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The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.
--Cornelius Tacitus (c. 116 A.D.)

Friday, February 01, 2002
In response to Tim and Christie's blogs about the new "It's a baby damn it!" law.
We discussed this extensively in biomedical ethics. Never reached a conclusion.

The problem arises because pregnancy is a unique situation. You cannot have two bearers of full rights within one skin. Even if you accept the premise that a fetus is a person from day one, you must recognize that the rights of one of the two people sharing that pregnant body will have to be encroached upon in many situations. Whose life, whose safety, whose peace of mind, whose convenience takes precedence? You can't argue that a rape victim abdicated her autonomy when she became pregnant because she didn't choose to become pregnant. For that matter the abdication of autonomy is hard to argue in your basic unplanned pregnancy. The woman may have been blatantly irresponsible or absolutely scrupulous with her birth control, the fact is that she did not choose to become pregnant. Yes, by engaging in sex she knowingly put herself at risk, but such is the nature of life. If I am killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street I am not responsible, though as an adult I recognize the risk inherent in street crossing. I choose to be careful and look both ways but if by some unlucky chance I am struck no one will stand by my grave and blame me.

It is ethically indefensible to attempt to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.

We must decide whose interests will become secondary in this unique situation.

A fetus is alive from day one. It is genetically human. It has a heartbeat and fingerprints. Do these attributes bestow personhood upon the fetus from conception? Is there a single attribute or combination of attributes that combine to form Person? Where is the line drawn?

The majority of abortions are performed before 24 weeks. Brainwaves begin after 24 weeks. The cessation of brain activity is how we define the death of a person.

So the notion that a fetus is a person is fraught with difficulty. The conceptualization of a fetus as a potential person is much less problematic. As a potential person a fetus has limited rights (i.e. the duty imposed upon others to respect those rights.) Because it is not yet a person it does not bear a right to life. However because the decision of whether the fetus will become a person rests with the parent, the duty to that fetus to protect its future also rests with the parent. This is the notion of holding rights in trust. Parents hold a minor child's rights in trust until the child reaches the point of autonomy and is able to fully exercise his or her own rights. This is well established. However, parents are not allowed to make decisions for their children that will significantly impact a child's future ability to fully and freely exercise their rights. Example: Parents of Amish children must nevertheless send their children to school, because the lack of a high school education will restrict the child's future life choices, (whether to live as Amish or English.) Another example is religious parents refusing medical treatment for their child. (yes it happens sometimes but the courts have consistently ruled that it is not acceptable.) To refuse lifesaving medical treatment or basic education is to deny a child an open future. A fetus as a potential child is entitled to good prenatal care if the mother decides to have the baby. Not because it is a child but because it may become a child. For the same reason that we have Head Start and subsidized school lunches.

posted by Rachel 2/1/2002
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I am ready to bite someone's head off. The next stupid salesperson who crosses me just better look out. No iMac and no bookshelf for me this week. In direct contradiction to what I was told last week. Sigh of extreme frustration.
posted by Rachel 2/1/2002
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