We have some splendidly active debates on this Blog. This time I want to propose a topic which is of (literally) vital importance yet hard to solve in a way to which everyone would subscribe.
In February 2012 a paper was published by Giubilini and Minerva. The burden of this paper was that the reasons given to justify an abortion apply in exactly the same way to a newborn infant. The argument turns on the meaning of the word, person; it claims that the infant is not yet a person, but only potentially so. Consequently the infant’s parent, being undoubtedly a person, has superior rights, and so may dispose of the infant. The abstract of the paper is as follows:
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
You will not be surprised that the paper caused a considerable stir.
What is a person? It seems not enough just to say that a newly conceived embryo is not a person but that an adult like myself is certainly a person. To have meaning we must stipulate the characteristics which qualify for personhood. And in what way are these essential to the definition? And why is personhood held to be the crucial criterion for human rights?
In considering the meaning of potential person, are we thinking about an entity which might or might not become a person? Or are we claiming that, say, an embryo is precisely structured to develop into a person? Does the latter claim form a basis for human rights such as the right to life?
The Giubilini and Minerva argument is a double edged sword. One edge could lead to infanticide becoming a general norm. The other edge could lead to the claim that, since the argument is logical and since infanticide is clearly wrong, it must follow that the personhood tests which justify abortion must be wrong.
I have no illusions about the difficulties in discussing these issues, and their ethical outcomes. I have thought about such problems for many years without arriving at fully satisfactory conclusions. But perhaps the combined wisdom of Second Sight Bloggers can help me and others to clearer answers.
You do not, I think, need to have read Giubilini and Minerva to discuss these issues. They would still need answering if Giubilini and Minerva had never existed. But those who would like to do so should go to: http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/04/12/medethics-2011-100411/suppl/DC1.
There you will find the paper itself, and evidence of the row it caused.
My reaction to the news was much the same as yours; the logic is inescapable. The only clear discontinuity in the development from ovum to adult is the fusion with a sperm, and it is only before that event that we can be sure of not dealing with a distinct human individual, i.e. one with a new genetic constitution. In my far from expert view, any other definition of humanity is essentially an exercise in special pleading.
Of course, there still remain all the difficult considerations that were discussed on this blog some months ago, and those trying to find the best solution to a situation with no possible comfortable outcome deserve our utmost sympathy and consideration. That does not invalidate the logic.
Quentin, you put the case very well. If personhood is the criterion and it is admitted that this is not present in the embryo then at what stage of life from conception to death does it come to be?
Giubilini and Minerva propose a criterion which could be used to eliminate all mentally disabled people of any age, especially all the elderly with dementia. It is a real ‘eugenical’ argument. And that is the precise problem, once we abandon the ‘sacredness’ of the embryo (not the sperm a la Monty Python), there is no limit to society through the Law could allow. In one sense, if they are seriously proposing this criterion, as opposed to trying it out philosophically speaking, they have fundamentally shot themselves in the foot since no society in practical terms, apart from the Nazis, have ever taken this idea seriously, mainly because there is an unconscious realisation that they are condemning themselves in the process.
There is one society that has taken the idea seriously and practices it. I have not researched it fully but has not Holland already gone down this route to some (dangerous ) degree and does not after-birth abortion , as passed into law in the USA, amount to the same thing? (Historically, so i have read, the Romans and ancient Greeks, had a policy of leaving babies with deformities to die.)
Incidentally the same kind of logic could apply in letting those millions who go hungry die of starvation.
To say that the ” problem ” of finding a precise defintion of ‘personhood ‘ is elusive perhaps even intractable is an understatement. I think we all agree with you – that’s what it amounts to. However, one can talk about different things when defining a person/ human being. For someone it may be the genetic code unique to the human species present in the foetus from conception , while for others it’s the universal evidential ” characteristics ” that make personhood what it “is”. As I recall, sometime in the early1960’s perhaps even earlier, there appeared to be a sharp shift in position – in concert with ” pro-choice ” groups at the time who were bent on making abortion legal – from the philosophical / theological understanding that all human life/ personhood began at conception to the purely philosophical position defining personhood when the foetus passed to being a neonate detached from its mother in the new belief that personhood had arrived. This went against medical definitions at the time that had accepted the former for generations without question. I believe the best counter to this argument, by the Church and medical science at the time was when Cardinal Basil Hume amongst others was insistent that from the moment of conception we have a ” human being with potential ” rather than a ” potential human being “, thus arguing from first principles.
It very importantly kept the debate alive. Since then of course advances in medical science are showing with striking visual imagery backed up with quantifiable results that in fact the conceptus – as was thought previously – had all the means at hand to develop its personhood i.e. personality, in the womb. Advances in genetics may also prove to reinforce this view, but I have no specific knowledge of this in fact.
Philosophers can take diametrically opposed positions on any subject we care to mention. But I believe that argueing from the philosphical/theological stance from first principles backed up by medical science ,is the best way to convince us all what the true meaning of what human life is and therefore return to the acceptance of the “sacredness ” of personhood from conception to death. I am now beginning to flounder, therefore I leave it at that in the hope that my fellow contributors will revive and inspire new avenues of thought on this matter.
A glance at the dictionary doesn’t help me much. The full OED has four columns giving different ways in which ‘person’ can be used. The Concise OED is more promising with ‘individual human being’. Taken literally, that solves the problem because the embryo is a human and a being. It is also an individual by virtue of its fixed identity – which is carried for the rest of its existence both in the womb and without.
However, in this debate, ‘person’ seems to be used as ‘an entity possessing human rights’. Thus what is being said is: ‘you don’t have human rights before you become an entity with human rights’ Which, being tautologous, can be ignored.
I like Brendan’s quote: a ” human being with potential ” rather than a ” potential human being’ “ Human beings always have potential – negative or positive; only death brings that to an end.
