Monday, September 28, 2009


Via Feminist News

"The Florida Secretary of State's office approved ballot language this week for a so-called personhood initiative proposed by Personhood Florida and the American Life League. The ballot measure would amend the state constitution to say that "The word 'person' and 'natural person' apply to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, health, function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of biological development of that human being."
Whenever these calls to extend personhood to fetuses come up I'm baffled. The ramifications of such laws passing are absurd. For one, they raise several ethical complications, as Jill from Feministe points out.

However, let's set aside the political and social ramifications of the debate (if that can be done) and look at the term personhood. The term personhood implies that we have a certain relationship with the individual who has personhood. Specifically, we believe that we should respect the individual's rights and expect them to respect ours. Furthermore, we believe that we can hold the individual responsible if they violate our rights and seek due recourse against them. The problem with extending personhood to fetuses is that they simply cannot meet the criteria for personhood.

Don't we treat children as people even though they cannot uphold personhood to the same degree as an adult can? We do, but we do not treat a child in the same way as an adult. Children have a specific category in personhood as we can still expect them to respect individual rights and we still create a special class of responsibility to deal with children's actions.

The difference between children, adults, and fetuses is that children and adults have a key property that fetuses don't. They have agency. They can interact with the outside world, make demands, and understand responsibility. A fetus cannot.

We may choose to extend certain protections to fetuses, but giving them personhood is absurd. Fetuses are a cluster of cells with development potential. Giving personhood to a thing with only developmental potential is haphazard and ethically unsound.

1 comment:

Danine said...

Now, now. Enough with the logic and reason.