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Regarding abortion...
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My last post got me thinking about another dimension to this topic, which is clearly rooted in religious/philosophical beliefs: the sanctity of life.

I'm often astonished that so many pro-lifers base their position on the "sanctity of life" argument, but conveniently put that aside when expressing support for capital punishment. To my mind, that's hypocrisy--but then again, I am staunchly opposed to the death penalty, which may cloud my view.

I do believe in the sanctity of life, which is partially why I oppose capital punishment. That belief also means that if human life begins at conception, I would oppose abortion as well. For me, though (and this relates to Night Watchman's comment about "what is"), it's easier to come to terms with the value of a convict on death row--clearly, a human being--than it is to come to terms with when human life actually begins.

Eric
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
Danny, if abortion is defined as taking a young human life--and I grant that's a large if--I don't think the size of shelter populations has anything to do with whether abortion is acceptable or not. For pro-lifers, that argument is no different than saying that we ought to knock off all the cognitively-disabled, because that will make everything go smoother for the rest of us. Do we honor human life for its own sake, in its various forms, or for what it contributes to society?


I'm taking a completely political stance here, rather than a person-to-person one. With every unwanted pregnancy, the worse it is for scociety. Morality-wise, I suppose if you look at it as killing a person, it is wrong...but I don't think it's really an issue of right and wrong. I think that it's more about looking at a person's feelings and beliefs on a situation, as well as the future of the child at hand; how we correct everything, if you will. That includes prevention, satisfaction, and ethics.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
I do believe in the sanctity of life, which is partially why I oppose capital punishment. That belief also means that if human life begins at conception, I would oppose abortion as well. For me, though (and this relates to Night Watchman's comment about "what is"), it's easier to come to terms with the value of a convict on death row--clearly, a human being--than it is to come to terms with when human life actually begins.


As I stated before, I'm for capital punishment because those people actually did something wrong. That's why my opinions on abortion are a little more ambigious. If life does begin at conception, I'll definitely have to think about it much harder.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 9:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:


I'm taking a completely political stance here, rather than a person-to-person one. With every unwanted pregnancy, the worse it is for scociety.


Since society is comprised of individuals, how can we make political determinations without considering the person-to-person dynamics? How can we properly "correct" matters with social engineering if that engineering disregards the fact that society is, at its foundation, not merely a mass but a group of people with individual rights, freedoms, and moral concerns? Removing such concerns in the name of the state entire is akin to fascism, isn't it?

(Interesting, personal side note: I've been writing student recommendations all weekend, checking in here in between each to protect my sanity. I think I've got the rhythm down... be back after number 11...)

Eric
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 9:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


Since society is comprised of individuals, how can we make political determinations without considering the person-to-person dynamics? How can we properly "correct" matters with social engineering if that engineering disregards the fact that society is, at its foundation, not merely a mass but a group of people with individual rights, freedoms, and moral concerns? Removing such concerns in the name of the state entire is akin to fascism, isn't it?


Well, calling it "akin to fascism" is a bit extreme, but otherwise, that's definitely agreeable. This is one of the few unsolveable problems with government.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
As I stated before, I'm for capital punishment because those people actually did something wrong.


At the risk of shifting the focus of this thread--not my intention--I'll just say that in my opinion, a convict's guilt does not strip them of their right to life. They may be deserving of punishment, even severe reparation, but I'll always stop short of execution. To me, capital punishment is merely state-sanctioned murder, a clear violation of the sanctity of life. Civilized societies need not resort to such barbarism.

(Okay, now I'm really getting back to number 11...)

Eric
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.28.2003 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll start up a thread on that after we're done with this one.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
(Interesting, personal side note: I've been writing student recommendations all weekend, checking in here in between each to protect my sanity. I think I've got the rhythm down... be back after number 11...)


Finally done! Took me all day--I've literally been sitting here from about 11:00am until 8:30pm, typing away at these recommendations, taking breaks only for lunch and dinner. I love the kids, but next time I might limit how many I agree to write...

Eric
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 1:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What grades do you teach? I thought before I head sophmores in some discussion, but you don't write recommendations for them just yet.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The grades I teach are dependent upon which courses I am covering for the year. I have taught regular sophomore English, American Lit for honors sophomores, Humanities for upperclassmen, and freshman remedial English (a few years back I even taught government and law, and even one section of remedial math).