While it may not affect the issue here, we should hold in mind that the point of birth has the significance that the baby no longer has a direct biological connection, or dependency, to its mother. That might be important in one of those very rare cases where this biological connection will kill the mother if the baby is not removed. Since the baby will die, in either case, some would argue (contrary to current teaching) that the baby is an aggressor (though subjectively faultless) and so can be removed.
From what I remeber from the fuss at the time it was generally felt that these two philosophers were just stirring things up. I am inclined to agree.
To kill is obviously the most destructive and corrupt actions in life, especially to kill another human being, because when one kills, one is full of hatred, however much one may rationalize it, and it produces antagonism in others.
One can kill with words as well as actions, but killing never resolved any social, personal or national problems.
Many reasons are put forward as to why we need to kill other human beings, the unborn and the newly born babies, but do not get swept away with such reasoning.
To be concerned about humanitarian killing is quite absurd, equally absurd is the logic of killing new born babies.
It is an ideology of cruelty and hate.
To be cruel to your fellow human beings by killing by word action or deed, is to breed enmity and brutality.
Giubilini and Minerva, without love, are arguing what is the right logical thing to do, and leads only to greater harm, misery and more killing.
The compassionate person knows the right logic, right reasoning and there is no harm in such a person towards another, be it animal or human being, unborn or newborn.
Welcome back Nektarios!
Thank you for your welcome back, I can only contribute when I can at the moment.
However I will befollowing all the contributions and of course, your many helpful and interesting links.
Nektarios, I don’t believe any sane person would disagree with you. The notion that sadly has penetrated many aspects of society particularly moral issues in the field of politics, is the utilitarian use of …. ” the greatest good for the greatest number “….. which does not pay enough consideration if at all to moral absolutes. It’s this monolithic notion that has to be broken down.
Brendan O’ Leary,
So how is one to this break monolithic notion.
Please go into it further. Why has man arrived globally at this point of destructiveness
to the killing of the unborn, and the newborn, and killing in all its forms? Why is he doing this, thinking this, planning this, politicizing this. Is there a moral absolute? And if there is, there must also be moral/ absolute evil?
If so, what is goodness, and how are we going to arrive at that? Perhaps going into all this will show how this monolithic notion has been built up and how to break it down?
To answer those questions would form the subject of a PhD thesis, Nektarios. What I am able to say is that history has always been riven with all those things you have described. The last century in particular has seen a drift away from subjective belief in a God that intervenes in history in a believable way. The Holy Father has recently questioned whether man now even accepts the existence of sin in his life. This distancing from the God of history has gone hand in hand with the rise of scientific discovery and the use of modern technologies in a hitherto unprecedented way to the point that we have ” outgrown ” our need for complete dependency on God. The First World War, The Holocaust, etc. in their wanton destruction left the world stunned and lacking in answers . The multiplicity of acts of faith in Divine Providence that made up daily life in the past have been replaced by the question, Why?- which echoes mans loss of childlike innocence and perceived abscence of God in ones life.
Without an objective reservoir of Faith and the building up in its place a huge pool of a subjective hubris in individuality, nations are distancing themselves from moral absolutes revealed by God which have in the past proved vital for our survival. An example of this is the European Union failing to acknowledge the debt it owes to Christianity …….as if it needed to be told ?
Paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic apologist of the 1930’s ( when it was not popular to be Catholic ) sums the situation up by saying that any one who doesn’t believe in anything will believe in everything.
I should have written ‘partial-birth abortion’ and not ‘after-birth.’ Not too sure where this now stands in the US. It was brought into law by Clinton, repealed by Bush and Obama has indicated he would want to bring it back into law but , I think, has held off from doing so.
However it was once legal practice in the US to take the life of a baby once its head had emerged from its Mother’s body. Amounted to crushing the brain.
This barbaric Act was repealed in 2003. It’s hard to believe but the U.S. Supreme Court are to review the ban.
Nektarios – Welcome back!
With all respect to Brendan, I know of no one who considers me insane, but I must disagree with your assertion that “when one kills, one is full of hatred.” Think of all the people who, personally or vicariously, put suffering animals to death; that is clearly an act of love.
That clearly does not apply to abortion, but the act in the view of those directly concerned is completely impersonal, neither loving nor hating.
I missed that one Peter !
Peter D. Wilson
Thank you for the welcome back, but I am not back contributing almost daily at the moment, far too busy with our own Church affairs.I do read and follow the arguments though.
It was not dear Brendan who said, ” when one kills, one is full of hatred.” my myself.
We would not look at pulling up carrots or some other vegetable as killing, but we are killing the vegetable.
We do not like to see suffering in ourselves or animals, and in the case of animals
who are suffering, if untreatable the vet will humanely put it down.
Clearly, killing animals and vegetables and fish for food was not the issue we are dealing with, but a human being killing another human being.
How do we bring such killing of human beings to an end – that is the question?
The concept of a person is a philosophical concept and so it is not in any way suprising that its formulation and application in all cases is a matter of dispute and controversy – that is the nature of philosophical concepts.
But a plausible account will presumably identify a person in terms of a fairly flexible range certain capacities eg for a degree human sentience and independent viability. I imagine many people will judge that it is unreasonable to claim that a 10 day old embryo has the same status as a 10 year old child or that use of the morning after pill is entirely equivalent to an abortion at 24+ weeks.
As regards potentiality, just because there is a certain entity, X, that can become another entity, Y, does not mean that X and Y are to be treated in an identical manner. And if it is claimed that a person comes into existence at conception, then what is happening in the case of twinning that occurs a few days after conception? It must be that not all human persons come into existence at conception – some come into existence at twinning?
Good point – I’m one myself.
All this assumes that ‘personhood’ is the appropriate criterion for attributing rights: and that there is not too much difficulty in deciding who are to be treated as ‘persons’. Perhaps we should be more cautious. The early Greeks had a relatively expansive definition of those entitled to human rights, but it excluded women and slaves. In the 19th century, it was ‘obvious’ (to many people) that Blacks weren’t really human. More recently, we have the Nazis denying the humanity of Jews and Gypsies, and the Japanese army regarding enemies who surrendered (rather than killing themselves, as they should have done) as having demonstrated that they were subhuman. Are we so sure that we have at last arrived at a proper and unchallengeable definition of ‘personhood’? Or might further criteria be added (for example, acceptance of certain philosophical or even political propositions)? Quicksand…!
(oh, and welcome back, Nektarios!)
Rahner – Granted that your argument has some force in the case of twinning, there is still a difficulty in that in other cases there is no identifiable point at which X ceases to exist and Y comes into being. It therefore seems that X and Y are in fact the same entity with qualities changing over the course of time; or would you maintain that there is an indefinite number of intermediate entities with transitory existence along the way? If so, how would you account for the retention of human identity from childhood to old age?
The ‘twins’ point is not negligible, but seems to entail the proposition that, while it might be considered wrong to kill one human being, if there is some possibility you are killing more than one, that objection would no longer be valid.
Tim – I agree that the “twins” point is not negligible, and didn’t wish to suggest otherwise, but simply don’t feel up to pursuing it. It evidently complicates the argument, but I don’t think so far as to invaldate it in the simpler case.
A child and an adult have sufficiently similar properties to be judged to be the same person. I assume that personal identity is based on a degree of physical continuity. (In my first post I should have said “application in some cases”.)
Rahner – where should that phrase be inserted?
I agree that personal identity is a matter of continuity; that is my point. I may have picked you up wrongly, but are you suggesting that emergence from the womb is a sufficient discontinuity to consitute a change of identity, not merely of circumstance? If not, what discontinuity before that (apart from the case of twins) do you think marks the transformation of a non-person into a person? (Sorry if that seems like a mere debating point.)
Peter D Wilson.
I am not suggesting that a person only comes into existence at birth. Such a view seems to me to be quite implausible. I can only suggest that the assessment of the status of the unborn will need to take into account such things as a capacity for sentience and viability. But we should not assume that we can arrive at a clear position that gains universal acceptance as we seem to be applying the concept of the person/human being in a way that may, in philosophical terms, beg the question as to the legitimate use of that concept.
Murder is a Common Law offence and has been normally held to be the unlawful killing of someone who is in being and under the Queen’s peace with malice aforethought. ‘In being’ assumes complete extrusion from the mother. An unborn child has rights, however – child destruction and abortion outside the provisions of the 1967 Act are criminal offences.
Not as many as an unborn animal, though (at least in UK) . Animals are protected from halfway through their normal gestation period (which would be 20 weeks in human beings). But human beings are specifically excluded from that legislation.
Brendan O’ Leary
My dear chap don’t give up so easily – this is why in part such global killing of fellow human beings
continues. The questions I posed you, does not require an immediate answer here on the blog
but require all your attention and fibre of your being to look at it. You are mankind and mankind is you.
Goodness, obviously is related to God in someway, and evil is not, obviously?
No Brendan, it does not require Ph.D, but not a bad idea though, but requires the heart to look at the murderous attitudes that exist and we all have, be it klling one with words, in our thoughts, with a glance, with violence. There are many ways to kill, and the topic under discussion demontrates just how deep
and to what lengths man will go to justifiy killing another human being.
I will follow the discussion and your contributions with great interest, but unfortunately, for now, I am simply too busily engaged in other matters needing my attention.
I can see why Peter welcomed you back. Good to hear from you.
I don’t give up easily – only by the grace of God. To ” break the monolith ” faith would tell me that our world through Christ should turn to gaze on the face of God . Reason would tell me – ” metanoia ” to precipitate that action, echoing Saint Paul. I wouldn’t want to second-guess God, but a latter-day modern Baptist ( Saint John that is ) wouldn’t go amiss.
Now, I must turn to the discussion at hand – hope to hear from you again.
The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss. Are we eating from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ too much now.
It seems that the more we learn the more we will have to be guilty of our sinful acts.
Isn’t that why Jesus came and left us His Church, so that we don’t have to go searching for the truth, it is all there in the (I wont say love as that can be misconstrued) Law,which Jesus did not come to change but give a better understanding of it.
St. Joseph, there was, once upon a time, a teaching which said culpable ignorance was a sin. If our acts are sinful we should strive to know that they are sinful. Ignorance is not a virtue and it is not a defence under the law. Searching for the truth is an imperative for all right minded people, both within the Church and outside of the Church.
Geordie I totally agree with you.
We have the Church’s teaching now, so where is the ignorance?. We are living within the Light
I very much agree with Rahner in his examination of what constitutes a human person. His list of exceptionalities, bolster the argument against making abortion illegal. The other set of exceptionalities that I have given in a past topic called ‘Foetal Reduction’ (5th January 2012), are also why I am in favour of retaining the legal availability of medical terminations. If I may briefly summarise them here; the poverty of the family, potential violence from a husband or partner where the foetus is not theirs, where a woman or girl is raped, and when a woman or girl’s life is endangered by the eventual birth of the foetus.
‘Foetal Reduction’ is where I offered the moral context of the above exceptionalities. I have copied a couple of my sentences from the topic to elucidate this.
‘The rightfulness or wrongfulness of abortion would depend on the intention and the context of the people involved in such a serious decision.’
‘While I generally agree that in the vast majority of cases, embryos should be allowed to develop and evolve into living human beings; there should be a legal avenue to cover dire contexts for women and families, so that they have access to safe, medical abortions. I have always felt that this was far more sensible than an absolute blanket-ban on medical abortions as espoused by the Catholic Church.’
The legal availability of medical terminations can only have come about by the advancement of technology and medicine. Depending on where you sit on abortion, this ‘advancement’ can be viewed as an inappropriate or evil application of knowledge, which was something covered in the previous topic called, ‘JUNK’. I believe in the rightfulness and appropriateness of medical terminations, providing that they are done legally and correctly; according to all of the regulations governing them. I believe that medical terminations are, in a sense, the inevitable outcome of the growth of our knowledge and technological prowess through time, our growing sophistication if you will allow me to use the word, and it is a development that is unavoidable in contemporary democratic societies.
