Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Gives Humans Value?

Both sides of the abortion issue have to answer this question - What makes human beings valuable? I think when it comes down to it, this is the biggest point of disagreement between pro-lifers and pro-abortion-choicers. It is undeniable that from the earliest time of its existence, human embryos/fetuses are in fact human. Anyone who denies that a human embryo is not human is rejecting science. However, many abortion-choicers get around this fact by creating a "Personhood Argument". They argue that humans are not valuable until they become "Persons", then define for themselves what "Personhood" means. The most common definitions of personhood I have heard are that persons have to be either, 1. Self-Aware or, 2. Have Sentience. These are the most common, but any definition of the personhood claim can be refuted.

Those who say self-awareness or having sentience is what gives fetuses value are saying that is what gives all humans value. There is a major problem about this: it then follows that people who have more self-awareness or more sentience are more valuable than those with less self-awareness or less sentience. This goes for any definition of personhood; whether it be the number of cells in the body or the ability to move or anything else - it is simply logically consistent to have to then accept that people who have more of whatever "personhood" is defined by are MORE valuable. This completely trashes the concept of equality that our society so firmly believes in (and rightly so).

Other problems of saying sentience/self-awareness are what gives humans value, is that people who make this argument to justify abortion must be referring to an immediate capacity for self-awareness/sentience. Since embryos/fetuses will eventually gain the ability to be self-aware and gain sentience, these young humans obviously have the potential capacity. In order to make this argument logically consistent with the claim fetuses are not valuable, you must accept that immediate self-awareness/sentience gives you value. So what about when you go to sleep? Are you very self-aware when you go to bed? No. So does that mean I can kill you while you sleep? I think that by this "logic" I COULD kill a sleeping person because they are no longer immediately self-aware and therefore have lost their personhood value. The same goes for people in reverse-able comas, people under anesthetics, some of the mentally-ill. (What is even stranger, is that some intelligent animals are self-aware. Therefore it would seem to follow that you have to regard some animals as valuable persons, but that some humans lack that same value.)

My last point against the sentience/self-awareness argument is that I have never heard a supporter of this view support WHY it is that sentience/self-awareness matters. It is an unsupported premise. What is it about sentience/self-awareness that makes it more important than other human traits? Why not hair color? Why not skin color? Why not the number of brain cells? Yeah, sentience enables us to do many things, but I don't see how that makes it the intrinsic value-giver of the universe. iPads enable us to do many things, also - that does not at all mean that iPads gives people value. Stating that sentience/self-awareness gives humans value is an unsupported premise in the defense of abortion.

But as I said, both sides of the abortion debate must answer the question what gives humans value? If pro-lifers are going to say embryos and fetuses are valuable, they better be able to explain why. And I think we can.

As we saw with the sentience/self-awareness argument, it screws up the firmly held belief that all people have equal value. The pro-life explanation for what gives people value needs to be consistent with the idea of equality in order to beat the sentience/self-awareness explanation. I think it is logical to state - "If all people have equal value, whatever trait that gives us value we must all have an equal quantity of it." So what trait do we all have equally? It is not sentience; it is not self-awareness; it is not a beating heart (some people have heart failure/need medicine to regulate their heart); it is not the ability to breathe (some people need ventilators); and the list could go on and on. There is no physical or mental trait that all humans have equally, except one: a common human nature. All people are equally human. In order to be consistent with the idea of equality, we must accept that the very fact of being human makes us valuable. Thus, human embryos and fetuses are just as valuable as you and me.

To be fair, I must also explain why being human matters. Why not being a dog? Or a bird? Why are humans valuable while other species are not? The answer to this is both simple and complex: Because humans are made in the image of their creator.  Yes, this requires a spiritual/religious premise - but I don't think that saying fetuses have value is any more religious than saying teenagers have value. I challenge anyone who rejects this premise to try to define ANYTHING as intrinsically valuable without some sort of meta-physical premise. Furthermore, people should not reject a statement simply because they consider it meta-physical. Saying, "Metaphysical claims are not real knowledge" is a metaphysical claim. Likewise, saying empirical evidence is the only source of true knowledge/truth is also a metaphysical claim. Therefore, those who reject this premise of a creator that deemed humans as valuable must provide some other argument against it other than, "It is metaphysical."

In summary:
1. Defining personhood and intrinsic human value by any physical or mental trait trashes the firmly held belief of human equality.
2. Pro-lifers believe that simply being human is what makes humans intrinsically valuable and equal.
3. Since embryos/fetuses are human, they should be regarded as valuable people, equal to you and me.