Below are notes on the article by from Kuhse and Singer's Bioethics. Please note that unless otherwise noted, these are the respective authors' or author's opinions, and that, although I respect these authors enough to take copious notes of their documents, I do not necessarily agree with any of this. | HOME

"Abortion and Health Care Ethics" by John Finnis

If the unborn are human persons, then abortion is prohibited. Contents of this article:

  1. Argument that the unborn are indeed human persons
  2. Ways which the Principle of Justice and Non-Maleficience (Catholic Creeds) bear on various actions and procedures which harm (or may well harm) the unborn
The above are considerations independent of Catholic faith or any religious premise.
  1. Most people begin at fertilization
    1. The thing common to all who are regarded as persons -- they are living human individuals. Anyone who claims that an individual is not a person must demonstrate that the ordinary notion of a person is misguided (and should be replaced), lest the claim becomes arbitrary discrimination
    2. Tooley: personhood is gradually acquired by development. Therefore, the unborn and newborn are not persons!
      1. This begs the question by assuming
        1. Abortion is morally acceptable
        2. Active potentiality/capacity cannot be the defining property of personhood even when it is a capacity possessed by the individual.
    3. Donceel and the neo-Aristotelians: personhood dependent on the brain (and sense organs)
      1. Thus, the early embryo is only a pre-personal entity, which changes into a person ("ensoulment") suddenly when the brain starts to develop.
      2. This is inconsistent with biological data. The beginning of the brain's development provides only a precursor of bodily basis for intellectual activities. "If this precursor is sufficient for 'ensoulment,' there is no reason why earlier precursors should fail to suffice..."
      3. Upon conception, the entity possesses the "epigenetic primordia" that gives it the potential to develop into a human being. To draw a line in any stage of its development would result in an unnecessary mess of multifarious entities, which would lead to unnecessary complications that ought to be shaved off immediately by Occam's Razor.
    4. Aquinas and the Mediaeval Aristotleians: semen's "active instrumental power" organizes the menstrual blood into a body, which grows and nourishes in a plant-like/animal-like way
      1. (Tooley claims without much proof that) If they weren't so biologically ignorant, and knew about the organic life which organizes the ~1 billion items of molecular information in the 1-cell conceptus with the self-directing dynamic integration... they'd agree with the "standard view" that an entity with epigenetic primordia is human.
      2. This "potentiality" present in the epigenetic primordia is like how we have the potential to speak Tibetian or Icelandic, but have not yet the time to learn it, so an embryo has the potential to be a person, but not yet the time to develop into one.
      3. (Note that Finnis excludes a chicken, which according to evolution may one day in the far-far-far future evolve into a sentient being, from being considered to have the same potential, since his "potential" belongs only to the "entity which remaining the same individual, will develop into a paradigmatic instance of that kind.")
    5. Ford: the entity is not human until two weeks
      1. Personhood begins when the individual with truly human nature emerges
      2. Ontologically distinct individuals at each division until thousands on day 14
      3. Then, suddenly, all cease to exist when they become one-living-body.
      4. What about twinning?
      5. Finnis believes that he has clearly shown that because enforcing "boundarylines" result in ontological monsters such as the above, the idea that the embryo upon conception (by "creed" of epigenetic primordia) is a human must be the only sound view.
    6. Many find it intolerable that a high percentage of people never get beyond the earliest stage of existence, since many embryos do not live until birth.
      1. But, if a one-celled human organism is atypical, say if it were a genetically human zygote lacking the epigenetic primordia needed to develop any brain, then that entity is not human.
    7. What is decisive is not the possession of the human genome, but the organic integration of a single, whole bodied individual organism... This is found from the inception of fertilization (sans the atypical case where the zygote lacks epigenetic primordia).
    8. Reason can find no event/principle/criterion to judge the adult/newborn/unborn as anything other than the same being
      1. Science and philosophy concur that every human individual is a person.

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