Don’t Reduce Melise Muñoz or Her Fetus to a Slogan

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.

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173 Responses

  1. DRS says:

    What gives family members the moral authority to make medical decisions? If I lose consciousness, why can my husband violate medical advice about what constitutes the best treatment options for me?

    It’s not a moral right, it’s a legal right as far as the hospital and the law are concerned. You married the guy, that at least implies that in the absence of a living will the medical and legal authorities should be guided by his decision. That Mr. Munoz is being put through this hideousness is disgusting.

    I don’t think abortion has any place in the discussion of this particular case. Mrs. Munoz is dead – no body functions, only kept in some kind of not-dead status by technology alone. How on earth can the fetus develop in what is basically a meat incubator? How long before the lack of nutrients kills it in the womb?

    And I don’t think the lawyer’s comments are strange at all. She’s quite right: this is surely not the first time a pregnant woman has died and the sad fact is that the fetus died too. My understanding is that the only reason this is an issue is that she was alive when she was hooked up to technology and died anyway. The issue is that the hospital won’t disconnect her. (Someone let me know if this is too simplistic medically speaking, but from what I’ve read, it’s the basic situation.)

    I read today that sanity is prevailing and the hospital will not be able to keep this atrocity going. Thank God.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to DRS says:

      What Munox is going through is awful, I agree.

      Fetuses can surviveand develop healthily, although there’s little precedent:

      In a survey of international medical literature from 1982 to 2010, the German researchers found 19 cases of brain-dead women who were put on life support for the purpose of sustaining the fetus. Twelve viable infants were born and survived the neonatal period, the study said.

      “According to our findings, prolonged [life] support can lead to the delivery of a viable child,” the study said. “Such children can develop normally without any problems resulting from their intrauterine conditions.”

      The authors added, however, that “the number of cases is too small to define the rate at which intensive care support of the brain-dead mother can result in a healthy infant.”

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        ANd the fetus is not brain dead, from what I understand. So it did not die too.Report

      • DRS in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Where did I say the fetus was brain dead? If it was, this entire ordeal would not be happening.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I thought you meant that when you said this: “this is surely not the first time a pregnant woman has died and the sad fact is that the fetus died too.”

        The abortion debate is relevant, because the moral question up for consideration is whether the fetus has interests. The body of Melise Munoz has interests, Erick Munoz has interests. Does the fetus? If so, what respect do they entail?

        The legal right of relatives as surrogate decision-makers is based on what many consider to be a moral right (others disagree). Here’s an interesting article about it, if you have academic access:

      • DRS in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        No, that wasn’t what I meant. Then read it as “…and the fetus will die too.” And if dead bodies have interests, then the zombie apocalypse has arrived.Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Person’s can have interests in things that lie outside their lifespan or for that matter their knowledge. Let me pump intuitions a bit.

        Compare John in three possible worlds. In our world John is happily married to Belle. Belle genuinely cares for and loves John. They have a real marriage.

        On Twin earth 1, TwinJohn1 is married to TwinBelle1. TwinJohn1 believes that TwinBelle1 loves him. From TwinJohn1’s perspective, Twin Belle1 behaves in exactly the same way as our Belle. However, unknown to TwinJohn1, TwinBelle1 does not love John and is merely a very good actress and actually has been having multiple affairs.

        On Twin Earth 2, TwinJohn2 is married to TwinBelle2 and TwinJohn2 believes he is in a loving marriage. TwinBelle2 behaves exactly the same way as Belle does. She does not have affairs etc. However, TwinBelle2 does not love John because she is in fact a philosophical zombie. She lacks internal mental states. She is thus incapable of feeling any emotion, let alone love.

        The intuition everyone is supposed to get is that our John is better off that TwinJohn1 or TwinJohn2 even though their subjective experiences are identical. At the very least, we should see that is possible that our John is better off and that this is plausible to many.

        Next consider case of Betty. Betty cares a lot about rainforests. In fact, protecting rainforests figures centrally, in many ways, in the various projects she pursues and the way she has arranged her life. One of Betty’s projects involved preventing excessive logging in the rainforest, in which she lobbied for a law that would restrict logging activities in virgin forest. Unfortunately she died in a car accident before finding out whether or not the parliament had passed the law. It is not unreasonable to say that her life would have turned out better if the law passed, because her efforts would have been successful, even if it turned out that she was not alive to enjoy the fruits of that success. There is a coherent sense in which what happens to the rainforest figures into how her life, overall turned out.

        I believe that it is this same principle which underlies our intuitions about respecting wills and AMDs. If respecting wills was just a matter of cultural taboos regarding the dead, we would not treat violation of wills as property right violations just as serious as those conducted against actual living persons.

        Thus, to claim that people’s interests over their future corpses are not as serious or morally significant as a living person’s interests in their current body requires argument.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Thus, to claim that people’s interests over their future corpses are not as serious or morally significant as a living person’s interests in their current body requires argument.

        I’m with you that someone can be harmed after death and dead people can have interests (I think I wrote a blog post once on whether historical fiction writers can harm their subjects…crickets on the subject). But it’s another step to say that it requires argumentation that violation of a corpse is just as morally significant as a living corpse. It may be significant, but I don’t think it’s as significant. When I read Nagel’s “Death” with my students, many still balk at the idea that it is at all morally significant. For anyone unfamiliar with this essay, it’s a nice piece on way you can be harmed after your death and why death can be considered a harm at all:

  2. Russ Young says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful and courageous article, Rose. You’ve managed to challenge the unexamined assumptions of many readers. Just what I’d expect from a philosopher!Report

  3. Anne says:

    Rose thank you for making a post on this very sad and distressing case I was hoping either you or Russell would weigh in on this. I am very torn on this. My father suffered a sudden and massive stroke a little over eight months ago. We as a family struggled horribly to decide what was the right course of action. Knowing my fathers wishes for his quality of life. I can hardly type the next sentence…thankfully he and we only had to endure a two week period of indescribable agony about what to do. We took him off the ventilator and two days later he died. There is not a minute that goes by that I do not want him here with me. But I, my family know with a certainty that he did not want to be here and yet not be here. The universe was merciful and he went peacefully. This was not complicated by another possible life and my heart hurts for the Munoz family. I The fetus/child at the time of Mrs. Munoz’s death was 14 weeks old. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs the law of the land is that her and her husband were within the law to decide for medical reasons or others to terminate this pregnancy. Yet another horrific moral decision I hope never to have to make. Knowing her wishes and the possible health impacts of lack of oxygen for an unspecified but significant (hour give or take) on her and the fetus. This family had to make a decision I would not wish on anyone. However I have a real problem with the state being the one to impose that decision. If she was farther along in the pregnancy this all becomes complicated even further. I really don’t know what I would do then. I do really have a big problem with the state saying what could be done with my fathers dead body. With his health it was not an option for organ donation but what if the state made us keep him un-dead by artificial means until they could harvest his organs. The trauma on our family would be immense. Even knowing and wholeheartedly supporting his lifelong blood donor status and willingness to be an organ donor (which I support) the open-ended thought of him on machines for months on end until something could be used or viable by law is not something I wish to contemplate. It was hard for us as a family to make the decisions we made and live with those much less have a decision imposed upon us by others.

    Long story short I can not fathom this families pain compounded by everyone trying to use them to further political agendas. These decisions belong to and within families.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Anne says:

      Anne, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

      Part of the reason I ultimately think that the state should allow Erick Munoz to withdraw life support is the very awfulness of state interference.

      When my second son was born, his prognosis was much worse than it is currently. We were told he was blind, partly deaf, and would never walk or talk. He might never make eye contact or react to the environment. He had been in a Catholic hospital and once needed resuscitation. We had not been consulted beforehand, nor did we even think to make specifications about it (it’s different when it’s your baby, even if he has serious health problems, even if you fishin’ teach ethics!).

      On his transfer to a different hospital (for reasons unrelated), we were presented on his admission with a DNR, by a doctor who thought it was obvious we should sign because, she said, “Look at his quality of life.” We took the paper and said we think about it. We were then subject to several comments from doctors, including one who called us at home, about whether we should or should not sign it. To this day, I remember one telling us we shouldn’t sign it, and when we said we were thinking about it, she glance back at the nurse with her, who shared a look like, “Aren’t these parents just awful?” One doctor chastised them in front of us, and then suggested we should sign it.

      To this day, even though they were in a sense right (that he definitely does have a life worth living now, despite appearances then), even though I would throw myself in front of a bus for him, I still resent those doctors pressuring me. On both sides, but particularly not to sign. They had no business doing it. If the state interfered, I would have been beside myself.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    Some scattered thoughts…

    I knew nothing of this case save for a brief snippet on the radio the other day. All I understood from it was that the mother was “dead” but that the fetus was still “alive” and had passed the point of gestation in which abortion was legal and that there was a court battle over how to proceed (words in quotes were original to the snippet). At the time I thought, “It seems as if reasonable steps should be taken to deliver the baby healthily.”

    I had no idea that the baby has/is likely to have disabilities. Knowing that now, my position is unchanged.

    In a weird way, I think you capture the thinking behind my thoughts, albeit far more thoughtfully and completely. While I am generally pro-choice (but agree with you that the goal should be to eliminate the need for abortions), I think this case represents a situation wherein the “rights” of the “child” trump the “rights” of the “woman”… with all square quotes necessary because we can haggle over what rights really exist and whether the fetus is a child and the mother is still a woman (in the sense that she is a living human being) etc, etc, etc.

    Your comment on the strangeness of spousal rights with regards to medical decisions is why my wife pushed so hard for us to draft living wills at the like. Should it come to that, we will push to exercise the intentions of the individual as fully as possible. Save for a pregnancy, I see little reason not to honor their wishes. And a living will or similar document seems the best way to ensure this happens.Report

    • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

      And a living will or similar document seems the best way to ensure this happens.

      That often depends on what state you live in. It can, in some places, be enormously difficult.

      My sister-in-law had severe asthma, and they knew, as she got older and it got worse, that it might, someday, be fatal. And it was. She had a living will, which specified she wanted to be an organ donor. But in Florida, where they lived, the laws about brain death were quite specific, and she had some spark of activity in the brain stem, still. So despite no hope of recovery, her living will, and her husband’s wishes, she was kept on life support for nearly three weeks. During that time, her or organs decayed, and only her eyes and some skin could be donated. The life her heart, kidneys, etc. might have given that were not given remain, to this day, a brutal wound to both her husband and children.

      A year before he died, my father, who fought a long and downhill battle with prostate cancer, fell and shattered his shoulder; and in the emergency room, was incubated (put on a ventilator) despite his living will. His wife, my stepmother, requested they remove it, and they refused without the permission of his children, too. I had to fly to Florida and sign stuff before they removed it. I remember sitting there with him, floating in and out of awareness, and asking him to squeeze my hand for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers for hours, over and over, till I was certain that he knew that I was asking if he wanted the breathing tube removed, and that if it was removed, he might not be able to breath on his own. I remain convinced that those days of asking about it were why he did start breathing once the tube was pulled; and given the fractured shoulder, which could not be fixed or restrained, I will always live with the feeling that I’d given him an extra year of life that bordered on torture. But the truth is that none of this would have happened if he had not been incubated in the ER when he was initially brought it; this was a violation of his wishes, they had the DNR in his file, and all the burdens on our family fell out of it. Yet I don’t want to cast blame on the ER staff, either; the balance of what to do when someone’s life hangs in the balance is difficult, and much of this stems from the culture of the state and facility.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to zic says:


        Living wills are imperfect for just the reasons you cite. We saw this first hand over the summer when one of Zazzy’s uncles was for all intents and purposes brain dead but had to pass (or, really, fail) a series of tests before his children could remove life support, despite no one objecting to their intentions.

        But attempting to engage in a course of action as dictated by a living will is easier than attempting to engage that same course of action without one. That is what I was trying (and failing) to say.Report

  5. Creon Critic says:

    Her autonomy cannot violated, because autonomy is predicated on the possession of rationality. If we can do what we like to fetuses because we assume that they don’t have requisite cognitive capacities, then Muñoz is morally similar. She can neither consent, nor assent, nor dissent ever again. How we treat her body is, then, a matter of being respectful to her memory.

