Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

The Case for Permitting Abortion Until Birth

Question: How should bioethicists think about abortion, and where do you stand on the issue?

Jacob Appel: Well, I think the two questions that a bioethicist has to ask in the abortion debate are; one, is it a question of when life begins, or is it a question of either permitting or prohibiting abortion based on independent phenomena.  If you are interested in the question of when life begins, then the motivation for the pregnancy should be utterly irrelevant to your decision-making.  If you believe that a fetus attains a personhood past a certain age, even if that fetus is the product of rape or incest, it wouldn't make sense to allow someone to terminate a pregnancy if you believe that fetus is personary. 

In contrast, there are other reasons one might oppose abortion rights independent of when the fetus begins -- when the life begins.  One might say, I acknowledge that fetuses aren't human beings.  Life doesn't begin until birth.  But if we ban abortion, we reduce the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease; we can reverse the social and sexual revolution of the 1960's.  Which many people do advocate and do believe, and from their point of view, whether or not the fetus is a human being isn't a relevant question.  

I think as a society today and bioethicists particularly have largely focused on the question of when life begins.  I am fairly radical in my views in the sense that I would permit abortion up to the point of birth.  I think that the arbitrary distinction that fetuses apply or personhood at a certain point is simply too grey an area, a too uncertain premise to enforce in law.  The example always use, and it's somewhat trivial, but at the same time evinces the question well, I think, is small children making Jello.  If you have a small child making Jello, they put the colored water in their refrigerator, they run away, they come back 30 seconds later, they put their finger in the Jello, is it colored water or is it Jello.  And they do this over and over again until suddenly and miraculously it becomes Jello.  The development of a fetus operates the same way.  Birth is an easy guideline.  The truth is, since I believe that sentience and cognition, or consciousness define life, there probably are infants in the first few days of life who don't really have cognition.  Who don't have in this sense, sentience, but for a practical, realistic way of running the world, we couldn't live in a world where we euthanized them, or allowed infanticide. 

That being said, I would also add as a bioethicist, I have written extensively on treating infanticide, and particularly mothers with post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis, as distinct from other murderers and other criminals.  I think we should grant great latitude to women who kill or euthanize their infants at birth and treat them with kindness as someone who suffers from illness.

Question: Why make birth the dividing line and not a certain phase of pregnancy?

Jacob Appel:  I think that is fairly simple.  The ancient Romans, for example, didn't view birth as the cutoff point.  They had a certain number of days, and it varied where in Rome you were before a child gained full personhood.  The ancient Spartans certainly didn't view infants at birth as having human capacity or human value.  We have a very hard time distinguishing whether a child once born is three days old, or seven days old, or two months old.  And you don't want to have a system that has courts engaged in the process of figuring out exactly how many days old the baby was.  And having people's lives and their prospect of going free or spending time in jail dependent on exactly how many days they were post-birth. 

So, my actual philosophical drawing line would be far past birth in terms of days or weeks.  But there's no practical way to implement that.  You could easily figure out how many days before birth, or how many trimesters, how many weeks a fetus was by ultrasound, but there is not a point along that parameter where I would feel that a child or a fetus has enough capacity and enough sentience to be considered a human being.

Recorded on March 1, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The bioethicist argues that humans do not gain real sentience until infancy, and that even mothers who commit infanticide should be treated far more gently than other murderers.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
Keep reading Show less

Conspicuous consumption is over. It’s all about intangibles now

These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Tiffany
Politics & Current Affairs
In 1899, the economist Thorstein Veblen observed that silver spoons and corsets were markers of elite social position.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast