It will never be safe enough for that

It always surprises me how often those who are most likely to condemn the quality of legal system are also those who want to give it the power to execute people. “We can be 100% sure if there’s DNA evidence”, they suggest.

And yet, in December 2009 we’re still finding it unreliable:

AT LEAST six criminal cases have been put on hold after new flaws were found in police DNA evidence procedures.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland yesterday said he had banned police forensic scientists from giving evidence ”until further notice”.

The flaw in the system involves the interpretation of results provided from new-generation DNA equipment that is more sophisticated than previous technology.

This problem will be fixed, but the point is that until last week the courts may have convicted people on what now appears to have been flawed evidence. Who knows what we may learn about present procedures in the future?

Obviously I’m not saying we must stop convicting people on the off-chance that we may later discover the evidence on which we relied is unsafe. Beyond “any conceivable” doubt would be an impossible test and everyone would be acquitted – no-one is seriously advocating that. But we should remember that this is a system run by people and subject to human error. In countries with the death penalty, innocent people are often not exonerated until they’re on death row. It is very likely that some are simply executed.

This reminder about DNA evidence should give pause to those who think that we could introduce capital punishment safely because with modern technology, it’s almost impossible for us to make a serious mistake.

It isn’t.

UPDATE: Also, there are apparently problems with handling of drug exhibits.

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96 responses to “It will never be safe enough for that

  1. The possibility of condemning innocent people is of course a compelling argument against capital punishment, but I view it as one of the secondary ones, along with others such as the cost, the lack of evidence it’s a deterrence, and the libertarian objection that the State has insufficient legitimacy to demand a life. The primary reason I oppose CP will always remain: it is immoral to take a human being’s life when that person is no longer an immediate threat to the lives of others. Your right to life is not extinguishable, no matter how bad you are.

    I post on forums with a lot of Americans, and otherwise lovely, rational people will descend into slavering mobs when discussing the impending execution of a particularly bad person. To hear people talking about the actual killing of another human being with relish is unsettling. One great thing about CP abolition is it tends to tamper peoples’ bloodthirstiness over time: I’ve never seen even the most right-wing Australians act in quite the same way.

  2. … and that is totally apart from the argument that punishing murder with murder is flat-out hypocrisy.

    Either murder is wrong or it isn’t; if it is wrong then it shouldn’t be committed by anyone “the state” included.

  3. and pardon my punctuation

  4. Technological advances may hold the solution to the punishment problem.

    Suspended animation would be a good punishment. The cost of refrigerating prisoners should be less than the cost of feeding them. For capital cases we could excise the brain and keep it in a jar, greatly reducing the prospect of recidivism.

    We are going to have to come up with something new, as the crime rate is bound to increase with the advance of the leftist project to drain the concepts of good and evil from our brave new world.

  5. Yes, Alex, it’s interesting how normally friendly average Americans can froth at the mouth in favour of the DP (and against gun control and that communist plot – universal healthcare), some at the same time loudly proclaiming themselves as right-to-lifers.

  6. Beyond belief! Imagine people who want to save innocent lives and terminate sociopaths.

    Obviously any sane person wants to save the sociopaths and kill the completely innocent!

  7. I think you’re exactly right about this, for what it’s worth. I think as well that the lessons of over-reliance on supposedly settled science can be profitably applied to the question of man-made climate change …

  8. “Suspended animation would be a good punishment. The cost of refrigerating prisoners should be less than the cost of feeding them. For capital cases we could excise the brain and keep it in a jar, greatly reducing the prospect of recidivism.”

    ROFL! I am as big a fan of science fiction as you are, but to roll out punishments that haven’t even been invented yet in an argument like this is just absurd.

    And what is the point of keeping a brain in a jar? Maybe the ultimate form of sensory deprivation, which would be a hell of a lot worse than death. What if the brainy prisoner is found to be innocent? I guess they get out the latest cyborg prosthetic body and plop in his brain – sounds expensive.

    The only reason why capital punishment is bad is simply that killing people is wrong. Capital punishment and abortion are two very different issues. Abortion is about the right of women to control what goes on in their own body. It is a very complex issue over who has the greatest right: the fetus, the state or the woman. Does the government have the right to enforce the rights of features over the rights of women?

    I personally think that governments exercise way too much control over their own citizens – our lives are way to regulated. This is one of the reasons why I am pro-choice and anti-capital punishment.

  9. “…rights of features over the rights of women?” That should say, “of the fetus.”

  10. So, you’re either for capital punishment and against legalised abortions, or you’re insane.

    Or you were trying – unsuccessfully – to be funny, perhaps.

  11. Maybe you missed the Steve martin movie “The Man with Two Brains”, Chris. It is clear that brains in jars can fall in love, and even sing.

