The Problem of Personhood

The abortion debate is characterized by a mess of misinformation, fallacy, and ignorance. Objections about the quality of a child’s life, a woman’s personal choice, a child’s wantedness, and children of rape are all, in reality, surface level arguments that attempt to mask the real problem faced by pro-aborts: how do they redefine a fetus’ personhood? Most people would agree we can’t kill an 3 year old girl because her mother can’t afford to feed her; we don’t give a mother a “personal choice” to end her life because she is unwanted. A university student cannot be knifed in the back because he was a child of rape. These are not the real issues. In order to justify abortion, it must be established that they do not have any human rights; they must be denied personhood.

Denying personhood is not an easy intellectual or philosophical feat, which is why the above arguments are favorites of those defending the killing of unborn children. Science will not help them out; the evidence clearly shows that a fetus is alive, growing, and has human parents. According to the law of biogenesis, this fetus is human. It’s not a parasite, and it’s not an organ. The problem a pro-abortion intellectual faces is the redefinition of life. They must discern when, if not at conception, human rights do apply. Canada’s criminal code defines it as the moment that the child is completely born; this legal definition has no foundation, no scientific rhyme or reason, and is essentially indefensible from a philosophical standpoint. Others have tried harder to find that crucial point at which human rights apply, and have been forced form conclusions that cross accepted social boundaries. Philosopher Michael Tooney argues that in order for a human to have rights, it must be capable of having interests. Because an unborn child or a newborn presumably does not have the ability to take interest in it’s abilities or future, it does not deserve the protection of its life. Taking a similar but not identical stance, Peter Singer states that a being’s humanity is irrelevant to the wrongness of killing it; rather, it is characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that give someone human rights. He argues that infants and the unborn do not possess these characteristics, and therefore should be able to be killed. The problem is that neither of these arguments is more convincing than the other, or is convincing at all. Attempting to redefine personhood opens up a philosophical can of worms; the necessity of defining some sort of personhood in order to protect human rights in some form results in subjective, arbitary ideas of what merits human rights, as shown above.

The effects of denying personhood are tragic, inevitable, and unfortunately obvious. In Canada, from 2000 – 2009, 491 babies died after they were born alive after failed abortions. According to the Criminal Code, these babies should have rights, and the abortionists should be prosecuted for murder; however, respect for personhood has declined to the extent that there was no criminal investigation. In Belgium, Parliament is poised to allow child euthanasia for gravely ill children; in other words, the state is about to sanction the murder of sick kids. Denial of personhood does not only affect children; in the Netherlands, the number of elderly persons killed by euthanasia has more than doubled in the decade since it was legalised.

These tragedies, this complete disregard for human life, is really but the logical outworking of a dangerous philosophy. Taking the definition of personhood into our own hands and changing it to suit our subjective ideas of the what is a valued life, only leads further and further into the moral chaos described above.

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One thought on “The Problem of Personhood

  1. Peter Bradley

    Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the case that could overturn the so-called “buffer zone” law in Massachusetts. Experts across the political spectrum are saying that the Court is very likely to strike it down — affecting similar laws across the country. It would also be a victory for a group of unbelievably dedicated pro-life activists in one of the most pro-abortion states in America.

    Reply

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