In his July 24 column, Mark Haskett agreed that if an unborn fetus is a person, then ending its life is murder. He asserts that “personhood begins no sooner than the stage at which a fetus becomes viable outside the womb.” It is unclear when this happens, as every newborn depends entirely on others for its care.
He doesn’t define viability. The dictionary definition is capable of living under normal conditions. Presumably, he is referring to not needing medical care to survive. Many newborns need serious medical care but are still viable with that care.
Many people, at some point in their lives, need medical care to survive. They often can again live a normal, viable life with adequate care. Were they not a person while on life support, and then became a person again when they no longer needed that support?
He dismisses the science that affirms the unborn is an organism that is alive and has the DNA of a human being. He admits it is “genetically human” but asserts it “is no more so than a strand of your daughter’s hair or a cell scraped from the inside of your son’s cheek.” Science would not call these things organisms, but it would call a fetus an organism.
Mr. Haskett states, “There will come a time when cells taken from human tissue can be nurtured into an embryo and eventually into a fully functioning human indistinguishable from a person naturally conceived and carried in its mother’s womb.” Such a being is never born. For those who say a fetus becomes a person when it is born, when does it become a person?
He speaks of a “psychological baseline” that is apparently his criteria for when an unborn is human. He suggests for having this baseline, one needs to develop enough personality traits such as being kindhearted or cruel, be witty and outgoing or humdrum and withdrawn and either honor or be disobedient to his parents. He doesn’t tell us when the newborn has developed enough of this baseline to be considered a person.
People in a coma do not have these psychological characteristics. Do they cease then to be human? If they are restored, do they then become a person again?
People with dementia continually lose their capacity to manifest their personality characteristics. Does that mean they are in the process of losing their personhood? Are they at some point no longer a person and can thus be disposable?
He notes, “had you died in childbirth or expired weeks later from a congenital heart defect, you would simply not have existed.” I take that to mean you never existed as a person. What if you lived several months, years, or longer after your birth with your congenital condition?
That suggests that ending life after birth may be no different than a pre-birth abortion. If you are still not a person after birth, you could be aborted post-birth, and it would not be murder. It appears that Mr. Haskett has opened the door to infanticide.
Mr. Haskett contends that those who maintain that an unborn is a person are largely evangelical protestants and Roman Catholics. A Gallup poll in May 2018 shows that 60 percent of American adults say abortion “should generally be legal” during the first trimester of pregnancy. That reduces to 28 percent for the second trimester, and 18 percent for the third trimester. So over 80 percent of Americans would ban abortion during the third trimester.
Finally, let’s say we don’t know whether an unborn is a person. Consider that when a hunter goes out to shoot and kill a certain kind of animal or bird, he needs to be sure of what he is hitting. I read of a case where a hunter presumed he was shooting a white-tailed deer. It turned out to be a woman wearing white pants. Regardless of one’s religion, or lack thereof, one needs to be sure in considering an abortion that he would not be killing a human being.
When an egg and sperm unite, when conception has occurred, there are different viewpoints about whether that is a person. What is undeniable is that the development of human life has begun. It is to be respected, honored, and cherished because human life is precious.
Elton Nelson has a master of theology degree and is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America. He formerly worked for the Stanislaus County Department of Social Services and at Faith Home Ranch in Ceres, and now does volunteer chaplaincy work at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock.