Monday, April 15, 2019

Abortion and the beating heart

I've never understood the significance of the heartbeat in the abortion controversy. The brain, not the heart, is the organ of thought, and the heart is a blood pump. Either life begins at conception, or the development of the cerebral cortex is what is relevant. Is this another example of pro-life political pragmatism?

6 comments:

Legion of Logic said...

Easily detectable and symbolic of emotion, I suppose

StardustyPsyche said...

@Legion
"Easily detectable and symbolic of emotion, I suppose"
Yes, the fetal heartbeat is another irrational measure of when human life begins, along with conception, viability, birth, or the first breath.

OP
"Either life begins at conception, or the development of the cerebral cortex is what is relevant"
At conception there is no brain, thus no human life. A human being dies when the brain dies.

Thus the second half of your sentence is the true measure of the beginning of human life, the beginning of brain function. Nobody knows precisely what that threshold is, but the notion that a 0 brain is a life is absurd, as the notion of an in utero term baby's brain is not a live human person equally absurd.

Legion of Logic said...

the notion of an in utero term baby's brain is not a live human person equally absurd.

Detectable brain activity starts around six weeks, while the beginning of consciousness or higher thought processes in the cerebral cortex is around 24 weeks.

Even going by the latter, the earliest surviving premature birth was 21 weeks, before this period of developed consciousness occurred. So we then get into either having to acknowledge that consciousness does not define a human life, or that the premature baby was not a human life, or that the level of consciousness needed to define a human life extends past birth, etc. Pretty fuzzy logic in all cases.

So then the question would be, if not consciousness or detectable brain activity, then what metric?

StardustyPsyche said...

"So then the question would be, if not consciousness or detectable brain activity, then what metric? "
We already have a metric, or I should say, a set of clinical tests to make a diagnosis of brain death. This is well established in our law and ethics of medical practice.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2772257/

http://surgery.med.miami.edu/laora/clinical-operations/brain-death-diagnosis

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/the-challenges-of-defining-and-diagnosing-brain-death

Advances in scanning techniques such as fMRI allow for in utero scans. Scans of adults can be correlated with clinical tests. Scans of adult brains can be correlated with scans of in utero brains.

Arguments can still be made as to the exact level of brain activity that constitutes a live human being, and as to the applicability of diminished activity in an adult brain as compared to increasing activity in a growing brain.

Still, we can bracket the question.

If there is no brain then there is no brain function, so there is no human being.

There is no significant difference in brain function when comparing an in utero term baby with a born baby of the same age since conception. If killing a baby in his or her crib is a horrible crime then surely killing a baby of the same age in utero is no lesser crime against humanity.

Every measure in practice is simply a proxy to avoid the much more difficult question of exactly when the brain is sufficiently developed as to constitute a living person.

People use conception, the heartbeat, fetal pain, viability, independent survivability, consciousnesses, birth, and the first breath as their personal demarcation point and develop various rationalizations as to why that particular marker indicates the onset of humanity. All such rationalizations fail under closer examination, but they remain appealing in part because they are fairly easy to define, detect, and measure.

The only consistently rational indicator, minimal brain function, is by far the most difficult to measure, but human inability to measure doesn't make it not so.

Legion of Logic said...

Out of curiosity, what is your position on the legality of abortion? As in, under what circumstances should it be legal in your view?

StardustyPsyche said...

"Out of curiosity, what is your position on the legality of abortion?"
At least we are evolving in the right direction.

Roe was decided using a trimester framework, which was a version of the viability standard, using the onset of the 3rd trimester as a proxy for viability, since, at that time, 100% of 2nd trimester births failed to survive with the best available neonatal care.

Since then the trimester framework has been replaced with the viability standard, and SCOTUS has allowed 20 weeks to be used as a proxy for viability.

Thus, the limit has been pushed down by about 6 weeks since 1973.

Unfortunetly, abortions after 20 weeks are not banned nationally, rather states have that option, and a few, such as NM have not exercised that option so we have an ongoing center of human butchery in the USA in Albuquerque where elective abortions are carried out on 32 week old babies who would otherwise be born live and most likely live to a healthy normal adulthood.

I find that hole in our law absolutely appalling.

As the artificial womb is developed I believe we will be forced to end the viability standard and use a minimal brain function standard, because then every pregnancy will be viable and the term will use all utility in this contexts.

That being foreseeable I think it makes sense to start now to narrow our uncertainty of what it means to become a human being by virtue of our brain function, how to measure that, and when it occurs.

As our level of scientific certainty on this question increases we can begin to incorporate those findings into the law, so maybe we will push the limit down further still. I advocate doing the science and acting accordingly in the law.

BTW, did you have any interest in reviewing my argument from mutual causality?
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2019/03/five-proofs-on-radio.html
If you could find and hopefully post any flaws in my argument that would be much appreciated.