Tag Archives: personhood

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.


Personhood: Why All Human Beings Qualify

by Marissa Poisson


From our neighbours to the south at Abort73:

There have been at least two other instances in American history in which specific groups of human beings were stripped of their rights of personhood as a means of justifying horrific mistreatment. African-Americans and Native-Americans both felt the brunt of a system which tried to create the artificial classification: human, non-person. This distinction wasn’t based on an honest evaluation of the evidence, but with an eye towards justifying a specific action. In the case of Native-Americans, they had land. In the case of African-Americans, they had labor. Classifying them as non-persons (even property) provided a moral framework for those in power to forcefully take what they wanted without compensation. Today, “unwanted,” unborn children don’t hold anything as tangible as land or labor, but their claims on those who would eliminate them are no less significant. They stand in the way of an unencumbered, more self-absorbed lifestyle. Once again, this notion that human beings can be classified as “non-persons” is not built on an objective assessment of the facts, but with an eye towards justifying abortion.

Check out the poster on the right about the denial of personhood from NCLN.

I’m a Person: Inside and Out

by Theresa Stephenson

A couple, friends of my family, are expecting their first child. With excitement, I have been shown ultrasound photos and told about the baby kicking and moving. At one of their first ultrasound appointments, the technician explained that the baby was sleeping. What a human characteristic! How incredible, that while still in the protection of the mother’s womb, a tiny life is able to move, to kick, to sleep, to dream, to listen. Yet despite all of these amazing, miraculous things that an unborn baby is able to do, Canadian law does not outline any restrictions for abortion. Abortion is legal during all nine months of pregnancy for any and every reason.

But, tell me, what is the difference between a sleeping child who lies inside his or her mother and one who lies in his or her mother’s cradling arms? Tell me, what is the difference between a baby who listens to sounds and murmurs of his or her parents’ voices while cocooned inside the womb and one who hears the sweet lullaby of his or her mother while lying in a crib? The difference is that one baby is “inside” and the other is “out”.

However, I would like to make the bold claim that in either case that human life is indeed a person. We have posted arguments that personhood should not be based on 1) size 2) level of development 3) environment and 4) degree dependency . Rights and liberties must be granted for all human beings regardless of the factors outlined above and any infringement of these rights is a heinous injustice.

We at uOttawa Students for Life fight against these violations and work to bring an end to abortion.

S.L.E.D. Part 4: Degree of Dependency

by Garnet

Time for the final installment in the S.L.E.D. Series.  I’ve dealt with the first three common pro-choice arguments, all attempts to dehumanize unborn children based on either size, level of development or environment, and so make abortion excusable.

The last argument has to do with the degree that the fetus is dependent on his/her mother.  Some people say that since the fetus is so dependent on his/her mother to survive, and would not survive on his/her own, the mother has no obligation to keep the fetus alive, and thus may abort it.  The fetus, they say, cannot survive on its own, so it must not have a right to life, since it can only survive as part of the mother.

This argument breaks down in a number of ways.  Unborn children are not the only human beings dependent on another for survival.  A newborn cannot survive without a caregiver.  A diabetic cannot survive without insulin.  A person with a heart condition cannot survive without a pacemaker.  Does this dependency make them less of a person?  Of course not.  Dependency is not a criterion for determining the value of life for born individuals, and it should not be applied to the unborn.

An embryo is very dependent on its mother at the beginning of pregnancy, and gets less dependent as the 40 weeks go by until it is ready to leave the comfort and warmth of the womb and face the cold, harsh reality of this world. The umbilical cord can be cut, but does this end the baby’s dependency on Mother?  No.  From what I understand, a mother’s responsibilities toward that baby grow exponentially after the baby is born.

In addition, humans continue to become less dependent on others as they get older.  Toddlers are less dependent than babies; teenagers are (read: are supposed to be) less dependent on parents than toddlers; adults are less dependent than teenagers.  So the trend of a lessened dependency begins in the womb and continues throughout life long after birth.  Birth, actually, is quite an arbitrary point to say that babies are sufficiently independent to be given rights as persons.  Often at the end of life, elderly people become more and more dependent on others, but this does not take away their right to life.

Essentially the argument to say the unborn have no right to life because of its dependency is age discrimination, and should not be tolerated.

Fighting the good fight, the good way

by Oksana K.

A few weeks ago, one of my professors gave a lecture comparing two iconic figures of the 1980s Canadian abortion debate, one of whom was pro-life, and the other, pro-choice. His argument was that, apart from their differing stances on abortion, the two fought with the same attitudes and tactics: on the upside, both were extremely passionate, but they were also both rather arrogant, and both became lawbreakers in the pursuit of their causes. Their differences, he suggested, did not go much farther than their ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ labels. If not for that, they may as well have been the same person.

The lecture brought me to an important realization: to “outsiders looking in,” the way in which we fight against abortion may say far more about our cause than what we are actually fighting for. That idea got me thinking about my own experience as a pro-lifer.

I got involved in the pro-life movement last year, when my high school law teacher told my class that we’d have to write a position paper on a controversial issue. I chose abortion as my topic, but I didn’t know much about it at the time – I understood, vaguely, what the procedure entailed and how fetal development progressed, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to learn.

