Atheist Richard Dawkins: “Any Fetus is Less Human Than an Adult Pig”

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Description=Richard Dawkins Photograph: Jeremy Young 05-12-2006

“With respect to those meanings of ‘human’ that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig.” — A tweet from Richard Dawkins, echoing philosopher Peter Singer, who has made the same comparison.

Dawkins is probably the world’s most famous, or infamous, proponent of atheism, but a belief in atheism need not entail the pro-choice position on the ethics of abortion that Dawkins holds. Indeed, that position is contravened by science and reason accessible to people of any or no faith, independent of any religious teaching or texts. (See here prolifemn.blogspot.com.)

A clarification must be made regarding Dawkins’ use of the term “human.” It can be used in a biological sense to mean a living human organism—a member of the species Homo sapiens—and in that sense the fetus, from the beginning of his or her existence at conception, is a full-fledged human being, like you and me only at an earlier developmental stage, while the pig is not and never will be.

But Dawkins uses “human” in a different sense to refer to certain characteristically-human qualities that he considers morally relevant with respect to how a being ought to be treated—qualities that may not be possessed by all human beings (those who have yet to acquire them, or who have lost them, are excluded from serious moral regard) and that may be possessed by some non-human animals (such as pigs).

Dawkins went on to further discuss abortion and clarify his position. He considers the ability to experience pain the decisive factor: Only beings who can feel pain deserve the sort of moral respect that would preclude killing them. Only when an unborn child is developed enough to feel pain is abortion (presumably) morally impermissible.

But this position does not seem defensible. Surely we may not kill people as long as we do so in a painless fashion. So it must be, as Dawkins puts it, the ability to feel pain that counts.

But what about people who are under anesthesia or temporarily comatose? What about people with the condition called congenital insensitivity to pain? They cannot experience pain. Do they not still have a right to life? Imagine a person whose brain has been surgically altered to prevent the experience of pain.

Are these people not still people? Full Report


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