    This seems flawed to me. If I have a do not resuscitate order, I’ve exercised my autonomy regarding a situation in the future in which I don’t have possession of rationality. Munoz is not similar to a fetus in that she has (according to her husband) expressed her wishes. She has already declined consent. Being brain dead does not reverse her previous command, nor does being pregnant.

    As far as I understand, generally, continuing medical procedures on someone who has declined consent is assault. That is part of the reason the case appears so clear cut.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Yes, I think you’re right there. Well, I don’t think it constitutes assault, in the same way that I don’t think burying someone who requested cremation is assault. It’s disrespectful, I’d even say you harmed that person, but assault is a weird way to put it.

      So I guess if Munoz specified that those were her wishes *when pregnant*, then, yes, that should be respected. And should have some time ago. Although I can say, in the way I find the issue of fetal rights worrisome more generally, that I don’t think it’s open and shut that pregnant women should do this. Legally, they should be permitted. Morally, I have qualms, outlined above.

      I have asked my husband to remove life support from me in cases of bleak coma or brain death. I did not think to specify anything any of the times I was pregnant. And actually, in those cases, I would have wanted to give my children a chance to live.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        In the late stages of Zazzy’s pregnancy, the topic came up of what to do if something went wrong and I had to make a call between saving her life and saving the baby’s. We both thought the answer was obvious. Simultaneously, I said, “I’d save you,” and she said, “You’d save the baby.” Hmmmm… We both explained our rationale but was such a difficult conversation, we never really settled the matter. I guess, ultimately, the call would have and should have been 100% hers… right? I dunno. For some reason, that’s difficult to accept, even if rationally it feels right: if she wants to sacrifice herself for the baby, who am I to insist on the inverse? Thankfully, it never came anywhere close to that.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Meant to say this, too: I was speaking with an if-clause, i.e., if you think that personhood consists in rationality or sentience, then she is dead now. I myself do not think personhood consists in those. Indeed, I am not a Kantian, although medical ethics is so firmly imbued with Kantian mentality (except when consequentialism does sneak its way in). I haven’t read the Kantian literature on respect for bodies when dead in a long time, and they do have a justification for it. I don’t remember it well, I’m afraid (I’m more familiar with persistent vegetative states, etc.). I remember thinking that like most Kantian justifications of how to treat so-called “marginal cases,” it is inherently non-sensical. (Maybe it is richer than I am giving it credit for in my memory.) The person (according to the Kantian) is dead. Therefore you are indeed not violating that person. The body is not the person. If a person requested to have her body after death displayed unenbalmed in her backyard for a month (sorry to get gross to make a point), most people would say that that person’s wishes might be violated and that person should be buried our cremated despite her wishes. If the Kantian is right, it’s more like defacing a portrait of the person – violating dignity. By the way, this is part of why I am not a Kantian. You get into these twisted explanations of what to do when there is no rationality.Report

      • Can’t someone just say Kantianism applies only to the living, and once the person is not living, some sort of other set of ethical rules apply? I realize that doesn’t get us very far in this place, where there’s an arguably living entity/person (the fetus) and a brain dead person.

        But it seems to me from my very casual, amateurish, and mostly ill-informed reading of ethics that people sometimes declare themselves to be “consequentialists,” “Kantians,” or “virtue ethicists,” as if they can’t be both one and another. Why not?Report

  6. trizzlor says:

    A person dies on an operating table with a body full of viable organs. In the directly adjacent hospital bed is a child that can only survive with major organ transplants. Prior to the operation, the passed adult has made it clear to their family that in the worst case they want their body untouched and buried whole. Is it ethical to extract those organs – against the will of their carrier – to save the dying child? Why is consent even necessary for the organ-donor program when the lives of children (and even adults) are necessarily at stake?

    I agree with Creon Critic that non-consent doesn’t decrease in value just because the non-consenting party has died. I believe we’ve strongly accepted this as a societal code, which is why doctors don’t fly around extracting organs from the dead to aid the wounded living. I think the viability issue has also been analyzed extensively, with the moral distinction being that the fetus requires its mother to survive and cannot be viable in any other circumstance; whereas a newborn can survive under the supervision of another caretaker. If you had a magic machine that could zap the fetus out of an unwanted mother and into another wanting mother (or father) without being substantially invasive, then the issue would be much more complex. But I don’t see why the fact that a woman created a fetus should bind her to raise and nurture that fetus to external viability.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to trizzlor says:

      I’ve read the viability defenses. They do not make sense as a moral distinction to me. It’s not as if doctors perform elective C-sections at 24 or 26 weeks to offer the viable child to another caretaker. Maybe, as you say, if they could do easily and consistently with the baby’s health, that would be one thing. But I mean, it’s an ethical issue whether to permit elective C-sections even of a full-term baby.

      I actually think Judith Jarvis Thompson has a strong point – that even if the fetus has a right to life, that does not entail the right that a woman must use her body to sustain it. My personal view is that even though the woman has the right not to sustain the fetus, it is morally better (kinder) to carry the baby. In most circumstances, that is; there are circumstances wherein that’s not true. There are some disanalogies, but similarly people have a right not to perform CPR on a dying stranger, but it is kinder if they do. The main disanalogies are, of course, that the stranger is a person and the fetus may not be (a disanalogy which I question) and that 9 months is longer than the time it takes to perform CPR. Which is true, and why it is far more kind of someone to carry an unwanted baby to term than to perform CPR, and more understandable for someone to decline. But the basics remain the same.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        One other disanalogy (sorry for being so comment-y) – I am assuming here that abortion is a case of letting someone die, not killing them. Most Kantians make a strong distinction between killing and letting die, where the first is impermissible and the second permissible. It is arguable that abortion is more like killing than letting die.

        One other strange thing about viability. In the case of not performing CPR on a dying person, we would say one is more culpable in not performing if there were no one else around who could do it. Why should someone be less culpable in failing to sustain that person simply because she is the only person capable of sustaining that person? Why is she only culpable when she can hand off the responsibility at 26 weeks (and actually, only could in theory, not practice – and even in theory, she could only do so with serious harm to the baby.)

        Here’s one way we demand that mothers use their bodies to sustain life: once a child is born, a mother must use her body to sustain her child, even if only to find a caretaker for the child. If she does nothing and lets her child die when born, or kills it, she has done something morally and legally wrong. Why should the law pick on her in this way? The fact that she has created a fetus binds her to those actions. What if she requested an elective abortion at 38 weeks? The 38 week fetus is not a substantially different being from a child who is born. One is simply inside and the other is outside. Why should the mother have moral and legal bodily obligations to a being outside her body in virtue of being the person who created that being, but not inside?

        Many people, even if they think abortion is permissible, do not think it is permissible for pregnant mothers to knowingly take actions that might harm the baby: smoke, drink, take drugs. Why should those actions be impermissible, while abortion is not? If the fetus has personhood, it seems more harmful to kill it than to hurt it. If the fetus does not have personhood yet, then there’s no one she is harming. She may be creating some suboptimal conditions for a person in the future, but surely she’s not obligated to maximize all possible conditions for any non-existent future person. She can go on a wild spending spree, or drop out of school she dislikes attending, or marry a jerk she loves. All those would create suboptimal conditions for future children. From which, if any, is she obligated to refrain? When? Before pregnancy? Before 12 weeks along? Before 26 weeks along?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Carrying a fetus to term is not just a greater time commitment than giving CPR by nine months. It is a also a much, much greater risk to health and life. Also, carrying a healthy fetus to term has certain inevitably resulting heavy burdens, namely (at least) enduring the emotional strain of giving a child you’ve carried to term up for abortion, whose emotional impact has been documented (I think) to be substantial, or else choosing between that and entering into an eighteen-year legal obligation to provide for the welfare of the child. Doing that when not inclined to do so is a very, very kind choice indeed. That is why, generally, pro-life arguers seek to offset some of that high degree of kindness they are demanding by claiming that a woman elected to take on those burdens when she engaged in the act that resulted in the pregnancy and thus is morally bound to follow through on meeting them, which is in turn why pregnancies caused by rape tie them in knots so badly since they also are committed to fetal personhood being the fundamental reason they claim to be justified in denying women the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Many people, even if they think abortion is permissible, do not think it is permissible for pregnant mothers to knowingly take actions that might harm the baby: smoke, drink, take drugs. Why should those actions be impermissible, while abortion is not?

        Because if she intends to carry the child to term, then she is comprehending a person who will exist in the future (but does not now). She intends that person to exist; if she is allowed to act according to her intentions, he will. If she drinks alcohol heavily with the fetus that will be that person in her womb, she is putting that future person at serious risk for grave harm (compared to the situation he would be in if the fetus had been allowed to develop in an alcohol-free environment). The harm, if it occurs, will be to the person who does not exist while she is drinking. If she drinks a lot while pregnant and then has an abortion, I at least am confident she has not done harm to a person, or depending on the stage of pregnancy at which she has the abortion, to any being whose immediate welfare we need to be concerned with. Which leads us to…

        The 38 week fetus is not a substantially different being from a child who is born. One is simply inside and the other is outside. Why should the mother have moral and legal bodily obligations to a being outside her body in virtue of being the person who created that being, but not inside?

        This, of course, is just a straightforward assertion of fetal personhood. I obviously can’t definitively refute such an assertion. From my perspective, to me birth is the most definitive marker of the beginning of personhood. I’m satisfied with it. Of course, milage varies for others. But I don’t fully accept this: “The 38 week fetus is not a substantially different being from a child who is born. One is simply inside and the other is outside.” By virtue of being inside, this being has never breathed air, has never had sunlight shine directly into its retinas, has never heard its mother’s voice unmediated by fluid, has never had a tactile sensation in its skin other than the watery interior of the uterus. Etc., etc., etc. To me, the most profound frontier between the life of a person and the life of a fetus lie in being a physically autonomous being that is experiencing sensations in a similar way that all other human *persons* that we encounter do. I obviously don’t expect everyone to feel similarly, but I can’t accept that there’s essentially no meaningful differences to consider between the nature of a being who is a person who has been born and the nature of a being who is a 38-week-old unborn fetus.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        This, of course, is just a straightforward assertion of fetal personhood.

        I intended to include, “…at a certain stage of pregnancy” at the end of that statement and forgot. Also, I was taking the question as rhetorical, but I think it was more meant as a statement of uncertainty. In any case, that’s my answer.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Doing that when not inclined to do so is a very, very kind choice indeed. Agreed. Should have stressed that more in the example. This is why anyone who has any pro-life sympathies should throw all her support behind such people. And make it as easy as possible to actually raise children.

        I agree with you also re: difficulties of claim that sex implies tacit consent to responsibility. I mean, there’s something to it. I do think men should be compelled to pay child support. But it does give them an issue with rape. If you take the position that it’s a right not to carry a child, and a kindness to do so, then it is all the more obvious that it is a kindness no one can expect after a rape.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        If you have that view of personhood, and think that she intends something with her pregnancy, it cannot be that she intends that that person exists.

        Anyway, my point was more about a related point in which I’m interested which is not germane, and which I probably shouldn’t have brought up: maternal obligations to fetuses they do intend to bear.

        Are you familiar with the lit on the non-identity problem?

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        I’m not sure I understand, “If you have that view of personhood, and think that she intends something with her pregnancy, it cannot be that she intends that that person exists.” It’s a little vague given my non-familiarity with the debates you’re talking about. Which is to say, no, I was completely unaware of anything called the non-identity problem. I’ll give that link a read.

