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Feyisayo Anjorin

Freelance Director, Afro-Carribean Media Group

TEDCRED 100+

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Is a Fetus a Person?

The debate over whether abortion should be considered as murder often focuses on the question of whether the fetus is a person or not.
Here the issue of culture and religion comes in.
But what does it take to identify a fetus as a person? There are thinkers today with the belief that a fetus can be called a human being, but should not be called a person because it takes more to be a person than just having genetic material.

Philosopher Mary Ann Warren argues that in order to be considered a person, a being should have the following characteristics:

1. A developed capacity for reasoning.
2. Self awareness
3.Consciousness and ability to feel pain
4. Self motivated activity
5. Capacity to comminicate messages of an indefinite variety of types.

It would seem as if even new born babies may not be considered as persons according to the aforementioned school of thought.

No doubt infanticide has always got widespread condemnation, but abortion has always been a controversial issue.
So, what do you think? Is a fetus a person?

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  • Oct 7 2012: Let’s just put aside arguments for a while. Instead, let me tell you one story.
    When my mom was 26, she was expecting a baby. It'd been 4 months, but for some reason she inevitably had to have an abortion. So, she went to hospital with her sister and breathed deeply. Just before she got out of her sister's car, she felt the fetus kicking her womb(She thought that it was too early for fetus to kick the womb since it'd been just 4 months, you know). She was so moved at that moment and then she softly sobbed. She said to herself, "What was I thinking? I can't give up this adorable creature. She's mine." She told me that at that moment, all her feelings had been focused on her 'baby'. Even though she wanted ‘her life’, she somehow didn’t prioritize her life over this creature’s life. Regardless of the circumstances she had to overcome, she just decided to give birth to a baby. As she recalls it, the fetus's first kick was so impressive and so touching that she couldn't think of any logical explanations why she should get rid of it.
    Whenever she tells me this story, I'm so grateful for her decision. If she'd decided to have an abortion, I wouldn't be here today.
    What if she prioritized her future and dreams over my life? What if there was no 'kicking moment' that made me alive today? Otherwise, otherwise, there would be no 'me'. Dreadful.. I always appreciate it. And I want all those little unknown, unpredictable, and invaluable creatures to become persons and say "thank you" to their parents in the near future just like I did.
    I don’t want to force every mom to be brave like my mom, but I can proudly say she was right.
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      Oct 7 2012: Hooray for your mom making a decision as a moral person. And hooray to all the other women who make a different decision as moral persons.

      Both outcomes are decided by moral agents who have weighed and judged the potential of their decisions. Not some government or religion or outside person taking away that right to decide from them and applying it to a bunch of cells just because some day in the future, if everything goes just right, in about 20 years that bunch of cells could become a person.

      It is wrong for an outside agent to make this decision for a woman. Whether it is to keep or to terminate the pregnancy. Some countries force women to terminate a pregnancy. That is just a wrong as a government that forces a woman to carry a pregnancy.
      • Oct 8 2012: You are right in that a government shouldn't "forces a woman to carry a pregnancy". And I'm not saying all women have to give birth to babies against their will. Legally, abortion should be allowed for some extreme cases even though I don’t support it essentially. As you know, illegal abortions that have been being done in many developing countries rather worsen the situation if the countries just strictly prohibit abortions without giving any thoughts. But whether a fetus should be regarded as a potential human being who is worthy of living or not needs to be discussed. It’s really crucial to value a life rather than defining it with our ridiculous legal terms. We need to look into the deep inside of this issue and find a best way to respect all humans’ rights overall.
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          Oct 8 2012: Who gets to decide what an extreme case is? You are walking in a grey area. My idea is that if I am pregnant, that is an extreme case. So abortion should be allowed. Right?
      • Oct 8 2012: So your saying is someone who can’t make decisions doesn’t have rights. Then, what about a person in a vegetative state or a person so mentally ill that he can’t make decisions? Let’s say they’re not able to have rudimentary ability to make decisions just by themselves, so “someone else has to make them for” them. Thus, they don’t have rights whatsoever, right? You say that children also are not persons, not able to make decisions. According to your logic behind it, neither they have rights. So, if a child is abused or raped(provided that there’ no adult who can’t make proper, legal decisions for them), we can’t say the devil who did that to the child cruelly disrespected his RIGHT AS A PERSON. Don’t children have rights? Really?
        Fetuses have high potential to be persons. Even if they can’t reason, that doesn’t justify depriving their rights to be regarded as worthy of living.
        I don’t want to compare fetuses with animals, but fetuses can feel pain just like us, just like animals according to doctors. When people abuse animals or mistreat them, animal rights organizations get infuriated and fight for animals. They say animals also are lives and they can feel pain, thus, they deserve to be treated with at least some respect. People are fighting for animals’ rights. Why wouldn’t we fight for fetuses’ rights? By all means, respecting women’s—as you say perfect ‘persons’—rights is very important. For example, when a woman is raped or her life is in danger, so if we save the fetus, she could possibly die, in that case, we have no right to condemn the woman for choosing to have an abortion. Laws are also necessary for inevitable cases, you know. You advocate many pregnant women’s rights, and that’s fine because I want to respect their rights, too.
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          Oct 8 2012: Absolutely. They cannot sign a contract, they cannot make a will. Law and philosophy both acknowledge that a person is someone who can make decisions, in order to make decisions a person must have the capability of reason and agency. Some philosophers go into detailed lists like Ms. Warren. This is not something I am making up. It is how it really works.

