Friday, November 5, 2010

Abortion: The SLED Argument

The first part of this three part series incited a number of comments, and as expected, key differences between a fetus and a full-term baby were cited. Specifically, the issue of dependency was brought up. Today I want to address that, as well as the three other key differences between a fetus and a newborn infant.

This argument is in fact not my own. It was first introduced in a 1990 book called Moral Question of Abortion, by Stephen Schwarz. It is commonly referred to as the "SLED" argument, because it begins by using the word sled as an acromyn, with each letter in the word referring to one key difference between a fetus and a newborn infant. While I will rely on the formula of the argument, I'll do so in my own words.


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Size: One obvious difference between a fetus and a newborn infant is size. One might say, "how can something that small be a person?" But is it size that makes us human? Of course not. To say that would also imply that adults are more human than children, and that tall people are more fully human than short people. Men are typically larger than women, but they are not more human. I saw this bumper sticker just the other day:



Level of Development: Let's talk about this. An embryo in the very earliest stages doesn't have a lot of the things an adult has, including a functioning brain, the ability to experience pain, a beating heart, fingers, toes...the list goes on. But human value is not based on abilities, what a person can or cannot do. Again, brain damage does not make someone less human. Nor does a lack of fingers, nor the lack of an ability to feel pain. And one must consider the difference in development between a toddler and an adult. Despite the significant differences in both ability and appearance, the life of the toddler is no less valuable.


Environment: You might think this one would be a no-brainer, but thinking persists that because a child remains in the womb, it is not yet a person. "Location, location, location" certainly matters when we're talking about real estate values, but it has nothing to do with human value. Moving a few inches down the birth canal does not immediately make one human. Where you are and where you live doesn't give you value. That's basic human rights.


Degree of Dependency: Let's think this one through. An unborn child is absolutely dependent on its mother to live. That's true. However, we must allow that as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb. A child that would not have been able to survive outside the womb twenty years ago might do quite well today. So does the child have more inherent human value simply because technology has advanced? Absurd. You may choose to argue that even that child could not survive without technology, but if you do, be prepared to give an answer to others dependent on technology like pacemakers and the like. Further, it's not as if a child is not dependent on its mother once it's been delivered. You couldn't just leave it alone outdoors and expect it to take care of itself. It's absolutely dependent on others for its care. So are most young children, but we wouldn't question the value of their lives, would we? Does being less dependent make one more valuable? Of course not. I could argue that none of us (or at least very few) are completely independent on each other. Dependency does not negate human value.


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That's the SLED argument. I'm anxious to hear your feedback. And don't wander too far. Part three of this series on abortion will be coming soon.


-Solid

13 comments:

  1. You state, "An embryo in the very earliest stages doesn't have a lot of the things an adult has, including a functioning brain, the ability to experience pain, a beating heart, fingers, toes...the list goes on." Then, you relate this to ability. It's not about ability; it's about development. At best, you can say that a fetus is a baby-in-the-making; however, not a baby. In a sense, it's like a flower; you start with a seed, you add water and nutrients, and it grows. First a stem, then perhaps the beginnings of a leaf or two, and then a small bud begins to develop that will one day bloom as a flower. However, you would not call the seed a flower. That is essentially what you are doing by calling an embryo a human being.

    "'Location, location, location' certainly matters when we're talking about real estate values, but it has nothing to do with human value. Moving a few inches down the birth canal does not immediately make one human. Where you are and where you live doesn't give you value. That's basic human rights."

    I'm sorry, but are you f---ing (I appreciate your censorship; maybe you can get a job with the FCC) kidding me? As I stated before, living off of a human being and growing inside of their body is parasitic in nature. Without the host, the parasite will die. So yes, environment has absolutely everything to do with it.

    As for your next point, "as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb. A child that would not have been able to survive outside the womb twenty years ago might do quite well today."

    90% of abortions are done in the first trimester of pregnancy. That is three months. There is no fetus that can survive as a baby (or human being in general) outside of the uterus if it is born at a gestational age of three months.

    Here's another statistic: Less than 1/10 of 1% of abortions occur after week 24, which is the end of the 2nd trimester. These abortions are extremely rare, and only done for serious health reasons. That means that 99.9% of all abortions are done before the end of the 2nd trimester.

    You are correct that "as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb." This is why abortions are only done after the second trimester for serious health reasons.

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  2. Solid,

    Texas doesn't even want to take care of their living ones. Thanks to Republicans. Do you side with them too?

    Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/us/politics/07ttmedicaid.html?_r=1

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  3. I've got about twenty-five minutes before I have to leave for my nephew's first birthday party, so let me see how much ground I can cover in that time. I appreciate the comments from both of you.

    First of all, people don't have seeds. The analogy isn't even really right, because a plant embryo exists within a seed, but is not the seed itself.

    I can understand why clarification may be required on the development argument. I could have been clearer. The basic point is that we continue to develop throughout childhood as well. The child's lack of development does not make it less human. And the differences are huge! Consider what puberty alone does to a person. Then think about the difference in body shapes, mental development, and physical capabilities between an adult and an infant, and I hope you'll understand my point a little better.

    Concerning your location argument, I think it's really more about dependency, right? It's not that the baby is within the womb, but that it's dependent on the umbilical cord.

    You refer to the fetus as a parasite. I think you're technically correct, but consider that a parasite does not have to be permanently attached to its host. It benefits and gathers nourishment from the host without typically providing anything in return. My point is that a baby is also, per your argument, a parasite. The umbilical cord may be replaced by the breast, and with that comes a bit more independence, but it's not as if something that was completely dependent all of a sudden becomes independent. It's a matter of degree. In terms of dependence, I would argue there's a much greater difference between an adult and an infant than there is between a newborn infant and an unborn infant.

    Finally, you seem to want to make distinction between late-term abortions and early ones. I just have to quote this paragraph of yours:

    "You are correct that 'as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb.' This is why abortions are only done after the second trimester for serious health reasons."

    Please note your use of the phrase "this is why." In response, I have a challenge for you. It is simple scientific fact that the technology for keeping premature babies alive at younger and younger ages is improving. Let's assume for just a moment that someone at some point in the future invented an artificial womb that was able to nourish and develop a baby from a test tube straight through to infancy. Would you then say that abortion is wrong?

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    SuperEgo: This is the first I've heard of that, and I've only read the NYT article. First of all, I seriously doubt it would actually happen. Second, they're not talking about refusing to take care of people. They're talking about replacing the federal system with a state-run system. That's an interesting news article though. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  4. "I have a challenge for you. It is simple scientific fact that the technology for keeping premature babies alive at younger and younger ages is improving. Let's assume for just a moment that someone at some point in the future invented an artificial womb that was able to nourish and develop a baby from a test tube straight through to infancy. Would you then say that abortion is wrong?"

    If an artificial uterus is developed in the future that can house a fertilized egg and provide nutrients to essentially "grow" it until 40 weeks, then I think a lot of things will change. Women might want to forego pregnancy completely.

    As for the abortion, when a woman finds out she is pregnant, she could have the embryo removed from her body and transferred directly into an artificial uterus immediately. Essentially, it would eliminate abortion altogether and move the adoption process to an earlier time.

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  5. Then may God hasten that day.

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  6. God, technology, learn-ed folk, etc...

    I agree though, that would be pretty awesome.

    The other thing to focus on would be more reliable forms of contraceptives, or perfecting the ones that already exist.

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  7. Abstinence works pretty well. ;)

    Sorry, had to say it.

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  8. In theory, maybe. In practice, no.

    I've also talked to a lot of people who have made "abstinence/ virginity pledges" who have not been able to follow through. Sex can be a beautiful expression of love between two people (or three, five, etc). Why should people abstain from this expression? And, when should be the time when it is "allowable" to have sex?

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  9. This is another conversation for another day. It's true that not everyone holds to the course they lay out for themselves, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good plan. I waited. And I think that at least a partial answer to your question about the right time would be at the point the couple is ready to deal with the natural outcomes and consequences of sex, to include childbirth.

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  10. You waited till when? You got married? How old were you when you got married? Were you a 30+ year old virgin??

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  11. 33. And yes, I had plenty of girlfriends prior to that. It was a choice I made, and I believe my marriage is better because of it. That's not to say you can't have a good marriage any other way - just that it saved me from a lot of baggage.

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  12. "It was a choice I made, and I believe my marriage is better because of it."

    In what ways?

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  13. Sorry for the slow reply. I was sick Monday, and then spent yesterday catching up.

    First of all, the obvious. I don't have any STD's, nor have I ever, I know I don't have any fatherless children wandering around, and I've never had to to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Given my belief that abortion is murder, coupled with the fact that legally, it remains exclusively the woman's choice, an unwanted pregnancy would be completely unacceptable from my standpoint. Any of that stuff could complicate my marriage too, and I'm glad I don't have to worry about it.

    Beyond that, we get into arguable points. So I'll tell you what I think, but I realize you could counterpoint a lot of this. It's still my opinion. First, and this is something people in my position bring up a lot, waiting until marriage does away with fears of comparison. I've only had one partner. Also, I believe I carry less emotional baggage into my marriage because I've never shared that kind of intimacy with another woman. My wife can perhaps feel more secure in my sexual fidelity, because I have a rather extreme record of faithfulness.

    Finally, and I realize this is a little sentimental, this is a gift I can offer to my wife that I've never shared with anyone else. It's a sign of respect to her, and a symbol of my fidelity to her even before I knew her.

    As pertains to other methods of contraception, I say that it is far better to use them than not to use them. But I will not concede for a moment that abstinence is either impossible or unrealistic.

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