growth. Just as a centenarian is a human being at a very late stage of growth. But it is a human being and nothing else. If it is something else, it must be magic that at some point turns it into a human being. And believing in magic is stupid.
There are greater dangers than just believing in magic. If we accept Zappone’s logic, there is nothing stopping people from defining the point at which a human life begins at any arbitrary date. Even post birth.
The Journal of Medical Ethics infamously published the article “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” In it, two philosophers argued newborns are not yet fully human because they had not yet developed into mature humans. They can therefore be killed via post-birth abortion.
Philosopher Peter Singer and the Darwinist Jerry Coyne argue it makes sense to kill newborns who in their judgment are “doomed to a life that cannot by any reasonable light afford happiness.” Babies suffering with certain genetic diseases will never be fully human. So put them out of their misery.
The attitude of these people makes believing in magic seem positively brilliant.
William M. Briggs is a Senior Contributor to The Stream. Author of Uncertainty, he is a writer, philosopher, and itinerant scientist living on a small but densely populated island in the Atlantic Ocean. He earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University in statistics. He studies the philosophy of science, the use and misuses of uncertainty, the corruption of science, and the uselessness of most predictions. He began life as a cryptologist for the Air Force, slipped into weather and climate forecasting, and matured into an epistemologist. He maintains an active and lively blog at wmbriggs.com.