Still, my specialty has been sophomores. This year I am fortunate to be teaching only honors sophomores. The recommendations, though, are all for students from last year, current juniors seeking to join the National Honor Society. I love 'em, but perhaps I need to learn how to say no when the forms start rising to my eyebrows.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dang, I got some catching up to do. I?ll start by directly addressing Eric?s response to my post.

beltmann wrote:
So it boils down to whether viability is a necessary trait for personhood, and if so, what constitutes viability? Both are philosophical questions, I think, which helps explain why science hasn't been able to satisfactorily resolve this debate.


Well, no, I said in extenuating circumstances -- second or third trimester cases, in other words. I said the basic thing to take into consideration is whether a living organism can experience life. We can?t know for sure if a fetus is able to feel or ?think? after it?s completely formed, which is why this point of development is a gray area. We can be sure that a zygote or an embryo, which has not fully developed, cannot experience life.

beltmann wrote:
What I find interesting is that several definitions would support the philosophical position of assigning viable status at birth, while others would support viability from conception ("capable of normal growth and development;" "capable of living, developing, or germinating under favorable conditions"). Again, the philosophical disagreement--which is certainly colored by idealism, as you indicated--seems predicated upon whether viable status must be coupled with complete biological independence.


Agreed, if the ability to experience life is not taken into consideration.

beltmann wrote:


The notion of "unwanted pregnancy" seems relevant to the issue of reproductive rights, but not to the issue of when human life begins. I don't think the wants, desires, hopes, and willingness of parents--factors that are influenced by selfish motivations as much as pragmatic or moral ones--have any bearing on when human life is scientifically assigned, or when viable status is achieved. If they did, it's conceivable that each embryo/fetus/infant might become human/viable at different times, which doesn't seem medically sound.


In regards specifically to reproduction, viability means, by medical definition, biologically independent of the mother. A doctor may say that one has a viable embryo, i.e. a healthy one, but this is not the same as saying that that embryo is able to live outside the womb. Context is all-important.

beltmann wrote:


But certainly idealism is required when determining such answers?


Since we don?t live in an ideal world our best bet is to use available information to make logical, rational decisions. It seems to me that erroneous idealistic assumptions can cause much worse problems than conclusions made by taking all evidence into consideration.

Other posts:

beltmann wrote:


I'm trying to avoid loaded language here, like "every baby that is slaughtered." That raises another interesting point about this issue, which is the debate regarding semantics. The phrases pro-life and anti-choice may have the same denotation, but they certainly do not share a connotation, which helps explain why even agreeing on terms by which we discuss this issue has become politicized.


I?m pretty disgusted by the rhetoric on either side, but particularly the pro-life side. Every time a planned parenthood clinic is bombed or a doctor who performs abortions is murdered, members of the pro-life side jump up and start shouting, ?We don?t advocate this! These people don?t represent us!? But what do they expect will happen when they constantly use inflammatory rhetoric like ?murder,? ?slaughter,? etc. to describe abortion, and compare abortion to the Holocaust and genocide? Even if I finally decided abortion was wrong, I would never join the pro-life side.

Danny Baldwin wrote:
Even though the way it is far from great, I still believe you should abstain if you don't want children, but people will never practice this; plain and simple.


This just doesn?t seem realistic or practical to me. People have a natural desire to have sex, and prohibiting themselves will, believe me, cause situations I?m sure many people would object to -- specifically an even greater interest in pornography. Wouldn?t it be interesting if society sanctioned ways of relieving sexual desire without actual intercourse? Oral sex parties? Masturbation breaks at work? The problem, of course, is that society, or, at least, American society, is so immature when it comes to sex the only thing it can do when the issue arises (no pun) is blush and scoot it under the rug. Or crack adolescent jokes. Yes, I am a child of my society.

likeadeadduck wrote:
What if Einstien's mom had decided to get an abortion?


What if Hitler?s mom had decided to get an abortion?

likeadeadduck wrote:
Besides, if abortion is allowed, it will just give teenagers an excuse to have unprotected sewx whenever they want and not worry about the consequences. "Oh darn, im pregnant again. Now i'll have to spend $50 on another abortion. Oh well."


This gets my hackles up. This is the typical pro-life tactic: Establish a straw man; knock it down; take the moral high ground.

beltmann wrote:
I'm often astonished that so many pro-lifers base their position on the "sanctity of life" argument, but conveniently put that aside when expressing support for capital punishment. To my mind, that's hypocrisy.


Yup. I have the same problem with liberals shouting ?Protect our civil liberties!? and then shouting ?Abolish gun ownership!?

