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Moral Personhood from the Moment of Conception

I have added a new book to my summer reading list. Mirror of Justice points us to Defiant Birth: Women who Resist Medical Eugenics. From the publisher description:

This book tells the personal stories of women who have resisted medical eugenics - women who were told they shouldn't have babies because of perceived disability in themselves, or shouldn't have babies because of some imperfection in the child. They have confronted the stigma of disability and in the face of silent disapproval and even open hostility, had their babies anyway, in the belief that all life is valuable and that some are not more worthy of it than others. This is a book about women who have dared challenge the utilitarian medical model/mindset.

What a wonderful collection of testimonies to the dignity of human life!

Contrast this with the companion post at Mirror of Justice entitled Who’s a Person? It Depends on what they Want… Rob Vischer notes the argument by Glen Whitman that determination of moral personhood depends on what political rights and requirements such determination would entail. In other words, what is the societal cost to awarding the status of personhood? If this cost is too high we should deny the status of personhood. Rob Vischer rightly objects to this utilitarian approach because it violates the very principle of moral personhood. Mr. Whitman’s philosophy embodies the moral relativism Pope Benedict XVI warned us about in his first address as pope.

Human dignity exists from the moment of conception because each of us was individually made by God in His image. That is the only requirement for moral personhood. Any other criteria are artificial and arbitrary. Who among us has the wisdom to assess the value of another’s life? That judgment belongs to God alone.


bookstopper said…
There is another angle to the non-catholic rights argument that you may want to look at. The cost/benefit analysis of awarding someone the ontological status of personhood indeed smacks of utilitarianism, but there is something more basic at work in that particular philosopher. Since he mentions rights being awarded/withheld he necessarily posits that either human rights are extrinsic and that they are grantable by the state (or his own moral authority), OR that rights are intrinsic and that we should refuse to acknowlege that when it is inconvenient for us at any particular time.

The first choice commits the fallacy that the intrinsic properties of a member of a group are defined by the characteristics of a group. In biology, religion, and other fields, this is the other way around. Scientists classify animals into species based on similarities in DNA and their ability to produce productive offspring. People of conviction don't pick their beliefs based on their pre-ordained religion, they honestly seek the truth and then pick the religion they think most closely conforms to the truth of the universe as it has been revealed to them. The idea that human rights can be meeted out to those people who are convenient or productive and denied to other people who lack those qualities waters down the whole thoery of human rights.

The second choice ignores the perscriptive nature of moral assessment. Moral assessment exists to be accurate, so that the assessor can make the best informed decisions he can with respect to morality. This choice advocates for the assessment to be falsified in the case where to not do so would force the assessor into a moral choice that he is unwilling to make. In otherwords, he wants to tell people that they can just ignore the personhood of inconvenient fetuses even though it's there just so we can abort them.

Under both options, people of lesser power exist at the will of those who believe that they can redefine what it means to be human. Both options are inconsistent with the true notion of human righs and do not belong in a truly civil society.

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