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Eminent Domain Stuff

New London Update (2/24/06)
Coverage of the Rally at New London's City Hall (w/ pics)

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I feel compelled to post a reply to the article detailing the Bush administration’s efforts to ban second-trimester abortions. Now, let me state at the outset that I’m of the opinion that abortion isn’t a good thing, but is, rather, a necessary thing. I don’t believe that abortion should be encouraged, and I certainly don’t think that it should ever fall into routine usage as a form of birth control, however, it must be made an available option for women, for a variety of reasons which I’ll expand upon later.

That being said, I take extreme exception to the claims staked by the pediatrician Dr. Anand in the article, who states that he believes that “the fetus is conscious” at twenty weeks. As evidence, he cites the fact that “…fetuses show increased heart rate, blood flow and hormone levels in response to pain.” Now, I’m no comparative physiologist, but I’m willing to bet good cash money that if you provided a noxious stimulus to any living thing with an organized nervous and circulatory system, it too would show similar responses. Are we then left to assume that all living things with organized nervous and circulatory systems are conscious? Of course not!

To state it syllogistically, consciousness is an attribute of normally developed human beings, normally developed human beings share certain physiologic traits with all other living things, therefore, are all living things conscious?

Just because a fetus maintains a “human” genetic complement does not automatically imbue it with the self-awareness and free will which we attribute to consciousness. Rather, it might make more sense to view consciousness as an attribute of normal human development, something that comes into being over time. Speaking from personal experience, I wouldn’t grant myself sentient status until at least the age of four or five, and I think that my sense of consciousness continues to evolve and expand to this day.

If we rely on the personal belief systems of zealots like Dr. Anand when formulating policy, rather than demonstrable facts, we start to slide down a slippery slope. If the fetus is conscious at 20 weeks gestation, then why not 20 days, 20 seconds… ad infinitum. In fact, taken to its logical conclusion, then might not sperm and eggs maintain individual consciousness? In that case I would make Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot look like a bunch of peaceniks.

Additionally, who’s to say that it’s the presence or absence of consciousness that should be the ultimate arbiter of who, or what, gets to live or not? In our love of all things anthropomorphic (cuddly dolphins in tuna nets? how dare we?), we happily grant consciousness cosmic import and accord it protection while we let 99.9% of the rest of Earth’s flora and fauna go to shit. If elephants ran the world then they might see it perfectly fit to annihilate any organism hapless enough to not be outfitted with a trunk, and we, my friends, would be trampled pancakes underfoot in this pachycentric universe, consciousness and all.

Now, given that human beings have decimated the elephant population, I see little risk of this occurring in our lifetimes. However, there is a point to my digression. Using consciousness, or other human-like attributes, as a key variable in deciding what organisms get to live and which get the axe is a convenient method for human beings, who happen to possess consciousness. It make us feel a lot better when we chomp into that big tasty burger or pick the dolphin meat out of our tuna sandwiches. However, this is merely a logical endpoint of human-run social systems, not some preordained cosmic truth.

While I find the claim that 20 week fetuses are conscious highly dubious to begin with, even if true, there are other considerations at play. For example, the health of the mother – I say that the mother has first dibs, in part because it’s her body that the kid is parasitizing in the first place (ok, ok, how could I compare a baby to parasite?? c’mon guys, we’re all in medical school and physiologically speaking, you all know that this is absolutely the truth). Other serious considerations surrounding the parents’ ability to care for the child as well as serious debilitating illness that would result in prolonged suffering for the fetus ex-utero. Again, I’m not in favor of using abortion for birth-control, per se, but ultimately this decision must be left up to the woman who must carry and then potentially care for the infant.

So yes, what I’m saying is that even if ultrasonographers suddenly noticed that fetuses were waving to the camera and giving the “peace sign” there might still be convincing instances in which those pregnancies should be medically terminated. We eat other animals to survive, hell, we send 18 year old, quite conscious, men and women to foreign countries to kill and be killed. Sometimes life ain’t pretty and the decisions we make are difficult, but the hope is that we make such decisions only in our good-faith efforts to produce a better reality… for the conscious people, of course.


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