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Only when the human foetus becomes viable outside of womb does it assume 'personhood'

Donald Gale (Write Back, August 1) believes that God intended personhood to begin at conception. But, even if there were a god, there is no obvious reason why this should be so.

Indeed, early Christian theologians, like Augustine and Aquinas, did not think that the foetus acquires a soul until 'animation' ('fetus animatus'), or 'quickening', and, therefore, early abortion was not 'murder', though later abortion was. Donald agrees with me that personhood is the main criterion of moral rights and is, therefore, the central issue in the abortion debate. But a small foetus is not a person.

The characteristics of personhood include sentience, emotionality, reason, the capacity to communicate, self-awareness and moral agency. An entity need not have all of these six attributes, but if it has none of them, then it is not a person.

A small foetus is not even minimally sentient, let alone capable of emotion, reason, or any of the other attributes. As the individual develops biologically, the rights of a person develop, too. Most of the scientific literature indicates that the brain connections required to feel pain are not formed until at least 22-24 weeks - the time when a foetus becomes viable outside the womb. Viability, therefore, seems to be a reasonable criterion for personhood.

It is when the foetus can survive on its own as an independent human being, with all the moral rights of a member of the human community.

Brian McClinton

Editor, Irish Freethinker

Belfast Telegraph


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