Really Silent Scream

New studies suggest that the human fetus is incapable of feeling pain during the first six months. (CHT Der Leiter.)

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18 Responses to Really Silent Scream

  1. Adlai June 28, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Good! Maybe once we’ve conclusively debunked every possible scientific (and pseudo-scientific) reason these wackjob anti-choicers have, they can join the philosophical debate with more than “because God said so.”

    …nah, probably not.

    • scineram June 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

      Is it ok to kill the comatose?

      • Roderick June 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

        For those who think (as I don’t) that the rightness or wrongness of abortion turns mainly on what the fetus’s capacities/potentialities are, it’s going to matter what level of capacity/potentiality we’re talking about. Do I have the capacity/potentiality to speak Arabic? No, if you contrast me with someone who actually knows Arabic; yes, if you contrast me with a dog who could never learn it. In other words, I have a remote or low-level capacity (one that would take a lot of processing to get activated) but lack the Arabic-speaker’s proximate or high-level capacity (one that’s ready to go right now).

        Presumably the comatose person’s capacities are more proximate than the fetus’s; so if one’s standard for rights is a relatively high-level capacity, then it might turn out that comatose patients have them and fetuses don’t — whereas if one’s standard for rights is a relatively low-level capacity, then it might turn out that comatose patients and fetuses have similar rights.

        • Anon73 June 28, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

          I read in one of Aristotle’s passages that there are two senses of potentiality, roughly like the ones you just described (the example was whether Aristotle could be a general vs whether a dog could be a general). Can you elaborate on how these are defined?

      • Adlai June 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

        I’m assuming your value judgments about what sorts of beings’ lives it is acceptable for us to end are based primarily on their human-ness, or perhaps sentience. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

        With that in mind, my reply: Is it wrong to pull up a vegetable (pun absolutely intended)?

        I think, at a certain point, a comatose human (well and truly gone, with no hope of recovery, just to keep things simple) does cease being human in the sense of the value judgments we are talking about.

        • Roderick June 30, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

          No, I don’t think the legitimacy of abortion even depends on what the fetus is like. In other words, I think abortion would be defensible even if the fetus were sentient.

  2. Baus June 28, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    C’mon, Adlai. If persons in utero felt pain with increased sensitivity, would it make any difference to these wackjob pro-abortion types?

    And are you telling me your support of abortion is based on the fact that you’ve never had to deal with a single pro-life argument that wasn’t an appeal to God? How pathetic.

    • Adlai June 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

      I think it would be fair to say that the vast majority of the philosophical issues anti-choicers have with abortion stem from God. Whether more of those appeals are as simple as “because He said so,” or from (slightly) more complicated arguments that branch from the same Judeo-Christian moral basis, I cannot say. I do, however, consider use of that moral base as equivalent to an appeal to God.

  3. RWW June 28, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    I don’t see the relevance of pain in the question of killing something (or someone). Would a fully-formed human’s inability to feel pain have any bearing on whether it’s acceptable to kill him/her? Inversely, is it wrong to kill livestock because they can feel pain?

    I’m not arguing against abortion; I’m just pointing out what I see as a non-connection.

    • Thomas June 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

      The pro-lifers’ reason for being against abortion is because it’s ending what technically is a human life. Whether it feels pain or not is a much more sane grounds to base whether you have an abortion or not. Yes, if someone was a vegetable, it would be appropriate to kill them if it was the family’s wish.

      It may or may not be wrong to kill a foetus that can feel pain and it may or may not be wrong to kill livestock (I would say at the very least the way much livestock is treated is wrong) but it’s outside the grounds of a legal order to enforce, in my opinion.

      • RWW June 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

        Yes, if someone was a vegetable, it would be appropriate to kill them if it was the family’s wish.

        I said nothing of a vegetable. There are conscious people who feel no pain. And regardless, there are painless methods of killing. The whole question of pain is irrelevant.

  4. Louis B. June 28, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    The problem with the abortion debate is that the arguments people deploy are entirely peripheral to the actual reasons for their beliefs.

  5. laukarlueng June 28, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    I understand that if a baby is aborted in space, no one can hear it’s silent scream. True story.

  6. Matt Flipago June 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Quick, someone shave Rodrick Long’s beard and head. He will feel no pain.

  7. Anon73 June 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    So now the abortion debate isn’t over whether the state should allow it or not allow it, but at which point along the 36 week process it should cease being allowed? Does this really qualify as an improvement?

  8. Roderick June 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    I don’t think very many people on either side of the abortion debate think it turns decisively on when/whether the fetus feels pain. But it’s often regarded as relevant. How relevant it is will depend on what one ‘s reasons are for opposing or defending abortion. For classical utilitarians like Bentham and Mill, who regard pleasure and pain as the sole standards of value, the question of whether abortion causes pain to the fetus would be relevant (though not decisive) as a reason against it. Those who think the permissibility of abortion turns on the personhood of the fetus might think it matters, if they regard the capacity (at the appropriate level) to feel pain as part of personhood. The question will be much less relevant for those who defend abortion primarily on the basis of the woman’s right to control her own body, or for those who oppose abortion primarily on the basis of the fetus’s genetically human status.

    Incidentally, I don’t think there are that many people whose sole reason for opposing abortion is that God forbids it. Because neither the Bible nor the Qur’an, for example, explicitly forbids abortion; so any Jew, Christian, or Muslim who thinks God forbids it must be bringing in some non-scriptural premise about abortion’s suitability for prohibition, and that non-scriptural premise will then be where the action is.

    • Robert Hutchinson June 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

      While I agree that non-scriptural premises are usually at hand, I don’t think that precludes the possibility of quite a few Christians (and those of other faiths) simply believing things what ain’t so. That is, the fact that the Bible says nothing explicit about abortion is no obstacle to the belief of many that it does say something explicit.

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