Viability of a Discarded Baby

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. – Exodus 1:15-17

The Susan B. Anthony List has a new commercial out taking on the president’s history of supporting 4th-trimester abortion:

(If link doesn’t work, video can be found here)

It’s not a new issue. We’ve known for quite some time that Barack Obama opposed protection for those born alive after a failed abortion. I doubt it will have any political impact – those callous enough to vote for such a man the first time around are unlikely moderated their views on human life, and those who are driven to vote by such an advertisement would have been driven to vote without it (and would never vote for Obama).

The point I want to take away from the video here is the nurse who rescued this young lady. We’re not given the nurse’s name or the rest of the story. All we know is that the discarded female infant (side note: gender-selective abortion is on the rise … and it’s the females who are getting aborted more frequently) was heard by a passing nurse who took pity on her and saved her life. Amen. May God bless that nurse (though, I’m clearly about 20 years too late with that prayer).

I’ve argued often that I believe life  begins at conception, and that the definition of when life begins is critical to this issue – perhaps it is the only issue. When life does begin is when we have a new “person” who is created equal in the eyes of God and is every bit entitled to the same defense of their life.

I argue for conception because it is the most clearly defined “step function” in our composition. At that point we become completely defined in “blue  print” terms. We have a genetic code, we have DNA, we are inherently everything we will become (from a biological standpoint anyway). And so this is where I define life, the point where you became you.

This isn’t necessarily a post about the definition of life. I just wanted to make my position plain before pointing to another consideration that abortion defenders often use: “viability”. That is, you are “alive” when you  are “viable”. Now, viable is a squishy term. It implies some level of not-so-clearly defined support. You are “viable” when you require this much support to live but no more. But how much is “this much”?

The 2 day old zygote requires support from the mother to live, as does the 5 minute old … post-birth that is … baby. The young lady in this video clearly doesn’t survive if she is not rescued by the nurse. She was viable, I think, but needed some level of support to live. So what is the level?

Is it “able to survive outside of the mother”? But this is an ever-changing level. Advances in medical technology have pushed that barrier back to as early as 25 weeks or so here in the US (not in other places though). Is this the defining point of life? And what if medical technology pushes us to the point where a non-implanted fertilized egg can be taken into laboratory conditions and maintained and “grown” into a full blown human being? Do we tell mothers “you have until we couldn’t have possibly saved the baby, to have an abortion – but no later”?

As a historical note, I will add that ancient traditions were different and not as sensitive as our own. In the Roman world a father held unlimited sway over the lives of his children. Until they were adults he could act with impunity – even killing a disobedient child (aren’t they all?).

I only point this out to say that some may argue for life-or-death issues of the child based on absolute parental authority. It’s an interesting argument to have, but not one that we really take up in our society. Most Americans stop cold at the thought of killing a child, and the pro-life argument needs only to cast light on the definition of “child” as, well, a defined human being of less than adult age … a baby … even pre-born.

Videos like these are moving, and I hope the SBA List keeps them coming. Do they change an election? I’m not sure. But perhaps they change a national conscience over time, and that does change the country and the world.

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3 Responses to Viability of a Discarded Baby

  1. “Step function”… this, I think, is a crucial sticking point in any discussion about this. I am nearly 40 years old, and presumably, in the eyes of a Christian anyway, have that supernatural-something that we call a “soul.”

    A single sperm, on the other hand, also presumably does *not* have that special supernatural something, and so we tend to care less about its individual survival– despite the fact that it moves, swims, etc., in ways that make it seem “alive.”

    What about in between these two endpoints of my lifetime? A sperm does not have a soul… as it swims closer to an egg it still does not have a soul… as it first makes contact with the rough outer boundary of the egg it still does not have a soul… and then what? When the sperm penetrates that outer boundary, but has not yet released its genetic material, is that a person? If not, what about the final division that occurs within the egg prior to “mixing” with the sperm’s nucleus? If the soul has *still* not yet sprung into being, then how many subsequent cell divisions are necessary before we attain “person-ness”?

    My point is that there is no “step function” at a single indivisible instant of time called “conception.” Human fertilization is an incredibly complex, *long*, and frankly amazing process, not a step function. You describe an interesting and important thought-experiment involving modern medicine’s continual improvement in its ability to support a fetus earlier and earlier in the womb. It’s worth taking that a step further: suppose that we had the “surgical strike” capability to destroy the egg and any surrounding sperm at any point in time. If it is morally acceptable to do so before the sperm and egg make any contact at all, but unacceptable at some “long” time after, then at what instant in between does that transition occur, from “ok” to “not ok”? (Where, due to modern medicine’s anticipated future capabilities, “conception” is not a sufficiently precise answer.)

    I admit that I find these ideas to be a natural extension of my fascination with the mind-body problem. I suppose I am arguing not so much “for abortion” in any sense, but simply questioning the logic, via its absurd implications, of the idea of the “supernatural something” that is presumably what pro-lifers really hold dear.

    • bevylynn says:

      I am a little confused by your “Supernatural something”. I agree that even conception as a step function is very messy (and truly amazing), which then speaks to the fact that perhaps, if we value all human life, should treat sex with a little more respect. Even completely disregarding the “God factor”, if you do not define life at conception, then where, logically, can you define it? Viability is a moving target. Is someone’s life a little more valuable because they happened to be born when we had the technology to keep a 20 week old baby alive vice 20 years ago? Can you answer your own question about when is “personness” defined?

      Why is it “the soul” that makes human life valuable to you, to the rest of humanity? Most people agree that infantcide is wrong, and that murder is wrong. At what point then, is killing a child wrong? Why are people ok with the death of a child (fetus) when it is still inside his mother but then squeamish when the baby has been breathing a few moments??

      So in the old Star Trek shows, (yes I am a nerd, I know, thanks) they talk about having respect for all life forms and focus on not “interfering” to the point where they would be risking the lives of humans to protect some random life form. I remember one with a crystaline life form that was killing people and hurting the ship and there is always some energy entity that is inhabiting the ship and causing problems (the stories run together) but its the basic same story, respect and protect all life. So why is a very young human not to be treated with the same respect and protection?

      Anyhow, I am rambling without adding anything useful. You are right in that this is very much a complex issue which I believe should therefore demand more respect for sexual issues rather than disregard for very young humans.

      • “Can you answer your own question about when is “personness” defined?” No :). But that was my point; I’m not saying that I have a better definition than “conception” of “personness.” I am suggesting that (1) conception is not a sufficiently precise definition, but worse than that, (2) “personness” may not be well-defined in the first place.

        “Why is it ‘the soul’ that makes human life valuable to you, to the rest of humanity?” Again, it isn’t, at least for me :). Note my initial comment that it is a belief of Christianity (and most other religions with belief in an afterlife), not necessarily a belief of mine, that I have a “soul,” and I was simply taking that belief to what I saw as its logical implications. My respect for human life has nothing to do with religious belief.

        But perhaps that association of “personness” with “the springing into existence of a supernatural entity called a soul” is not important for this discussion. I thought that it was, mainly because I supposed, perhaps incorrectly, that the soul is what pro-lifers believe endows a living organism with the right to life, and conception is approximately when that soul comes into being. (For example, does a dog have a soul? What about a mosquito? If these organisms do not, and a human does, what is different about the three that makes our answers different? These may seem like irrelevant questions, but I wholeheartedly disagree: if we can’t answer them intelligently and logically, rather than merely faithfully, then we quite simply haven’t thought it through. I am not insisting that I have answers to these questions– I am insisting that these questions are *hard to answer*.)

        At any rate, your suggestion that we should have “more respect for sexual issues” is an interesting one. Does this mean that even conception is too late, so to speak, and that we should view it as immoral, and/or illegal, to interfere with human life processes even well before the as-yet-imprecisely-defined conception? Prohibit birth control, etc.? If so, I think it’s a valid suggestion, but one which I respectfully disagree with. If, on the other hand, conception is still the proposed time beyond which we should keep our hands off, then I think my original question still stands: when, *exactly*, are we talking about?

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