Help with a Secular Defense for the Personhood of the Unborn

Prior to a recent debate, I had found the SLED argument fully convincing. The only difference between the born and unborn lives are size, level of development, enviornment, and degree of dependency. These differences exist even between born persons, and do not exclude anyone from personhood. Any reasonable pro-choice person concedes that the unborn are persons at some point before birth. However, they will also point out that the difference in level of development between the born and unborn is far more significant than between any born persons.

From a secular point of view, what makes our lives morally relevant is the way our minds work. It is what distinguishes us from all other animals, and it is argued that until some semblance of that mind exists, there is no person to wrong with death. It is argued that just as the death of the brain is considered the end of a person, even if their body is alive with organs that can be harvested for transplants, the body before the brain shouldn’t be considered a person.

In my last debate, I brought up that the brain begins forming at 3 weeks and they claimed brain activity that can be likened to ours is detected at 24 weeks. I pointed out that as technology improves things are being detected earlier in pregnancy, and convinced them that we risk oppressing people by defining personhood according to the limitations of current technology.

This makes it morally safer to assume personhood at conception, but assumed personhood isn’t really satisying when a later line may be found. At some point during the debate, I stumbled upon the argument of natural capacity. From the moment of conception, a biological human being with unique DNA exists which has a self directed propensity to develop the mind that is valued. I had trouble arguing why that matters, so this is where I need help.

I tried to argue that the mind shouldn’t be isolated from the body to define personhood because it needs the body to express itself. It needs the heart pumping blood to the brain to exist. Even though the body exists before the brain, and starts simple as a single cell, nothing that it is doing is simple. It is splitting and working towards developing everything at once including the brain which holds the mind. This seemed unconvincing, and I’m not able to think of a stronger secular defense for why the body before the mind should be regarded as a person

That argument assumes that the mind is a product of the brain. I don’t think it is. The mind is an aspect of the soul, which has the faculties of intellect and will. But we can’t see the soul, and it does not develp, since it is not material. But the soul must use the body for input and output.

The basic thing is that a new human being has its beginning at conception. That is the point when a new individual of the human species has its beginning. We should not kill a new human being just because it is not fully developed.

I believe that, but I don’t think arguing with the concept of souls will convince a change in law, since we don’t want to be bound to each other’s religious beliefs. I have been trying to argue philosophically in hopes of outlawing abortion sooner than the whole world’s conversion .

I don’t think there is a secular argument for it, because life only has as much value as God gives it. If there is not God then life only has as much value as each individual gives it. That’s why in so many cultures without our God, they were so quick to kill the infirm.

The mind means nothing, the soul means nothing, nothing means anything beyond, “what can they do for society. If it is nothing; then they have no value.”

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You may be right… and if that is the case I hope the U.S. turns back to God soon as the people of Israel always did.

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They only did after great calamity. But the hour is spent, so I think the next could be the last.

“Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte from a female is fertilized by a sperm from a male.”
“Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote.”
“All major external and internal structures are established during the fourth to eighth weeks.”
“Upper limb buds are recognizable at day 26 or 27 as small swellings on the ventrolateral body walls.”
“Embryos in the sixth week show spontaneous movements, such as twitching of the trunk and developing limbs.”
“By the end of this week (8th week), the embryo has distinct human characteristics; however, the head is still disproportionately large, constituting almost half of the embryo.”

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Is a tree sapling still considered a tree? What about a germinated tree seed, is that still considered a tree? If yes to both than why is it that a germinated ovum isn’t considered a human?

That usually stumps 'em.

Arguments like this terrify me because they are able-ist. They espouse a bigoted notion that we earn our basic human rights based on what we can do.

A couple of years ago, I sat next to my unconscious dad while machines kept him alive in ICU. His mind didn’t work. But his life mattered, (and still matters - he’s alive, thank God), as much as yours and mine.

At what point must the brain function before we consider somebody worthy of living versus vulnerable to killing? Extremist eugenicists draw the line at one’s I.Q. or their own subjective definition of “quality of life.”

It’s somewhat compelling, until you considers somebody with a functioning mind and non-functioning body, like the late Stephen Hawking. Or there are those who, either temporarily or permanently, have a functioning body and under-functioning mind. Either way, it is ethically unacceptable to wield our personal prejudices as justification for killing them.

What rings in the secular world are appeals to human rights and the denouncing of bigotry. That may be where you could place your emphasis.


Science. DNA.

I know there are secular anti-abortion writings out there; perhaps these could be scanned to look for things to say and ways to say them.

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