I do however draw the line at any attempt to terminate a child at its birth, and also when surgical and medical terminations, in the case of using RU-486 or Mifepristone, can no longer be employed properly according to the regulations in force. I would consider this to be a criminal and heinous act.
I recall when Vincent gave me an interesting question in ‘Simply Disgusting’ on the 11th September 2012 at 11:15 am. It concerned when a foetus ceases to have human rights, as other adults and children have, and therefore can be legally terminated in an abortion. I gave a complete cock-up of an answer, when all I had to say was, a foetus does not have a right to life as other adults and children do, because the law intervenes and allows medical terminations. When medical terminations are no longer legal, such as when they have gone past a legal window for their accomplishment, would be when the foetus or child begins to have human rights like the rest of us.
John, is it possible that I have misunderstood your last paragraph, or are you really saying that an intrinsic right to life only depends on the law of the land? Or are you, perhaps superfluously, saying that a legal right to life depends on the law?
I am not a lawyer, so I cannot answer this with the required rigour. What you are asking me is; is there any difference between ‘an intrinsic right to life’, and ‘a legal right to life’. To me they sound like they mean essentially the same thing, but I stand corrected by someone who knows more about the issue. I don’t know if there is a difference or not.
Perhaps the intrinsic right we all have are inalienable, which I do understand, and perhaps there are legal and practical limits to them as well. As brutal as it might appear to those who are implacably opposed to medical terminations; the human foetus does have legal or human rights, but in specific contexts its rights are secondary to the rights of mothers who wish to medically terminate their foetus. This is simply the law of the land. Of course this is not any easy issue to discuss, but the community and the state have decided overwhelmingly to provide legal medical terminations to those who seek them, for whatever reason.
I do repeat my previous advice to those who are implacably opposed to abortions. Know your enemy. If you want to change the law, find out why people in general, judges, and politicians, are for the provision of legal medical terminations. Try to do so with as much humility and objectivity as you can muster. Thoroughly read the assessments of judges, politicians, and journalists, and after seeing why they think what they think about medical terminations, see if you can produce opposing arguments that are as persuasive as you can muster.
The legality of medical terminations is probably here to stay. I don’t see how it could possibly change in future, apart from the above rather remote scenario. I have said this before; in a perfect world there would not be a single abortion. The same could be said of war, crime, child abuse, motorcar accidents, and every other negative thing that happens from time to time. I think that in order for legal terminations to make sense, you have to consider the desperate contexts that women can face from time to time. It is these contexts that prove the worthiness of the legalisation of medical terminations to most men and women in our democratic nation-states. Without these contexts, legal medical terminations don’t make much sense to most people.
John, you came to mind last night when I was watching a recorded programme on BBC4. It was called The Nazis, a warning from history. (11 Oct) The episode recorded the ‘elimination’ of the mentally sub normal which lasted from 1939 until 1944. The reason was that such people were a drain on the State, and a shame on the ‘master race’.
One woman told us how her baby brother was taken to an ‘orphanage’ where he ‘died’ within a few days, along with a whole lot of other children.
Since Hitler came to power lawfully and since there were practical reasons given for the decree, I must assume that, on your principles, these children would have had no prevailing right, and could therefore be eliminated.
In fact this is only an extension of the Giubilini and Minerva logic. The mentally subnormal do not qualify even as ‘potential persons’ if their affliction is incurable.
Somehow, John, I can’t see you supporting this policy, although it appears to follow from equating intrinsic and legal rights. But it’s ironic to think that that equation was enthusiastically made by the bulk of the German people. History warns you, and all of us.
I have a copy of the book in my library. During my Bachelor of Arts at Latrobe University, I quoted from page 17 for an essay in history. This is a larger example of the actual quote I used.
‘Even now, so the lies continued, German Jews were selling the country out as part of a worldwide conspiracy organised by international Jewry. These lies were effective partly, and ironically, because there were surprisingly few Jews actually living in Germany.’
‘In June 1933 they numbered only 503,000, a mere 0.76 per cent of the population, and, unlike the Jewish populations of other European countries, such as Poland, they were relatively assimilated into the general population. Paradoxically, this worked in the German anti-Semites’ favour, for in the absence of large numbers of flesh and blood Jews, a fantasy image of Jewishness could be spread in which the Jews became symbolic of everything the Right disliked about post-war Germany.’
The above quote taken from, ‘The Nazis, A Warning from History’, by Lawrence Rees, 1997, Forward by Professor Sir Ian Kershaw, BBC Books, London.
I never saw the documentary; I must get around seeing it someday on YouTube or some other website. It is quite unfair to indirectly equate me, or be reminded of me, through viewing a no doubt high quality documentary about the Nazis, as I find them utterly abhorrent. I certainly don’t agree with the mass murder of innocents in the form of the intellectually disabled, or the mentally ill, which they accomplished with equal measures of ruthlessness and alacrity.
‘Since Hitler came to power lawfully and since there were practical reasons given for the decree, I must assume that, on your principles, these children would have had no prevailing right, and could therefore be eliminated.’ (Vincent).
Are you serious! I have already stated that to terminate a baby who has already been born, to be a criminal and heinous act. The two examples cannot in all seriousness be fairly compared. The German example might have been legal by decree, but it was mass murder nonetheless.
‘Somehow, John, I can’t see you supporting this policy (this is correct), although it appears to follow from equating intrinsic and legal rights (wrong!). But it’s ironic to think that that equation was enthusiastically made by the bulk of the German people (Germans were not served well by the mass media of the day, or a quality Opposition). History warns you, and all of us.’
