Thursday, May 22, 2008

Abortion, infanticide, female foeticide - A thought process and its implicaitons in theory and practice

This post by Silverine made me think about the issue of abortion, particularly in terms of the 'right to live' or not of the foetus. Firstly, let us think about a 'right'. Only humans have rights granted to them. Notice also that they have to be 'granted'. So who grants these rights? Society. Ok, so which society? The aborigines of australia? The whites? The blacks? Each society has their own set of rules and rights that they guarantee. Fortunately, that does not complicate the present issue, because i'm only talking about the 'right to live', which every society guarantees, at any rate locally, to its own kind, if not to others too. Since this 'right to live' is then a part of every society, I shall broadly address the 'right to live' of human beings in general. As only human beings have rights, that means rights necessarily also have to do with conscious awareness of that right, because if i could give the chicken a right to pee on all people wearing white shirts, but it wouldn't, except by random chance, because it wouldn't understand the right, because animals don't 'understand', and understanding is a conscious process which only human beings are capable of. Ok, so let me repeat that key statement: for a right to be exercised, it has not only to be 'granted' by society, but also the creature to whom it is granted has to be 'aware' of it. I use the word 'aware' not in the sense of notified but in the sense of having a conscious understanding of what it means to the individual concerned. Now that we have a 'right' clearly defined, I shall alternately take the two stances of assigning a right to live for the foetus, and not, and see what rational consequences it has.

1) Statement: The foetus has the right to live.
Logical implications: The foetus has no conscious awareness of this right, just like the chicken doesn't, or the chicken's egg doesn't. Hence, if the foetus has the right to live, so does the chicken, and so does its egg, because there's no difference between the three from the point of view of the right to live which we humans may generously confer on them. They are none of them any more capable of exercising it. As a consequence, if the foetus has the right to live, all creatures have the right to live, including the ants in your food. This leads essentially to a jainist view. Note however that involuntary killing and killing for self-preservation are excluded because both of those are fall-outs of man as an animal.

2) The foetus does not have the right to live.
Logical implications: Thankfully, this does not have to trouble our conscience about killing chickens and eggs for breakfast. If the foetus can be killed, so can these. But, why stop at the foetus? Does a foetus get the right to live just because it changed its spacio-temporal location, i.e., it traveled through a canal, i.e., it is an infant? Logically, no. If a foetus has no right to live, then no more of a right does an infant have. The only difference between the two is spacio-temporal. Of course, this spatio-temporal shift results in a sensory dose to the granters. Meaning, you and I can see, touch, smell, and hear the infant. But a sensory dose is hardly a rational basis for deciding the right to live or not! An infant is no more aware of the right conferred upon it than a foetus. But what about children? What about adults? Where do we draw the line? In theory, I have already shown where the line is to be drawn. When an individual is 'aware' of the right to live, he has that right, by definition, provided it has been granted to him. Note that I use the word 'aware', because it is meaningless to expect, say the child, to 'state' its right to live. Language and its complications are immaterial here. So in theory that makes it simple. If there is a person who after 40 years of his life isn't aware of his right to live, he doesn't have that right, by definition. After all, the world we live in works just this way in the case of simpler rights. If someone isn't aware that he has a certain right, he is often denied it.


In practice, the theoretical logical implications of 1 are impossible to keep, because in practice, humans kill, and all too often for reasons other than self-preservation. But the goal is one that can be striven towards, even if not attained. It is possible for human beings to strive towards living with only that amount of killing of creatures as is necessary for self-preservation.

