Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the concept of "personhood"

Personhood is often invoked as a yardstick for determining if a member of the species homo sapiens deserves the protection of the state.  The problem as always with such concepts that deny rights to humans is that upon inspection the concept of "Personhood" breaks down.  The proponents of abortion will cite Personhood as the thing which a fetus lacks, and thus can be "terminated" without violating the right to life of "persons".  But when asked for a definition is when things begin to go south.

Personhood has no real definition.  Unlike the distinction between the color of skin, ethnicity, age, geography, and sex the concept of Personhood has no distinguishable traits that mark a fetus as a "person" vs. a "non-person".  This is not to say that traits won't be invoked.  As a whole however Personhood as an operational definition is poorly defined, especially for the potential stakes at play.

Before we look at the real problem with the term let us examine some traits that are marshaled toward its definition.  A problem will become apparent soon enough:

The ability to feel pain - This is often the first trait that is invoked to distinguish "persons" from the fetus.  This is obviously problematic given conditions such as the inability to feel pain in otherwise "fully formed" humans. This is often the first metric to be countered and dropped like a hot potato in discussion.  More on this afterwards.

Cognition - This is the closest thing approaching actual philosophical thought given modernist assumptions about mental activity and what it means to be human.  The problem is that this is invoked not for cognition per se but brain wave activity.  The two are not the same, despite materialists tendencies to convince us otherwise.

The main problem with using cognition as a metric is that cognition is a relative quality when it comes to our ability to perceive it.  So folks with Down's Syndrome for example would appear to be less worthy of life because of lower cognitive abilities, something which normal people would reject.  As a side note this is not always the case, see Nazi Germany and "life unworthy of life".

Viability - Ironically the weakest yet the one that comes up most often in discussions about abortion.  The best definition I have of this is the likelihood of the fetus living outside the womb.  The silliness of this metric is the fact that the ability for the fetus to survive keeps improving as medical technology advances.  Which means not only is viability not static but relative but it isn't even dependent on the fetus itself.  Let's think about that for a minute.  This is supposedly a metric to determine Personhood, yet the metric doesn't involve the fetus at all.

The real problem with this type of thinking is that realistically speaking it isn't even about the fetus.  The pro-abortion mind throws these things out in an attempt to deny the humanity of the fetus.  First pain is usually cited then dropped real fast when the disorder cited above is mentioned.  Then cognition.  Then viability.

The line of thinking presented is not about determining what exactly personhood is.  It is an attempt to justify abortion by "squishifying" what it means to be human in order to justify abortion post hoc.  Personhood is not a legitimate distinction, but is simply a means to an end to dispose of "non-persons" that meet the arbitrary metrics.

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