Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Viability - A Thought Experiment

The abortion debate grumbles on, and this time round Viability has become the watchword. But is viability really the point? As this is the Thought Experiments blog, let's try one. Suppose a foetus/embryo was viable at every stage of its existence - and with the development of 'artificial wombs' etc, this might even become a possibility - would that make abortion at any stage impermissible? Or suppose human beings were so consituted as to be viable only after live birth at full term - would that make abortion at any stage short of full-term labour permissible?


  1. It's viability after birth, so to speak, that concerns me. The circumstances in which some parents have children makes me shudder.

  2. It seems to me that making viability the point at which a fetus becomes entitled to protection is typically an attempt to avoid some of the cognitive dissonance to which moderate positions on abortion are prone. Specifically, there is something deeply odd about having medical professionals struggling to keep alive a newborn child while other medical professionals kill fetuses at the same point in their development.

    That said, I think there is a lot of cognitive dissonance left over in the moderate position, not the least of which concerns the question of when to think of a fetus as a baby. This seems to have nothing to do with its development and everything to do with whether the child is wanted. I'm told that it's standard practice amongst doctors in the U.S. to refer to avoid using the word "baby" until it's clear that the mother wishes to keep it, at which point the fetus miraculously becomes a not-yet-born baby - quite a feat of transubstantiation.

  3. Hey, Neil -- It's good to see your name again.

    Man, this is a loaded topic Nigel. A far cry from your Aurelian pursuits!

    I'm glad I never was in a position where I had to have an abortion -- indeed, not sure I could have done it, even if it had ruined my life -- but I sure do support women's right to choose. Especially teenagers and women who have been raped.

    On the other hand, I think late-term abortions are just loathsome. So viability must matter at some point; it's picking the point that continues to cause the difficulty. Peter, your point about the cognitive dissonance involved in killing some unborn babies and saving others is well taken.

    Also, of course, there's adoption. In fifteen minutes I'll be babysitting the adorable adopted girl of the gay couple next door. These guys are the best parents I've ever seen and their babe is a delightful little chick. In their case, good thing the mom (whose boyfriend dumped her when he found out she was pregnant) didn't decide to abort the baby.

    The problem here -- and this is always the problem with laws in my opinion -- is that every situation is different but only one law covers all of them.

  4. even if 'having a baby' had ruined my that time....

    clarity is underrated.

  5. Viability? That has to do with potential for life. If something is potentially a human being, then it isn't.

    But, what if an embryo is a human being, not only viable, but actual--an in-the-womb person. If this is the case, then we are talking about murder, that the problem with abortion is that it is murder, and anyone who does it, or abets in it, is a murderer, and should be brought up on charges.

    So, that is and has been the question: at what point does a human being become a human being?

    Yet no one will ever be able to prove anything. After all, no one can prove anyone else is a human. It is, rather, a matter of acceptance. We in the USA now accept that black people are 100% human, not just 6 tenths, that woman should be able to vote as citizens. Should we, as a society, accept an embryo or fetus as a human being, with all due protection under the law, able to fulfill his or her promise?

    As no one can prove anything one way or the other, we might as well all just admit that we do not know. Once we do this, then we might look at the problem as if an abortion detroys a house, a body, a house is being raised, even for some good social purpose. To what length do we need to be sure that there is no one in the womb before we allow demolition? I'd say pretty darn sure. And yet, without the surety that someone was killed, how can we hold someone responsible for a possible murder?


    I am no fan of spiked-online - it frequently makes me rant. But Jennie Bristow's recent piece on Abortion: stop hiding behind the science is one of the few sane voices to be heard above the emotional and religious guff.