It takes a brain!

My blogfather Jeff recently articulated his position on abortion, which happens to be quite similar to mine.

I'm in an unusual situation since my positions are all over the place. I believe in gay rights. I believe in an unadulterated Second Amendment (as well as all the other Rights too.) I find abortion repellent and wish it was only allowed during the first four months -- before a functioning nervous system has developed and the un-born child can understand it is dying.
Regardless of whether one believes in the human soul, it's tough to dispute that human consciousness -- self awareness -- requires a brain. That's why brain death is considered real death even if the heart still beats and the lungs still breathe. If my brain is destroyed through accident, injury or disease, and you pump bullets through my body which stop my heart and lungs, that is not murder.

Logically, if the absence of a functioning brain means the absence of life, it should not matter whether it existed and then ceased to exist, or whether it had not yet existed. Fetuses are occasionally born without brains; if anyone can tell me under what theory they are more "alive" than a traffic accident victim whose brains were spilled on the pavement, I'd like to hear it.

So, if, for whatever reason, an embryo does not have a brain, I consider it the same as a brain dead person. It cannot have the same rights as a live human being. Abortion at the non-brain stage of fetal development is something I simply cannot see as murder.

Once there's a brain, though, I have a problem with killing it.

Anyway, that's my "philosophy" on abortion. Sure to displease activists on both sides, but it's what I think.

I am glad my blogfather and I are not too far apart.

UPDATE: "Brain death" is not considered death by everyone.

And the argument has also been made -- by at least one physician -- that an embryo which has not yet developed a brain is not at all analogous to a brain dead person:

Obviously, the fact that an embryo has not yet developed a brain (though its capacity to do so is inherent and active, just as the capacity of an infant to develop its brain sufficiently for it to actually think is inherent and active) does not mean that it is incapable of self-directed integral organic functioning. Unlike a corpse-which is merely the remains of what was once a human organism but is now dead, even if particular systems may be mechanically sustained-a human being in the embryonic stage of development is a unified, self-integrating human organism. It is not dead, but very much alive.
The problem I see with the argument that an embryo is "a unified, self-integrating human organism" which is "capable of self-directed integral organic functioning" is that it is not. The embryo is so intrinsically a part of its mother that it cannot be transferred to another surrogate mother in order to grow, nor can it be grown to the point of brain-development in any laboratory. It cannot be called self-directed or self-integrating, for it has no self-awareness with which to perform the acts of self-direction or self-integration -- any more than a liver (or even a tumor) can be said to have self-awareness.

I realize that people will disagree. What I find vexing is that such disagreements often take the form of ad hominem characterizations (which are not logically relevant).

posted by Eric on 04.13.04 at 02:47 PM


I am continually amazed that you are able to generate such a volume of quality, thought provoking and insightful writing. I applaud you. While I may disagree with you, your arguments are well thought out and rational. Keep on writing. You have certainly given me much to consider and have broadened my view of the world.


bryan   ·  April 14, 2004 12:58 PM

Thank you for the very kind words. I really appreciate it.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 14, 2004 2:22 PM

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