Tim Tebow’s Super Bowl Ad and the Washington Post Editorial

Very delicate ground, here.

I want to be as precise as I know how in discussing the language used in today’s Washington Post editorial about the upcoming Tim Tebow ad, while trying to avoid the extreme emotions that usually accompany this topic.

The ad is said to feature Tebow and his mother. Tebow’s mother was being treated for amoebic dysentery during her pregnancy and it was feared that the drugs used to treat her illness would cause grave harm to Tebow. She was advised to have an abortion. Obviously, she did not.

This is not just an anti-abortion ad, it is also a reminder that doctors can be wrong. Tebow’s mother makes a statement that having her baby was the correct choice. The implication is that this decision would be correct for some or all other women.

I do not want to discuss the politics of the abortion debate. So it is immaterial to our central topic whether it is right or wrong for CBS to run this ad.

Clarity must be paramount: let us carefully define our terms. The most common euphemism abortion supporters use is “pro-choice.” They mean by this that all women should be allowed to choose to kill their fetuses or not to kill them.

The emphasis is on choice, but it is the act which is at contention. The pro-abortion euphemism is meant to, and does, distract attention away from the act. For our case, this is important because of the way the Post uses this euphemism, about which more in a moment.

Anti-abortion supporters come closer to acknowledging the act of abortion with their slogan of “pro-life.” They mean by this that no woman should be allowed to choose to kill her fetus. The proper word is “kill” because the fetus is alive.

There are, as we all know, gradations and subtleties of both positions. Some anti-abortion people would make an exception and allow abortion if certain conditions held. And some pro-abortion people would disallow abortions if other conditions held. These subtleties are immaterial to our central point.

Which is this: We can take it that all agree that to murder is wrong and is a punishable act. But one can only murder another human. Anti-abortion supporters hold that a fetus becomes human at the moment of conception. Pro-abortion supporters hold that a fetus does not become human until it is delivered from its mother.

This is the point to argue. All other matters fade to insignificance or are political distractions. For example, the Post reports that “Erin Matson, the National Organization for Women’s new vice president, called the Tebow spot ‘hate masquerading as love.'” This is unintelligible philosophically, however revealing it may be politically. Thus, we will ignore it.

Now, if a fetus does become human at conception, then no woman may legally “choose” to kill it, for if she does, it is plainly murder. If a fetus does not become human until birth, then a woman may choose to kill it and cannot be punished for doing so.

It is, of course, possible and coherent to define the point at which a fetus becomes human at times intermediate of conception and birth, but these definitions are presently irrelevant to our discussion.

The Post editorial—which supports the “right” for Tebow to air his ad—is a typical example of muddled thinking that follows this debate. They say, “abortion is as tough and courageous a decision as is the decision to continue a pregnancy.” This is false. If a fetus is not human, it is no act of courage to undergo a medical procedure from which there is little risk of harm. But if a fetus is human, then the act of abortion is not courageous but villainous.

The writers (Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman) then descend into, what must be, an unspoken desire on their part. They say, “Pam Tebow was indeed courageous and had the legal right to choose…” Courageous she may have been, but the implication is that she might not have had the “legal right to choose.”

Since she was determined to have her child, and if she did not have the right to choose, then the choice whether to abort or not would have been made by others. Evidently, the Post is imagining that doctors should have that right, or that they would be in the best condition to judge, what defines a human.

In the same vein, while showing that support for abortion has decreased, the Post, repeats a common non-sequitur, “We read about successful fetal surgery; we don’t read about women dying in pools of blood on their bathroom floors after botched abortions, as we did when the procedure was illegal.”

If a fetus is human, then the harm caused a woman from a self-induced or botched abortion is not mitigating. She has still committed, or has been complicit to, a murder and does not have our sympathy. And if a fetus is not human, then the question shifts to one of stupidity (on the woman’s part) or possibly medical malpractice (on the part of whomever botched the abortion).

Doctors are in no better moral position than any of us to say what is or is not a human. But medical technology has evidently been partly responsible for the decrease in abortion support. Many, after seeing a colorful, three-dimensional picture of a young fetus, have concluded that the fetus is human. It is rational to suppose that these sorts of images and anecdotes will become more vivid and that support for abortion will continue to wane as more people conclude that fetuses are human.

The Post‘s writers tacitly admit this, and suggest some pro-abortion group produce a competing ad.

We’d go with a 30-second spot, too. The camera focuses on one woman after another, posed in the situations of daily life: rushing out the door in the morning for work, flipping through a magazine, washing dishes, teaching a class of sixth-graders, wheeling a baby stroller. Each woman looks calmly into the camera and describes her different and successful choice: having a baby and giving it up for adoption, having an abortion, having a baby and raising it lovingly. Each one being clear that making choices isn’t easy, but that life without tough choices doesn’t exist.

This brings us to probability and counterfactuals, which are unfortunately confusing subjects. Suppose a woman has an abortion. We cannot know, but can only guess, what her life would have been like had she not had the abortion. As the time from the abortion increases, the guesses become vaguer and more improbable. At best, then, any personal story it is weak evidence for the benefits of abortion.

However, we can generously suppose that the consequences of abortion are positive and as rich as you like. If a fetus (at whatever point in its development) is not human, then showing a post-abortion woman living a glamorous life would only serve to increase the number of abortions (try arguing the opposite), something few claim they support.

But if a fetus (from conception) is human, then showing a woman benefiting from her crime, and encouraging others to do the same, is evil.


  1. For further clarity…you mention the authors names, but refer to the piece as “the Post editorial.” This actually appears to be an op-ed, and not the opinion of the paper’s editors:

    “Frances Kissling is the former president of Catholics for Choice. Kate Michelman is a former president of Naral Pro-Choice America.”

    Not that I have any brief for the WaPo…just in the interest of clarity and all.

    Back on topic, it’s always been very obvious to me that the key contention is when the fetus becomes human. I’ve never been certain if abortion partisans were employing sloppy thinking or simply intentionally misleading political speech. It often reminds me of the WSJ’s James Taranto referring to various murders as 140th (etc) trimester abortions.

  2. Briggs


    Quite right, thank you. Add “Op” to wherever I said, “Editorial.”

  3. Nice post, but pro-choice \neq pro-abortion. People say ‘pro-choice’ to draw attention away from the act, yes, but they also do so to draw attention to legislation and politicians and their myriad, frequently questionable, motivations and ambitions. You don’t have to want people to get abortions to want politicians not to ban them.

    This is not to stake out a particular position on abortion, mind you. It’s just a point of semantics and logic that I felt should be made.

  4. Bobman

    I think you make a very good point. If we could all just agree at what point a fetus becomes a human (whether it matches any objective or societal morality or not), or in what exact sets of circumstances abortions are to be permitted or not (whether the thing happens to be a human or a fetus at the time), we might make progress on this abortion issue. But to approach the issue as a boolean (A: abortions are always allowed, or B: abortions are never allowed) will certainly alienate at least half of the opinions.

    Point of fact though, if abortions were always illegal, it wouldn’t take the “right to choose” away, just criminalize one option.

  5. Briggs


    Long live \LaTeX!

  6. William Rice

    Certainly one must admit that the fetus is “living” after conception. After all, it’s not like it is some inanimate object embedded in a woman’s body. It is a living, cellular structure, although fully dependent on the mother to sustain its life. When it becomes an independent life seems to be the legal issue at hand, but that can be up for debate as well. Even after birth you could argue that the child is not independent…a baby cannot raise itself. Some fetuses are not independent until their mid thirties!

    So for me, I don’t think the issue rests on some mythical point in time when life suddenly starts. It is a process of maturation, and just because full maturation has not been reached, and full citizen’s rights have not yet been achieved, does not mean it should be legal to destroy this living object. So maybe it’s not murder, but it still could be a crime. Are there not laws against self-mutilation?

  7. It is decontextualizing to discuss the modern abortion debate in the absence of discussion of modern sexual freedoms. The need (demand?) for abortion arises from profligate exo-martial relations, formerly a taboo, more or less. Married couples are not the ones seeking “choice”, since they generally want to make babies. It is the unmarried but sexually active females, who subsequently find themselves (whadda ya know?) in an undesirable condition, that have most of the abortions today.

    And whose fault is that? Therein lies the nub of the problem. No simple answer suffices.

  8. DAV

    To me, the safest position is that humanity begins at conception. Anything else is capriciously arbitrary which puts 3 months and 30 years on par with each other. Hanging the definition on independence seems to imply that anyone no longer independent should be considered non-human.

    W, Rice,

    Mid thirties? I know someone in his mid fifties still living with Mum and Dad. He moved out when he got married and moved back after his divorce.

  9. Bobman

    While I personally agree that humanity begins at conception, I don’t think it is “capriciously arbitrary” to put some other definition on when humanity begins. For example, one could specify when the fetus heart begins to beat it is human, or when the lungs are mature enough to survive outside the womb, or when sex organs are differentiable, or any number of development milestones. Now a number of those are fuzzy since we cannot usually directly observe a fetus, only through the mother’s womb, but the gray lines involved in many of them is a lot narrower than between conception and birth.

    It seems to me we need something defined because while most of us would consider a partial birth abortion to be murder, most still wouldn’t consider the abortion of a 1-2 week old fetus to be as horrific, even if we disagree with it on principle.

  10. John Bowman

    Anti-abortionists are Pro-choice: it is just that it is they who wish to impose their choice. Anyone who is against abortion – don’t have one!

    Definitions are important and it seems they have become confused in the post above.

    The crime of murder derives from (English) Common Law as the premeditated, unlawful killing of another Human. It is the word “unlawful” not “killing” or “Human” which defines the crime.

    It is lawful to kill another in self-defence, for example, or to preserve the life and/or well-being of another, so not murder; soldiers kill under the rules of engagement and that is not murder; in some cases the State carries out judicial execution and that is not murder; since abortion is lawful under certain circumstances, in some jurisdictions, killing a foetus or an embryo cannot be murder. It is also possible to kill someone by unpremeditated albeit reckless behaviour when it is not murder but still unlawful and thus manslaughter.

    Just after conception there is no foetus but an embryo – a collection of dividing cells and fluid like a cyst, Human life? – until about 8 weeks. Many abortions occur during this period. The developing foetus is an integral part of the mother’s body, receiving its blood and nutrition by direct connexion to the mother’s vascular system like any other body organ and in that sense is no more or less “alive” than the mother’s heart, lungs, stomach or kidneys or brain. There is no guarantee that an embryo will mature to the foetal stage, and no guarantee that a foetus will progress to maturity or be born alive. Even if born alive it is incapable of independent survival for a number of years.

    Humans in the pre-natal stage are potential life.

    The anti-abortion argument is a religious one that all Human life is “sacred” and becomes extant at the instant of conception and it is God’s law that it may not be killed. In fact it was Anglo-Saxon law, long before Christianity influence which defined murder not God, and they did not mean foetus or embryo.

    Using examples such as Tim Tebow or Mozart, etc is a spurious argument to imply that abortion is wrong on the grounds it can prevent such evidently talented and worthwhile individuals, as it conveniently fails to mention it can also destroy Hitlers, Stalins and Pol Pots.

    Surely it should be the individual who will suffer the consequences of a pregnancy taken to term who should make the choice for their own reasons, not have the choice made for them by a bunch of Godbothers because it makes them feel warm, glowing and God-fearing.

    As for the advert.: ware! emotional blackmail often has the opposite to its intended effect.

    And finally. The biggest abortionist is God as millions of embryo and foetus abort daily throughout the World often without the mother realising it. Abortion then is only “wrong” if Mankind does it but God can kill as many as he likes. Same argument OBL uses; killing on God’s behalf is OK as it is directed by God, so de facto his doing. Strange folk the religious.

  11. Rich

    Is there a reliable, persuasive and consistent way of identifying humans? I would reject attempts that are clearly special pleading to support one side of the argument or the other. What does this method of identification return when applied to the child in the womb? I would then ask, if the method identified foetuses as non-human before some date, would it return the same result on some people now alive and if that was acceptable.

    Odd that we must think of future children and “stop global warming” while killing millions of children now.

  12. stephen

    The argument of the ad seems to target potential parents who want to have a child but face a high risk of their child being born with a life long, severe, pathological disorder, or worse. Just because one family took the bet and wound up with Tim Tebow doesn’t eliminate the fact that a tough choice has to be made. It doesn’t eliminate the fact that families in similar circumstances don’t have a compelling reason to abort, even if they choose not to. It also doesn’t eliminate the possibility that aborting the fetus may be the most humane decision. I certainly feel for people in such circumstances and don’t really see their burdens as being fertile ground for the abortion debate.

  13. Briggs

    John Bowman,

    Thank you. First, we can dispense with the distractions of “choice”, God, “potential life”, “incapable of independent survival” (all young humans are), which are irrelevant to the main question, which you eventually, I am happy to see, answered. But vaguely.

    For clarification: are you saying that a fetus does not become human until the moment of birth? Or at some time prior to that? As I said in my post, this is a defensible and coherent position. So we do not seem to disagree. But maybe you were on a different line?

    I also accepted, a priori, that to kill a fetus if it is human, is murder. It is true that my conclusion fails if you say that the killing of fetuses (if human) is not murder. So are you saying that a fetus is human (at some point prior to birth) but that killing it is not murder?

    I take your point about the Pol Pot counterfactual. In fact, here in the US, there has been the claim that the high abortion rate, particularly in some groups, is what is responsible for the drop in crime starting late last century. However, if this is so, this makes an ad showing a positive benefit from abortion strictly useless since the non-aborted child may turn out good or evil. Since we cannot be certain beforehand, we cannot make any solid claims. Any ad would be irresponsible.

    This fails because of the empirical fact that most—the vast majority—of humans turn out good, or at least non-bad. So, strictly based on this empirical finding, an ad claiming that abortion will eliminate a possible good is on solid ground. While one that says women are better off without a “burden” is making a more improbable (note that I did not say “false”) claim.

  14. stosh from the sticks

    Re: John Bowman: Anyone who is against the ownership of slaves – don’t own any!

  15. ken

    This seems like an odd, overly focused, editorial on what is a diverse issue.

    Ultimately, it comes down to values — and [almost] nobody has consistent values on any given subject, either over time or when they become the person that has to choose to exercise, or not, some principle.

    This piece hinges on “murder” — and what that is, or isn’t, is not all that clear in various circumstances.

    A woman desiring to choose to kill her fetus may desire to do so for a variety of reasons, convenience, her [perceived] long-term benefit from not having the child, to save a child from a bad life, to remove a defective fetus that has absolutely no hope of surviving but the early removal will spare the mother adverse medical side effects, to a life or death choice under rare circumstances to choose either the child or mother when both cannot survive.

    Its a wide spectrum of possibility, and to focus on one facet undermines the others. In Freakonomics it was argued that the rise in abortions correlates with a reduced crime rate later (with causality suggested in this correlation); in Freedonomics it was argued that this data & correlation was mistaken. Not having analyzed any of this I can’t say which was right (or if both were), but it seems unassailable that children not born to mothers that would not provide emotionally nurturing care–i.e. those that would most likely “nurture” sociopathic personalities–could not commit crime. Hence a positive benefit. This would be a study worthy of this blog’s author.

    But infanticide, and more recently abortion (a specialized form of infanticide), has been part of the human condition thru recorded history. The goodness or badness (“evilness”) ultimately comes down to values that when observed objectively are very fluid & subjective in, for all practical purposes, all of us.

    Case example: underlying this is the usually unspoken value system defined by so-called “Christian” values…whatever those are; distinct from the rule of law. But what are
    “Christian values?” Turns out to be a very hazy value system, especially on matters linked to public policy & legal determinations:

    – Murder/capital punishment is ALWAYS wrong (Catholic perspective), but not “always” in many other denominations.
    — But self-defense, including being in the military & serving under orders is OK (or not)…which, observe, indicates its OK for some humans to decide what other humans must die.
    — Even the Catholics allow for abortion in some scenarios.
    – The teaching of science, especially evolution is acceptable & true (e.g. http://www.reasons.org) or is undermining faith via lies & so forth (e.g. any Creationist/Intelligent Design person of the Creation Museum ilk)
    – Homosexuality & marriage is an abomination, or not quite, or not at all because such a union is defined by the state for certain state-provided benefits (e.g. tax, inheritence, etc.).

    That’s a quick list of public policy related “Christian values” for which major groups disagree vehemently. It is such “values” that underlie much of the viewpoints relating to abortion. Relative to the abortion debate it is merely noteworthy to note that those girding their values via “Christian” criteria do not agree on the bounds for what constitutes murder.

    And, as a society, we NEVER will agree on such matters.

  16. dearieme

    “We can take it that all agree that to murder is wrong and is a punishable act.” Yet the tradition in Common Law is to distinguish infanticide from murder.

    Forgive a foreigner from intruding, but I’d have thought that the big deal about abortion in the USA isn’t to do with your musings – which are as true, or as false, or as helpful, anywhere in the world – but rather it is to do with the fact that your current abortion law was introduced by judicial putsch, not by legislation enacted by legislators answerable to their electorates.

  17. stosh from the sticks


    Not sure what you mean by “Catholic perspective” (also, not sure what you mean by “murder” – do you draw a distinction between “murder” and homicide in self-defense)?

    Anyway, the prior Pope (John-Paul II) called capital punishment cruel and unnecessary, and suggested that it should be avoided unless it was the only avenue society could use to protect itself. That’s a strong indictment of capital punishment, but it’s a far cry from declaring it “ALWAYS wrong”.

  18. Marco

    To start I’d point out that when a topic is so “subjective” the right time to discuss about it is when you are not directly involved or your bias will be almost insurmountable.