The problem with implementing the theoretical implications of 2 is that it is hard to define at what stage a child is 'aware' of his right to live. So the practical line has to be drawn somewhere. Probabilistically, one can be fairly certain that upto the age of 5 no child is aware of the right to live. While the foetus is like a chicken's egg, the child is like a trained parrot, and perhaps a little extra in other aspects. But for our purposes, they are the same. So, that makes infanticide quite permissible, and some extent of childicide too. Whether in practice people would start doing this extensively just because it is legally permitted is doubtful. So that got me thinking about to what extent people would do it if it were permitted. Because human beings have a notion of 'cruelty', which seems to them amplified if it is their own kind, the practice won't be very widespread. Of course, if there were to be a child grinding farm, it might be done a little more just as most of us would be reluctant to break the neck of a chicken and skin it ourselves, or stick a hot rod up a pig's arse till it screams and dies, but will gladly munch on chicken meat and pig meat. Anyways, in practice it seems like infanticide is practiced, more so in the developing countries. The problem is that its female foeticide. The problem is not that its a female, but that it upsets the sex ratio. So what? How does the sex ratio matter in a strictly logical sense? Is the human population going to go all the way to extinction from its present population of 6.6 billion because of female foeticide? No. So there's no long term worries of that kind. Hence, from the long term point of view, female foeticide is fine too. There are short-term worries though. A dwindled female population, leads to more frustrated males. That would directly have an effect on the crime rate. So, from the short-term point of view female foeticide is inadvisable. However, people seem to be doing it, in their blinkered look at self-preservation, because a man is a better work slave than a woman. They don't see the indirect consequences through crime, which works against that very self-preservation.

I've written this post because I'd like to encourage rational debate to see the flaws in these arguments.

Note: If you are simply disturbed and think what i've written is non-sense, there's no need to comment. I've taken that as the default anyways. If you wish, just put your name in for a head count, and go :p

27 comments:

Ramkumar R. Aiyengar said...

Good to see you penning down some of the views I have myself.. I believe in the former.. just like humans and foetuses (is that the plural?) have a right to live, so do animals. Why am I a vegetarian? Because just like I wouldn't murder a human, I wouldn't do that to an animal. At least not intentionally and when I could avoid it.

At the end of it, people define life to the extent they are comfortable with. Period.

Abi said...

kabi - ullaen aiya :P

btw the post that you linked to and the comments therein was too senti, yuck, and emotionally painful :(

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Ramku: Thanks ba! Will post thoughts more often provided this kabi(bastard sweetheart) doesn't rubbish all my theories x( :p

mathew said...

This post was trying to justify/not justify abortion/infanticide..etc from a logical reasoning point of view.But the basic flaw was probably the fact that "right to live" or whatever is bestowed on the parents of the child or infant, who have a conscience to decide whether it is right or wrong.. Unlike crimes you have mentioned, it is not the chicken which is killing other chickens..

It is strange that justification of a crime using logic can be illogical at times..for example the argument about the "right to live"..It would mean every time contraceptives are used, a couple is blocking the "right to live" of a potential baby!! Do they have the right to decide on when is the "right time".

I am sure it is possible to be argumentative about the whole subject. But even the best of theories or arguments wont be able to justify infanticide or female foeticide when you know quite deep in your heart that it is WRONG!

silverine said...

Still a little befuddled after that flu. So I will leave a brief comment here.

First...the chickens egg has to be fertilized to beget chicks. The hen lays egg cyclically and those are useless unless the hen has been mated with by a rooster. Second...I was recently enlightened that in India abortion in permitted before 8 weeks i.e before the heart starts beating. After that it is illegal as the fetus is considered a fully formed human being. That takes cares of most of my concerns expressed in the post!

Reg comment by Ramkumar, abortion can be practiced by anyone. It has nothing to do with vegetarianism or non vegetarianism. That is a food choice for gods sake.This is no place to trumpet vegetarianism!!!

Ramkumar R. Aiyengar said...

Silverine, sorry, but I am at a loss to understand how my comment constituted 'trumpeting vegetarianism' or that it was out of place.

I think point (1) raised by SK was clearly about how if foetuses had the right to leave, so did animals. All I was doing was asserting that paragraph.

And yes, abortion has a lot to do with vegetarianism. I think a chunk of the post was devoted to demonstrating it. Namely that if people should be concerned about killing of foetuses, then they should be concerned about animals, as beyond a certain point, the difference between a foetus and an animal does blur. If we are to shed this perception of 'humans are holier than the rest', both are living creatures with a similar state of cognitive existence.

