Nadine Dorries and the Hand of Hope – updated with response to Dorries’ unusual surgical claims

March 19th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, badscience, religion | 45 Comments »

You will remember Nadine Dorries MP, anti-abortion campaigner. She was heavily involved in promoting those dubious pre-term survival figures which were presented to the Science and Technology Select Committe enquiry, and when I wrote about those dodgy figures, she accused me of bad behaviour, and demanded a formal enquiry into whether there had been leaks and a breach of parliamentary procedure.

In fact I had written my critique of the figures using the publicly available PDF document which records the Committee’s proceedings. I suppose some people might need a bit of time to catch up with idea of open government: the political bloggers fell into hugely amusing spasms of delight, while Nadine switched off comments on her blog.

If they were on now, someone might have been able, quietly and discretely, to point out that she is currently propagating a well known hoax photostory from the internet.

Nadine says this:

This picture show a pregnant uterus laying on the exterior of the mother’s abdomen, having been lifted out of her abdominal cavity, via a c-section incision made in the abdominal wall.

Dr Joseph Bruner performed this procedure in order to operate on the baby whilst still in utero before it was born. The baby had spina bifida and would not have survived if removed from his mother’s womb.

When the operation was over, baby Samuel, at 21 weeks gestation, put his hand through the incision in the uterus and grabbed hold of the surgeon’s finger, a gesture which was apparently met with a huge amount of emotion in the operating theatre.

Dr Bruner said that it was the most emotional moment of his life and that for a moment he was just frozen, totally immobile.

In the UK we are aborting babies just like this and older every single day.

There are union funded organisations such as ‘Voice for Choice’ that campaign and fight to maintain the right to abort babies like Samuel.

There are organisations such as the BMA who vote and endorse the right to continue to do this.

There are organisations which are paid for by the government, such as BPAS, who argue the right to keep aborting babies Samuel’s age and older.

Little Samuel made his case from within the womb in a way which none of the shrill late abortionists will ever manage.

There are two ways to live your life.

One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

www.dorries.org.uk/Blogs/2008/Mar/19#19

In fact it seems this is a myth propagated over email and through fabulous Christian websites.

Dr Joseph Bruner – the surgeon himself – tells a rather different story.

“It has become an urban legend,” says Bruner, the Vanderbilt University surgeon who fixed the spina bifida lesion on Samuel.

Some opponents of abortion have claimed that the baby reached through the womb and grabbed the doctor’s hand.

Not true, Bruner says.

Samuel and his mother, Julie, were under anesthesia and could not move.

“The baby did not reach out,” Bruner says. “The baby was anesthetized. The baby was not aware of what was going on.”

[“Hand of a Fetus Touched the World.” USA Today. 2 May 2000 (p. D8)]

And here:

Dr. Joseph P. Bruner stated, “Depending on your political point of view, this is either Samuel Armas reaching out of the uterus and touching the finger of a fellow human, or it’s me pulling his hand out of the uterus … which is what I did.”

[ “Photo of fetal surgery still stirs emotion.” The Tennessean Newspaper January 9th, 2000]

The hoax has been discussed here, here, here, and here.

I am also very happy to link, in the name of transparency and thoroughness, to here, where the photographer disputes Dr Bruner’s account of his own surgical operation on an anaesthetised patient.

Bravo!

EDIT 20/3/08:

Brilliantly, Dorries has now responded to this hoax being revealed, on her blog-with-no-comments.

www.dorries.org.uk/Blogs/2008/Mar/20#20

She can explain everything. Apparently the baby definitely pushed its way out of the uterus, despite what the surgeon himself says, and you can tell by looking at the photograph:

…look at the tear in the uterus. See how jiggered it is just above the hand; and yet the rest of the surgically incised openings are controlled and neat.

This is, in all likelihood, because the hand unexpectedly thrust out. It would be a poor surgeon who allowed the uterine tear to be so messy, and this is no ‘poor’ surgeon.

