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Regarding abortion...
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 11:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, indeed.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
I think I'm going to pick that book up; "atheism" and "rationalist" caught my attention, without a doubt.

As I've said before, there can be no argument about whether or not a zygote or an embryo is alive or human. What can be argued is whether it is a human being, which I think is a significant difference. Remember: I am talking specifically about the pre-fetal stages. I simply cannot rationally accept that a bio-chemical process can be equated with a human being. I realize, based on the quotes you provide, Hentoff is speaking specifically of the fetus. Does he mention embryos at all?

One thing that struck was this passage: "It strikes me that to argue one may take an innocent life to preserve the quality of life of another is cold and carries utilitarianism to an obscene extreme." Was this book written before or after the stem cell controversy? If after, does Hentoff mention stem cell research in the book; if before, have you read any of his opinions regarding it?


Hentoff believes life begins at conception, since that is when the continuum of human life necessarily begins. Fetus is just one stage of that continuum, not the starting point. To him, a unique, living human entity--such as an embryo--is clearly a human being, even if it doesn't take shape in the way we typically think of one. Rationally speaking, that definition of human life may be less arbitrary than any other.

The book was published in 1997, prior to the public debate regarding stem cell research. I know I have read columns by him written since then that mention the topic, but I can't with any certainty paraphrase him from memory. These days I read his work mostly online, so a quick search will probably yield his thoughts. (Incidentally, that's an issue that I find even more ethically ambiguous and baffling than abortion. I know that I'm open to learning more about its possibilities.)

Speaking Freely is a wonderful book, part childhood memoir, part jazz anecdotes, part history of New York journalism, part political screed. It's about, as Hentoff says, his "lives as a radical (according to the FBI); an 'enslaver of women' (according the pro-choicers); a suspiciously unpredictable civil-libertarian (according to the ACLU); a dangerous defender of alleged pornography (according to Catherine MacKinnon); an irrelevant, anachronistic integrationist (according to assorted black nationalists); and, as an editor at the Washington Post once said, not unkindly--'a general pain in the ass.'"

I loved reading every page. It's sitting in front of me now, with Hentoff's eyes imploring me to read it again, cover to cover. His earlier book Boston Boy received raves, but I haven't read that one yet.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
To him, a unique, living human entity--such as an embryo--is clearly a human being, even if it doesn't take shape in the way we typically think of one. Rationally speaking, that definition of human life may be less arbitrary than any other.



Hmm... Why is it less arbitrary and why is it rational? If he's suggesting that a human being is something that's alive and has human DNA, well, so is an organ that's kept alive by technology. So is a blood cell in a vein. "Potential human being" doesn't even seem to be in the equation.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer; I guess what I'm looking for is a fundimental definition of "human being." Does he provide one?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 11:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just quickly skimmed the chapter and the closest thing to the definition you're seeking is "It is the life of a developing being that is being killed."

Since he believes an embryo is already a human being, he wouldn't refer to it as a "potential" human. But his logic seems to include the importance of process--the equation does include, I think, the potential of becoming "human" as we typically think of it.

That's my best guess, anyway.

Eric


Last edited by beltmann on 09.30.2003 12:05 am; edited 1 time in total
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 11:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
Why is it less arbitrary and why is it rational?


Almost forgot this part. It might be less arbitrary because it seeks to return to the start of the human life continuum rather than drawing a random line elsewhere along that continuum, rational because it incorporates medical and biological logic to arrive at the conclusion that fertilization is that starting point.

Eric
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 12:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is it possible to define "human being" in terms of the traits that are true of every single human individual? And if so, isn't it true that every single individual was once an embryo? And if so, doesn't that indicate that the continuum of human life must begin at conception?

Eric
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 12:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
If he's suggesting that a human being is something that's alive and has human DNA, well, so is an organ that's kept alive by technology. So is a blood cell in a vein.


I think the difference might be that organs and blood cells are merely parts of larger beings, at least according to the designs of nature. An embryo, in terms of nature's constructs, is a complete being, even if it still requires nurturing from its mother. The question, then, becomes whether that complete being qualifies as a human one.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 12:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
Is it possible to define "human being" in terms of the traits that are true of every single human individual? And if so, isn't it true that every single individual was once an embryo? And if so, doesn't that indicate that the continuum of human life must begin at conception?

Eric


Very good points. But then again, every single individual was also once separate sperm and ovum. Shouldn't each one of these cells then be considered part of the continuum of human life as well?

It just seems to me that if you're going to include the one you have to include the others, to the point of ridiculousness. I'm not suggesting that the inclusion of the embryo as a part of the continuum is ridiculous, but I can't see why we should disclude one more step back either. If we do, then, it seems to me, that the inclusion of the embryo becomes arbitrary?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:


Very good points. But then again, every single individual was also once separate sperm and ovum. Shouldn't each one of these cells then be considered part of the continuum of human life as well?

It just seems to me that if you're going to include the one you have to include the others, to the point of ridiculousness. I'm not suggesting that the inclusion of the embryo as a part of the continuum is ridiculous, but I can't see why we should disclude one more step back either. If we do, then, it seems to me, that the inclusion of the embryo becomes arbitrary?


It also occured to me that the continuum might need to extend to sperm and ovum, and that might be reasonable. That's exactly why certain religious organizations--such as the Vatican--oppose contraception.

Yet I'm trying to draw critical distinctions, and perhaps this is relevant: By definition, a life within the continuum must have the ability to evolve into the next stage of the continuum, if left in its present natural state. Left in their natural state, neither sperm nor ovum will ever germinate and evolve, while an embryo, left in its natural state, will.

As I said before, it seems rational to think of sperm and ovum as merely containing the ingredients necessary to initiate the continuum. Since a single sperm alone does not possess enough elements to grant life, it doesn't seem logical to say that all mature human beings were once simply that. Unlike individual ovum or sperm, fertilized cells alone have the capability to naturally evolve into human beings as we typically think of them. I think that's a significant distinction.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


As I said before, it seems rational to think of sperm and ovum as merely containing the ingredients necessary to initiate the continuum. Since a single sperm alone does not possess enough elements to grant life, it doesn't seem logical to say that all mature human beings were once simply that. Unlike individual ovum or sperm, fertilized cells alone have the capability to naturally evolve into human beings as we typically think of them. I think that's a significant distinction.



While I do think it's logical to say that all mature human beings were once simply "ingredients," I concede that drawing a line between those ingredients and the souffle is valid. So, as the wise man Axle Rose once sang, "Where do we go now?"

What arguments would you pose against drawing the line at the fetal stage -- something that is human in form and in make-up? In keeping with the cooking metaphor, would it be resonable to say that there is a difference between the cake and the batter?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.30.2003 1:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Welcome to the jungle.

I don't think the cooking analogy holds for me. (If left in its natural state, ingedients won't evolve into batter, but batter won't evolve into cake--and the cake itself won't evolve, either.) I'm not sure any other analogy will suffice: The dynamics of life and its evolution are so unique, it has to be dealt with on its own terms.

Essentially, the argument against drawing the line at the fetal stage is that it excludes complete beings (according to nature's design) that, if left in their natural state, will by force of nature reach "born" status (if allowed to proceed unfettered, of course).

Eric
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