    Once you have established that you can look at the issue as free as possible from biases then I ask if you agree that the right to live is the most important every human being (homo sapiens sapiens) can have.

    I believe so and I have yet to find someone who is willing to seriously consider it not true from the premises that every other (liberty, happiness, health,…) is possible only if the one in question exists; more over all the other “rights” have a non-zero probability to change during a life while living is a dichotomic event for which there is no “turning back”. Of course if you have a different opinion I am interested in knowing it.

    So far then we have that all homo sapiens sapiens have the right to live (i.e. having a life).

    Then to the next step: is there an occurrence in time when the physical existence of a human being does not correspond to the concept of life?

    Here is where the debate gets more articulate (maybe) since people tend to associate to the term “life” some characteristics most of the time containing the word “self” i.e. self consciousness, self breathing, … However for every such definition of non-living being it can be found a counterproof.
    For example a person who needs daily dialysis could not live without others but s/he is otherwise perfectly “self-everything”. The same goes for a child that without being fed would rarely survive or my old grandpa who needs extra care in his everyday living.
    The only acceptable objection I see is if there is not yet brain function but even then the emphasis is on “yet”: if you’ll let it develop it will get to that point. It is a different situation compared to that of a beheaded adult.

    Back to the dialysis patient during the treatment that person is no different than a mere “blob of cells” fully dependent not even on a woman but on a machine.

    So should we decide to pull the plug we would not even terminate his/her life since s/he does not have one.

    Then there might what I consider a “non-issue” used just to divert attention: murder vs. kill. I really do not care since it is just semantic. The act is the termination of a life considered as the existence of a human being whatever word you use for it.

    So this concludes the same way as Briggs did: if you want to score in favor of the “choice” then the argument has to show that it is in your right to terminate the existence of another human being (the argument that you could also demonstrate that it is NOT a human being is not sufficient since you’ll still have to explain what beings can be terminated).

    To me even if it could be proven that a woman can have a worse life if she chooses unwisely (whatever that means) it is not enough to justify the termination of another existence. “Worse life” carries a non-zero probability of “better life” while “no life” implies a zero probability of “life” and therefore are not on the same priority level.

    There is nothing tough about choosing to put your freedom before someone else live: it’s vile and selfish at best unless you can, of course, refute my logic.

  19. Doug M

    Rights… What are the rights of the unborn? The don’t have any (in this country anyway). Or, if they do, they are completely secondary to the rights of their host.

    I have come to the conclusion that nothing has rights until it has the voice to demand them. The conclusion suggests that even the born have only the most marginal rights at best. Until she can speak for herself, a child has about the same legal standing as my dog.

    If abortion is politically correct infanticide, so be it. We may not have progressed as far has we have led oursevles to believe.

  20. Yooper Paul

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    These rights.

  21. Lots of opinions and beliefs here, most of them dependent upon personal situations and “feelings”. If everything were easy there might not be as much controversy. However embedded in this issue are not one, but two (count ’em, 2) 500 pound gorillas in the room, and the unremarked presence of both give me pause.

    The first is the huge financial industry exempt from nominal medical standards that exists today to offer “choices”. It’s power to acquire legislative exemption from everyday medical practices should be troubling. Why does it need it?

    Second is the motivation from which the earliest roots of the industry sprang – the desire of enlightened to restrict and eliminate population growth in undesirables. Why are the ethnic ratios of those receiving today’s procedures still stacked so highly for minorities? Or is no one else bothered about this?

  22. Leonard Weinstein

    Laws are always compromises needed for practical reasons, to allow society to function. The issue of laws on abortion has to be a practical compromise. It is clear that at some point the fetus develops into a human being, but the point at which that is true is the issue. It can be reasonably argued that before the brain is significantly developed, the early stage fetus is just a growing and dependent piece of human tissue. It is in fact no different than some other living piece of human tissue (which might eventually be able to be cloned into a human being). If you had a liver transplant, you would not call it murder. Without a brain, the fetus is a potential human, not a human. The problem is to judge at what point the brain is well enough developed to call the fetus a human. Again, the practical solution would be to develop an acceptable compromise. The solution would not be logical or absolute but a practical compromise as is needed.

  23. dearieme:

    The Court ruling is why these discussions just go round and round while little, if anything changes. No one is able to come to much of a compromise, as Leonard describes it. So here is an issue that causes a great deal of passion on both sides, but neither can do much to change anything.

    Also, the legality of abortion seems to have caused those who support having legal abortion to take extremely radical positions, such as being in favor of partial birth abortions, allowing the survivors of botched abortions to die, or even preventing the parents of a minor from being notified of a major medical procedure being performed.

    But the lack of the ability to compromise in the legal realm certainly doesn’t remove the moral arguments of either side.

  24. dearieme

    Matt, in Britain we had an abortion law reform in the 60s, which – although its proponents said it wouldn’t – darn near allowed abortion on demand, as long as the pregnancy was short enough. As far as I know, though, such horrors as the “partial birth abortion” are illegal: I bloody well hope so. I am baffled that anyone could be a supporter of such barbarism.

  25. Marco


    Laws are not “compromises needed for practical reasons”. Laws are “primary social mediators of relations between people”. There is no need for compromises in the law, at most the two opposite parties can reach a compromise provided that they do not violate the law.

    Human right laws do not have as first priority “practical reasons” they set the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.

    There is no doubt that a human embryo belongs to the homo sapiens species and therefore is a human. And I am sorry but to compare an embryo to a liver is absurd from a biological point for the potential abilities of the liver are not the same as those of the embryo (ask any biologist/geneticist).

    Moreover it is true that at an early stage in his/her existence a human does not have yet brain functions but it is simply because it is developing and at this stage it is not yet there. However if you do not destroy it, the brain will eventually appear.

    Human rights cannot be dependent on the “properties” of the human but on the condition of being human. Period. An egg or a sperm cell are not human but a fertilized egg is a human in all biological, genetic, scientific possible way.

    All the rest is just based on subjective opinions. But of course a woman who wants the right to choose has also the ability to voice her opinion and vote. An embryo or fetus does not.

  26. jerry

    It seems to me that the point where an embryo becomes a human being might not be knowable. And while we might reach a rational compromise on where we all decide to say it does, this doesn’t change the fact: we just don’t know and perhaps can’t know.
    This makes an abortion at any stage the killing of what might be a human being, or might not be. If this isn’t murder, is it recklessness? Criminal recklessness?

  27. Marco


    Taking the chance to appear a zealot (honestly I am not) I just want to re-iterate that whatever name you want to give to this act it cannot be anything else but the termination of the existence of an embryo or fetus.

    So since one cannot clearly argue on the “termination” the only option left would be to show that an embryo or a fetus is not human.

    However there is no such thing as embryo “becoming” a human. Embryo is one of the many stages OF a human as much as a fetus, a baby, a child, an adult. No changes in the genetic code or in his/her potential abilities.

    But even if one could hold true that an embryo is not human the whole point of the post (it takes courage to choose either ways) is non-sense.

    If it is a human then it is illegal.
    If it is not human then it is as easy as having a tooth extracted (and much less painful).

    In our society we protect children (women and children First!) and punish more harshly criminals who harm them because we realize they are more vulnerable and defenseless. And yet who is more unarmed than a human that cannot be seen or heard?


  28. Yooper Paul

    “If it is not human then it is as easy as having a tooth extracted (and much less painful).”
    As a dentist I condemn your antidentite slur, you sir are no gentleman;)

  29. Leonard Weinstein

    As I pointed out, even non-embryo cells can be made into a human (clone). The potential for developing a human, even if it by “natural” rather than deliberate change, is not an absolute argument. Keep in mind that when identical twins or higher numbers of identical children are born, they come from one fertilization. Which one do you call human? If they all are, then you agree that clones are human. If a clone can be made from any tissue, than by that logic all cells in human tissue (including the liver) are potential humans, and thus can’t be destroyed. The argument that it is natural falls down with artificial insemination. True the components of that action are capable in principal of naturally developing, but they had help for those specific cases. In the end only such concepts as derived from religious belief require that an embryo in the earliest stage is considered to be a human. It is true the boundary of becoming human, rather than just growing flesh with the potential of becoming human, is poorly definable, so a practical choice has to be made. I have no problem coming down on the side of making that choice very early, but consider going to zero time as excessive.

  30. Marco


    You bring interesting points.

    First of all my opinion on clones is that indeed they are human beings. I do not see why they should not be: I do not care on the method they were created.

    Then to the point of “how to make your own clone”. It might be true, yet not really demonstrated, that a clone can be made from any human cell. However somatic nuclear transfer technology to work requires the removal of the original nucleus of the egg. The injection of the DNA from the donor cell and then many electrical and chemical stimuli are imposed on the egg to initiate division. If everything works then you implant the embryo in the uterus of a female (cannot be a male) and let it grow.