        As a first pass, I’d just note that I don’t think what I’m describing falls under this intuition described as at stake in the NIP: “(2) The second intuition is that an act that confers on a person an existence that is, though flawed, worth having in a case in which that same person could never have existed at all in the absence of that act does not make things worse for, or harm, and is not “bad for,” that person. In other words, conferring the existence that is unavoidably flawed and yet not so flawed that it is less than worth having does not make things worse for, or harm, and is not “bad for,” the person whose existence it is.” that’s because we’re not examining a situation in which the options are to confer a “flawed” existence (in a binary universe where having fetal alcohol syndrome is “flawed” existence and not having it is having a “not flawed” existence), or not to confer existence. The options we’re considering include conferring a not flawed existence (in this simple rendering). So: conferring not-flawed existence, conferring flawed existence, not conferring existence. If we’re considering the effect on persons, there are only two persons whose welfare we can compare: a person with a flawed existence and a person with out one, either of whom could have grown from the same fetus. If you cause the flawed state relative to the unflawed, you have harmed the person who had the potential not to be flawed. To me, you have not harmed any person if you cause them not to exist before they become a person. The result of holding otherwise, to me, results in the view that people who have fewer children than they possibly can in life are harming persons by denying them existence, as I don’t believe that the existence of a fetus is any more definitively a future person than are a fertile woman and man standing next to each other.

        This also tracks my reaction to the slave girl example, where a couple intentionally brings into existence a child only for the purpose of selling her into slavery. th claim seems to be that it’s just undeniable that, if those are the options, the girl is worse off for never existing than she is for being born into and held in slavery for her whole life, providing that that life is still worth having (whose definition I can’t conceive of, but which I imagine has something to do with constant, excruciating pain [but what’s so special about that that we can be sure that such a life isn’t worth having while some flawed life short of that degree of flaw, is). Basically, my intuition is just that it only makes sense to campare people who exist, and that the whole dicussion fetishizes existence as a benefit to persons. rather, I take existence as a prerequisite to being able to be benefitted or harmed as a person. You haven’t harmed a person if you cause her *never* (important that that says “never,” rather than “not”) to exist. And there’s nothing special about the existence of a fetus that makes a non-existing person (that that fetus could become) be harmed more for never existing than other non-existing persons who could exist just based on the fact that many pairs of men and women who could bring children into the world decline to do so when they easily could are harmed. I think there’s a class of response to the NIP mentioned in the article that is vaguely similar to that view, but I’m sure it’s not really all that close, either.

        And that’s my initially, totally naive reaction to a first encounter with the Non-Identity Problem as relates our discussion. thanks for the introduction.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        …Didn’t read quite far enough (I read through most of the responses in Sec. 3). Under 4., a whole separate section is reserved for my basic approach – presented as the response advocated by Jan Narveson among others called “The Asymmetry” along with a more nuanced defense of that view under the name Variabilism.

        The basic view of The Asymmetry is that “it is wrong (and makes an outcome morally worse) to bring a miserable child – a child whose life is less than worth living – into existence but it is perfectly permissible (and does not make an outcome worse) to leave the happy child out of existence. While (arguably) leaving the happy child out of existence makes things worse for that child, the person-based intuition requires for wrongdoing not that things be made worse for a person who never exists but rather that things be made worse for a person who does or will exist.”

        That’s roughly my view, though apparently it has been successfully criticized for distinguishing between existing and non-existing persons. Variabilism, then make the somewhat more limited claim that “[a person p]’s being worse off at a world w has moral significance if and only if p does or will exist at w. In other words: even conceding that leaving the happy child out of existence makes that child worse off than that child might have been – even conceding, that is, that the happy child incurs a “loss” or sustains a “harm” when left out of existence – that loss, according to Variabilism, has no moral significance. It does not, that is, count against the choice to leave the happy child out of existence or in favor of the choice to bring that child into existence. After all, the happy child never exists at the world where that child incurs that loss. In contrast, bringing the miserable child into an existence that is less than worth having has full moral significance. It counts, that is, against the choice to bring that child into existence and in favor of the choice to leave that child out of existence. Why? Because the miserable child exists at the world where he or she incurs that loss[.]”

        I agree with that as well, though, as I say above, I think I also agree with the stronger denial that denying existence in the first instance confers a harm at all on a being of The Asymmetry, despite the criticism of that view (which, to be fair, I haven’t reviewed).Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @michael-drew I would like to respond to your non-identity comment, but I have to go sledding with my kiddo. In short, I agree with you if the fetus is not a person. (BTW, one of the many many problems I have with this whole debate is this bright line between personhood and non-personhood, or nec. and suff. conditions for personhood.)Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        Have fun with the actually-existing kiddo!Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Thompson has a point only if you take an absurdly strong view that people have no enforceable positive obligations towards others. IIRC Thompson argues that even if Henry Fonda only needs to walk across a room to lay a hand on your forehead in order to relieve your intense pain, he has no enforceable obligation to do so. I don’t think the arguments she has provided are adequate to the task.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        > he has no enforceable obligation to do so. I don’t think the arguments she has provided are adequate to the task.

        This is why hard and fast rights talk loses the ball. Because she frames it as if respecting rights are the only kind of moral obligation we can have. When she talks in that essay about moral decency, that sounds more like virtue ethics.Report

  7. thomm says:

    The dnr that the woman carried is forgotten in this thinking exercise. It is not her husband making this decision, or her familily (who are both in accord), it was her herself. Her personal autonomy was violated by ignoring it, fetus or no. Also, on a tangentially related note… there is never any mention of any possible future psychological harm to a child birthed under such circumstances once they are cognizant of the fact that they were incubated in the corpse of thier mother against her will.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to thomm says:

      Can’t imagine the psychological harm is so great that it would be better never to have been born. But maybe I’m wrong. Would be interesting to do a study on those kids.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Is “to have never been born” -if we are talking about a 14 week old fetus, an anencaphelic fetus, a cancerous molar fetus- a harm that is done to someone?Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        If it is, then I have harmed a lot of peopke by not having more unprotected sex and making sure more babies were born.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        Exactly. The question is whether the existence of a fetus makes the interest of a non-existing, potential person of greater weight to be considered than the interest of other potential persons whose state of potentiality never progresses to the point of fetushood. Or the existence of a zygote, or etc. I.e., short of personhood, is conception a special threshold in that regard (potential personhood), is fetushood a special threshold in that regard, is neurological function of some kind a special threshold in that regard – etc.? Or is a conceived zygote actually a person, or a fetus, or a fetus with neuro function, etc.?, in which case the previous questions are obviated.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Obviously I’m not implying that we are obligated to maximize potential persons. Or maybe it’s not obvious. Anyhow, I’m not. However, when people bring up disability or psychological harm as a reason why that fetus would be better off never having lived, they are saying what would be best for that person. To justify a given act of abortion (infanticide, PAS, what have you) as being done *for that person’s sake*, then one must indeed question whether it is better for that person not to live at all.

        Let’s take zygote X. Let us say it has a chromosomal disorder that will result in severe disabilities, but is not painful or degenerative. Y says he wants to destroy that X because X would be better off not existing. For me to respond to Y that that isn’t a good reason to destroy X does not entail that (a) I believe that X may not be destroyed for any reason, or even (b) that X must be carried to term. I’m just saying that if you want to say that it’s in X’s interests not to be born, that is incorrect. Maybe X’s interests are not morally weighty. That’s a different issue. Saying it is better for X if X is born says nothing about whether I think anyone is obligated to carry out the X’s interests.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Actually, this came up the other day in my post on Disney World (of course). A year or two ago, I wrote a post that mentioned, among other things, that I was really glad my son (the one with severe disabilities) was born. A post on another site linked to it. Apparently a commenter thought I knew during pregnancy that my son would be disabled (I did not, as it happens). The commenter said I was cruelly selfish: while my son may have made my life go better, clearly it would have been better for him if he was never born. S/he believed I was obliged, for my child’s sake (not mine, not society’s), to have aborted him. (One comes across the view in philosophy that one is obligated to abort disabled fetuses — indeed, it may well be dominant; most of those folks, however, do not argue that it is for the sake of that fetus — rather, the parents or the world at large.)

        Anyhow, I think she is totally one hundred percent mistaken (definitive enough, Shaz?). Yet I also do not think that I was obliged to have sex on the night he was conceived.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Not sure Rose.

        I see some people arguing that

        a) Aborting a fetus does not harm a person, i.e. it does not harm “the person who would have existed”
        b) It is better for the world if there fewer seriously ill, cognatively impaired people because they take up resources, they suffer more, etc. In other words, you get more utility in the world by selecting non-seriously impaired fetuses

        So therefore,

        c) It is better to abort fetuses that will become seriously impaired persons and no harm is done to any persons by doing so.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Right. Both Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer argue this. Wrongly, I obviously think. Both, however, acknowledge it is not better for that fetus, and to say you are doing it for the sake of the fetus is mistaken. It is a different question if the world is better off without my son’s existence than if my son is better off without my son’s existence.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        Your son is better of that he exists once he exists. (Unless he is truly tortured with something awful, a la ALS or something. i think there are such cases where it is better to be dead once you are alive.)

        But your son -like all of us- would not have been worse off had he never existed.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        But to be clear, a fetus at 14 weeks is not a locus of harm or benefit. So the phrase “the fetus is better off” is nonsensical. It is like saying this computer screen is better off.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Right, right. So all I am saying, no matter when he existed, is that saying HE would be better off not existing because he would be so unhappy, suffering, etc. is usually wrong. I’ll even say ALS (hey, look at Stephen Hawking). I’m there with you on Tay-Sachs, Trisomies 13, 18.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I was responding to the person who seemed to be suggesting (perhaps I was wrong) that no one had taken account of the eventual psychological harm of the fetus.

        For the record, while I have much graver doubts about 22 weeks (was writing about what should be done right now), I’m not as abso-smurfly-positive as you about 14 weeks.

        BTW, off topic, but what career stage are you at? (Full prof, grad student, etc.)Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        As to how I could possibly, genuinely wonder about 14 weeks, it is because: (a) I am not convinced that personhood is solely a matter of psychological properties, and (b) I am not convinced that only intrinsic properties are relevant – relational properties might, too.Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        ” what career stage are you at?

        Drummed out of the profession for being the worst philosopher ever. Got a degree from a pretty elite school and then couldn’t hack it on the job market, because I suck, and because I couldn’t move cities.

        What non-mental properties that are constitutive of personhood are you referring to? Size? Weight? Dispositional power to pull a tractor with your teeth? Genetic code?

        X is a person iff X weighs 50 kg and is perfectly spherical?


      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Drummed out of the profession for being the worst philosopher ever. Kind of impressive in its own way, given how many awesome philosophers are drummed out of the profession (and how many so-so ones stay in).

        I was actually going to post on this, maybe. I totally hear you. I am currently on the market, in possession of a two-body problem, restricted by kiddos and their situations to jobs near good medical care, refusing to take VAP positions because I don’t want to uproot the kiddos. Not to mention most definitely not Leiterriffic…solidly mid-Leiter (didn’t major in philosophy, and had never even heard of Leiter when I applied!). Had 4 first-round interviews. Not R1s, but non-horrible TT positions. Two have gone to fly-outs and have not seen fit to invite me. Waiting to hear on the other two, and on a two-year fellowship that happens to be near us. We’ll put up with crappy adjuncting for one more year, then hope to go on to manage a hedge fund (or somehow convince someone that a philosophy degree is something she should shell out a six-figure salary for).

        See, how can you say philosophy is non-awesome when it allows you to be aware that if (a) David Lewis is right and (b) moral truths are not necessary, then there is a possible world in which “X is a person iff X weighs 50 kg and is perfectly spherical?” is true. And people think we’re useless!

        Seriously, though: suspect membership in human species is relevant, though neither nec. nor suff. (generally think personhood is a bit more of a family resemblance affair than a bright line and disagree with the “speciesist” line), having human parents, possibly being valued in a certain way by other persons (non-circular since also not nec. nor suff.). Plus sentience, low-level rationality, social interests, and too many other cog. features to name specifically.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        didn’t major in philosophy, and had never even heard of Leiter when I applied!

        Those were good days, huh, pre-hearing of Leiter?

        OK, that might be a little harsh. Then again he did once tell me, when I dared to critique one of his arguments, that I should be taking care of my son sick with a cold instead of critiquing his argument. He’s a bit of a bastard.

        Good luck on the market, though.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Never met him, but totally doesn’t surprise me — he comes across as a bit of a jerk on the blog (and this is why I write with a pseudonym).Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        There is a difference between merely potential persons and future persons. My skin cells are potential persons, but they are not future persons in the relevant sense. Left alone, it does not become a person. But, there is a point when you are trying to clone me (perhaps some time after you put the zygote in the artificial incubator) where just leaving things as they are will, barring accidents, almost certainly result in a person. Same way that an infant may not currently be a person, but unless someone takes steps to actively interfere with it by killing it or starving it, it probably will end up becoming a person. And, unless you’re Singer, I’m gonna assume that no one here advocates infanticideReport

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        I genuinely hope it works out for you, because you seem like a real talent and a wondeful person. I put in a big chunk of my life and I didn’t get nuttin but adjuncting and I had to see a therapist about it, I was so upset with myself. I kept saying, “Get over yourself and be pragmatic,” but that was easy to rationalize and hard to truly feel.

        I went to CUNY GC. Got to know crazy Kripke and a whole world of lesser demons. (Oh, the horror.) Didn’t get any support really on the job market or for publications. That is the key, I think. I know some people -not GC students- whose advisors phoned and had other senior professors phone hiring committees. Not just letters, but phone calls to people they knew. And they made sure the student had a publication or joint publication in grad school. One or the other is necessary to get a decent TT job these days it seems. Well not necessary, but you get the point.

        In retrospect, not only was I a bad philosopher -though my dissertation had some magic in it- I hate the idea of writing journal articles in philosophy. So much awful logic-chopping, hair splitting, repetitive stuff. I was the worst, but there are a crud ton of bad philosophers publishing what everyone knows is bad and usually derivative philosophy just for promotion and to maintain an aura of sciency-ness and authority that philosophy should never have aimed at. (Socrates would be appalled, no?) Bleh. Maybe I’m whining.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Nothing drives me nuttier than the faux science-y logic-y ness of much current phil. For all X, iff X feels emotion Y with intentional object Z at time t, then X loves Q. Or publishing an article consisting of one silly counterexample to an accepted view (a guy is walking down the street, and he gets attacked by a zombie cow that evolved from a goat, what can we we say about teleosematics?).

        I hope you’ve gotten over it now. I’m glad I got to do the PhD if nothing else. I will be okay with not getting a job in philosophy iff I can have a job that has a lot of flexibility (kiddo with health problems means I can’t hold down a regular 9 to 5 job) and some intrinsic interest. And I can write on the side. My husband, I think, will take it much harder.

        My husband spent a semester at CUNY GC, applied and got in, but decided against going there partly because of the laughable funding (I think he was offered, like $8K a year?), and partly because he saw (as you indicate) a lack of supervisory support. He chose our lower-ranked program instead, maybe unwisely.

        But we do share an absolute dream advisor. My advisor’s amazing. He reads, like, 10-20 drafts of each of my stupid papers, nags me when I’m slowing down in productivity. He will give that phone call, and did push me to publish (one solo in journal — which was, alas, my worst fully developed paper — and two co-authored book chapters). He’s reasonably big in my AOS (phil mind), albeit not Kripke – without him, the program would probably drop another 10 places or so. He’s very career-focused and supportive. He insists his advisor role didn’t end with the PhD and still asks to see my work. Seriously, I’d have left long ago if it weren’t for him.

        So now I hear in order to be not laughed out the door, your peer-reviewed articles (more than one, natch) need to be in top 10 generalist journals (mine, alas, was in a respectable specialist journal). Besides coming from the Leiterrific school. Etc. Honestly, I don’t know how I got even the interviews I did get.

        So assuming (as I am) that the other two fly-outs don’t happen, it’s another crazy year of adjuncting and aiming to get two more pubs in generalist journals (I’ll aim for rank of 10-20). Then – bye philosophy! You’re cute, and all, but there are other fish in the sea!Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Kudos to you both for your resilient attitudes about objectively challenging experiences.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        The philosophy job market seems like one of the most dysfunctional things in academia. I know some people who’ve had a rough go in English departments, and the actual PhD work for history programs is absurd, but when it comes to getting a job, philosophy seems to take the cake.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I can’t really speak for other fields. Philosophy was bad enough, in 2008 (post-Lehman, it got dramatically worse). Since 2009, 30% of grads in our dept ended up with tenure-track jobs. And we’re a ranked program, at least – there are (I think) 60 unranked PhD-granting programs?

        For a bunch of people who credit themselves with originality and clarity of thought, it is odd how much emphasis philosophers put on knowing the right people, and old boy network, and school pedigree. I also firmly believe that an emphasis on giftedness of potential hires (as opposed to actual production or hardworkingness) is seriously detrimental to the field, and harmful in many ways (inc. the insane gender and race ratios).

        If, in one’s rec letters, your recommender emphasized that you were a particularly hard worker, or a really devoted and wonderful teacher, many (not all) hiring committees would read that as “not cut out for research – do not hire” Which is pretty fished up.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Interestingly, I was a grad student at UT when Leiter was there, and while I was different department I went to the department’s Friday talks, worked with a couple of the faculty (mostly Tye), and knew a bunch of the grad students. They all seemed to find it virtually impossible to get tenure-track jobs in the states, including ones who worked with Leiter himself. From outside of the humanities, it looks like insanity.Report

      • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Does ones interest in being born apply before conception?

        If not why not? After I would have missed out on just as much if my mom had chosen an abortion as if she and dad had gone to sleep early that night.Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I’d say it extends to about 12-16 weeks after conception, when the chance of survival of the foetus under ordinary circumstances, when not interfered with is close to 1.If you go earlier than 10 weeks, you don’t have an entity which will ordinarily become a future person, you only have one among many many other mere potential persons.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @murali If you go earlier than 10 weeks, you don’t have an entity which will ordinarily become a future person, you only have one among many many other mere potential persons. I find this confusing. It’s an entity that will either become something dead or could become only one person, if it continues living. How is it many possible people?Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        At conception, a zygote is a merely potential person roughly in the way that my skin cells are potential persons. But a foetus which is implanted and healthy and to which a miscarriage under normal circumstances is unlikely is a future person in addition to being a potential person. Sorry if I sounded like I was saying that before 10 weeks a foetus could be many potential persons.Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        This is part of my view of why we think its acceptable to be paternalistic to children in ways it would be unacceptable to be so with adults is that I think children have rights only on behalf of their future adult selves. That’s why all acceptable breaches of their autonomy are always in the service of them reaching adulthood with as many live options in terms of lives worth living as possible. There is an asymmetry about what choices we are allowed to make on behalf of our children. We could refuse for ourselves lifesaving treatment on grounds of conscience, but not for our children.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @murali Why I Am Not a Kantian Part XXXVIII: if children only have rights in virtue of their future selves, can we do whatever we damn well please with people born with developmental disabilities and dementia? Tease them, abuse them, kill them, etc?

        A healthy fetus at 10 weeks (as opposed to a zygote) in necessarily attached to a person, has a heartbeat, some brain activity, almost all major organs in place, and a greater than 97 percent chance of survival.Report

      • Murali in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        So, if by 10 weeks foetus already highly likely to survive, pick a time segment when it is not. I misremembered. So, my prolife stance ought to be even more conservative than it actually was.

        On the other matter, people with developmental disabilities will still be full persons at some point in their lives. When I talked about adult selves, I was talking about the way we deal with the full range of liberties. That is to say, they will have sufficiently significant interests in living what lives they can that it would be wrong to kill them or hurt them or treat them badly. But notice, that in at least some cases, we may permissibly act in more paternalistic ways towards them and deny them certain political rights even when they are physically adult. Also, even if they themselves are not the sort of beings to whom we actually owe rights to in some primary terminal sense respecting the rights of people who we owe said duties to requires the development of requisite virtues and treat humans who would never become full persons badly just because it seems permissible would undermine such virtues.

        Besides personhood may come in degrees. That is to say, someone may exhibit sufficient personhood to perhaps eat and talk and express interests in various sorts of things even if that someone would never be fully autonomous. I think even very young children are capable of having a genuine interest in continuing to live. I do not think that very young children and perhaps severely developmentally disabled children have the concept of death and so I don’t think we can properly let them not accept treatment.Report

  8. DRS says:

    I can’t view this as a philosophical issue because it involves a real family undergoing non-philosophical pain and trauma from a horrible ordeal and who are going to be handed a very non-philosophical bill for a couple of million dollars once their wife and mother are finally buried. And then watch all the pro-life folks vanish from the vicinity, off to promote another culture of life issue that needs to be addressed. They won’t even hang around the parking lot long enough to pass the hat and buy a wreath for the funeral.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to DRS says:

      DRS, to the degree that philosophers have made ourselves useless to such decisions, we are deeply at fault. I think philosophers are deeply at fault for failing to demonstrate people that we do what we do, ultimately, for a reason. That it’s not just academic, that ethics matters. Clear thinking and reasoning matters MOST when we have to make such decisions. When I had to make such decisions, and as I contniue to have to make them, I am very grateful for my philosophical background.

      To the degree that we cannot know all the details, and thus our opinion is bound to be problematic, agreed.

      And then watch all the pro-life folks vanish from the vicinity, off to promote another culture of life issue that needs to be addressed. They won’t even hang around the parking lot long enough to pass the hat and buy a wreath for the funeral. Could not agree more.Report

      • @rose-woodhouse

        Is really the case that we do what we do “for a reason”? I mean, I understand that it’s important to suss out and explore the hidden assumptions and the reasoning behind our actions. But at the end of the day, I think we often act on our sensibility, on something that is not rational or irrational, but perhaps extra-rational, or beyond or outside of reason.

        When I read of the situation you discuss and analyze in your OP, my intuition is to say that Mr. Munoz is not only within his legal rights, but that he’s doing the right thing. And while I agree with the argument implicit in the title of you OP about sloganeering and while I appreciate your reasoning, my sensibility is that Mr. Munoz is still in the right for reasons I have a very hard time elucidating. That may be because my reasoning skills are weak. And that’s a real possibility. I’m not just lodging a false concession. Or it may be because these decisions aren’t reducible to reason even if reason ought to enter into the picture somehow.

        Now, my “gut” instinct that Mr. Munoz is in the right runs against others’ “gut” instinct that he is in the wrong. It might also run against any internal conflict the principals in this case are experiencing. My point is, though, that reason doesn’t seem like the decisive factor in helping us resolve that conflict. It can perhaps shine its light on the issues involve, and remind us of what’s at stake in the decisions we’re making and of what we’re actually deciding upon regardless of what we tell ourselves and others tell us we’re doing, but at the end of the day, I think I really do believe that we make such difficult decisions from a province that exists outside of reason.

        I realize that this is controversial, even combative claim, and yet I’m not sure I know how to defend it. That’s just how I think I see it.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @pierre-corneille There is a debate within ethics about whether to take (a) intuitions (or gut reactions) seriously in ethics, and (b) emotions. I think we should take both seriously, and think rationality and emotion are not easily separable. However, there is also a place for rational reflection.Report

    • veronica dire in reply to DRS says:

      What @drs says is exactly right. The “disinterested” observer is often simply the ignorant observer, the observer with no stakes, with no accountability, standing to the side and pontificating. When that “disinterested” observer is given power, bad things happen.

      Very intelligent and well educated people are often wildly overconfident in their own ability to reason through issues of crisis.

      I don’t know what should be done in this case.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to veronica dire says:

        Sorry, I just don’t buy this “we can never comment on anyone’s ethical situation ever ever ever.” How could we condemn slavery? We don’t know all the details.

        Why can’t we just say (as I tried, in the post above) to suggest some of the ethical issues at play and respect all the unknown factors. My conclusion was, by the way, that there were too many unknowns to be sure. There are some interesting issues that might apply to anyone.

        And I firmly believe that thinking about other people’s moral situations helps us when we make our own decisions. We have practice. Why is there a “moral of the story” for children? And adults for that matter?Report

      • DRS in reply to veronica dire says:

        Oh come on, Rose. Of course you can comment on other people’s situations. Veronica didn’t say you or anyone else couldn’t. But with all due respect you’re being a little high-handed in your waving around of the philosopher tag. Philosophers should be careful about implying that only they can fully appreciate the Big Full Ethical Implications (TM) of this Very Very Important Situation.

