Umbilical Cord

Why “viability” is a meaningless standard for human rights

Viability. For those trying to justify abortion, it almost seems like a magic word, the quality that singlehandedly determines whether or not a baby has any rights. If a baby can’t survive outside his or her mother’s womb, they say, it doesn’t count as a real person; it’s just a part of the mother’s body.

But like all magic, the viability standard is a mere trick, a rhetorical sleight-of-hand directing the audience’s attention away from the truly relevant facts about a baby’s humanity. In truth, “viability” has no real ethical relevance.

How could it? Surely the protection of the womb and the nourishment of the umbilical cord can’t be morally significant, since these needs – shelter, nutrients, oxygen – are not at all different from the needs of adults; only the delivery method is different. None of us are “viable” without external aid of some sort.

Is it the lack of certain fully developed, functioning organs which makes the difference? Pro-aborts should think twice before answering yes, considering that various birth defects, accidents, and illnesses can render children and adults similarly “non-viable,” their organs unable to sustain them without the aid of devices such as pacemakers, dialysis machines, iron lungs, prosthetic limbs, or in some cases, entire artificial organs. Yet most of us would instinctively recoil at the suggestion that our similarly afflicted friends or relatives are somehow less human or less worthy of protection.

Or perhaps it’s the dependence on a fellow human being that makes the difference. But here, too, there’s less than meets the eye. Though connected to a mother’s body, it does not follow that fetuses are part of the mother’s body. Scientifically speaking, humans are unique individuals from fertilization onward, with their own unique DNA, growth, and needs, and as Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, “if the fetus is a part of the mother, then the parts of the fetus must be parts of the mother. But in that case, every pregnant woman has four eyes and four feet, and half of all pregnant women have penises!”

Further, we have real-world examples of adults who are connected on a far deeper physical level than any mother and unborn child. Consider George and Lori Schappell:

The twins, from Pennsylvania in America, were born sharing 30 per cent of their frontal lobe brain tissue and critical blood vessels, meaning they cannot be separated.

A court then decided their parents couldn’t care for the twins properly and they were placed in an institution in which the majority of patients were suffering from severe mental disabilities, despite neither twin having such a disability.

Lori says: “There was absolutely nothing wrong with us, apart from physically.

“But people didn’t know any better.”

Lori is a “champion ten-pin bowler,” while George “performs as a country and western singer.” If sharing part of a brain doesn’t keep people from being distinct individuals, then how can a simple cord passing blood mean anything?

Contrary to its prominence in pro-abortion arguments, viability doesn’t make anyone more or less human, alive, or worthy of respect and protection. Justifying something as severe as the destruction of innocent human beings will take much more than a smoke-and-mirror routine about humans’ basic needs.

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  • prolife

    Very well articulated, Calvin.  A baby cannot survive after birth without external help; they are still dependent.  Does that mean they are less human and can be killed?  Obviously the viability issue is irrelevant.

  • Cornwellwr

    Straw Man argument

    • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

      How so?

      • MoonChild02

        The straw man fallacy is as follows:Person A has position X.

        Person B presents position Y (which is similar to X, but not exactly).

        Person B attacks position Y.

        Therefore, Person B believes X to be false/incorrect/flawed.
        Hence, the reason Cornwellwr can say that this is a straw man argument, because, by all appearances, it is. Not that it’s wrong, mind you, but when one uses a logical fallacy in an actual debate, the argument is considered invalid.

        • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

          I know what a straw-man argument is. That still doesn’t explain where one shows up here.

          • MoonChild02

            The comparison to those with artificial implants and conjoined twins. I think the comparison is fine, but others might not think so.

  • Anabenderas

    I absolutely agree. Thank you, Calvin for your eloquent explanation!

  • Detroiter327

    The main thing being overlooked here is sustainability. Viability and sustainability go hand in hand. When someone receives a pacemaker or artificial organ (using your example) their life is being sustained. You cannot sustain a 20 week fetus. Even if science could develop past this point, wouldnt there be ethical “playing God” arguments about growing babies in an artificial setting (IVF? Cloning?) If a fetus has not grown enough to be medically sustainable for even one second of its life how does the analogy of using fake organs stack up? You say that viability is a rhetorical slight of hand. There is nothing rhetorical, or ethical, or moral, about it. Its actually (in this context) 100% scientific. If a fetus is never able to be sustained to the point of even semi conscious existence how does that make it an individual, besides the fact it has its own DNA?

    • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

      “You cannot sustain a 20 week fetus.”

      So?

      “wouldnt there be ethical ‘playing God’ arguments about growing babies in an artificial setting (IVF? Cloning?)”

      There already are. And…?

      “If a fetus has not grown enough to be medically sustainable for even one
      second of its life how does the analogy of using fake organs stack up?”

      It stacks up in the context I was referring it to in. It’s telling that you have to move the goalpost to such an extreme as one-second survival to object.

      “You say that viability is a rhetorical slight of hand. There is nothing
      rhetorical, or ethical, or moral, about it. Its actually (in this
      context) 100% scientific.”

      I have no idea what you’re trying to say with this sentence.

      “If a fetus is never able to be sustained to the point of even semi
      conscious existence how does that make it an individual, besides the
      fact it has its own DNA?”

      Simple: the definition of life and the definition of human being.

      • Detroiter327

        1)You cannot sustain a fetus before a certain amount of time. The fact that before (we’ll pick a non argumentative number) 20 weeks its life is never sustainable leaves your analogy of organs and pacemakers obsolete. A pacemaker is sustaining a “viable” life while a “one second from survival” fetus is completely unsustainable. The analogy is misleading and wrong. I was going to go with flawed but lets say it like it is. 
        2)Viability is used as a scientific ruler for a fetuses chance for survival. You cannot try to say its a moral or ethical question. Which you did.
        3)Many people think the definition of life and being a human being means growing (or being sustainable enough to) reach a point of at least semi consciousness. 

        • RichardG

          “Cannot sustain” is a strong expression given the fast progression of medical science. It seems arbitrary to base a life or death decision on the current state of medical science and technology, which seems to only keep getting more advanced. The humanity of the unborn does not change one iota, scientifically, at the point medical science is able to keep it alive outside the womb. Further, the definition of human being and being alive are 100% scientific: human life starts at conception, this is undeniable and proven several decades ago by science (and accepted as early as 1933 by Alan Guttmacher himself, in his book published in that year). Science, however, cannot tell you when to value human life, so you saying a human cannot be an individual until it is sustainable outside the womb and semi-conscious is a philosophical and moral position. It usually leads to arguments for infanticide, since newborns are no more conscious or sentient than pre-borns. BTW The first 6-12 days of your life you were separate and unattached to your mother, as we all were. Were we individuals then? Yes, separate and unattached, self-sustaining even. Did we, on implantation, somehow turn into our mothers (into “her body”) and then magically turn back into our individual selves at birth, only after cutting the umbilical cord of course? No, instead, as individuals, we each attached ourselves to our respective mothers on implantation, and set up camp there, as we were designed to, until we grew big enough to optimally birth ourselves. Somewhere along the way we became ‘viable’, but only at a completely arbitrary point depending on the current state of medical technology and science and availability of such in the country our mother happened to be residing in. Viability is NOT an accepted or fixed or scientific point in a human being’s life, it is instead completely artificial. It has nothing to do with any human characteristic or property of the human species, but everything to do with the stage medical technology is at.

        • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

          “The fact that before (we’ll pick a non argumentative number) 20 weeks
          its life is never sustainable leaves your analogy of organs and
          pacemakers obsolete.”

          Because you say so? The simple point I’m making is that we recognize in most cases that viability/sustainability is not a measure of humanity or human rights.

          “Viability is used as a scientific ruler for a fetuses chance for
          survival. You cannot try to say its a moral or ethical question. Which
          you did.”

          Um, no. You have that exactly backwards. I explicitly argued that viability WASN’T a significant moral yardstick for determining the ethics of abortion.

          “Many people think the definition of life and being a human being means
          growing (or being sustainable enough to) reach a point of at least semi
          consciousness.”

          And “many people” would then be wrong.

        • Beth

          What in the world do you think pregnancy is???  Goodness gracious, everything’s got to me mechanical and unnatural with these people…

    • MoonChild02

      A 20 week baby could possibly be sustained, if the child is born in the right place, but in certain countries, including the UK, it’s illegal to try because trying to sustain such a life is deemed “a waste of resources”. However, the medical technology exists. The smallest baby ever to be born and survive, Rumaisa Rahman, was born at 26 weeks, but at 9.2 ounces, which is the size of a fetus of 18 weeks. Rumaisa is now seven years old. Therefore, it is possible for a 20 week baby to survive, it just isn’t done because of legal hindrances.

      Also, fetuses are plenty conscious. Brain waves are detectable by six weeks – still in the embryo stage. They just sleep a lot, as do newborns, because they’re growing, and growth requires sleep. Fetuses react to voices they recognize, react to music, react to touch, they play (as ultrasounds of multiples often show), react to their mother’s emotional state, they are born crying in the melody of their mother’s native tongue, they recognize music they heard while in the womb, etc. Evidence of fetal consciousness:
      http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97635&page=1
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1364120/Unborn-babies-played-music-womb-remember-melodies-born.html
      http://www.pregnancy.org/article/baby-plays-and-learns-in-the-womb
      http://health.howstuffworks.com/pregnancy-and-parenting/pregnancy/fetal-development/alertness-in-the-womb.htm
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8346058.stm
      http://www.pregnancy.org/article/babys-senses-womb
      http://www.eheart.com/cesarean/babies.html

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-M-Williams/1021964754 Michelle M. Williams

         Every single one of those articles that you are referencings are about third trimester fetuses that have already reached viability. And Rahman doesn’t prove that a 20 week fetus can survive simply because she is the same size as one. It is more than just size that precludes a 20 week fetus from viability. Even large 36 week premies can still have issues because they are not as developed as a fulll term. That is like saying a tall 13-year-old is more developed than a small 27-year-old because the 13-year-old is taller and weighs more.

        • MoonChild02

          They’re not fully about third trimester babies. In fact, if you read the articles in their entirety, you come across findings such as these:
          “Baby begins to hear sounds around 17 weeks”
          “Although your baby’s first muscle movements were involuntary, the first voluntary muscle movements occur around week 16.”
          “Twins at 20 weeks’ gestation can be seen developing certain gestures and habits that persist into their postnatal years.”
          “In only the third month of your baby’s life in the womb, his or her hearing is starting to develop fully. Around mid-term, you will begin to feel your baby’s reaction to certain noises.” (mid term is 18-20 weeks)
          “You baby actually sees shades of red and orange in bright light. Around the fourth month, your baby may begin reacting to the light, by turning away or towards it.”
          “In a documented report of work via ultrasound, a baby struck accidentally by a needle not only twisted away, but located the needle barrel and hit it repeatedly–surely an aggressive and angry behavior. Similarly, ultrasound experts have reported seeing twins hitting each other, while others have seen twins playing together, gently awakening one another, playing cheek-to-cheek, and and even kissing. Such scenes, some at only 20 weeks g.a., were never anticipated in developmental psychology.”

    • Aldf

      Actually, we currently have the medical technology to sustain a 20 week old “fetus”. Though not easy, it is possible.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/vostra.guida Vostra Guida

      Don’t fall into Detroiter327′s trap. A very young fetus’s life is sustainable. It is just sustainable in the womb. Why does location inside the body as opposed to outside the body matter? Just like an astonaut is still human when he/she travels to the moon, even though his life is sustainable only because he/she is inside a spaceship that provides him with the necessary oxygen he needs. A child that needs to be in a protective bubble his/her whole life is similarly sustainable. I can go on and on with examples, but the point is that whether or not a being’s life can be sustained for a second does not alter its characteristic as a living being.

      In addition, according to Detroiter 327, sustainability is the measure, and you are not human if your life cannot be sustained for 1 second. I’m pretty certain that the half second before my grandfather died from a heart attack he was still human even though doctors were not able to sustain his life even for 1 second more. His life did not cease to exist the moment when his life could not be sustained 1 second longer. His humanity and life ceased when he died, and not a second or half second sooner.

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