    You cannot argue that a lot needs to be done with that liver cell to make it into a new human being. Moreover certainly that original cell is not the one that can become a new clone.

    Also -but irrelevant to our conversation- even for monozygotic twins the original sperm (or liver) DNA is not the only one determining the human being since small portions of DNA from mitochondria in the egg will affect the growth process.

    So all in all I still stand where I was: not all cells are equal.

    But even if you are right you are shifting the focus of the discussion.
    We are not questioning the ability to create human beings: we are arguing about when a human being starts to exist. And on this you have yet to tell me why a fertilized egg should not be.

    So given that a fertilized egg is present, why should that not be a human being? My stance is that any fertilized egg is a human being (I am even willing to drop the “potential” since for me either there is or not a human).

    Religion has nothing to do with my reasoning. Generally speaking, stances against abortion are motivated by the intention to protect the weakest and least powerful of the two subjects (the other being the mother) considering that such human being has done nothing wrong to deserver execution.

  31. Leonard Weinstein

    You use terms like “I don’t see why”, “might be true”, “cannot argue”, “irrelevant”, “even if you are right”, “I still stand”, and other phrases that are not logically useful. They are your opinions. You have many good points but not a convincing total. The main point of a clone is that the DNA, not the egg case, makes the main, if not total, structure of a clone. I don’t know the mitochondria contribution, but clearly clones of lower animals have been made, and their cells show the same basic DNA as the source. I expect the egg case and mitochondria are mainly needed for normal development of the embryo at the present state of technology, but this is a technical problem, and probably could be solved with alternate procedures. I do not advocate making clones, I am just using the examples to show how your points are limited. My entire point is that there is a need for a realistic compromise to prevent a continuing disagreement between nearly equally large groups of people on the issue, since a large degree of hostility has arisen between them. A practical compromise does not have to be “right”, it has to solve a social conflict. This is not an all or nothing issue, as that would never satisfy both sides.

    I consider the use of the death penalty in the same type of situation, although not as big an issue. There are those opposing it as violating “thou shall not kill” (although some say what was meant was “thou shall not commit murder”). Others say in some cases, the death penalty is best for society. This is not an issue that can be solved logically, so has to be a compromise. At the present, the current laws are also not satisfactory to many. However, some result least objectionable to the most people needs to be decided.

    The basic points of the article starting these discussions is that logic can only go so far. My point is that compromises that are the least objectionable to the majority have to go on from there. Absolute positions just start wars.

  32. Yooper Paul

    “My point is that compromises that are the least objectionable to the majority have to go on from there. ” L. Weinstein.

    I do undertand what you’re infering , but the abortion debate in general is not about your statement here. It boils down to the difference between right and wrong. Using the logic of this sentence ,anything is ok as long as the majority is in agreement. Slavery, mass murder, you name it. Elective abortion is wrong. A civilized society does not kill it’s most defenseless. The disagreement with the Tebow ad is not in it’s content (no one has seen it), it’s that the only other “choice” is to kill a human being. This is a false choice.

  33. Marco


    All my subjective stands do not interfere with the logic I put forward (you also use “my point”, “I consider” and I find it fine).

    To cite one of my previous posts I do not agree that laws should go from the least objectionable points (paraphrasing your last post). I agree fully with Yooper! Laws should separate the right from the wrong doing.

    So back to the initial issue:
    there is already a law that states that it is wrong to kill another human (and now even many non-human beings). I do not wish to enter into the debate of murder/killing as well as capital punishment since to my logic they are all the same: never terminate another human life.

    The ball is still in your court.

    Forget about the discussion on how to create your own clone (btw: the role of other organs IS important as much as the role of random recombination or we all would look alike. We don’t since every living being is always in a changing state where internal and external stimuli affect the growth. Even Dolly the sheep was not a perfect replica of her “original”).

    The point is still that you do have an embryo “already made” in the mother womb. As legislator you have to decide if it is the right of another human being (the woman) to terminate the existence of such embryo.

    Again: it all boils down to deciding whether such embryo is a human being for which it is already illegal to terminate his/her existence (you cannot even invoke the self-defense extenuating circumstance for that embryo has done no harm to you).

    If the embryo is not a human being you have to explain why.

    Comparing an embryo to a liver cell does not hold since there is no similarity in the two cells: the former is a complete (and only) human cell that has a growth curve that it will eventually make it a human being, the latter will only and always be a liver cell.

    Your argument in favor of DNA transfer is the same as gene manipulation: by your logic then any DNA from any animal will one day become “manipulable” by mankind and therefore could be a potential human being. So we should save them all.