        Mr. Munoz was put in a horrible position by a hospital that to all practical purposes was holding his wife’s body hostage. Rather than get on with the grieving process and start to put his life together again, he’s had to conduct a legal and public awareness effort simply to get his family free of the hospital. And he’ll go through life knowing that at least a portion of the American people will consider him a wife-killer.Report

      • @drs

        But with all due respect you’re being a little high-handed in your waving around of the philosopher tag. Philosophers should be careful about implying that only they can fully appreciate the Big Full Ethical Implications (TM) of this Very Very Important Situation.

        I think you’re being a little unfair to Rose. In a comment in this sub-thread (although not the comment you’re directly addressing here), Rose acknowledges as much, if I read here right, when she says, “to the degree that philosophers have made ourselves useless to such decisions, we are deeply at fault. I think philosophers are deeply at fault for failing to demonstrate people that we do what we do, ultimately, for a reason. That it’s not just academic, that ethics matters.”

        I do, however, think I agree with something I believe to be implicit in your comment, and that is the tone in which philosophers tend to write does seem to convey a high-handed sense that “only they can appreciate….” At least, that is why I, for one, find it very hard to read what little I have read by present-day philosophers, and even this OP had that effect on me. But I do think Rose recognizes that philosophical writing can be received that way by us non-philosophers.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to veronica dire says:

        If you think I think that only philosophers can make ethical decisions, or that philosophers are always right, then I have grossly misrepresented my views.

        Do I think philosophy can be useful? Yes. In situations like this? Yes. Is philosophical training necessary to make ethical decisions? Of course not. Are there asshats of had philosophical training, and amazingly good moral people who have not? Yes.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to veronica dire says:

        even this OP had that effect on me. But I do think Rose recognizes that philosophical writing can be received that way by us non-philosophers.

        Vey iz mir. Tone totally NOT intended, and I totally do think philosophers write in a way that is alienating to people at large. This is part of why I write on blogs, and not only academically — and try not to have that tone.

        Here was what I meant to communicate: This is issue is complicated. Part of me is torn, but ultimately I think the state (and everyone else) should respect Erick Munoz’s wishes. I think some people are oversimplifying this issue. Here’s why: X, Y, Z.

        Here’s what I didn’t mean to communicate: why didn’t anyone call a philosopher? Specifically me? I know exactly what everyone is supposed to do, and have no doubts about it whatsoever.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to veronica dire says:

        As a philosopher, I agree with DRS.Report

      • I apologize, Rose.

        I knew from your comments here and other things you have written you’re well sensitive of the way philosophy can sound to people who are not philosophers by profession, and yet I did indeed attack your tone.

        I do think something like that tone is perhaps baked into the cake that is philosophy. Actually, my working theory is that most intellectual disciplines have an implicit tone, or what I call a “swagger” that is off-putting to non-members of that discipline and that interferes with communication between members and non-members. (I’ve even written a series of posts at my own blog about it. As per usual, they’re convoluted and could be better written, but I discuss economists, philosophers, and historians. In case you have some time to kill and the desire to parse some poorly written sentences, here’s the one about historians, with the posts on the other disciplines immediately preceding: )Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to veronica dire says:

        Shazbot, on which count? That I’m high-handed, that we shouldn’t be talking about this, or that the issue is obvious and not complicated as I suggested? I’m guessing most philosophers would indeed agree, especially about point 3 and apparently about point 1.Report

      • @pierre-corneille Dude, if you ever want to GP on that topic…Report

      • @tod-kelly

        Thanks, I might. The problem is, it’s easy for me to be an Internet Commenting King and poke holes in others’ posts. It’s harder to write my own. 🙂Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to veronica dire says:


        I agreed with the following:

        1. Of course you can comment on other people’s situations. Veronica didn’t say you or anyone else couldn’t.

        2. Philosophers should be careful about implying that only they can fully appreciate the Big Full Ethical Implications (TM) of this Very Very Important Situation.

        3. Mr. Munoz was put in a horrible position by a hospital that to all practical purposes was holding his wife’s body hostage. Rather than get on with the grieving process and start to put his life together again, he’s had to conduct a legal and public awareness effort simply to get his family free of the hospital. And he’ll go through life knowing that at least a portion of the American people will consider him a wife-killer.

        I think point 3. is to say that this is not a moral controversy, but rather a media controversy. It is clear that a 14 week old fetus is not a person with moral worth. Thus the hospital violated the rights of Ms. Munoz – as taking your organs against your consent post brain death is a violation of your rights- and not to protect a person.

        At best, they did it to protect a potential person. But if hospitals, acting under direction of the state, have the right to violate individual rights to protect potential persons, that would be absurd, as I’m sure you know.Report

  9. Fnord says:

    People die of starvation every day. That’s the way it’s always been. But presumably, if we have the means of preventing those deaths, we would do so.

    The thing is, we do have the means to prevent those deaths. Not all of them, maybe, but certainly some of them. But we choose to make other use of our resources.

    As others have pointed out, the analogy to organ donation is even closer. A hospital can’t take organs without consent (either prior personal consent or familial consent), even though it may save someone else’s life, even though the person is gone from the cadaver that the organs are taken from (although some other countries have various presumed consent laws). But, at least as regarding the status quo in the US, that is an easy answer, even when none of the vagaries of fetal personhood and the question of “life worth living” apply to the recipient.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Fnord says:

      Right, but it’s not because some people die of starvation every day that we don’t save everyone we can. She is offering this as a reason to terminate life support. There are others, this is a particularly non-compelling one.

      This may be part of the issue. As I think ultimately that this is Erick Munoz’s choice to make and not the state’s, I think organ donation should not be a state decision. However, I do think there’s usually (not always) a moral obligation to donate organs. So that’s why the analogy to organ donation is not all that moving.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        The analogy shows that since state cannot forcibly take the organs from your brain dead body -the state must get your consent via your legal representative- because you still have legal control of your body after you die. Unless you think pregnant women don’t have rights or have weaker rights to do with their body as they see fit than the rest of us.Report

  10. Excellent post, Rose. It’s made me step back from my own initial reactions and reexamine them.

    First, a point that may or may not be germane to the decision-making process people undertake when determining their feelings about the matter — the same catastrophe that rendered Ms. Muñoz brain dead almost certainly had a similarly catastrophic effect on the developing fetus. The same process that deprived her brain of oxygen also deprived the placenta of oxygen, and the developing tissues (including all of the organs that reportedly are now abnormal) would very likely take a severe hit.

    That may inform the opinions of some people, but I don’t think it makes a big difference to mine.

    The first consideration has been raised by other people. Stipulating that Mr. Muñoz is accurately representing his wife’s desires about how she would want her body to be treated under these circumstances, he is relaying the only relevant wishes of which we can be certain. The fetus cannot be plausibly described as having wishes under the circumstances, and what it (I understand its gender cannot be determined, given some of its developmental anomalies; I do not choose “it” as a means of denying its personhood, but simply as shorthand) would choose can only be surmised. The wishes of the other person whose life is under discussion are known. Things that are known, in my estimation, deserve more weight than things that can only be supposed.

    Further, if I may draw conclusions (perhaps imperfectly) from my own wishes, I know I very much would not want to be kept artificially “alive” under similar circumstances. To me, such measures are a kind of well-intentioned violence. Just as giving chemotherapy to one person is a lifesaving intervention but giving it to someone who does not need it would be exposing them to terrible poisons, keeping someone on life support who has no chance of ever being able to regain any basic functioning of her organs again goes from being a therapeutic to a harmful intervention.

    By making her nothing more than an incubator, it treats her body as something other than human. One could argue that we sometimes treat human bodies in ways that may appear violent (dissecting them for educational or forensic purposes, harvesting organs), but that is only done under circumstances where we have the person’s known consent or for a purpose generally deemed worth such acts (eg securing the public health or safety). Some might argue that the prospective life of the fetus is a purpose worthy of violence against the mother’s body, but I do not think I would agree. At least not under these circumstances.Report

    • Sam in reply to Russell Saunders says:


      I’ve heard it said repeatedly that what Mrs. Munoz is receiving can no longer be described as life support, if only because there is no more life there. She is dead. The machines are now simply keeping parts of her body working in service of the fetus. Is this a fair description? (One detail which particularly took my breath away was Mr. Munoz’s description of his wife’s smell. She reeked of death, according to him.)Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Sam says:

        To my understanding that is the very definition of a semantic question.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam says:

        Well, Doc, I guess the question I’m asking is this: is she in a persistent vegetative state and receiving “life support” or is she dead and simply being kept alive for the fetus’s sake? Is there a difference between the two?Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Sam says:

        She was (I believe effort to sustain her body’s functioning have now been withdrawn) dead. Absent artificial means to support her respiration, she would have ceased to breathe. This is different from a persistent vegetative state, during which patients display little or no higher cortical functioning but can still breathe spontaneously.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam says:

        Does that change the calculus at all?Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Sam says:

        Well, a patient in a persistent vegetative state would presumably be able to survive without (some) artificial supports, so the question of withdrawing artificial respiration would be less likely to pertain. In essence, Ms. Muñoz was dead, and kept in a semblance of life for no purpose other than to sustain the life of her fetus.Report

    • Further, if I may draw conclusions (perhaps imperfectly) from my own wishes, I know I very much would not want to be kept artificially “alive” under similar circumstances. To me, such measures are a kind of well-intentioned violence.

      My assessment is not far off from this. Except that my calculations change if my being kept alive can save another life. Especially that of my offspring, but even in the event that “We need to keep this person alive because a month from now this other guy that he doesn’t know is going to die and there is something special about the two of their deaths that make saving this other person possible.”

      I know that there is no medical scenario in which this exists, but organ donorship is probably the best context through which I look at it, and in that case I would probably want to do it. Even though I plan to sign a DNR that would suggest otherwise.

      Do any DNR’s account for the contingency of a pregnancy? If not, maybe they should?Report

  11. Shazbot3 says:

    I’m confused Rose. Wasn’t the fetus 14 or 15 weeks old when the hospital decided to not allow Ms. Munoz to die as per her wishes?

    A 14 week old fetus is not anywhere near conscious. Not a person at all.Report

    • @shazbot3

      The problem is, someone else might say, “Life begins at conception. It’s a complete person.” And then the situation becomes one where people are just shouting at and past each other, and nothing gets done until the strongest (e.g., by electoral majority, by getting enough justices on one’s side) emerges and keeps their place.Report

      • zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        I may be odd, but: I think life does begin at conception. And I think a fetus is a child, a human, a baby.

        And yet I am deeply committed to protecting women’s right to choose if she should maintain a pregnancy or not; to her right to control her own body, to her agency to make her own decisions.

        I think it a disservice to the whole conversation to minimize the child in question as non-life/non-child in defending her right, also. It’s a serious responsibility; I don’t think women make the decision lightly, and I hate that it gets belittled by this white-washing. Somewhere on this thread, Rose suggests pro-choice people convince themselves it’s not a child, for instance. Perhaps that happens, but I think it shouldn’t happen.

        If anything, I’d think this sad a sorry sequence of events should reveal how crucial those rights are; they’ve passed from Mrs. Munos with her death to her husband, and he’s experiencing the horror women have lived with for most of human time.Report

      • @zic

        I pretty much agree completely. Also, my wife and I have to run some errands, so alas, I’ll have to quit the conversation right now.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:


        Why? If a fetus is a person, why shouldn’t we punish its intentional killing like we do that of any other person?

        (To be clear, I absolutely believe there are answers to this question, including simply that a woman’s right to determine what happens to her own body simply outweighs the value of a human life (i.e., that it would be permissible for, for example, an autonomous 30-year-old woman to lose her life in order for another woman to be able to choose not to have to bear a child to term). I haven’t ever found one that I find convincing personally. But I’m interested in what various people’s answers to this question who hold this view are.)Report

      • zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        @michael-drew, because the the child does not get the grant of life to live without invasive use of the mother’s body. Ever. So the mother’s right to self-determination takes precedence.