My recollection, from assisting in many Caesarean deliveries in my earlier years, is that instead of making a big clean cut into the uterus (not a good idea for obvious reasons ie there’s a baby in there) you make repeated shallow superficial incisions into the uterus, between which you spread the tissues by hand with your fingers, until it eventually (and satisfyingly, surgery’s great fun) opens up.

She’s also very keen on the photographer’s account. Which I linked to above. As I said, it’s up to you whether you prefer the account of the photographer, or the surgon who does these operations for a living, and may know rather more about the subject.

Anyway, according to Nadine Dorries, apparently the surgeon was got at too:

He is a surgeon, however, who is reported as saying the movement of the hand was ‘controlled’, that he was operating on the hand and the baby was anesthetised.

Why would he say that? The pro-choice and pro-life lobbies in America are far more vociferous, and unfortunately violent, than they are in the UK; and one can only guess his reasons.

Sigh.


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45 Responses



  1. emilypk said,

    March 19, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    It seems to me that if the doctor was operating on a fetus that was not under a general anesthetic the ‘huge’ emotion felt would be horror?

  2. frontierpsychiatrist said,

    March 19, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Of course even if the baby had managed to reach out to grab the surgeon’s finger this doesn’t mean that it would be viable if born…

  3. grimreader said,

    March 19, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Ben

    Well done for exposing the hoax.

    I notice that you don’t have a tag on your blog for ‘abortion’, but instead list abortion-related posts under the tag ‘religion’. It is a shame that you do this, because the most cogent arguments against it do not require one to draw upon religious belief. The key question is whether or not a zygote\embryo\feotus is human and therefore deserving of the same legal protections as all other humans. This is a question best assessed using the scientific method.

    Given your apparent support for abortion, can you explain the good science behind your position?

  4. ferguskane said,

    March 20, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Hi,

    Grimreader, sorry to be blunt. Science cannot decide whether a zygote/embryo/foetus is human. What would the hypothesis be and how would you test it? The question is one for philosophical discussion, starting with: ‘what does human mean?’. Equally, questions of legal protection and human rights are not really answerable by science.

    Science can potentially address more specific questions such as ‘can a foetus feel pain?’ and ‘what is the average life expectancy of a baby with x disorder?’ Addressing many such questions may help clarify the arguments for and against abortion. Again however, science can’t provide the final answer, that’s for society.

    Hmm, apologising for being blunt before being blunt is stupid. I apologise.

  5. Thomas Greenan said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:18 am

    @ Grimreader

    Clearly foetuses are human (in the biological sense), but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are worthy of the same protections as humans who have already been born. If you think it does logically follow (and this seems to be the implication), you have to say why. One of the most obvious ways of doing this is through religious beliefs about souls and whatnot.

    There are secular ways of justifying the link, but they tend to focus on all humans having ‘natural rights’ simply because they are biologically human, and not because they share properties with humans who have already been born. These types of ‘natural rights’ are arguably ‘metaphyisically queer’ (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_queerness), as are many of the entities posited by religion. Clearly these things won’t sit all that well with the scientific method.

    Sorry this is a bit garbled, I’m quite tired.

  6. martu said,

    March 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

    “There are two ways to live your life.

    One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)”

    What is this supposed to mean?

  7. woodbine said,

    March 20, 2008 at 10:49 am

    There is a danger that this thread gallops off into the direction of whether abortion is right or not.

    If that were to happen I think we’d be missing Ben’s central point; namely that a politician has chosen to use dodgy data and emotive scare stories to pursue what appears to be a very personal cause.

    Perhaps there’s nothing new in that, but the point is to try and hold these febrile egomaniacs to account with good science, in order to stop them pursuing their private agendas using bad science.

  8. ForeverAutumn said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I agree with grimreader: notice abortion-related topics should be tagged ‘abortion’ and not ‘religion’. The articles themselves don’t discuss religion except in the most tangental way.

    It’s true that some people are motivated by religious belief towards an anti-abortion viewpoint. But not all religious people are anti-abortion, and not all “pro-lifers” are religious. You might as well file all articles related to acupuncture, blood transfusions, evolution, genetic modification, care of the sick and elderly etc. under ‘religion’ on the basis that religious types may have views somewhat different from the mainstream on these issues.

  9. martu said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Are there non religious reasons for being against abortion then?

  10. Menalitus said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:44 am

    woodbine is correct to point out that this should really be about a politician either willfully ignoring the truth and deceiving her constituents or being unable to critically assess information effectively. Both I think are equally sad however to willfully deceive to further her own causes is verging on the criminal.

  11. grimreader said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    No time to respond fully (i particularly want to respond to Thomas Greenan, who has gotten straight to the point!), but i do want to say that i don’t think i’m going ‘off topic’ by raising these issues. Granted, i realise the post is about Nadine Dorries, who does no favour to pro-life causes by her ill-judged criticisms of Ben, nor by promulgating this hoax, but she hardly represents the spectrum of pro-life opinion or argument. It would be journalistic sleight-of-hand to pretend anti-abortion views have been shown to be bad science just because Dorries has been shown to be foolish. And since I know Ben has a great respect for truth, i trust he will engage in the best of arguments against abortion, not just the ill-thought out ones.

    This blog is about Bad Science, and so it seems fair to raise the question of what science tells us about the beginnnings of a human life, especially as Ben has brought the question up.

  12. martu said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    @grimreader
    What do you think science tells us about the beginnings of human life?

  13. mrstrellis said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    This incident was referred to in an episode of House, where House had to operate in utero. The baby grabbed his finger.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_Position_%28House_episode%29

  14. emilypk said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    As a non-religious person I can say there are non-religious reasons to place limits on abortion if not to ban it outright. They do relate to the point at which one might be considered a ‘person’ based on other believes relating to innate/supported viability or actual/potential sentience.

    They are still, of course, philosophical goalposts not scientific facts. I feel it is sometimes forgotten that religion is a subset of universal belief systems that all have a similar function, God optional.

  15. davorg said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Mad Nad has followed up with another post on the photo. I suppose we should be happy that she is engaging with her critics for once, but she is still repeating the same nonsense and half-truths.

    www.dorries.org.uk/Blogs/2008/Mar/20#20

  16. used to be jdc said,

    March 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    What’s up with Dorries? That bizarre letter to the Guardian slating Evan Harris for his “anti-faith prejudices” instead of tackling the points he made; switching off comments on her pseudo-blog; pushing the dodgy 42% figure instead of using the Epicure figures (which the Torygraph loved) – and now spreading this hoax.

  17. THM said,

    March 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Nadine Dorries has posted a follow-up, here:
    www.dorries.org.uk/Blogs/2008/Mar/20#20

    She says:

    “Of course, the pro-abortionist lobby have attempted to rubbish it and say it is a hoax, which it most definitely is not. Some of the pro-abortionists, who know that they can’t get away with calling it a hoax, are saying that the surgeon was operating on the hand, which didn’t reach out; and, that in fact the baby was anesthetised so reaching out would not have been possible.

    “Two points from me: first is that if the experienced paediatrician operating on the 21 week old baby had anesthetised, then that fact endorses the Professor Anand position that a foetus can feel pain; otherwise why would this doctor, who operates on unborn babies all the time, bother?

    “My second point is look at the tear in the uterus. See how jiggered it is just above the hand; and yet the rest of the surgically incised openings are controlled and neat.”

    I’m not a surgeon. Could a foetus punch a hole in a uterus?

  18. emilypk said,

    March 20, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Wow. She is arguing points that aren’t even logically consistent.

    I doubt she is interested but whether the baby can feel pain isn’t necessarily relevant to a right-to-life argument. A lot of animals that we slaughter certainly feel pain.

    Support limited right to abortion does not mean thingking the fetus has the moral weight of a potato until it emerges from the womb.

    But somehow I suspect logic is taking a seriosu back seat to rheotic with our nadine. In fact it may be in the trunk with duct tape over its mouth.

  19. used to be jdc said,

    March 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I think I can see why the photographer might maintain that he photographed something special and meaningful. From the page you linked to: “I am a dreamer…an idealist”.