    But this is not the point. The point is: once you have a fertilized egg (embryo) why should that not be a human being if by your logic even a liver cell could be?

  34. Leonard Weinstein

    You are turning the scientific method on its head. While I oppose later stage abortion, and would even be satisfied with no abortion if there were a clear consensus, I am considering the scientific logic the best I can (which truly is limited in this case), and considering the positions of both actual sides on the issue. In a hypothesis, it is the requirement of the proposer (fertilized eggs and early stage embryo’s are already human beings) to make falsifiable claims that both are supported by evidence AND are required to be true to support the hypothesis. The other side has NO requirement to prove anything if both of the previous are not satisfied. The only claim you make is that it is always wrong (vs sometimes acceptable) to abort. This is not evidence, and is based purely on religious or personal moral belief.

    Yooper Paul,
    Sorry but right and wrong can’t be logically applied here. The argument could go on and on, and I truly basically agree that abortion is not generally desirable for many reasons, but get off the moral position in this discussion. Over historical time many moral positions have flipped, and most are not based on reason, but personal belief (often from religion). Vegans could make a good case that killing any animal is morally wrong, but I like chicken and hamburgers, so I disagree.

  35. YooperPaul

    We’re not talking Veganism, we’re talking human beings. The moral discussion is all that matters, and why this issue is so divisive. There are moral absolutes, and the elective destruction of human life is, was, and always will be wrong. Slavery was wrong when the majority thought it right. We not only evolve physically, we do so morally.

  36. Marco


    I promise this is the last time I write and will let you have the last word.

    I understand your point, I always did.

    Your premises is that “I have to prove that an embryo is a human being” and therefore it is my duty to use the scientific method to make you accept it.

    First: the scientific method is deductive by definition (characterization, hypothesis, prediction, experiments). Conclusions from scientific method can never be proven wright: only falsifiable as sir Popper explains. So let’s not talk about the use of scientific method to prove something as this is a contradiction in terms (oxymoron).

    Logic, or inductive method might be used instead as I need no experiments to tell me that an embryo is not a human being. If you consider this position untrue it is your duty to show me that. Not mine.

    In other words you are asking me to prove that an embryo IS a human. But I need no such thing since it is self-evident the same way as a child, an elderly, a baby, a cripple, a person in dialysis or a pregnant woman are human beings; it might be less easy to understand because you cannot see it but you also cannot see Eskimos (unless you live in the Arctic).

    If everything has to be proven, as per your stance, you then could also ask me to prove that a paralyzed, with no arms and legs person is also a human being and so on…(or I could ask you to do so).

    I make the claim that it is always wrong to abort because “abortion=termination of another innocent human being” and this is illegal and unethical. If you say it is not you have to show me the logic to support your position. So far all you have done is saying that since even liver cells contains human DNA then all cells should not be destroyed.

    Obviously this sentence fails to explain why an embryo is not a human. And I already explained the big difference between any ordinary human cell that cannot self replicate and develop to assume the shape of a grown human being.

    Should I, as a compromise, agree that the topic is delicate and not yet defined then I would ask: why, given that there might be a human life at stake, not use the precautionary principle and go for the protection of it? We are talking about human beings as YooperPaul says.

    I could live with this approach even if it is not my position since animal right groups (and even common people) nowadays go crazy if an animal is harmed in any way and yet we have no problem at saying that in doubt we should still terminate a maybe-human?

    Finally there is no religion involved here, you keep bringing up this point as if you want to implicitly point out that religious people have some kind of handicapped logic due to their religious=un-logical positions.

  37. Leonard Weinstein

    The basic problem with your argument is that you make an ASSSUMPTION, that an embryo is a human being. That is not proof. The entire issue is about the question- what are the required characteristic and features of a human being? It clearly is not related to number of arms, legs, or even quality of brain. It is also not totally related to the exact gene structure, as different people have some variation. In fact, some of the higher apes are very close in most of the genes. The question is NOT logically able to be answered directly at the present time, and may never be so. If we are reduced to choosing based on some feature, which is not truly absolutely logical but may be reasonable, the choice of brain development seems as good as or better than most. If you choose to apply what amounts to a personal feeling (based on moral or religious background), this is your right, but it does not stand up to logic. If the level of brain development is the issue, I would gladly defer to a conservative position of the very early stage. However, there is a stage lasting at least several weeks that no significant brain development (and for a shorter time no nerve development) is present. This is no more a human being than an acorn (even that has started a root) is an oak tree.

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