Danny Baldwin wrote:
I'm for capital punishment because those people actually did something wrong.


Capital punishment has always smacked of vengeance to me. I?m not saying I?m necessarily against it, but I am saying that vengeance is no way for a civilized society to conduct itself. I?d like my culture to be more morally upright than I am as an individual. And, yes, I do see the contradiction of supporting the death penalty but not abortion. (Conversely, many liberals support abortion, but not the death penalty. Hmm, now why am I politically moderate again?) Eric commented, ?I'll just say that in my opinion, a convict's guilt does not strip them of their right to life.? At my most idealistic I completely agree with him. At my most base and emotional, I usually just say, ?Pop a cap in the motherf***ers.?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 10:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last night I was organizing a shelf, and stumbled across Net Hentoff's Speaking Freely, a memoir I had read years ago. Hentoff, one of my favorite writers, is a wonderful jazz critic, a kind rationalist, and a revered columnist for the Village Voice, notorious for his staunch liberalism and atheism. When I saw the book, I remembered a chapter he devoted to abortion--the one topic where he diverged from conventional liberal wisdom.

With this thread in mind, I re-opened the book, and found myself intrigued a second time. I quote the following only because his words seem relevant to our inquiries.

And I read about the growing sophistication of fetal surgery--operations on the fetus that remedy various defects. But the same fetus, the next day, can legally be killed by abortion.

I spoke to a number of physicians who do research in prenatal development, and they emphasized that human life is a continuum from fertilization to birth to death. Setting up divisions of this process to justify abortion, for example, is artificial. It is the life of a developing being that is being killed. The euphemisms for an aborted fetus--"the product of conception" and "clump of cells"--are what George Orwell might have called newspeak.

What particularly helped clarify the abortion question for me was a statement in the Journal of the American Medical Association by a North Carolina physician, Dr. Joel Hylton:

"Who can deny that the fetus is alive and is a separate genetic entity? Its humanity also cannot be questioned scientifically. It is certainly of no other species. That it is dependent on another makes it qualitatively no different from countless other humans outside the womb. 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. Nowhere else in our society is this permitted or even thinkable--although abortion sets a frightening prospect."


Hentoff goes on to discuss how the effects of abortion have a necessary impact on the fundamental values of the nation. Another one of his claims is that if human life begins at fertilization, then it is the duty of liberals, as self-appointed protectors of the powerless, to ensure the rights of that unique entity. He then quotes Mary Meehan in The Progressive:

"Some of us who went through the antiwar struggles of the 1960s and 1970s are now active in the right-to-life movement. We do not enjoy opposing our old friends on the abortion issue, but we feel that we have no choice... It is out of character for the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient. The basic instinct of the left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves. And that instinct is absolutely sound. It's what keeps the human proposition going."

Hentoff also takes pro-lifers to task for being inconsistent, quoting Barney Frank: "Those who oppose abortion are pro-life only up to the moment of birth." Hentoff feels that to be pro-life, one requires a "consistent ethic of life. They ought to actively oppose capital punishment, preparations for war, and the life-diminishing poverty associated with" certain government policies.

For me, I'm intrigued mostly by the notion that human life is a continuum, which is marked by a different set of "necessary" traits at different points during the process--is the ability to "experience life" as we know it a necessary trait at every stage (or any stage, for that matter)? And I don't know how to answer Dr. Hylton's question: "Who can deny that the fetus is alive and is a separate genetic entity? Its humanity also cannot be questioned scientifically. It is certainly of no other species."

Hmmm. Discuss.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 10:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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?
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
This just doesn?t seem realistic or practical to me. People have a natural desire to have sex, and prohibiting themselves will, believe me, cause situations I?m sure many people would object to -- specifically an even greater interest in pornography. Wouldn?t it be interesting if society sanctioned ways of relieving sexual desire without actual intercourse? Oral sex parties? Masturbation breaks at work? The problem, of course, is that society, or, at least, American society, is so immature when it comes to sex the only thing it can do when the issue arises (no pun) is blush and scoot it under the rug. Or crack adolescent jokes. Yes, I am a child of my society.


All true, and in this, we are able to conclude that a society without abortion is as great a problem as a society without sex.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 09.29.2003 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
All true, and in this, we are able to conclude that a society without abortion is as great a problem as a society without sex.


LOL. Touche. Okay, what I meant was more along the lines of "a society that refuses to acknowledge sex will always have the problem of abortion/unwanted pregnancy."
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