          Animals never had and never will have rights. It is people that are fighting for them. Imagine some cow testifying in court.

          Children do not have any rights either. They never have, The court always assigns an agent to speak on behalf of the children. Perhaps you do not live in the US. But that is what it is like here.

          Fetuses are NOT persons. They have no rights. This is not negotiable.

          You cannot take the rights away from a woman and apply them to some cluster of cells.
          It is inappropriate.
      • Oct 8 2012: But when it leads to ‘Sex selective abortion’ issue, you might get confused whether you’re supporting female’s rights or not. Here’s a link
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion#Sex-selective_abortion
        If a parent decides to abandon her fetus just because its sex is not what she or her family wants, what kind of sexist attitude is that? It’s fundamentally discriminating women’s rights even if you think the fetus has no right.
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          Oct 8 2012: Once again. Fetuses ARE NOT PERSONS. The mom has rights. That's it. End of story. I don't care if she exercises her right to have a male child or to have her face lifted. She has rights.

          SHE IS A MORAL PERSON and can determine the outcome of her actions. Nobody else in you reality show analogy does. They do not matter.
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        Oct 8 2012: RE: "Mr. Long, Who ever said. . .? "You are trivializing this conversation by a sexist remark like "Who ever said human life has sanctity, some guy right?" Do you categorically reject everything said by males? If so I have nothing to say to you.
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          Oct 8 2012: No Mr. Long I do not reject everything ever said by males. This is a women's issue and it is a rights issue and I categorically reject when people make it something it is not. That has to do with a little thing called history.

          Like I said over and over by now. The fetus is not a person. The woman is a person. The woman has rights. She decides.

          Not you, not me, not males, not females. The woman only.

          And I will stand beside her against males or females who say different. Because I believe in individual rights. I believe in her right to choose and determine the future of her body.

          This is about self-determination.

          I stand by you in the right to determine the future of your body. I stand by your right of self-determination.

          Look at Mr. Law, We completely disagree about laetrile. But I would stand by his right to determine what he puts in his body. I stand by his right of self-determination.

          What I will not tolerate is someone else determining what you do with your body. That IS slavery as TL pointed out. Like I said, history. Look at what happens when the right to self-determination is abused. You get civil war, concentration camps, slavery, assimilation, internment camps... Sanctity huh?

          This is not about abortion, or whether it is right or wrong, or a sin in the eyes of God.

          This is about the right of self-determination and whether that right is granted to women.
      • Oct 9 2012: Not everything is an extreme case. Think about it. Why do we need a law for it? Because there has been unanimous--or at least majority of--consent of whether some cases are extreme, therefore, should be excluded from being called "a violation of a law". Laws are also based on agreement. One’s own subjective thought doesn’t justify everything he does.
        "They cannot sign a contract, they cannot make a will. Law and philosophy both acknowledge that a person is someone who can make decisions, in order to make decisions a person must have the capability of reason and agency. Some philosophers go into detailed lists like Ms. Warren. This is not something I am making up. It is how it really works."
        Just because some philosopher insisted on having the capability of reason in order to be a person doesn't mean they are right all the time. And if it is how really works, in that case, there's no such thing as respecting human beings' ultimate rights. CHILDREN are also PERSONS. They have absolute rights. They need to be treated and taken care of by respect just like adults. If you(of course, you wouldn't do it) kill a child, that is a murder. It's definitely a crime. What adults do for children is to protect them and help their judgment by strongly involving in their social lives. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean a person has no right. As well as, being protected by someone doesn’t indicate that he doesn’t have a utter right. That's it. Children have potential to be smarter in the near future. They are only relatively small human beings.
      • Oct 9 2012: "I don't care if she exercises her right to have a male child or to have her face lifted. She has rights."
        You mention that I am walking in a grey area. For me, I think you're lying to yourself. What if your mom had decided not to save you(when you were a fetus) just because you were determined to be a female one? That’s totally your mom’s decision, right? But nonetheless, let’s suppose that you were unfortunately, born since your mom failed to have an abortion. Once you know this thing from someone you know when you became an adult, wouldn’t this fact be humiliating and infuriating to you? She disrespected your life. You could have been dead. Then, it may seem like people seemingly respect you now just because you’re a full grown-up, but they didn’t actually honor your fundamental value as a woman. Showing respect to people isn’t the only answer. We should also respect their value in essence from the moment on when they were very very young.

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