History is a warning to all of us, but please don’t equate me with any public warning, as I am not anyone to worry about in that regard. As for equating inalienable human rights with immoral laws putatively allowing for mass murder and the like; you are wrong for thinking that this is what I am talking about. All inalienable human rights end at the beginning point of other peoples’ human rights. The inalienable human rights of any person are not and never were to be conceptualised as absolutes in law. The same goes for self-defence, free speech, property rights, etc. they are all limited at times by the context that they find themselves.
Thank you for clarifying your position. John. I knew I had to be right in my judgment of you. I must have been confused by your statement that the law decided whether the baby in the womb had a right to life. I took that to mean that you thought it was the law which had the power to decide the right to life.
‘I must have been confused by your statement that the law decided whether the baby in the womb had a right to life.’
Well it simply is the case under legal and regulatory arrangements concerning abortion, that state or national laws allow a medical team and the woman, whose human foetus will be subject to termination, will act of her own free will, who will together, legally perform terminations.
‘I took that to mean that you thought it was the law which had the power to decide the right to life.’
The law does not have ‘the power to decide the right to life.’ The legal and regulatory framework for abortions gives the necessary legal authority for medical teams and for women, acting freely by consenting to the termination of her foetus, to in fact authorise medical terminations. So it is the people involved who are actors in an abortion, which do so legally, after the woman has given her consent by signing a consent form, and not the law itself.
I find the relatively recent change in public attititudes towards abortion (and easy divorce, but that is another matter) quite incomprehensible, and decided some years ago that helping those in difficulties through the Life group was the best way I could deal with the situation. This practical help is certainly of great benefit to the individual clients, the mothers and their babies, as well as the fathers and other family very often, and hopefully the ripple effects spread more widely also.
There are often extremely difficult situations and of course not everyone who comes for advice feels able to accept the assistance and support we can give. The hardest one I remember from training sessions, though I never encountered it personally, was of a mother in a fairly stable marriage/relationship, with several children already, carrying a baby after a ‘fling’ with someone of a different colour. Who would like to face the prospect of giving birth in those circumstances? The temptation to abort would be overwhelming, but still, murder.
The question of infanticide and its relation to abortion I think is quite clear. What is the difference, and how can we respect our laws when one can result in prosecution and a prison sentence, and the other on the flimsiest of pretexts can be allowed and meet with approval?
Does the precise stage of differentiation for twins and multiple conceptions make any real difference in principle, life exists, and is doubling or increasing?
(Also extra busy at the moment, like Nektarios!)
I suppose Catholics would say that because of human rights euthanisia should be legal’ .
Also the discussion of twinning is really not important because when a baby is conceived-a mother does not know she is pregnant. In fertility awareness, the only knowledge of pregnancy is 4 days or so after ovulation, with the temperature staying up…
As far as the abortion effect of the pill, the effect is the womb being agressive to hold the baby, it is therefore washed away at 10 days with the next menstrual period..
That is all we need to know.
St. Joseph, I think you were responding to John Candido . . . . .
It was not for anyone in particular. Just making a valid point that human life is Sacred from conception to old age.No one has a right to end it. I also believe hanging to be in that category.
Maybe the Church teaches that Capital punishment is within Gods Law, maybe so.I don’t make the rules!!
Apologies St. Joseph, the Comment sent to my email read, “In response to Singalong”, but I see this is not on the main list of Comments. My user name was also changed!
Singalong, that comment came through in the form which was published.
Apologies accepted-my computer is playing up too.I often am not able to comment-it wont let me in,
I too have had odd things happening lately in attempts to respond to comments.
Two things to mention here. First Word Press is a program which works on a number of built on routines. The result is that it can be operated by ignoramuses like me but at the same time it can be tricky to track down the cause of problems. I have to say that in most cases I have investigated the cause turns out to be user error. But it won’t always be so. If it needs correcting I can do little unless I have an exact blow by blow description of what happened.
“What you are asking me is; is there any difference between ‘an intrinsic right to life’, and ‘a legal right to life’. To me they sound like they mean essentially the same thing, but I stand corrected by someone who knows more about the issue. I don’t know if there is a difference or not.”
Are you seriously suggesting that what is morally right is whatever the law happens to permit? That is obviously absurd.
It was a sloppy piece of writing. Please refer to the final paragraph in my reply to Vincent above.
Dear Fellow Bloggers,
You have been busy, about this question of Killing another human being; going down the historical routes and so on. Sadly none of us are getting to the point so far, so let me pose a couple of question to us all.
I see that relationship is very important to life, and without that, life is chaos and without meaning.
So my questions are: is it because we don’t have right relationship, that life ceases to have any value? If so, what am I to do with all these images about others that are producing a life without meaning for others and ourselves and turning life and living into a problem and chaos?
I am not too sure what you mean with your question in your last paragraph!
It is simple to understand- ‘Fallen Man’ is my answer.
I am sure you will correct me if I’m wrong.
If we cannot get relating one human being to another right, then chaos and a meaningless life ensues, we land up placing no value on life. This allows philosophies, that this topicis discussing to come into existence.
So, I am asking what is one to do? How are we to relate, so we see relationship to love, to beauty, to God, to each other, in a meaningful, life enhancing, healthy way, instead of a meaningless chaotic existence, to the point life does not seem to have any value. What is such a person to do?
We build up mental pictures all the time about everything, and how we relate to all those mental images that produce in one, chaos and meaninglessness, brutality and killing is a question, where one human being’s ability to relate has become extemely fraught, difficult, chaotic to the point one kilis another, in words, thoughts and deeds and by a myraid of methods and justifying killing of another human being. People who suggest or argue such a philosophy are already not relating, already living a meaningless and chaotic life and life has for them no value.
Does that help, St. Joseph?
Quentin – Sorry to bother you with a vague problem comment, really intended only as commiseration to st. joseph. This one applied to the “new entry” form to which the e-mail notification connects. Neither the Reply nor the Comments button works: the progress bar expands to the end of its rectangle, then returns to zero, reports “Done”, but has no other effect.
