Tuesday, October 3, 2006

whatever you do, don't think of it as a [human]

Incredible. A group of scientists, including Dr. Donald Peebles of the University College London, believes that ultrasound images of babies (or "foetuses," as the English say) in the womb are "dangerously misleading."
Ultrasound images which show 12-week-old foetuses sucking their thumbs and walking in the womb are dangerously misleading, a group of scientists warned today.

The 3D images of unborn babies apparently behaving in a similar way to newborns raised questions over whether the upper limit for abortions should be reduced form 24 weeks.

However, a group of scientists has now warned the scans could be dangerously misleading as they do not reflect the true nature of an unborn baby's brain.

Dr Donald Peebles, a consultant in foetal medicine at University College London, said the temptation to associate foetal movements with adult movements was "incredibly dangerous" and said they contributed nothing to the debate over whether the legal time limit for abortion should be lowered. (Daily Mail)
This article is frustrating for many reasons, the least of which is the lack of explanation by the scientists as to what is "dangerously misleading." Who is in danger? How are they in danger? Yes, of course, we understand that a child at 12 weeks in the womb is very immature, but that doesn't make her any less human. The level of maturity isn't the deciding factor in what constitutes a human being - its very existence is.

More from: Justin Taylor, Tim Ellsworth


  1. The level of maturity isn't the deciding factor in what constitutes a human being - its very existence is.

    I have to disagree to some extent. The question we are trying to answer is, what is it about being human that entitles the human to greater rights on life than other living beings. After all, there are no real qualms about killing, say, a chicken. So, it's not the sanctity of all life that's being discussed - it's the sanctity of human life. So, we have to figure out what it is about being human that's more valuable than other kinds of life.

    Divine decree? Maybe. That's not really up for debate. Either you believe it or you don't.

    Superior cognition and emotional development? Maybe. But, a mature chicken probably has more of that than, say, a one month old baby. But nobody's agitating to be able to kill one month old babies.

    Potential for superior cognition and emotional development given the proper nurturing? Maybe. But we don't get too worked up about gratuitous disposal of sperm and eggs which also have such potential if properly nurtured. Also, we sustain human life long after the brain has deteriorated to the point where dogs and chickens have superior cognitive and emotional capacity.

    Obviously I don't have the answers, but I don't think the issue is as clear as the mere biological fact of humanity.

  2. Doug: Thanks for leaving a comment! That's the longest one I've gotten from you yet. I do feel honored that you took the time to share your thoughts with me, and I am grateful.

    That being said, your last point is precisely where we disagree. I believe that "mere biological fact of humanity" is our starting point. The very existence of the child makes her human, no matter what deformities or imperfections (and don't we all have those?) she may have. If there is some later decision to make after conception (when individual existence begins), then who makes it and how is it decided?