The first time I saw a photograph of an aborted child, I stared at my screen with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t get the image out of my head for weeks. The photo didn’t just leave me concerned — it left me heartbroken. Soon after, I began visiting sites like standupgirl.com to read stories of post-abortive women who looked back on their decisions with regret. Each one left me praying and grieving, and I felt an unexpected connection with these women, any of whom could have been my mother, my sister, my best friend. For the first few weeks, I immersed myself not in statistics and legal discourses about abortion, but in the names, faces, and memories of those it had touched.

As the deadline of the essay began to draw near, however, my focus shifted from caring about the people involved to winning the debate – making a bulletproof argument, convincing my classmates, winning over my teacher, and ultimately getting a good mark. I continued to stumble upon images of aborted fetuses, but I scrolled by them without a second look. I skimmed past the stories of abortion recipients, only pausing to read them when I thought they’d be of use for my project. Phrases like ‘dismemberment,’ ‘suctioned limbs,’ and ‘crushed skull’ ceased to shock me. I’d become desensitized, but that, to some extent, is natural. The troubling part was that I had began viewing these stories of victims as mere fodder for a good essay – as stories that mattered to me only insofar as they helped along my argument. I tried to seek out the most shocking statistics I could find, forgetting that one cleanly-executed abortion with no complications was just as much a tragedy as thousands with more problematic consequences.

It was only after the pressure of the deadline was past and I had a chance to reflect that I realized in my quest for making the best arguments, I’d assumed the very same attitude I that resented in the pro-choice side. To them, the 100,000 abortions that happen in Canada each year are not 100,000 unborn daughters, brothers, or cousins, but 100,000 pieces of tissue that can be removed and disposed of at will. To me, 100,000 abortions became not 100,000 people, but 100,000 chances to win a debate. In fighting against abortion, I had dehumanized the very people I was trying to prove human.

Since then, I’ve realized that, although winning is extremely important to pro-lifers, equally important is how we fight this battle. We need to set ourselves apart with more than just whether there’s a ‘life’ or a ‘choice’ suffix tagged onto the end of our ‘pro-‘ label. We need to fight in such a way that, 3 decades from now, no professor will be able to tell his class that, while our ideologies were different, our attitudes and actions were basically the same as those of the other side. And we need to remember that the strength of the love, concern, and compassion which drive our cause can speak infinitely louder than arguments of words.

It’s about people.

by Theresa Stephenson

Every week I go to the lecture for my mandatory course, Philosophical Issues in Health Care. Every week we discuss various moral dilemmas that confront workers in the medical system. And every week I sit in the lecture hall with other nursing and health science students and discuss medical practices in abstract, theoretical terms: we argue about moral “rights” and “wrongs” and apply these convictions to real-life case studies.

Every week I leave that class rattled and surprised at what my peers have said. We wrestle with topics like euthanasia, the allocation of medical treatment, and neonatal testing. I am floored by the radical arguments that people come up with. In class we often forget that the case studies we mull over are actually real cases, presenting us with real people and real problems. We over-analyze scenarios; we harshly, and often wrongly, judge people’s quality of life. Even though we speak with the best intentions, we get so carried away that we’re more wrapped up in the philosophical arguments than the real, living patients that we will soon be treating.

When we get caught up in philosophical theories we forget what’s actually important – the humanity of our patients.

I have no interest in being a philosopher. Neither Mill’s utilitarianism nor Kant’s ethics serve as my moral compass. Instead, my treatment of patients is/will be guided by their humanity. Only by acknowledging the humanity of each patient can we compassionately serve him or her with integrity and fidelity.

At times, when I listen to my peers talk about human life I fear the future of Canadian health care. I hope that when we arrive in the hospital, fresh out of university, we will know how to justly deal with morally perplexing situations. But if not, if we panic, I hope that we remember the inherent dignity of each human life. Difficult cases are a reality in every hospital in Canada. Human life is in the hands of medical providers: I hope that they will choose treatment over termination and life over death.

Objective Personhood

by Theresa Stephenson

It amazes me how subjective our view of the “unborn” is and how quickly it changes according to our circumstances.Think of a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy that eagerly tells all her friends that she is expecting a baby. Generally, her friends respond with excited congratulations! Now, think of a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy that fears the reality of a baby, keeps her pregnancy a secret, and considers abortion as a “way out.” Notwithstanding any details regarding the lives of the mothers, the major difference between these two situations is being “wanted”. The first baby is perceived by the mother to be a blessing while the second baby is perceived to be a burden. But does personhood depend upon the perception of another (in this case a mother)?

A woman in Kentucky is being charged for “endangering the life of her unborn baby by using cocaine while pregnant”. The Grand Jury of Franklin County concluded that the mother’s drug use wantonly endangered her unborn child. The Jury’s decision was objective: it did not assign value to the fetus according to the mother’s perception of her child’s personhood. Read the full story at LifeSiteNews.com.

It is wonderful that this baby’s rights are being defended. But what makes this child different from every other innocent life that is ended by abortion?