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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Fetuses Remember! Proof of Fetal “Personhood?”



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I reject personhood theory that requires an organism to have certain conscious capacities to attain moral value. I believe that being human is the primary question.

But what are personhood theorists to make of a new study demonstrating that fetuses hear words in the womb–and what’s more, remember them? From the AAAS story:

Be careful what you say around a pregnant woman. As a fetus grows inside a mother’s belly, it can hear sounds from the outside world—and can understand them well enough to retain memories of them after birth, according to new research.

Prior studies of babies showed that they seem to recognize familiar sounds, such as television theme songs. But this study is apparently something new:

Babies who had heard the recordings showed the neural signal for recognizing vowel and pitch changes in the pseudoword, and the signal was strongest for the infants whose mothers played the recording most often. They were also better than the control babies at detecting other differences in the syllables, such as vowel length. “This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought,” Partanen says, and that the memory traces are detectable after birth.

“This is a well-respected group and the effects are really convincing,” says Patricia Kuhl, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Combined with previous work, she says, these results suggest “that language learning begins in the womb.”

Well. Not just a “mere collection of cells,” after all.

Will this make the Peter Singers and the “after-birth abortion” advocates of the world back off from their dehumanization of late term fetuses and infants? Will we now look at late term abortion as the killing of a full member of the moral community?

Dream on, Wesley! We can’t let evidence of cognitive function get in the way of expedient desires or utilitarian outcomes.



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