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Persons and Humans


The pro-choice blogger I quoted yesterday revises and extends his remarks. Now he says that he didn’t mean to deny that fetuses are “human” but merely that they are “persons” entitled to rights. I agree with him that science does not disprove this position. Regarding the other points he made which I disputed–that most people believe that birth should be the dividing line between having rights and not having them or that the traditional practice has been to use that dividing line–he is silent.

John Holbo is, meanwhile, his usual tedious self. “Oddly, Ponnuru – who, I take it, has written a book on the subject – seems to agree with the pro-choice blogger that the question is about ‘when life starts’, combined with the question about what gets to have the adjective ‘human’.” No, I don’t; I was just responding to the post as it was written. Holbo continues:

Googling, Ponnuru summarizes his position thusly: “The fundamental question The Party of Death engages is this: Do human rights exist? Do we have certain rights, that is, simply because we are human? Or is it the case that some human beings happen to have rights and others do not? What I call the party of death believes the latter.” But this is, to put it mildly, not a good argument. The issue obviously isn’t going to be whether all human beings have rights but whether, say, a tiny little knot of cells is a human being (person), hence a bearer of human rights. (It can obviously be human, biologically, without counting as a person. A hair can be human, biologically. That doesn’t make it a person.) If you don’t get that distinction you aren’t at step one of any serious argument. Ahem. I knew Ponnuru’s book had an annoying title but I figured he was a bit more serious about the basic philosophical arguments. Seems not.

He’s using “human being” as a synonym for “person with rights,” I’m using it to mean “organism of the human species.” Big fat deal. And the book, of course, deals with the distinction between human organisms and parts of human organisms.


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