Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Mar 19 2009 - 08:59:39 EDT

Your 2d paragraph is to the point. As I noted before, many theologians today would rather understand "person" as a relational concept rather than as one defined in terms of static "natures." That suggests that an embryo in a woman's uterus & one at the same stage of development in a laboratory container may differ with regard to their personhood. Of course that is just the beginning of an argument & we can't immediately conclude that the 1st is a person & the 2d isn't.

& I should have noted last night in commenting on the supposed expertise of "people who study personality professionally" in this matter: The modern concept of "personality" is not the same as a technical definition of "person" in philosophy, theology or law. Bringing in the concept of "personality" when we aren't yet agreed on the concept of "person" is an unnecessary complication.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Jack
  Cc: ;
  Sent: Thursday, March 19, 2009 8:18 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

  One of my biggest disagreements with the freedom of choice group, is that they want to treat a woman's right to abortion simply as a choice about her right to determine what happens to her body. It is clearly not that simple. There is another entity involved.

  There is also a relationship here. A unique, wonderful, HUMAN relationship between mother and child (for lack of a better term). I think this creates a very sharp line between in vitro embryos, and an implanted embryo. I really have no trouble considering this entity a person at this point, because it is involved in this relationship. This perspective also is less arbitrary than any functional definition, and avoids any discrimination against anyone. (Until the point that clones can be gestated without a human uterus, something I doubt will ever happen. I am willing to cross that bridge when we get to it.)

  However, it is a different question entirely to ask what point can the state intervene to protect the interest of its weaker citizens. I do not think that implantation alone gives the embryo that level of protection, and maybe some functional definition is needed for that. But the implantation view is more conservative, well defined, and occurrs much earlier than neural development, yet still avoids the stem cell/IVF problems as I have stated before.
  Mar 18, 2009 08:24:26 PM, wrote:

    I am not suggesting that "life begins with neural activity" but that "rationality begins with neural activity," and that therefore personhood does not begin any earlier than that.


    ---- David Campbell <> wrote:
> > The "certain level of ...mental function" that I (& others) have suggested
> > is anything above zero. I.e., I would be happy to say that once the brain,
> > or any neural structure, begins to form, the embryo should be considered a
> > person. It seems to me that with this criterion there is no question about
> > the personhood of those with Alzheimers, the comatose, &c. Part of the
> > rationale for this is the parallel with the criterion of brain death at the
> > end of life - which means whole brain death, not coma, vegetative state, &c.
> That is certainly a coherent and reasonably precise criterion
> (determining exact line between zero and some is likely to be
> difficult, and "any neural structure begins to form" would need to be
> defined as to whether it includes the point at which a cell is
> definitely destined to form neurons versus the point at which a cell
> first shows any sign of neuronal features). However, "life begins
> with neural activity" seems no less arbitrary than "life begins at
> conception".
> Some things that might be of interest philosophically, though not
> directly applicable to human development, come from consideration of
> other animals. Sponges do not have any neurons at any point, though
> they have some capabilities for slow motion, internal communication,
> etc. They easily reproduce asexually by fragmentation, so the concept
> of an "individual" is somewhat blurry.
> Looking at more advanced animals, the vast majority have cell fates
> set from the start of embryonic development. There are no twins
> formed the way human twins are (some can asexually multiply embryos,
> though). From the very first cell division, the exact part of the
> embryo that will become neurons is fixed. Thus, the scenario would be
> somewhat different if arthropods or mollusks were considering the same
> issue.
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Thu Mar 19 09:00:27 2009

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