The end result is this.. The perception of "life that shouldn't be hurt" is a fairly personal and affects their action. Consider all life.. Let us split them roughly, for the sake of this discussion, unborn animals, animals, unborn humans, humans. Depending on their perception, we have the vegans (by that, I mean the vegans who are so for not harming animals, not for religious reasons etc.), ova-vegetarians, non-vegetarians, abortion rejectionists, abortion advocates, and mercenaries.

By the way, aborted foetuses are eaten in China. Is that a food choice as well?

silverine said...
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silverine said...
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Hari said...

I like the not knowing is not having a right argument by SK. However, there is still a difference between a chicken (and a fertilized egg) and a human foetus in that unlike the latter, the former doesnt even have the potential of knowing about its "right" later in life (if it happens to retain one)...

Another possible flaw in the original post is that, SK has assumed that life and the power of "knowing"/"understanding" are attributes independent of each other... In my humble personal opinion, chickens, dogs etc.. are only as alive robots or cars..

Ramkumar R. Aiyengar said...

@hari: Of course, your's and SK's observation rests on the assumption that the chicken doesn't know the right, isn't it? Is it a cognitive or a linguistic limitation?

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Hari: Well, I realised your first point. But that's in some sense a mere vanity argument? The foetus will be grateful for it to society later on, so we grant it? Also, isn't right by definition granted to those who demand/want it? So does some a priori granting of rights make sense?

As for your second point, chicken and dogs are like robots or cars. But then, foetus is like car chassis no?

@Ramku: Linguistic limitation da ob. I mean, we all know that it does make an attempt at conveying its profound thoughts and convictions to us, but we shameless creatures dimiss its writings by saying "cock-a-doodle-do" :D

Hari said...

@Ramku: Yeah.. quite true that thats an assumption.. If one tries to look for evidences of cognitive ability in chickens or dogs.. one would probably look for some form of development or creative output.. however, chickens or dogs as we know them havent changed one bit for millions of years.. nor do they seem to be able to create lets say a fancy nest or add salt to their food.. Though its true that we cant rule out the possiblity that they could be thinking and perhaps reached a philosophical height to not worry about such material developments :P, its very compelling to think they have negligible to no intelligence or decision making capablity (or necessity for that matter)

@SK: I dont really know what the dictionary perfect definition of a right is.. You are probably correct in thinking that the foetus (when thats what it is) is not capable of knowing its right or feeling the denial of the same and hence is not being deprived of anything. That being the case, one might add on to the list.. How about anaesthatised adults? insane ones? ones in a coma? IMHO.. what actually matters is not their right.. but our right to kill (which we have by defualt) and 'kill' implicitly brings into question a defintion for 'life'. I would still like to harp on on a very marked distinction between human foetuses and chickens in that they are unrealised versions of 2 different things.. life and non-living. Human beings (the grown ones) seem to have a choice that other animals dont.. Thats the choice between killing and letting be..Animals dont have the choice.. they dont kill when they dont have to and do if its their survival at stake (be it for food or to avoid danger). That being the case, should we continue to give ourselves the right to destroy something that we cant create?

Abi said...

@harry: your arguments ask the question about what the meaning of human choice is! is choice really choice? is human choice really choice too? what defines choice?

some scenarios:
a bird chirps only when it wants to even though they have the ability to chirp as often as they like..

yesterday i had a discussino with my manager where we talked about how marketing has become a science of manipulation. he was telling me how scary it feels to think that although you think you made a rational choice in a decision (say to buy a product) you actually were manipulated to make this choice by some marketer!

IMHO, all humans are as alive as chickens, eggs, rocks and cars!
but if I were high (as in on alcohol) I would say everybody other than me is as alive as eggs and rocks and cars and i am the only one alive in this planet and I am god himself :P

Abi said...

also thinking about it, what about suicide? why is that a crime? and why do i have no right to commit my own suicide?

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Is suicide a crime? In any case, it doesn't matter. Perhaps what you want to debate is why attempted suicide is a crime? Well, logically I don't see any reason why a suicide attempt is a crime, unless you are physically harming someone else in the process. Like tying me to your leg while you trying to jump off a cliff would be a crime! :D

Hari said...

@bee.. My point, rather my opinion is that birds don't chirp when they "want" to... They just respond with a programmed chirp to an input..

KT @ SK's explanation about crime..

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...
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Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Hari: Poda koo muttai. I never defined crime. I merely said when a suicide attempt might be a crime. You have problems with that? Then please to give full expaination before KTing :)

cc said...

"female foeticide is inadvisable coz it leads to frustrated males" -- is the kt_maxest argument of the era!

confucius said...

Karthik...
First of all ... my post about non-vegetarianism was supposed to be taken in a lighter vein ... When I asked " Have I got a point or not ?"...I just meant the point about my freedom to decide what I want. My point was that i have my reasons to be a non vegetarian as any vegetarian has ( I presented it in a lighter vein .. but my point is intact in that post). So your comment that i didnt have a point make sense to me...my whole point was that I am a non veg and not going to change ... and that was posted because i have heard a lot of verbal diarrhoea on the subject...
Since you wanted me to think seriously on the subject....lets give it a rip...

confucius said...

First of all....I got an idea from the post and comments section that there is an attempt to link abortion and non vegitarianism. Do I have to say how absurd is that?
And also...I have to tell you that i dont have any trouble with my conscience over killing chicken for breakfast.Can you please explain this point a little further.

As an individual...I have a divided stand against abortion.I am against it when people do it for family planning purposes.But,I believe that, if there is no chance that the mother can look after the child ( like in rape cases).. its fine if the abortion takes place in the 2-8 weeks window.
What abt masturbation? What about contraceptives?Dont tell me that "Conception is LIFE". I do not believe in it. Conception forms a life only around the first tri semester. Till then its just a bunch of cells which may or may not form a living human being. If the argument is that cells are living beings...then what abt cancer cells? If we can back track and say that CONCEPTION is life...then back track a little bit more and say that masturbation is a crime.What if someone says 'That sperm you just produced had its right to fuse with an ovum.'

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Confucious: What is the difference between your child and a chicken? I don't see any. Elaborate on that and I might be able to answer your question better.

confucius said...

@Karthick..

Thats a totally absurd question. I see where you are going with this. Tell me this mr....how will you eat anything in this world if you think this way. What abt plants?? what abt milk?? There is a food chain in this world...and I think its perfectly normal to follow that food chain. Tell me Mr. Karthick...what will you eat if you think this way...I expect an answer for this question inorder for me to answer your question.
Tell me man...do you think that your parents are same as chicken? If you do...then god save you.
with your so called conscience guiding you....tell me what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner...or tell me how you think that you can solve this problem. I am eager to hear your thoughts...

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

I think I'm just upsetting you without providing you new insight. I rest my case.

confucius said...

What new insight are you talking about? You asked me a question...I asked a question in the same vein...and you rests your case. Please enlighten me....I am all ears for a new insight ... I really mean it. :)

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Ok, first of all, milk and plants do not live so I don't know why you ask that question. Secondly, why my parents are not the same as chicken I've answered in the post. If you fail to understand that, I cannot help. Also, I would recommend your reading comments by Anjali and Hari in this post. They actually add insight to what i've written. Anjali makes a valid clarification about the difference between fertilised and unfertilised eggs and the fact that there is an arbitary line drawn on when the baby might be considered living. Hari gives an argument about awareness in the future. But he gives an even more interesting argument on how perhaps knowing and living aren't necessarily independent of each other.

confucius said...

@Karthick...

"Ok, first of all, milk and plants do not live so I don't know why you ask that question."

On what basis can you say that plants dont live. Just because they cant react as us humans...you suppose that they don't live. And as human breast milk belongs only to humans .. Milk from animals should only belong to animals...that means that cow milk that you drink actually belongs to a calf. Its good to have a conscience..but you have to apply it uniformly across all layers. Plants are living beings ... just that they cant say NO when you eat them !!
" Secondly, why my parents are not the same as chicken I've answered in the post. If you fail to understand that, I cannot help.

"Thats exactly what I thought you would reply."