[FoRK] thinking about responsibility

Kevin Elliott k-elliott
Mon Oct 24 12:16:32 PDT 2005

At 18:51 +0000  on  10/24/05, Russell Turpin wrote:
>Kevin Elliott <k-elliott at wiu.edu>:
>>It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize
>>that in 9 months that clump of cells will be something VERY different..
>Modern technology makes fragile much of the
>rhetoric surrounding abortion, especially the
>part that centers around potential. Consider
>an embryo in vitro. It takes some pretty
>special attention to keep it viable and put it
>inside a woman in a fashion that allows it to
>develop. With cloning, non-embryonic cells
>can be turned into embryonic ones. Just one
>more step in the process. Does that mean
>non-embryonic cells deserve moral consideration?
>Because of their POTENTIAL?

Sure they deserve moral consideration.  If they didn't you wouldn't 
have brought them up <G>.

Having said that, I think the in vitro issues are much less troubling 
ethically.  As I describe below, I don't view them as "potential 
people".  Their something we've made as a useful aid to pregnancy and 
in that sense they have potential, but I don't think how they're 
disposed of carries the same ethical weight.  As a moral 
consideration I don't think people have a particularly strong 
responsibility to do something specific with them, any more than I 
thing men should be careful where their sperm goes (assuming their 
not irresponsibly depositing into women).

As a personal issue, I might make a modes effort to see if there were 
others (i.e. infertile couples) who could benefit from them.  I would 
even consider donating them for scientific research.  To my mind this 
is much like agreeing to be an organ donor.  It's a good humanitarian 
action, but not something that carries a special moral burden.

>People still approach this subject as if the
>process carried some kind of magic. It doesn't.
>We are created through entirely natural
>processes, and the usual pattern of that --
>involving one man and one woman and natural
>fertilization -- is no more cut in stone than fire
>coming about only from lightning strikes.
>People can be and will be created in a variety
>of ways. Drawing ethical boundaries around
>the start of life had better get a good deal
>smarter than "these cells have a potential."

Those are all interesting ethical questions, but they're not the ones 
I'm talking about.  The women walking into the abortion clinic KNOWS 
she's dealing with a human life.  She KNOWS that if she doesn't do 
anything, in 6 months she'll have gained a lot of weight, walk with a 
shuffling step, and get weird probing questions about whether or not 
she knows the babies sex.  If she didn't know all that she wouldn't 
be walking into the abortion clinic.

I think we've crossed ideas when we're talking about "potential". 
When I talk about potential, I'm not talking about how something put 
in exactly the right conditions might evolve.  I'm talking about the 
inevitable results of leaving something alone.  If you leave a 
pregnant woman alone one of two things WILL happen.  The embryo will 
fail naturally, in which case the abortion question is moot, OR their 
will be a baby.  Those are the only two alternatives.  The question 
I've been talking about is "In that scenario, is having an abortion a 
moral action?" and my answer is no, for all the reasons I've 
discussed before.
Arguing with an engineer is like wrestling with a pig in mud.
After a while, you realize the pig is enjoying it.
Kevin Elliott   <mailto:kelliott at mac.com>
AIM/iChatAV: kelliott at mac.com  (video chat available)

More information about the FoRK mailing list