    Nearly forgot – Dorries also signed the Early Day Motion in support of homeopathy on the NHS. edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=33006

  20. davorg said,

    March 20, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Is she saying that a foetus can punch through its mother’s skin?

    If that’s the case, it’s amazing how many of them get carried to full term.

  21. RS said,

    March 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Rather than join the argument, like a proper troll I’m going to link to a few posts I made on the issue last time round:

    Sunny Anand

    More minority report

    More abortion

    Dispatches on abortion II

    Shorter RS: Dorries is a nutjob, and a stupid one at that, ignore.

  22. Thomas Greenan said,

    March 20, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Good lord, that response is absymal. I particularly dislike the “see with your own eyes” line.

    She may be a stupid nutjob, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to ignore her.

  23. RS said,

    March 20, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    “pro-choice…lobbies in America are far more vociferous, and unfortunately violent, than they are in the UK; and one can only guess his reasons.”

    Violent! WTF?

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    yeah that was odd, i know a lot of stories about pro-lifers killing/threatening/burning etc, but i hadn’t heard of pro-choicers doing that. not saying the stories don’t exist, just wondering, since it seems slightly unlikely.

  25. ForeverAutumn said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I am an agnostic/atheist (how I describe myself depends on how certain I’m feeling). I think a fetus is simply a human at its earliest stage of development. I think legal abortion is a necessary evil, but it’s certainly not an ethically neutral act.

    Dorries may have a poorer grasp of reality than a baby under anasthetic, but she never
    mentioned God or Church or anything even vaguely religious. She tried to argue the “science”, and she got caught. Got caught badly.

    So why, again, is this filed under “religion”?

  26. muscleman said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Is it just me or has everyone else forgotten the small matter of the membranes? a baby has to go through far more than just the uterine wall in order for its naked hand to be outside it. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of a human infant and paid attention will know how thick these are. I have done embryo surgery on mouse embryos including punching big holes through uterus and membranes with a big syringe and exteriorising them from the uterus (all can be successful btw). Those things are tough, as they have to be. Sod the uterine wall, where are the membranes?

    That fact alone makes the claim absolute nonsense. BTW I recognise the technique of going through the uterus. Developed a similar way of going through the mouse body wall, make a small hole, insert tips of closed scissors (finger don’t fit) and open scissors. Blunt force tearing like this is good since the tissue tears down natural fault lines, including along instead of across blood vessels and making healing easier than a sharp cut. We did it that way to prevent bleeding, when operating under a microscope a little bit of blood goes a long way in obscuring your view so you do a lot to ensure you don’t get any.

  27. Dr Aust said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    *sigh*

    I can’t describe just how profoundly depressing I find it that Nadine Dorries is an MP.

    I try very hard to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, but the utter lack of a grasp of reality is jaw-dropping. Almost makes me revise my view of all those legal geeks and ex think-tank policy wonks in the Commons.

    And Dorries’ bio says… she used to be a nurse!! And was managing director of an educational type charity dealing with vulnerable children (Kids Company)??! And is a member of the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Ctte. – !!*!**!

    Gordon J Freakin’ Bennett.

    The only bright spot (from my point of view) is that, though she is a Scouser she failed to get elected in the North of England and had to decamp down to leafy Bedfordshire. Yon Southern Jessies are welcome to ‘er.

    Anyway, keep up the great job exposing her nonsense, Ben. I’m not sure if it is strictly a “religious” issue, but what is clear is that, for Dorries, religious conviction overrides actual facts. Just the sort of person you want on the Education Ctte.

  28. Dr Aust said,

    March 21, 2008 at 12:07 am

    PS Dr Crippen over at NHS Blog Doctor is giving Mad Nad a good shoeing. Bad Science gets a plug too.

  29. outeast said,

    March 21, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Dorries owes me a new keyboard, this one’s covered in coffee… I love the image of SuperFoetus punching his way out of the uterus!

    Something tells me she’s never even seen a preemie… and something else tells me she doesn’t understand the effects that a general anaesthetic has…

  30. ferguskane said,

    March 21, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Re: used to be jdc
    On the topic of shocking MPs. Having followed the link to the homeopathy early day motion, I’m saddened by the other MPs on the list. 208 MPs, about one third of the total, including the deputy leader of the lib dems.

  31. nickyb said,

    March 22, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Nadine was involved in Kids’ Company? WTF?

    Camilla Batmangheldjh was one of my real heroes :-( How could she get involved with someone as nuts (and stupid) as Nadine?

  32. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Re classification on this blog, that’s up to the author, and readers can comment. I’m not sure how it works exactly, would an abortion tag mean that you can select to read all the articles on abortion? Would you want to? Wn!omld Ben want us to? Well, perhaps. Perhaps also “medical-ethics” would cover the question, but that’s quite broad. And if you wanted to read articles on religion, should this be brought in… perhaps so insofar as Mrs Dorries’ position on abortion is informed by religion and this particular story is essentially a religious myth, like many other stories of miraculous or monstrous births – I don’t have in mind you-know-who, but reports where women had up to 365 children, or had rabbits, or something. As I recall it tends to be local aristocracy, or offstage characters in Shakespeare… “molar pregnancy” is mentioned as the real explanation and is something I don’t want to think about, although I have the urge to inquire what Mrs Dorries’ view is.

  33. benb said,

    March 25, 2008 at 10:48 am

    @ibycus: “…the only way to not anethetise the baby would be to not anethethise the mother, they do share a blood supply after all…”

    Anaesthetic drugs do penetrate the placental barrier, so yes by anaesthetising the mother you are also anaesthetising the foetus. However, the blood supply of the mother and foetus do not actually mix. This is quite important, as you often have 2 different blood types operating, so if they were to mix it could kill the foetus.

  34. grimreader said,

    March 25, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. It was actually Ferguskane at comment #4 I wanted to respond to, but will no doubt respond to Thomas Greenan’s point too!

    Fergus, don’t apologise for being blunt. Thanks for getting to the point.

    I don’t see why there needs to be philosophical naval gazing over ‘what does human mean’. When scientists are classifying species, i don’t think they spend time pontificating over ‘what does horse mean’ or ‘what does dog mean’. Granted, the question ‘what does human/horse/dog mean’ is an interesting one, but it isn’t important for categorizing those things according to their characteristics. What is important is what a human/horse/dog *is*.

    For example, if you were given a tissue sample and were unsure where it came from, you could test the DNA and determine whether or not it is human, horse or dog. You do not need to have pondered the meaning of life and the basis of our existence to do this.

    Getting back to the issue of the humanity of the unborn… Given that a fertilised egg has the full complement of human DNA, and from that moment onwards is directed toward its own growth and development, it makes sense to define conception as the beginning of that human being’s life. No need, Mr Greenan, to bring souls into this. Defining life as beginning at a later point is arbitrary, and requires an explanation of the rationale behind it.

    I do realise that law and science are two distinct realms, but law should be based on facts and objective evidence where possible. If we were to be legislating on when human life begins, this is the kind of evidence we ought to be looking at. I don’t know if humans have natural rights or not, and again that seems to be trying to sneak a metaphysical aspect into the debate when i think it ought to be kept down to earth. I think fair’s fair and we oughtn’t kill people. If that’s metaphysically queer, then so what?

  35. littlec said,

    March 26, 2008 at 6:57 am

    The foetus is connected to the mother via the umbilical cord. The mother is anaesthetised therefore the baby is anaesthetised, they have the same drugs in their blood. Simple really.

  36. nekomatic said,

    March 26, 2008 at 11:03 am

    I guess the ‘violent’ comment is based on the fact that if you’re what is fatuously known as ‘pro-life’, you count every abortion as a murder. Ergo, the number of murders committed by pro-lifers (yes, I know) pales into insignificance in comparison with the number of murders committed by abortionists.

    grimreader, you seem to be playing semantic games here. Of course a human foetus is human as opposed to horse or dog. The question is to what extent a human foetus or embryo qualifies for the same rights and protections as a human baby or adult – i.e. to what extent we consider it to be a ‘human being’. If you try and take an absolutist line e.g. ‘from the moment of conception’ then you run into tricky issues such as whether a mother who miscarries is a murderer. (Think that’s stupid? How about if you can identify a lifestyle factor that increased her chance of miscarriage? Etc etc.)

  37. foxnsox said,

    March 26, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    @grimreader

    “I think fair’s fair and we oughtn’t kill people. If that’s metaphysically queer, then so what?”

    Sounds simple and laudible, but I think you are weilding Occam’s razor a little too readily.

    The arguements are well rehearsed and I am sure you are aware of them – rape victims, danger to the mothers life, severe illness or disabilities for the child. And certainly, each of these have their counter arguements as well. You do not arrive at a ‘fair’ solution by simply diregarding all other aspects, and to try to simplify a complex issue involving social/ moral/ religious/ scientific considerations to a single statement, you do your own intelligence and that of all those you write to a disservice.

  38. Allo V Psycho said,

    March 26, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Grimreader, as nekomatic says, there is a distinction between ‘human’, which the fertilised egg most certainly is, and ‘a human’, which the fertilised egg does not necessarily correspond to. For instance, a tumour is human, but we do not accord it moral status. The placenta is human too, but doesn’t get to vote.
    Moral status can indeed be developmental – for instance, I would cheerfully crack a fertilised free range egg into my sizzling frying pan, but would be appalled at the thought of dropping a newly hatched chick into the same environment.
    Some contraceptive devices may work by preventing implantation of fertilised eggs. Is using one the moral equivalent of shooting a school bus full of children one by one? My view is that it isn’t.
    A number of ‘start of life’ points can be proposed in addition to fertilisation. One is the point of individualisation, after which pre-embryos can no longer be sub divided into many, or fused from many into one. That happens in humans about 2 weeks or so after fertilisation (and is why two weeks is used as a legal limit for some procedures). Another is the point of onset of consciousness, by analogy with death being irretrievable loss of consciousness. Another is the onset of independent viability. Views may differ on when exactly these last two occur.
    Termination of pregnancy represents a difficult moral dilemma, balancing the rights of the mother against her developing conceptus. It can be a difficult and challenging task for individuals and societies. My view is that ‘denying the dilemma’ by religious arguments or by absolutism doesn’t help either society or individuals.

    One thing I can say with certainty, though: there is no ‘o’ in fetus.

  39. Thomas Greenan said,

    March 27, 2008 at 12:28 am

    @ Grimreader

    Well the reason we should do this philosophical navel gazing is because the words people use are often loaded way beyond their technical meaning. You actually illustrate this perfectly, by sliding from a discussion of what ‘human’ means to saying “we oughtn’t kill people”. ‘People’ and ‘humans’ can have different implications – being human is arguably not the same as being a person (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personhood for a bunch of contested accounts of personhood).

    A couple of specific points – you accuse me of mentioning souls in terms of when life begins, when I actually didn’t, I was referring to foetuses being morally worthy of the same treatment as born humans. Anyone who thinks life begins at some point after conception is either wrong or trying to use a non-standard definition of life (I think this is to be discouraged). But that isn’t what is at issue. Should the fact that a foetus is alive mean that killing it is morally bad? Should the fact that a foetus is human mean that killing it is morally bad? These are the important points, but you haven’t yet addressed them thoroughly.

    I don’t exactly see how you are keeping the debate ‘down to earth’. If humans don’t have natural rights (such as the right to life) then what is the reason for not killing them even when they aren’t wanted, or may cause massive complications in people’s lives? You’ll have to give an account of why all humans have a non-natural right to life even in these circumstances. This seems extremely difficult without some kind of metaphysical baggage. You quite possibly have have hidden metaphysical assumptions lying behind your assertion that “we oughtn’t kill people”, but you haven’t told us in any detail why you think that (saying “fair’s fair” is not going to be adequate), so we can’t really argue with you about that.

    As for your final “so what?” – well, a metaphysically queer proposition is one that we should avoid taking as true (unless there are other, non-queer reasons for taking it as true), so if you say something based on metaphysically queer assumptions, then we have no reason to take it as true. It’s the best reason for not taking religious statements seriously for example – they rely on metaphysical entities we have no evidence of.

    Again – tired, so sorry if this isn’t well written (or seems crabby).

  40. used to be jdc said,

    March 27, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    “One thing I can say with certainty, though: there is no ‘o’ in fetus.”
    Er, how certain are you? :)
    ‘Foetus’ is a variant of ‘fetus’. Mainly used in England (I think).

  41. grimreader said,

    March 28, 2008 at 11:31 am

    @ Nekomatic & Allo V Psycho
    Regarding ‘human being’, i did tackle that in my post but perhaps was not clear enough. I emphasised that conception is the point at which that being begins because from the moment of conception the fertilised egg becomes directed towards its own growth and development. As i said, defining life as starting at any other point is arbitrary, and would require a justification of its own, not merely an objection to the life-begins-at-conception argument. On Allo V Psycho’s related point (that a tumour is human), it is clear that a tumour is not a human BEING (ie the totality that is a person, as opposed to fingernails or hair clippings or tissue samples which obviously are not people). I hope that clarifies what I was saying in previous posts. (In fact, the whole ‘embryo = tumour’ thing was what i had in mind as bad science on the part of pro-abortionists).

    Yes, calling a mother who miscarries through no fault of her own a murderer is just plain stupid and, if one wanted to be thin-skinned, offensive. A natural miscarriage is a natural death, not murder. Miscarriage through reckless lifestyle (drinking, smoking, drugtaking) when one is in full knowledge of the pregnancy is, of course, negligence. If such a lifestyle killed a child outside the womb I don’t think you would have a problem condemning it (would you?).

    Foxnsox:
    I’m doing no-one a disservice, and i think saying that is just being antagonistic for the sake of it. I’m trying to keep responses succinct and to the point, but you do raise some points worth responding to. If a child is conceived through rape, the biology is still the same, and as I stated I’m trying to keep any discussion i have here focussed on science. If you must have children conceived through rape aborted, then do so without denying they were children in the first place. Call it ‘justifiable homicide’ if you have to. But don’t pretend that being conceived thru rape makes them less than human. On the point of denying life to those who have illnesses or disabilities … well, that’s called eugenics and, again, it is one of those things that people would be rightly horrified by if we were talking about doing it outside the womb.

    As for the mother’s life being threatened by preganancy, abortion is not a treatment. If the child’s death is incidental to the treatment the mother receives, then that is one thing. But to go out of one’s way to kill the child in the name of the mother’s health is another entirely. It is the difference between removing a feotus early and giving it a slim chance of survival, or dicing it up in the womb and giving it no chances at all.

    All these difficult circumstances are, of course, used to justify what is essentially abortion-on-demand and the majority of abortions aren’t carried out for these reasons, anyway.

    There’ve been a lot of responses directed at me which i could reply to but i think i’m taking up too much space already. Someone else’s turn now!

  42. ForeverAutumn said,

    April 5, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    @Formermedicalperson
    I’m afraid i don’t understand your circumcision arguement at all. Because someone does not remember something, it means they do not suffer “in any meaningful sense? Few people remember anything before 2 years old – does that mean that a toddler is incapable of suffering “in any meaningful sense”? So the “circumcision arguement” is only “discomfiting” in that it seems to be an argument for infanticide (or even toddlercide) rather than abortion.

  43. ForeverAutumn said,

    April 6, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Under “natural” circumstances (no vaccincations or other modern medical treatment), over 50% of all children die between birth and age 5. So that’s a lot of “little souls” gone to waste over the course of history. But it means that the miscarriage rate is not a particularly good argument for abortion.

  44. sean.salvador said,

    August 26, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    ferguskane

    Its not so much about whether or not a foetus is human, rather, what is its capacity for suffering? This is a question that can be answered by science and must be adressed whenever this touchy subject arises.

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