        And I say this as the daughter of a woman who became a mother for the 1st time two months after she turned 16, as a victim of child-hood sexual abuse, as a rape victim, and as a happily-married woman who wanted more children advised to not have any more children for health reasons. I have some experience with what it means to take a woman’s agency from her.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:


        As I say, we have to believe that if an autonomous 30-year-old woman were imposing a similar burden on someone, she would be justified in having that person killed to avoid the burden in order to claim that we really believe that the being that a woman carries in hr womb is a person like other people (I realize that’s a nonsensical thought experiment, but those are the value weightings. It’s also an entirely plausible view, but I’m just not sure I share it.). Otherwise, we’re implicitly drawing a distinction between the value of persons, which to me is contrary to the entire point of conferring the status of person on certain beings, which is to set an existential value that is equal among all such beings. There’s no point (to me) in saying that something is a person if I’m going to then turn around and say that its existential value is not as great as some other being that is also a person. Implicitly, that crates categories like person (including fetuses and born people) and person+ (people who are born who therefore we wouldn’t kill to allow a woman not to carry a child to term if in some unimaginable circumstance it was necessary, if indeed we wouldn’t).Report

      • zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        @michael-drew I think that your ‘person’ distinction is just to comfort our own potential guilt at killing a person. I don’t have that squish on it; a person who cannot survive without the extraordinary life-support of the womb has to have their rights defer to the owner of that womb.

        Someone who had rare disease that is without treatment is also a person. Without a large customer base, research into rare disease doen’t offer much in the way of profit, so lot’s of potentially curable rare diseases will never be cured. Are you in any way evil or wrong for not pressuring the system to increase the resources needed to find a treatment? It is sad and tragic and unfair that the person has rare disease; it’s sad and frightening that this disease may kill them. But is there moral agency upon society to find a cure for each and every potential disease that afflicts us? What about the morality of diverting those resources that would only save a few lives vs those same resources spent on things that would save or improve millions of lives?

        Mrs. Munoz died of a blood clot, I would guess a complication of pregnancy. If anything, this sorry mess should be a reminder to us that pregnancy is dangerous and invasive to the women, it can be life threatening, and brings with it a host of other attachments, from potential physical abuse from the father to economic woes. I think women have the right to determine if they wants to face those dangers, and that their right takes precedence over the right of the unborn child. That is, in fact, the law; it’s considered a privacy issue between her and her doctor. A medical issue. That the mother’s rights take precedence over the child’s doesn’t mean the child isn’t a person. Just like the person with rare-disease-without-a-cure isn’t less of a person then the guy in the next bed with a completely preventable gun-shot wound.

        Medicine is not fair. Some people get health care that saves lives, some people get invasive medical treatment that abuses the very notion of life. But it’s not yes/no binary; it’s a spectrum of things, and the best we can hope for is some clearly ascertained rights of individuals. One is to respect self-autonomy. Not to be forced into pregnancy. Not to be forced into sex. Not to be forced on life support. Not to be forced to eat. Not to be forced to medical treatment. The mother, as a fully formed person, has these rights.

        The child before birth, has the rights of a person if and only if the mother grants them, and if the mother loses that ability, they would revert to her next-of-kin because the child is unable to sustain life without her, just as they would if she suffered that rare disease or a gun-shot wound and lost decision-making ability. But for those children born, protecting the mother’s rights to to sanctity of her body seems crucial to protecting their rights, too. For when hers are in question, theirs will be, too.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        The child before birth, has the rights of a person if and only if the mother grants them, and if the mother loses that ability, they would revert to her next-of-kin because the child is unable to sustain life without her, just as they would if she suffered that rare disease or a gun-shot wound and lost decision-making ability.

        For me, this is such a circumscribed set of rights – at the whim of another, for her purposes – that we are describing a being whose existence we value at a level unlike the level at which we value persons. There’s no point in saying this is a person if we believe this about its rights. That screws up the whole point of laying out what rights a person has. To some extent we’re talking in circles here, but to me, you just are describing exactly a being that is not person, certainly that I would have to believe is not a person in order to treat it that way.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        …You are also, for that matter not just describing its rights in a way that I don’t recognize as those of a person, you’re also just not describing a being that sounds like a person to me. All of the things you describe about the situation that the fetus is in wrt to the mother, those are things that I don;t recognize about persons. That’s why it’s so impossible to imagine a 30-year-old woman imposing the same kind of burden on an expectant mother that a fetus does – because people don;t do that – only fetuses do.Report

      • zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        What if the person with cognitive impairment, who will never be able to make a legal decision? The person in a coma? The person under legal age of consent? To vote? To consume alcohol and tobacco? We shade degrees of each person’s individual rights all the time.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        But in all those cases we acknowledge those people’s right to exist against the (even very significant) inconvenience of others, short of danger to life. I fully acknowledge the danger to life of pregnancy, and that may be the ultimate answer here, but the difference between the right of a adult to sign a contract waiving certain other rights compared to a child’s circumscribed right not to illustrates exactly the threshold that personhood confers on a person – while there are differences among persons on the specific rights they enjoy beyond existence, their right to existence is equal for all persons.Report

      • zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        while there are differences among persons on the specific rights they enjoy beyond existence, their right to existence is equal for all persons.

        Is it? I do not think this is obvious. The rights of the person with the rare illness so not include, for instance, shifting of resources to find a life-saving cure. The rights of a person waiting a kidney transplant do not include harvesting a kidney from someone who’s alive, let alone someone who’s died and specified they do not want to be a donor. Many patients with curable diseases receive no or little treatment for lack of funds; in this country, that often includes illegals who would very much like the right to continue living, but for lack of being born on the wrong side of the border.

        But the key here is the specific right that women have to make decisions about what happens to their bodies.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:


        You make a fair point about the relativity of how we treat the right to exist among existing persons that I hadn’t considered enough. I’m not sure those examples show that we aren’t functionally thinking of fetuses as not persons in the way we think of born people as persons when we determine they (fetuses) can be killed to vindicate the mother’s right to determine how her body is used, but it very possibly might. I’ll have think about those examples more. Thanks for raising them.

        I would note, though that even if we can show that there are born people whose right to exist we treat as roughly as weighty as the right of a fetus to exist, it doesn’t follow that fetuses are persons. Arguments to compel that belief are still need. My honest (though long-considered) intuition remains that they are not, certainly for the majority of gestation, and provisionally (for me) until birth.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        …I should say, even if we can show that there are born people whose right to exist we treat as roughly as weighty as the weightiest we think the right of a fetus to exist might be at its most weighty, it doesn’t follow that fetuses are persons. I.e., they may still not be persons, and be beings with rights to exist that are significantly less weighty than are the rights to live past day X of even the sickest born-persons with the most remote prospects to be cured via a cure that doesn’t exist to live past that day. Arguments (to my mind) have to support whatever claim we make about a fetus’ personhood, or about the moral weightiness of its right to exist, because, for myself, I think I have a sense of the (moral) weight of the right of a person whom I encounter in the world to exist, but the state of being a fetus is, to me, so profoundly different from being a person on immediate evidence that, for me, arguments (indeed, extensive ones) to establish the relationship between the weightiness of that being’s right to exist and that of a person’s (whether that relationship is identity or near-equivalent weightiness or what have you) are necessary. It’s neither obvious nor intuitive to me that a fetus is a person.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        The problem is, someone else might say, “Life begins at conception.

        Life does not ‘begin’ at conception. Sperm and ovum are both demonstrably alive.

        No human being has ever been *not* alive. Every single cell in every person’s body has been alive for *billions* of years. Cells don’t appear out of thin air, they *split* and, in the case of sexual reproduction, re-merge. Nothing is going around *creating* life.

        I think pro-choice people need to bring this up more often, because talking about when life ‘begin’ is playing right into the pro-forced-birth side’s argument. The question is when *humanity* begins…saying ‘life’ to mean ‘humanity’ just lets them repeat their nonsense about fertilization, which is, indeed, complete nonsense, biologically speaking.

        (This will force the pro-forced-birthers to move into ‘unique humans’…which has really obvious rebuttals with ‘identical twins’ and ‘chimeras’.)Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      “A 14 week old fetus is not anywhere near conscious. Not a person at all.”

      Since there are quite a lot of people (a majority of Americans, as I understand it) who believe that the person come into existence at the moment of conception, I don’t know that this is as definitive as you believe.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The majority here believes something clearly absurd, as they often do. They have confused “living and genetically human” with “person.”

        However, clearly lots of living genetically human things aren’t persons.

        What about a sperm that has just attached to the wall of an egg but genetic combination hasn’t occured. Is that a person? What about sperm and egg that are not yet in physical contact. Us that a person?

        What about a hytadiform mole, i.e. an embryo that has turned into cancer cells? Person? An anencaphelic fetus?

        No, the definition of “person” is complex, but being a person requires some degree of conscious experience, and embryos don’t have that, nor do 14 week fetuses.Report

      • @shazbot3

        Let’s say for the sake of argument that I agree with your definition of person. (And frankly, my pro-choice position would be easier for me to swallow if I did agree.) Let’s say also that your definition is so clearly right that what the majority believes in this case is indeed “clearly absurd.”

        Where does that leave you and me? We can be a courageous “majority of two (or more, but less than a majority)” and seek out ways talk about how we’re right and they’re clearly wrong. Maybe we could clog enough veto points in our political system to enforce a regime that compels people to live by our beliefs, at least insofar as it concerns the state’s prerogative to forbid people from having abortions. That’s essentially what the post-Roe system has been. How has that been working out? Maybe good, depending on whose side you’re on, but fraught with problems and with the possibility that one or two justices is all it takes to revise the system radically.

        In the meantime, people are still shouting at and past each other.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I think this is where it gets dicey.

        I might think that people who believe in God and a soul are wrong, but to declare them all stupid, not worthy of a say-so in public policy and thats final is a little like putting your fingers in your ears, yelling “LALALALALALA” and assuming the matter resolved.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I never said that people with absurd views shouldn’t get a vote or a say in public debates, Democracy works well precisely because we let everyone participate, including those who believe that evolution is false, global warming isn’t real, and that a small embryo the size of the dot on the “i” on this screen is a person.Report

      • tony smith in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Doesn’t matter what you believe. The law gives him the right to refuse medical treatment. Your beliefs about life are irrelevant.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “Let’s say for the sake of argument that I agree with your definition of person. ”

        There is no reason that you shouldn’t. IMO, the most careful pro-life philosophers (I’m thinking Marquis here specifically) say a 14 week old fetus isn’t a person but rather a potential person. However, they will argue that all potential persons have the same -or maybe just similar- rights as actual persons.

        I am willing to concede that these fetuses are potential persons and the status of the moral worth and rights of a potential person is a vexed question.Report

      • There is no reason that you shouldn’t.

        Except that I don’t. Perhaps this is just a mind-trick I play on myself. But when I try to justify my position on emotionally and morally fraught issues, I tend to start with assumptions most favorable to my opposing side. At least, I like to think I do that; there is not a little self-regard in that approach with a “see, I can see the other side’s argument clearly.”

        In the case of pro-life vs. pro-choice issues, for example, I am very strongly pro-choice, at least for the first and actually for the 2d trimester. I believe that as a legal rule, abortion during those times should be on-demand. I also believe–although I’m on less firm ground, in my opinion–that the woman has the moral prerogative to make the decision.

        And yet, I do believe, that even a few days after conception, that decision is a matter of life and death. I believe, or I try to reason as if I believe, that it’s a person. I do this for two reasons.

        One, it’s an intellectual exercise, an attempt to explore my true rejection when it comes to my pro-choice position. For me in the end, I’m not willing to let that position be dictated by personhood. When it comes to public policy, I think I’m on firm ground. There’re a lot of reasons to suffer bad or questionable things in service of a greater good when it comes to the law and the state. When it comes to the right and wrong of the matter of abortion, I admit that’s a dicier proposition, and I’m much less confident there.

