Over at Jill Stanek’s blog a debate between a pro-abort troll and the pro-lifers has developed, a debate over what the name “Fetus” means and what sort of rights issue forth from that name’s definition.
This is a massive blunder that pro-lifers get sucked into about 3,000 times a day. The dignity of the person does not issue forth from the meaning of an ancient Latin word, neither does the dignity of the organism depend on some arbitrarily line drawn across the developmental continuum. When presented with this losing argument by proaborts, we need to counter by reframing the question around objective reality and not get sucked into this quagmire.
My response to the proabort named Doug:
I’m a biologist, and we’re the ones who name things. Often we (men) name things after our wives (and since I’m a microbiologist, Mrs. Nadal has assured me that the day I ever name a disease after her is the day that she serves me with divorce papers).
Therefore, nomenclature can be an entirely arbitrary endeavor that is not descriptive of the biological entity before us.
For example, Escherichia coli (E. coli) does not look at all like Dr. Theodor Escherich who discovered it. (Trust me on this one. I’ve looked at lots of E. coli under the scope.) Nevertheless, Dr. Escherich spent his life saving people, and while some E. coli are normal gut flora without which we would die, some that have acquired some pretty nasty genes can kill us in a matter of days (the dreaded 0157:H7).
So not even a namesake necessarily shares the function of the one whose name it bears.
The same with developmental nomenclature. The reality of the embryological or fetal organism is not governed by its name any more than the benign/killer natures of Escherichia strains are a function of that sainted physician’s name.
“Fetus” describes a developmental stage shared by many organisms in the animal kingdom. Thus, there is nothing particularly human about the word for a biologist. Thus the word is hardly descriptive of human reality. (Pro-lifers don’t go to war over the deaths of fetal pigs, which are used by the tens of thousands in biology labs annually)
The truth here is that a human organism has a defined life cycle which begins at the moment of fertilization of a human egg (mother’s gametic tissue) by a human sperm (father’s gametic tissue) and becomes a new entity which is neither mother, nor father’s gametic tissue, but a stand-alone organism. A new human animal with its own unique genetic identity.
The rights attendant to that new animal derive from the kind of animal it is (human). If one disagrees with this fundamental premise, then one would not be at all disturbed by the happenings at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s office. Further, one would not be any more bothered at the thought of saving those fetuses for a dissection lab than one would at the thought of using fetal pigs. For that matter, it would be an interesting lab to dissect a fetal human side-by-side with a fetal pig.
But I’m sure the very thought of that wrenches the gut of even the most strident proabort, and the question is: