Thursday, March 15, 2007

The "Fetus" Posts Continue [Jay]

First things first. I agree with both Lydia and Serge and everything they had to say about the abuse of the term fetus as well as the emotional appeal of humanizing terms like baby and... well human. I am a little shocked that a post I was hesitant to publish has brought out the intellectual luminaries and am a little concerned I have yet to be cautioned by Scott. He must be really busy.

Serge touched on my point in the first paragraph of his Blue Oyster Post. The hesitancy to use the term is perceived as fear and ignorance. I do not think it ACTUALLY is fear and ignorance, but the impression is so strong that the opposition often thinks they have won a point by identifying what we call a baby as a fetus. This is, dare I say, idiotic, but it seems to be the case none the less.

To demonstrate the point, Scott contested two Canadian debate champions on the issue of legal abortion. Scott asked a direct question, what is the unborn if it is not human? The response from the opposition was that it was a fetus. Scott correctly pointed out that fetus is a developmental term that fails to describe the nature of the unborn. The debaters responded that it was a potential human, which is apparently how they misdefined a fetus. Scott asked again, “A potential X is an actual Y” so if the unborn is a potential human then it is an actual what? The answer again, a fetus.

This answer completely falls into the classic “So What?” category. That is why I hate to give it anymore respect than I think it deserves. If you say that the unborn is definitely a fetus, my response is, “So What?” The point neither addresses the argument that the fetal human is an innocent human being nor undermines the value of that life in any way. It is a non point. I wonder if the reason they think it is a strong point is tied to the fact that so many people wish to protest it unnecessarily? Why be hesitant to engage a weak and terrible argument head on? A better tactic is to publicly and consistently explain the toothless nature of the identification of the fetal developmental stage as somehow dehumanizing the life of the unborn.

And as a final note, I think baby is a fine term to describe the unborn. The problem I have is that a baby can be almost anything. My wife's nickname is baby and I call her that all the time. My mother can call me her baby, even though I am 36 years old, and it is accurate. My 4 year old son and my 2 1/2 year old daughter are both my babies and will be for a long time. Baby is a term that describes our identification of the object and can be used for anything from a zygote to a grown man.

It is wrong to kill innocent human beings for elective reasons. Fetal humans are innocent human beings. They do not have to be identified as babies by anyone for it to be wrong to kill 1,300,000 of them a year. Baby or not, they are human.


  1. I'm actually with Rachel McNair on this one. I use "fetus" almost exclusively, especially when the fetus in question is loved and wanted. It jolts people and makes them realize that yes, "fetus" is the proper term for this entity. And I think, as Rachel does, that this forces them to think about exactly what a fetus really is instead of just dismissing it.

  2. My own top preference is for "unborn child." This is very nearly co-extensive with "fetus." It indicates stage of development as being below 40 weeks gestation, as well as indicating that the child is not yet born, so no problem of confusion with 1-year-olds or 3-year-olds. The only place where it might diverge is before 8 weeks gestation. "Fetus" is distinct not only from "born child" but also from "embryo." So this means that "unborn child"--if applied to both embryos and fetuses, is 8 weeks of gestation less precise than "fetus." But that's not much of a difference.

    I do feel a bit sorry for all the philosophy students I've recently seen who write on this subject and feel that they must use "the unborn" with no noun following it. Obviously they feel that following the word with "child" would be question-begging. But "the unborn" is awkward when used for a singular entity and seems to me to place a funny rhetorical question mark afterwards. It's worth noting that the pro-life movement uses "the unborn" to refer to a _group_, rather as in the phrase "the poor" when used by Democrats. :-) The new usage is meant to refer to an individual, and it does seem an unfortunate expression to me.


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