        Two, it fits my “sensibility” of what a person is. I’d have a hard time elucidating the necessary and sufficient features of personhood, but for some reason, the zygote strikes me as a person in the way a skin cell or sperm or egg does not.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @shazbot3 Marquis (whom I agree is the best pro-life philosopher) thinks that “potential” personhood is irrelevant to the argument (a potential X clearly does not share properties with an X). He thinks a 14-day zygote (since it is no longer capable of dividing) has, as he puts it, a “Future Like Ours.” So he would definitely be opposed to aborting a 14 week fetus. Marquis gets you to the morning-after pill…no further.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah, but Marquis is playing semantic games. What is the conceptual difference between a potential person and a thing that will -or is likely to- have a FLO? Nothing as far as I can tell.

        A sperm and egg that are divided by one meter have as much claim to having an FLO as an egg with a sperm that has just attached to it, or a 3 day old embryo, or a 14 week old fetus. If I am wrong, what are the necessary and sufficient criteria for having an FLO.

        IMO, despite being the best pro-life philosopher, Marquis is not a particularly good philosopher.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I have no idea how you’re using the word “person.”

        If Mr. Worf from Star Trek were real, he’d be a person despite not being human, clearly. Why? Well, a person is someone who has a certain hard to define set of mental features: sentience, consciousness, etc.

        Being a person is clearly not the same thing as being biologically human as there are biologically human things that aren’t persons and there are -or can be, hypothetically- who aren’t biologically human.

        How do you define personhood (even loosely) in a way that would make a 14 week old fetus, or one second old embryo, into a person?Report

      • @shazbot3

        First of all, that’s a fair question, and my most honest answer is an unfair one: I really don’t know.

        Second, here’s my stab at what I see as the distinctive feature of something like personhood. However, I imagine this definition will not convince people who don’t already agree with me.

        By “personhood” I think I mean something like “object of moral concern.” Or rather, I’d say that there are objects of moral concern, and then I’d say that persons are one subset of such objects.

        By object of moral concern, I supposed I’d mean something that has an interest in its own survival. That interest may not be conscious, but may very well be set in the nature of that think, in a similar way that it is the seed’s nature to become a plant or tree, but I wouldn’t say the seed (or the plant/tree is conscious or has cognition). To me, once the egg is fertilized, it too has that interest in survival and in developing into a zygot, embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, etc.

        In other words, I suggest that the object-of-moral-concern-ness of the zygote is a necessary element of personhood. I don’t think it’s sufficient. After all, I don’t think it’s necessarily a major moral violation to eat a lamb, which might some day grow up to be a sheep, or to cut down a sapling that might under optimal circumstances become a tree. At the same time, I believe we must not kill the lamb or cut down the sapling without some good reason. Of course, at that point, we have to argue about what makes a reason good enough as a justification for frustrating the “end” to which these objects-of-moral-concern are destined? (You might object here and say, “doesn’t the sperm and unfertilized egg have a destiny to fertilize and be fertilized?” I’d say I’d draw the line at the time of fertilization…..but I recognize you’d be bringing up a good reductio I can’t really answer.)

        If it’s necessary and not sufficient, then what else do we need to make it sufficient? There I’m at a loss. Hence my original “I don’t know” answer. I suppose you would posit cognition or sentience or consciousness as part of the answer. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, even if I question the assuredness with which you do it.

        But for me, the unborn still *feels* like a person to me in all the morally relevant ways when it comes to how I or others treat it. That’s a piss poor answer to your (fair) question. But there it is.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I agree that the implication of something’s being a person is that it is an object of moral concern, what we sometimes call a “moral patient.”

        But I see no connection between being a person or being a moral patient and having an interest in living. If you mean a conscious desire to continue living, then depressed teenagers don’t count as persons or moral patients. If you mean a nonconscious disposition to continue living, i.e. acquiring nutrients, etc., then plants and amoebas do count as persons and moral patients. The counterexamples here aren’t a few, but are so plentiful, we can’t help but conclude that you’re wrong.

        You yourself seem quite willing to accept that this is not a good criteria for what counts as a person or moral patient. So I suggest using the obvious criteria of having some degree of conscious awareness.Report

      • I personally see a strong connection between being a moral patient and having a non-conscious commitment to living. However, that leaves unanswered many of the very questions you seem to be asking. In other words, I don’t think a plant is a moral patient to the same degree as is a dog or a human.

        I admit, however, that I’m falling short when it comes to coming up with a definition of personhood. For me, consciousness is just not as obvious a criterion as it is for you. It’s obvious in the sense that all persons I have interacted with have consciousness. It would be strange if I could interact with them and they’d not have consciousness. But it’s not obvious to me that that’s an essential feature of their personhood.

        I can see pretty clearly that I’m on the losing end of this discussion if I’m stipulating to a “it just doesn’t feel right” standard. But that’s where I am.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        If you meet an alien and wanted to know if it is a moral patient or person, wouldn’t the first thing you would want to know would be whether it had experiences, thoughts, and consciousness of some kind?

        Maybe some alien species has members that have no interest in life or death. Their environment sustains them, but they do not work -consciously intentional or otherwise- to stay alive. But they have conscious experience and thoughts and emotions and communicate those things to us. Those are persons, no?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        being a person requires some degree of conscious experience,

        Is that empirically testable?

        There is no reason that you shouldn’t [believe that]. IMO, the most careful pro-life philosophers (I’m thinking Marquis here specifically) say a 14 week old fetus isn’t a person but rather a potential person.

        Well, “IMO” and a philosophical argument don’t quite add up to there being no possible reason to think differently.Report

      • Perhaps what I’m saying is that sentience and consciousness are sufficient, but not necessary. So yes, those aliens would be persons.Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        Is every true claim empirically testable?

        There are some conceptual, a priori truths, no? Or are you super-hardcore empiricist?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I’m a moderately hard-core empiricist. I’m doubtful about the potential for normative claims to possess truth value in anything more than a socially constructed sense. But I don’t say you can’t believe, or argue for the idea that personhood requires “conscious experience.” I’m just doubting whether–in the absence of an empirically testable claim–one can reasonably claim that no reasonable person could disagree. Or put more precisely, perhaps, I doubt that there are many socially constructed claims about which reasonable disagreement is impossible.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Depends on what you mean by “reasonable.” Is there any reason to believe that everything with a human genetic code is a person? Is there any reason to believe that all persons have a human genetic code? No, there is every reason to dismiss that: both real and hypothetical-conceptual counterexamples. In that sense, it is unreasonable to use “is genetically or biologically human” as either necessary, sufficient, or necessary and sufficient condition for personhood.

        On the other hand, I can see no reason to deny Mr. Worf personhood, only the sole grounds that he is a thinking feeling subject of experience. Any creature or object that had these thoughts and feelings -or the like- would be a person. Thus, conscious experience is sufficient for personhood. It is also necessary. Suppose Mr. Worf’s brain is removed and thus he has no experience or thought or anything mental. (This happened to Mr. Spock, IIRC.) His body sits there kept alive by various Klingon organs. Is that Klingon body a person? No, and we know it isn’t a person, because we have stipulated that the mental, psychological stuff is gone.

        I’d be open to saying there are moral patients that don’t have minds. Some environmentalists say the environment has intrinsic moral value but no mind. But there needs to be a criterion for doing so that can be tested in other cases.

        To say that a fetus is a person because it meets the criterion of having its own genetic code would mean that everything that also meets that criterion is a person, i.e. a partial molar pregnancy. But to say that such a mole is a person is absurd, thus the criterion that lead to the absurd implication must be rejected.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I think you are reifying the concept of personhood, treating it as something objective, where logic can reveal the universal truth of it, rather than recognizing it as a socially constructed concept that differing people can attach to different–although probably overlapping–sets of somewhat more objective characteristics.

        The characteristics you focus on are real enough, of course, but the term you attach to them (and attach reasonably enough, to be sure; I’m not critiquing your favored definition as a definition) is a social construct, one that others could attach an overlapping but not identical set of characteristics to. And if that other set was the one generally adopted by society as the characteristics indicating personhood, then that is exactly what personhood would mean.

        You’re arguing that your definition is better, and that’s well and good. You should, obviously. But you seem to go beyond that and argue that no other definition is logically possible. Which, for social constructs, is rather obviously untrue, I think.Report

  12. Shazbot3 says:

    Also, I do think the neurological and physical status of the fetus matters.

    By analogy, an anencephalic fetus – – having no cortex (or brain at all really) is not a person or even a dog or cat. It has the moral status of a vegetable, even if it was alive and viable (briefly).

    I am no doctor, but it sounds like the Munoz’ fetus severely damaged and unlikely to live long or be conscious. I think that makes their decision more understandable.

    What determines moral value -of the sort needed to trump Ms. Munoz’ claim to have her body disposed of as she sees fit through her legal representative- is the status of personhood. And I am quite certain that the fetus was not a person at 14 weeks when the hospital made this decision.

    And given the level of damage to the fetus, it is quite likely that it will never be a person.

    Please note, I do think people with moderate and severe cognative problems are clearly persons. But then again, I think conscious animals are persons, too.Report

    • tony smith in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      The neurological status of the fetus is IRRELEVANT. First, the judge held the statute doesn’t apply if the patient is dead. THE PATIENT is Marlise, not the fetus. Also, even if the statute applied, we have a constitutional right to refuse medical treatment. Mr. Munoz has the state right to speak for his dead wife. This is one of the sickest intrusions into personal liberty I have ever witnessed.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to tony smith says:

        Okay Tony, I think we ultimately agree, but I think a 26 week fetus is a person and deserves moral and legal consideration. A 14 week or 4 week fetus does not deserve moral or legal consideration.Report

  13. tony smith says:

    Yeah – let’s reduce her to a uterus receiving blood and oxygen artificially. That’s what Texas has done. The spouse has the right to speak for his wife if she is incapacitated. Texas law, however, wouldn’t even let her speak for herself! This is some sick mess that a deeply hypocritical Jesus-happy state can produce. God is watching all you death panelists.Report

  14. Dan Miller says:

    My problem with this post, Rose, is that you want to answer the wrong question, and in doing so you are actively harmful to people trying to answer the right one. This situation presents us with two questions–first of all, what would we do if we in the position of Erik Munoz, and secondly who should get to make the final call. Pro-lifers don’t see any need to answer question one–to them, it’s obvious that the fetus is a life and it shouldn’t be removed from life support. But pro-choicers have to answer both questions, because it’s not obvious to us that Erik Munoz has no right to an abortion. Even if we assume arguendo that Erik Munoz is making a morally incorrect decision, the point is that that’s his decision to make. And every minute spent discussing the question of “what should he do” is a minute that implicitly accepts the priors of the pro-life movement, which is currently engaged in a political struggle. So this post essentially undermines the pro-choice cause, because it shifts the debate in a direction which is less comfortable with pro-choice givens.

    I’m not accusing you of being pro-life, but I do think that you’re thinking about this as a philosophy professor rather than a political activist, and when there’s a major conflict good sense indicates trying to shape the debate to help the ideas you believe.Report

    • 1) Your comment implies that Rose is obligated to promote the pro-choice cause, rather than determine what is the morally correct outcome of the question at hand.

      2) Your comment begs the question that thinking about the question like a political activist shapes the debate better than thinking like a philosophy professor.

      3) Your comment begs the question that the decision was Erik Muñoz’s to make, which was not nearly as settled as you posit.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Well, Rose herself states in the OP that “I am in favor of safe and legal abortion.” So I think it’s fair to criticize her on the grounds that she’s undermining a cause she claims to favor, at a time when it’s under severe threat. Perhaps it’s more important to her that we come to the correct conclusion in this particular case, even if that means we suffer under a strongly pro-life precedent; but that seems like a weird weighting of moral priorities to me. Tough cases make bad law, and it’s not just the Munozs who have an interest in this, but every woman who values her own autonomy in Texas. This doesn’t mean becoming a complete hack, but it does argue for taking political considerations seriously.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I do think that you’re thinking about this as a philosophy professor rather than a political activist,

      Some of us would take that as a compliment.Report

      • More seriously, we can critique this argument in light of James K’s and Tod’s (iirc) posts referencing Rush Limbaugh’s glorying in not worrying about the truth. Ideally, political activists would not discount philosophical arguments just on the basis that they’re insufficiently supportive of the activist’s preferred outcome.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        But of course it’s also true that in a society where a debate has been raging for the last 40 years, the ideal amount to take into account how an argument sounds politically surely isn’t zero. Rush goes too far one way–but Rose goes too far in the other direction, and the fact that her stance is more intellectually and aesthetically appealing doesn’t make it the correct one. If you’re in a political fight, you want to be an activist, albeit keeping an eye open to check yourself if necessary.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I dunno. The argument that you shouldn’t bother to consider whether or not an action is moral because by doing so you could hurt your side politically seems pretty fraught with obvious danger.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @tod-kelly I’m not saying to put zero weight on the moral calculation of the situation at hand, though–I’m just saying that the political calculations deserve some respect as well.Report

      • Dan,
        I’m not suggesting you have to accept all moral arguments. Any arguments you think are wrong you can set aside. But setting aside other arguments just because they’re not supportive of your end goal–or as your post seemed to suggest, refraining from discussing them out of deference to the need for activism–that’s the area I find problematic.Report

      • If one’s cause cannot withstand scrutiny of the moral calculus that undergirds it, why should one take up the cause at all?Report

      • Glyph in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @jm3z-aitch , @dan-miller – speaking as someone who crossed the chasm from very strongly pro-life in his youth and young adulthood to pretty strongly pro-choice in his adulthood, I may not be representative, and can only speak for myself.

        But I think had I encountered more voices like Rose’s, earlier on in the debate – voices willing to explore, to concede that which is murky, and acknowledge some concerns of the other side, even while ultimately making clear down where they come down and why – in short, to admit “yeah, some of this stuff is hard” – I might have completed that journey sooner.

        Because voices like Roses’s come across as honest and human, rather than partisan and willing to wave away or conceal those bits not favorable to their side.

        In the end, such voices are more convincing; to me, anyway.

        Else you have a very clear feeling, as with Rush Limbaugh, that you are being lied to (or at best, being told pleasant half-truths).

        Which is never convincing, if what you are trying to do is bring people around to a different POV.

        Or, to reference James K’s post, everybody wants ‘cooperation’, without ever conceding any ground at all to the other side. Only achieving total victory while making zero concessions, even theoretical or rhetorical, counts as cooperation.

        “Why oh why won’t those people cooperate, and see things 100% as I do?”

        So if it helps you, try to see writings like Rose’s as a rhetorical maneuver designed to sway people like me, if there are any such things.Report

      • Nicely said, Glyph.

        And good question, Russell.Report

    • @dan-miller

      I don’t really get this [bold added by me]:

      first of all, what would we do if we in the position of Erik Munoz, and secondly who should get to make the final call. Pro-lifers don’t see any need to answer question one

      I can imagine a person of good will who takes the pro-life position would seriously ask him- or herself what they would do in Mr. Munoz’s position. The comment, at least if I’m reading it correctly, suggests that pro-lifers by virtue of the position they take, do not try to emphasize with others.

      Now, I’ve certainly met and seen on tv pro-lifers or “pro-life” politicians who seem to think this way. But I’m not eager to claim all of them, or even most of them, are like that. Again, this is all assuming I read your comment correctly.Report

    • Caleb in reply to Dan Miller says:

      Pro-lifers don’t see any need to answer question one

      I’m pro-life, and I think question one is a very important question to answer.

      …but I do think that you’re thinking about this as a philosophy professor rather than a political activist…

      And it’s Rose’s neutral, objective tone and philosophical approach which appeal to me far more effectively than any hundred political screeds on the subject could. I commend her argument and it’s presentation. May she ever play the philosophy professor and dispense with the political activist.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I am in favor of adultery remaining legal (and safe, for that matter). That does not mean I wish to become an activist for adultery rights and/or pretend I think there is no moral complexity to adultery.

      I see no reason not to say that an issue is morally complex if it is. If an act is morally complex, and it should still remain legal, there is presumably a good reason why. And you can state that.

      Were I to become an activist in the abortion fight, it would be to convince pro-life people to focus their efforts on encouraging birth control and making lives of mothers and families more manageable, and adoption more manageable.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @rose-woodhouse Would you say the same thing if there was an active and well-funded movement to legally ban adultery?Report

      • Dan,

        It seems like there are two competing values you’re referring to. The first is truth. The second is, I suppose, something like justice, settling on the right thing and doing what is necessary to ensure the right thing obtains.

        Is truth the same thing as justice? I’m inclined to think that they are, at the end of all things, but in the meantime, sometimes denying or eliding or equivocating the truth might be the most efficient way to ensure the triumph of justice. I’m not going to say that that’s always wrong. I do believe the ends, if they’re good enough and necessary enough, do justify at least some means that are otherwise undesirable. But we have to be darn sure that we’re right and that the intrusions onto others are as minimal as possible. That’s a very hard thing to do in practice.

        Bringing it around to the abortion issue, I think we can see this clearly. Most people in the US, I suspect, have very well-thought-out, well-nuanced views about abortion. I could be wrong, but I suspect they do. However, if any one brings them up, they are received, usually, in the context of a high stakes game, where the nomination of one justice could make or break what has become the all-or-nothing policy.

        So, I might have a certain view that life begins at conception, but nevertheless endorse the legal right to abortion and a corresponding “woman’s moral prerogative to choose abortion if she determines to do so.” But merely suggesting that I believe life begins at conception places in danger the pro-choice position, because it’s hanging on a thread.

        All of this is to say that I think I see where you’re coming from. But I’m coming around to believing that whatever we get from truth is almost always in itself a better good than the strategic good we get from setting up partisan barricades. And I also believe that setting up partisan barricades has the nasty tendency at the practical level of creating enemies and clouding up any possibility for agreement.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Pierre, that’s an excellent summary of my position, even if you don’t agree with it, so you pass the ideological Turing test with flying colors. I appreciate it.Report

  15. Michael Cain says:

    I know that this sounds callous in a situation that is devastating for the people involved, but who’s paying the bills? Mr. Muñoz? The State of Texas? A third-party insurer? The hospital? If a hospital has refused a legally-valid “pull the plug” directive from the family, and refuses to do so, are they now liable for the expenses? If the hospital keeps the uterus chugging along and a baby is ultimately delivered that requires ongoing expensive support (Dr. Saunders’ remarks above about the effects of oxygen-deprivation make that seem likely), will the hospital be liable for those expenses? Can a hospital make a unilateral decision to continue care against a directive and force bankruptcies on people? If an insurance company is paying, what options might they have? Effective the first of this month, insurers can no longer refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions; is “brain dead” a pre-existing condition, or can the insurance company simply say, “Ms. Muñoz’s coverage stopped when her brain did”?Report

  16. Kazzy says:

    I’m curious… if Melise Munoz was on her way to have an abortion when whatever caused her to be in the state she is in now happened… does that matter?Report

  17. Tod Kelly says:

    It’s funny, Rose, but as much as I liked and appreciated this post when we first published it, I find I am liking and appreciating it more now that I am reading the comments. It’s also a far more honest operation of philosophy than I am accustomed to witnessing.

    It seems obvious to me that we humans collectively take issues about who we personally think can/should live/die/be given rights/etc.– and then back into definitions of life, rights, personhood, etc., so that those definitions match what we have already decided we want to do or allow. Most philosophical arguments I have seen tend to be this way, which is why I’m so wary of philosophy in general.

    It was helpful to see you walk through the various difficulties, especially since you acknowledged where things are murky, subjective and unknowable. And as I say, I’m appreciating all of that more as I see everyone else chime in.Report

  18. Shazbot3 says:

    I have similar about Rose’s position on this issue and a sort of agnostic approach about God’s existence that some say is better than atheism.

    Imagine the same post written about anthropogenic global warming: “There are just so many things we don’t know. We shouldn’t be so critical of the global warming deniers. Really this is a controversy.” A higher, more neutral, less biased than thou approach is misleading and unwarranted and comes across aggravating in the global warming debate. And for many of us, the same is true here.

    The criticism is not about tone, but about the approach one takes to skepticism.

    That is no criticism of Rose, who I think is great.Report

    • AGW, as I see it, is an empirically testable fact. And I’ve been convinced that smart people who have studied it agree it’s a real thing and not a “controversy.” Even so, there is a controversy of what we can and should do to stop it. How many laws and which ones? Who pays? How do we get China on board? Etc.

      The issues of when life begins and of what we value more when, say, one’s right to control one’s body conflicts with a presumed right of a “person” (for those who see it as a person), are not particularly testable, factual claims.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Okay, GW is empirical. Fair point.

        How about this: “People shouldn’t be so quick to condemn female genital mutilation in some cultures. I mean, I know we shouldn’t be cultural relativists, but maybe we shouldn’t be absolutists either. After all, how can you be a moral absolutist without being a moral realist, which is a complex and controversial opinion. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, and the two sides are too biased and polarized.”

        That is a philosophical, ethical issue, where more neutral than though posts are misleading and aggravating. Sure you can say there are complex issues in moral philosophy where dispute and serious confusion is to be expected, but FGM isn’t one of those issues. It is wrong obviously. So too what the state/the hospital did to Ms. Munoz.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      @shazbot3 A higher, more neutral, less biased than thou approach is misleading and unwarranted and comes across aggravating in the global warming debate. And for many of us, the same is true here.

      Don’t be silly. How could I possibly take that as critical?

      And I am with Pierre. Whether global warming is anthropogenic is an empirical question. Personhood is not.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        See then my analogy with FGM.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        If you think that is critical and ad hominem, wait until you do your dissertation defense.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Dissertation defended last March. And yes, I’ve heard plenty worse said in many contexts. Just thought it was sort of funny, and all.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Okay, this isn’t analogous simply because I don’t think FGM is complicated, but I do think this is. I’m not feigning a more-neutral-than-thou tone just because I want everyone to think I’m high-minded. I honestly believe it is more complicated than that. I’ve failed to convince you, but that’s not because my beliefs aren’t genuine. My beliefs on personhood and disability and well-being differ from most philosophers. I’ve taken plenty of strong stances on this site. (Interestingly, I get mauled far more when I take a more wishy-washy stance, as I did on male circumcision.)Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        The state has no right to claim control over this woman’s body and do with it what the state wants. Her legal representative expressed her wish that she didn’t want to bring the fetus to term. At the time, the fetus was 14 weeks old and had no claim no being a person with rights whose rights could trumpt the rights of the mother to do with her body what she wished.

        That seems simpler than the argument for FGM being immoral, which requires a refutation of Cultural Relativism about morality, a view that is very popular and can be defended easily if you are willing to bite a few bullets.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Cultural relativism applies to personhood beliefs and abortion, as well. Some cultures are opposed, after all, to abortion.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Not sure how that is relevant.Report

      • The state has no right to claim control over this woman’s body and do with it what the state wants.

        I’d prefer to unpack that a little bit. I’d say the state has in some cases the legitimate authority to interfere with someone’s control over their own body if that body might harm another person.

        Pro-life people generally believe that it is a person they are protecting, and given that assumption, I think it’s at least debatable whether the state ought to intervene, even if that intervention denies one’s authority to control one’s body. Even granting that assumption, I still say no, but it’s a debate that needs to be had.

        FGM to me isn’t really as complicated, but its lack of complication strikes me largely as a consensus view. Most of us at this site share a set of assumptions about human autonomy and basic human rights to believe that FGM is an intrusion. I imagine that the only serious counterpoints might be a warning against a hasty judgment of others’ motivations, or a warning about being reluctant to cast stones.Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        If millions thought that my sperm were potential persons and moral patients in the same way that I am a moral patient, would we take them seriously?Report

      • If by millions you mean the people who hold the power and make the rules or at least be major contenders for holding power and making the rules, then you don’t have much choice but to take them seriously.Report

  19. Kim says:

    This is the sort of stupid law that will lead to much evil.
    Possibly more people will be alive at the end of it.

    How would you like to wake, out of a long-term coma,
    and be told that you were 1) raped while comatose
    and 2) now have a baby?


    Man, I wish that was a hypothetical. I really, really doReport