By October 20, 2014 0 Comments Read More →

The Fallacies of Personhood

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In spite the defeats of “personhood” measures in 2008 and 2010, Colorado voters will once again vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to grant all the rights of born persons to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses in November 2014.”

In the second decade of the 21st century, it is alarming that millions of Americans are actively seeking to deprive even more millions of Americans of their constitutionally mandated civil rights. The vanguard of these proponents of tiered citizenship are members or supporters of the so-called “personhood movement.”

This recent outgrowth of the broader anti-choice movement features its most consistent, energized, and persistent activists. These people claim that a zygote is a fully human person with all the inherent rights such a being possesses. They are idealistic and passionate about their cause and relentless in pursuit of their objectives. Prominently include among these is the transformation of pregnant women into delivery systems for fertilized ova.   Of course this is not made explicit. This latest effort in Colorado “Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language,” says Diana Hsieh. “The proponents of the measure are marketing it as a measure that protects pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks. In reality,” the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments.” Amendment 67 actually seeks to extend full legal protections to all embryos from the moment of conception.

The most obvious fallacy perpetrated by personhood advocates is the falsely designating a fertilized egg [zygote] as a human being albeit and unborn human being.  A zygote is no more a human being than any egg in one’s refrigerator is a chicken. If one doubts the clear and demonstrable difference between an egg and a chicken, take an egg from the refrigerator and try to use it for any chicken-based recipe in any readily available cookbook. It is impossible to do so because an egg is not a chicken!

Logically the zygote is a human being is an instance of the continuum fallacy, also known as the heaper fallacy, the sorties fallacy, the fallacy of the beard, line drawing fallacy, bald man fallacy, and fallacy of the heap. The fallacy appears to demonstrate that two states or conditions cannot be considered distinct (or do not exist at all) because between them there exists a continuum of states. According to the fallacy, differences in quality cannot result from differences in quantity.  With regard to personhood, the argument goes that a zygote will develop into a recognizable human individual once the gestational process concludes and thus, the zygote is as human at the start as the born individual is at the end. Sometimes the proponents say the zygote consists of human cells just as born individuals do. This is fallacious for two reasons. First, the agreed upon fact that a zygote formed from human gametes is a human cell does not mean that this single zygotic cell and a human individual with an estimated 37.2 trillion cells are the same. Second, there many clear stages along the way from zygote to human and these can now be readily detected. The designations applied to these stages in a continuum do not mean that there is no real difference between the beginning and the end stages.

This fallacy is perpetrated by the proponents of personhood by their interchangeable use of the word “person” with the terms “human”, “humanity” or “human being”. These terms are not actually synonymous. Confusing the adjective “human” and the noun “human being,” falsely gives them the same meaning. Proponents of personhood often ask: “But isn’t it human?”  No one claims a fetus is really a creature from outer space or a specimen of some other earthly species.  Every fetus within a woman’s womb consists of human tissue and DNA, but every cell on every person’s body consists of human tissue and DNA.  No one of these trillions of cells, however, is a human being!  Every single human cell is obviously human, but no single human cell is a human being, whether the single cell comes from a cheek swab or is a fertilized egg makes no difference.

Another fallacy entailed in personhood claims is the fetus focus fallacy. This is a ploy central to every argument for personhood laws. Personhood proponents insist that the key question in the controversy is whether a fetus is a person or not. This is a clever ploy, but it is also wrong. The reproductive choice issue does not hinge on the status of the fetus – it hinges totally on the aspirations and needs of women. Women confront reproductive choice regardless of the law, regardless of the risk to their lives or health, regardless of the morality of abortion, and regardless of what the fetus may or may not be. On average, women choose abortion at substantially the same rate in countries where it is legal and countries where it is illegal. The crucial matter is whether women will be able to safely act on their choice or not. In championing personhood for zygotes, embryos and fetuses, proponents obscure, diminish, and degrade the actual person who is faced with the reproductive choice.

An acorn is not an oak tree and the eggs some die for Easter are not chickens some others fry for dinner. The only objective scientific fact discernible is that human sperms and human ova produce fertilized eggs that are also human, but none of these are individual human beings.

Even fetuses are uniquely different from born individual human beings in major ways. Most fundamentally fetuses are totally dependent on pregnant women’s body to survive.  Personhood proponents may argue that born individual humans can be entirely dependent on other people as well, but such wholly dependent born individuals are not dependent on any, specific other person to the exclusion of all others. Any caring, functional person can take care of newborn infants or disabled people, but only specific pregnant women can nurture their specific fetuses. Pregnant women cannot hire surrogates to do it. Furthermore, fetuses do not just depend on pregnant women’s bodies for survival; they actually reside inside the women’s bodies. Persons, by definition, must be separate individuals who live biologically separable and independent of one another.  Persons do not live inside the bodies of other persons – such a conception of personhood is inherently ridiculous, and profoundly repugnant.

Another false assumption underlying personhood is the idea that if a zygote, embryo, or fetus possessed the full array of human rights forcible eviction would be impossible. This is by no means the case now regarding human beings whose status as persons is undisputed by everyone. People are forcibly evicted all the time; in too many localities, people are shot dead for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. How would law enforcement in almost every state and municipality in America treat people who invaded a home and settled down for a nine month stay? Would their undisputed status as persons save them from forcible eviction? The answer is obvious.

As reported in Science magazine, “zygotic personhood” (the idea that a fertilized egg is a person) is a recent concept. Before 1869, the Catholic Church agreed with Aristotle that the embryo was not a person until it was 40 days old. Thus, the Church did not believe a human had a soul until day 40. If the early embryo was soulless, perhaps early abortion was not murder. Pope Innocent III in 1211 decreed that the time of ensoulment was anywhere from three to four months.

If Americans truly believed zygotes are persons, women who use the pill would be considered criminals because the pill usually works by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs. Because we do not actually believe a zygote is a person, we do not jail these women and the doctors prescribing birth control pills. Zygotic personhood seems plausible only through the fallacy of equivocation by using the term human in two distinct ways. The first is as a species identity and the second is as a synonym for person in a political sense.

If a newly fertilized zygote is a person with full legal rights, then any action that prevents a zygote from implanting in the uterus must be considered murder. Thus, if fully implemented, ”personhood” measures would ban any form of birth control that could prevent implantation of a zygote, most notably, the birth control pill—the most popular type of birth control—as well as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and “morning after” drugs. This is a profound legal change and it impacts not only the legality of abortion, but the legality of medications and devices that are vital to the day-to-day sex lives of millions.

One final fallacy implicit in the personhood movement is that it is consistent with the American constitutional system. This is not the case because personhood almost uniformly springs from a theocratic impulse to make secular law on the basis of sectarian precepts. The constitution prohibits religious tests for political office and laws establishing a particular religion or prohibiting citizens from freely exercising their religious preferences. Even supposedly secular arguments put forth by personhood proponents have a religious underpinning. Thus, the personhood movement has a fallacious concept of the American political system that it knowingly hides from citizens it is trying to sway.

The personhood movement is vigorous and dangerous, but it is also illogical, erroneous, and wildly dishonest. While emotion often takes precedence over reason in political contests, every American woman and every man who loves one, must think clearly and rationally regarding the personhood movement. Then, together they must act to protect the rights of the actual persons at risk from this extremism – women who are or may one day become pregnant.

As threatening as the Colorado Personhood amendment is, on a federal level, Republicans are even more threatening as the picture below shows:



For further information on this vital topic check the links below:

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