Several entries, including the one to which this is addressed, don’t have an individual “Reply” button, but for all I know there may well be a perfectly good reason for that.
One time I did not have a Reply to enter a comment.
I went into Word Press to activate my password, I didnt know it would help-but they didn’t send an e.mail to confirm it. But I have no problem since . Hopefully
Thank you Peter D. Wilson.
John C:”Know your enemy. If you want to change the law, find out why people in general, judges, and politicians, are for the provision of legal medical terminations. Try to do so with as much humility and objectivity as you can muster. ”
John, thank you for the advice. I hope you apply it to your own position – but perhaps you already have?
You seem to base the argument for abortion largely on the hard cases. These certainly exist – but they are a minute fraction of the total. But the easy availability of abortion encourages it as a first option – which is appalling. Not only does it kill babies (sorry, ‘foetuses’), it harms women . Many bitterly regret it. Some immediately get pregnant again. Others, later on, when they would like to have a child, are devastated to discover that this is no longer possible. Proponents of abortion say they want it to be ‘safe, legal and rare’. It cannot be made safe (even for the mother – though it has been made safer – but by antibiotics, not by legalisation). Some abortions are legal (though in the UK, at least, the law is widely disregarded, given the common view that a woman should be given an abortion if she asks for one). Rare? What has anyone done to make abortions rare? It’s a meaningless aspiration, unless you are prepared to change the law.
Hard cases make bad law. With euthanasia, we are currently seeing a parade of the hard cases – the few really strong-willed people, who genuinely want to die, and want to compel doctors to kill them. God send the law doesn’t change! If it does, public opinion will change (as it has with abortion). Once euthanasia is a legal option, it is reasonable and proper to point out its advantages. Many old people are persuadable – many (most?) genuinely do not want to be a trouble to their children in their old age, and would be only too willing to agree to be put down. At first most children will be horrified, but that phase may be quite short-lived. It’s expensive looking after the old and sick – governments (encouraged by philosophers) will be bound to promote it. The right to die will – inevitably – become a duty to die.
‘You seem to base the argument for abortion largely on the hard cases. These certainly exist – but they are a minute fraction of the total.’
The exceptions that are the ‘minute fraction of the total’, whatever their number, seem to have been sufficiently significant, to most peoples’ minds, to vote for legalised abortions in democratic societies.
‘But the easy availability of abortion encourages it as a first option – which is appalling.’
I would suggest that you have no evidence for this proposition. I would however posit that providing sex education at an early age, and providing contraception for anyone who requests it, would go a long way to minimising unwanted pregnancies. This of course would be pooh-poohed by the Roman Catholic Church, and many of its followers. In this regard, ironically the Catholic Church is as much a part of the problem as anyone else.
‘…it harms women (abortions). Many bitterly regret it.’
On the question of the post-operative psychological effects of medical abortions on women; research from December 2011 by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in conjunction with National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, London, and authorised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have produced a significant meta-study done on the psychological effects on women who have had an abortion. Its title is, ‘Induced Abortion and Mental Health, a Systemic Review of the Mental Health Outcomes of Induced Abortion, including their Prevalence and Associated Factors.’
The study was published in December 2011, and produced by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH), and under the auspices of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in partnership with the British Psychological Society. The paper can be accessed from here,
Click to access induced%20abortion%20%26%20mental%20health%5B1%5D.pdf
A brief introduction of the research can be accessed on the UK abortion rights website,
There are three chief questions the study seeks to answer.
‘1. How prevalent are mental health problems in women who have an induced abortion?’
‘2. What factors are associated with poor mental health outcomes following an induced abortion?’
‘3. Are mental health problems more common in women who have an induced abortion, when compared with women who deliver an unwanted pregnancy?’
Some of the findings are;
‘•The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.’
‘• An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.’
‘• The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion.’
‘• The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following abortion were similar.’
‘• There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortions in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of the abortion.’
‘The steering group also noted that’:
‘• The rates of mental health problems after an abortion were higher when studies included women with previous mental health problems than in studies that excluded women with a history of mental health problems.’
‘• A negative emotional reaction immediately following an abortion may be an indicator of poorer mental health outcomes.’
‘• Meta-analyses in this area were of low quality, at significant risk of bias and offered no advantage over a rigorous systematic narrative review.’
‘• Future practice and research should focus on the mental health needs associated with an unwanted pregnancy, rather than on the resolution of the pregnancy.’
Thank you for your reply (I am not able to reply under your comment-it wont work)
My comment on the post ‘How far can we go? October 10 th at 10.37 is how I think
It is a case of ‘How far do WE go’ before we reach the full understanding as to what God is teaching us and the reason He came as a human being(what we were meant to be in the beginning before the Fall. Our human nature was ruptured with the sin of our first parents.
It will be like trying to beat a dead horse-if one does not believe in that.
All the aspects of our lives enter into that one frame work. Sin is sin not matter what form it takes and how one wants to live it.
You may not understand what I am saying, but I understand it myself!
There will be no Peace on earth-only in Heaven ,which I believe CAN be found here in ourselves and the way we live our lives.
On a lighter note-this made me think of Quentins post on ”Junk’ -‘It is not the amount of letters we use-but the way we use them’.
This is not meant for anyone in particular. Only a passing belated thought!
Well, I am not a dead donkey, a bit of an ass sometimes, so don’t beat me!
I am sure most Christian would agree with you about a `Fallen Nature’. The effects of some aspects of a fallen nature are all to obvious to all, but you are just looking at the effects.
Our old nature we cannot see, what energizes it and so on?
Sadly, though many like to quote this Saint or other, or a book, accept without any question
the teaching of the Church – see this – we still have not fully comprehended our life in Christ now
as Christians. Hence the dependency on others to tell you, and great fear if one doesn’t.
