On beginnings and endings.

The legal definition of death is the end of brain activity, right? So the definition of life must be the converse – the existence of brain activity. But since brain activity starts fairly early in utero, wouldn’t that render abortion at most stages … murder? I’m just reading “On The Religion Of Pro-Life” and this is an argument against abortion that isn’t about religion, it’s about legal consistency. I guess the missing warrant is that legal systems need to be internally consistent as a pre-requisite to treating people as moral equals, I just don’t understand how to reconcile the legal definition of life with the legal viability of abortion.

Just fyi, i’m totally pro-choice because i think individual liberty outweighs (and because my moral intuition demands it), i just want to know what you think about the legal issue.

I’ll grant you that legal consistency is important, but come on, it’s ridiculous to define neurogenesis in terms of neuronal necrosis. The beginning of life has nothing to do with the converse of “the end of brain activity.” You’re playing a semantic game with faulty logic to arrive at a wildly inappropriate conclusion, especially one that ends in murder.

The moral implications of terminating a pregnancy are much more akin to those in taking a family member off life support. If you suffer massive brain damage, reducing the level of your brain function to that of a human fetus, you’re a goner. Bummer, dude. I hope you signed your organ donor card.

If and when your next of kin make the decision to pull the plug, they aren’t committing murder. Likewise, when a woman makes the decision to terminate her pregnancy, she isn’t committing murder. There’s your legal consistency.

These are terrible decisions to have to make, but in both cases, we’re dealing with non-viable human brains that require equivalent levels of either ICU or in utero life support. I’m sorry, but a flicker of incoherent electrical activity in your grey matter doesn’t confer moral status as a living human being.

As always, it’s more complicated than that.


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