I have questioned many priests, divinity students, ministers of religion as well as laity, and they wll, as they have been taught, give quotes of others, but they have moved away from seeking the Truth of their own life in Christ for themselves. They become satisfied with a descriptive, which is never the actual, therefore they have become weak as Christians and weak spiritually.
If you doubt this, just see how confused the Church and religious life is! How materialistic, worldly, carnal and often sinful it is – I speak only for myself here.
How caught up in the world it is, with politicking, powermongering, eliteism, seeking prestige
and so on, all of which proceed from an old nature.
So, are we truly looking and finding life in Christ in all its aspects, or is it simply a matter of ones old nature modified religiously?
We are told to seek the Lord while He may be found. If anything, to answer the question about killing each other including abortion and infanticide, I am simply encouraging us not to to look at
what others think,or our old nature, but discover ones own life in Christ, or rather , and more correctly, Christ’s life in us.
Like I said only I used different ‘letters’ to put my words together.
The Kingdom of God is close at hand. Look and know thine own self first!
I still think it is flogging a ‘dead horse.’
I would differ when you say it is from an old nature. God came with the perfect nature, He made man in the beginning Whether it be ‘Adam or not’- whoever it was)and that will always be so.. To quote Scripture (forgive me) but don’t put new wine in old caskets even if the weed is grown with the good seed..
My regrets for absenting myself from the debate, but I’ve been rather pre-occupied with other things.
I came a across an extract which applies to the aspiring new-life , re: personhood.
………………” it does make sense to say a fully human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity [ genetic ] to give rise to human functions, and since an unborn entity typically has this natural inherent capacity, (he or) she is a person. ”
‘ Personhood: What constitites Personhood ?’ by Fracis J. Beckwith.
I had been thinking about when a human life becomes a person, adults certainly, sometimes young children are referred to as “little persons” which is not very scientific but it shows how we feel about them.
However, is it really relevant to the question of abortion, to the principle of taking a life? Isn`t it the fact that it is human life we are dealing with the only issue, and does it matter whether or not it has reached personhood, or possibly may be considered to be losing it, if for instance someone is in a coma or has a dreadful brain or mental health impairment?
Human life is not only created by God, and sustained in being by Him, as is all creation, but uniquely each one is redeemed, by Him, and offerred a share in His eternal life, from the moment it comes into being.
It is looking at abortion with these thoughts uppermost which makes it so difficult to debate with people who do not hold the same views. It is a very fundamentalist approach, but this is a matter where fudging the issues is not possible or helpful.
I think offerring as much practical support and understanding to those in difficult situations with “unwanted” pregnancies through helping groups such as Life can often speak much more effectively than slogans and arguments, though they have their place too.
Showing people the reality of what an abortion actually is, with sensitivity to their situation, what happens, and how it is performed is important also. Pictures and descriptions are shocking and upsetting, because that is the reality of the procedures. It is even more shocking that people have been prosecuted for trying to do this.
You make some very important points in your comment and ,and I would like to extend on it by saying we are not only redeemed by God, but made in His Image, and that to me is more important to all His other works of Creation.
I believe we are bordering on the sacrilegious by taking life at conception when God has created something special in His Likeness.
We are so careful with religious objects etc; and yet human life is abused.
We will go round and round with disagreements on this issue, and never reach an understanding unless we believe wholly in our Creator
Are we not more important than one sparrow……..He knows every hair on our head!.
Thank you St. Joseph, remembering and being aware that we are made in the image of God strengthens the case immeasurably. And, like you, we had great difficulty in our local Life Group with requests to advertise our services. I will also mention a beautiful little card, a tiny baby held in the palm of a hand, with the quotation about God holding us in the palm of His hand, given to our daughter, then very young, many years ago, by Mother Teresa (Saint) after a talk at a church hall in Brompton.
I agree with you Singalong – In this Year of Faith commemorating the opening of The Second Vatican Council – let’s hope this year makes a difference in that The Holy Spirit opens the ears of our Country which is proving deaf to the gift of life.
Just two instances when its silence was deafening. Mother Teresa of Calcutta ( Saint Teresa ) some years ago oversaw a ‘ pilot ‘ plan involving 5,000 couples in India who undertook for a year the thermal- mucous method or Billlings method, in their family planning. This tried and tested method was widely known at the time and of course sanctioned by the Catholic Church. After that period elapsed not one couple reported a pregnancy. The advantages of this if governments had taken up this as serious policy would be obvious.
Around about the same time, the government in Holland besides giving public money to organisations who were pro- abortion also sanctioned funds to anti- abortion groups who likewise made public to the Dutch the alternative way. Would our Government do likewise – not a bit of it!
Successive Secretaries for Health have consistently ignored and failed to adress any initiatives that coul be seen as ” giving in ” to opponents of abortion and often public opinion. Yes, we do well to know our enemy. Thank God we still have enough democracy in Britain to keep lobbying, for right from first principles to prevail ! It is a tragic paradox of our age that even wildlife has more protection in law than humanlife in the womb.
My local surgery is cutting costs on their medicines and other aspects of cheaper packaging etc.
At the surgery last Friday I noticed a poster advertising someone giving details of ‘all contraceptive items’.
I took the opportunity to ask my diabetic doctor if it would be possible to place a poster for me as a teacher of fertility awareness-he told me to see the administrator which I did with details of Natural Family Planning of all the benefits for inexpense and all the other advantages, showing my certificate in 1980 passed by the ‘Central Board of Midwives’ .(NHS) She listened to me and then told me that she could not put the poster up as it would be against the NSH regulations! That was that! I could not argue with her.
A tale all too common St. Joseph. I see you are an active member of Life. Myself, a lifelong member ( although I prefer to lobby on my own these days ) of SPUC. There are powerful forces – liberal secularism, atheism, corporate finance, plus downright bigotry, preventing the British public from making an informed choice. At times like this I REJOICE at being Catholic ………… by the grace of God. Nil Desperandum.
I am also a member of SPUC over 40 years, where would we be without them these organisations-one parish I know of won’t allow posters for pro- life or details of The March for LIfe.
The Year of Faith may now make a difference to our Apostolate.
I believe it will. I see in England there are a number of first class Bishops that have recently been consecrated following on from Pope Benedicts visit and his initiated in inaugarating this Year. I sense a spirit of optimism about Christianity in Britain. This is in no mean measure resulting in the strident opposition to the Governments proposals for same-sex marriage particularly from Anglicans and Catholics. We must pray for courage and guidance in this matter. There is too much at stake. What a great opportunity we have to re-consecrate ourselves to God and make His prescence known and felt through us this coming year!
Thank you. I was there also at Brompton Oratory all those years ago, and at Hyde Park, when she was unable to be there because I think a broken ankle,but sent a talk to us..We had all sorts of things thrown at us on the walk when we sent White Flowers to No 10 Downing St.
Thank you for reminding me of that-many years ago.
Dear Fellow bloggers,
I find the idea, and it is an idea that personhood is a philosophical concept as Rahner would have us believe. I am a person in my own right, not dependent on any philosophers view on what they might think I as a person am. It is known only in relationship with other persons and all God has made.
I am not dependent on the Church to tell me God exists, nor dependent on the views of scientists in general, who would consign God to the realms of Myth.
Needless to say, there are those who talk of God and spiritual things without much understanding
and it makes many scientists believe that God is just a figment of the imagination and heaven is just a matter of projection by the mind into the future. If that is so, then why do all persons seek it, want it, some desire it if it was merely a myth or figment of imagination or projection into the future?
Thank God, I am not dependent on such limited specialists, (all specialist by the very nature of being a specialist in a specific field are limited; to be subject to their fragmented, limited, conditioning aspects of their thinking of Personhood is absurd. If I told you, you would not believe it, but I will say this, Personhood is far greater than we can ever imagine. What is said and written about Personhood is very, very limited, The end of Personhood in Christ, is diefication.
Don’t allow the scientist or the philospher or the poliicians say what you are as a Person and limit you to their petty little ideas.
Consider before there was any considerations (by vested interested people), persons existed.
I am not too sure what you mean when you say ‘you are not dependent on the church to tell you that God exists.’
I believe that if Jesus did not reveal Himself as Lord and Saviour , would we have any idea of God in the way He taught us in the New Testament.?
Maybe you are thinking of God as in the Trinity where he has revealed Himself as Father Son and Holy Spirit.
If not would you be thinking that we would all be of the Jewish Faith-or Muslim.or other non- Christian religions.
Christianity to me is believing in Christ-and maybe we are not all acting as we ought as Jesus taught and Christianity teaches (by His teachings)
I believe without the Church we would be a ‘very very ‘dull world indeed. and it is made joyful by His Presence in the Church.
Other religions are living in His Presence and even if they don’t realise that Jesus is God-it is rubbing off of them somehow.
What is more wonderful than the Christmas story of Jesus and His Blessed Mother.(not forgetting His Crucifixion of course)
I have been very busy with Church and other matters, so my aologies for not replying sooner.
We were speaking about Personhood. All those specialists jumping on the bandwagon to tell you, construct for you, what exactly you are, goes on just as it did in days of old.
Conform or die. Conform or be excommunicated, Conform or suffer want and so the list goes on and on.
Regarding my Person, is not dependent on the Church. Gaining some insights from the saints and th holy Gospels and so on the revelation of God to us in Christ Jesus, it is just that, a revelation by God to us. That is as far as the Church can go.
But some would say, to counteract heresy, to safeguard the Truth, we had to have Theology. So let me tell you a story about a well known Theologian, called John Romanides.
When he had to give his oral on his doctoral thesis, he faced a panel of Professors.
He mentioned a certain Theologian ,who was Roman Catholic I believe.
The Chaiman told him, he could not use this person as he was not an accredited theologian. John Romanides replied in deferential tones: ` If this theologian is not accredited, then I cannot use the Prophets or Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the Holy Apostles, as none of them were accredited theologians either?’
Needless to say, you could have heard a pin drop, but none of the panel of Professors could answer him.
We learn personhood in relationship with others. The same applies to God and His people we learn of God and life in Christ in relationship. That is the Church and its head is Christ. And such learning of Personhood of the Christian cannot be learned any other way.I am not saying, The Church is not necessary,
Nektarious, than you for your reply.
I thought maybe I had misunderstood you! But I would like to add and I think that most of us will agree that we do have our dignity as a person from God as a part of the human race whether we be a embyro or foetus.
Interesting as it may seem- ‘foeticide’ in the dictionary is killing’ (developed in womb or egg).
Of course that is in a 1924 Oxford Dictionary reprinted with correction in 1949-but remained the same. But not in the 1996 it then say’s 8 weeks.
We presumably are more ‘Learned ‘now!!
Go back to the little film I posted on the blog on Conception to Birth. I am sure
you remember it. Yes, indeed we are much more `learned’ than once we were, but only
in little steps, mechancial steps at that..
Remember what that Mathematician and Scientist said, concerning the knitting
of a human being together in the womb, with its billions of communications going on simultaneously, was way beyond human understanding, to the point, he as as mathematician and scientist could only put it down to the Divine.
What did he mean by that? Simply this, that which Scientists and humanistic philosphers hate,
and that is, any outside agency with its own intelligience bringing it all about – God or the Divine.
Therefore it follows that these embryos and feotuses is God.s work and the child that will be born is also His creation Many times more special than the limited, mechanistic and repetitive scientists, philosphers, humanists and even deceived Christians by the propaganda could ever possibly imagine.
As the observing of all these billions of communications going on is beyond us, so is the child that will be born so far beyond us essentially.
It makes the science and experimentation on embryoes and foetuses seem barbaric and extremely limited, and the answers to their questions cannot be told – but the heart that knows something of God, remembers something of its native place, and desires to return to Him.
Thank you Nektarios.