    Fred, my comment was a response to the immediately prior comment. It makes perfect sense in that context. It certainly didn’t imply the proposition you suggest. Perhaps you were trying – successfully – to be disingenuous.

  12. who’s “they”?

  13. Alex stated above:

    it is immoral to take a human being’s life when that person is no longer an immediate threat to the lives of others. Your right to life is not extinguishable, no matter how bad you are.

    Is it also immoral to incarcerate someone when said person is no longer an immediate threat to the lives of others? If that’s not immoral, why then is capital punishment immoral?

    In the name of punishment, many of the things we would label human rights are taken away. Why can’t the right to life be taken away? What makes it so special?

  14. No, it implies precisely what I suggested, SB. I don’t assume someone is being sarcastic just because they use an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

  15. I have a question for you SB: what is the difference between murdering someone on the street outside a pub because you’ve just had an argument with them inside and decided don’t agree with their politics or their religion and murdering a stranger in a foreign country as part of an “army” because you don’t agree with their politics or their religion?

    Isn’t murder just murder, regardless of who does it or where it occurs? Why do we make distinctions between different shades of murder?

  16. Fred, Daphon’s comment was to the effect that it was somehow inconsistent to be pro-life and also pro-death penalty. My point was to the effect that it would be more inconsistent to be pro-choice and anti-death penalty.

    I didn’t say anything about other combinations of beliefs, or the sanity or otherwise of holding them. I certainly don’t regard inconsistency as being the same as insanity.

  17. There is nothing inconsistent about being pro-life and pro-death penalty, or pro-choice and anti-death penalty.

    The underlying assumption is that we make our moral judgements based on a single principle, say “killing is always wrong”, and then that’s that.

    But we don’t. There are always a number of moral precepts that we adhere to to varying degrees, and in varying situations some end up in conflict.

  18. The main distinction between the two is whether you believe killing a person is ever justified. Anti-capital punishment people say no, killing people is always wrong. Pro-capital punishment people say yes, it’s okay if I think the other person is “bad”.

    The abortion debate is different because it’s less about whether “killing” is justified, and more about whether abortion is “killing” at all. It’s about definitions. Anti-abortionists define foetuses as “innocent babies”; pro-choicers do not agree that they’re people at all.

    That’s why we see it as entirely consistent to oppose the death penalty but support abortion rights for women – we think of the latter as a medical procedure, not killing a person. It’s also why the “pro-life” label is so absurd – abortion-rights advocates are also in favour of human “life”. In fact, they value human life (like a pregnant woman’s) over anything else – including gestating foetuses.

    I still think the pro-death penalty anti-abortion mindset is disturbing – trusting the state with the power to kill us seems incredibly foolish to me.

  19. Jeremy: abortion-rights advocates are also in favour of human “life”

    How is a foetus not human life? It is a unique human and it is alive. The whole point of abortion is to render it dead.

  20. It hasn’t been born. It is not a human being.

  21. I don’t think anti-capital punishment people think killing is always wrong.

    Killing in self-defence or in order to save more life, for instance, would also be considered wrong if that were the case.

    The question is really about when it’s reasonable for killing to occur, just as we might argue about when incarceration is reasonable even though it’s generally repugnant morally.

  22. Manolis, it’s not immoral to imprison someone who’s not a threat to the lives of others, if they are a threat to the safety, health or property of others. But execution is a manifestly excessive, cruel and uncivilised way of protecting any of these things. The right to life is a right above all other rights, because if it’s taken away, those other rights are rather useless.

  23. And Jeremy, it might not yet be a fully-fledged human being, yet it is still something more than just a bunch of tissue.

    Here’s a situation:

    Husband and wife agree to have a baby. Wife gets pregnant. Husband happy, wife has second thoughts. Wife eventually terminates baby very late into the pregnancy. Husband very unhappy.

    Now, is the husband right to feel aggrieved? Isn’t the presumption that it’s a woman’s body and it’s her right to choose somewhat broken here? Or do you believe, in a way similar to Thatcher, that there is no society and that the woman has no obligations to her husband?

    (Mind you, I’m pro-abortion, but I think things are a lot murkier than just “it’s a woman’s right to choose”)

  24. Actually, that’s too limited. I’d say there are several rights which are absolute. The right to be free from torture (execution’s out), the right to integrity of person (execution’s way out), the right to expect emergency care (better have those defib pads next to the execution chamber), and freedom of thought, conscience and expression (not so relevant).

  25. Say that foetuses are not human beings is insane.

    They are not some species of non-human beings. They are human.

    This terminological part of the debate is no different to re-defining slaves as a species of property.

  26. No, it isn’t.

    Define “human being”.

  27. Alex, I might be misreading what you’ve written, but there are countless examples of people being imprisoned even though they’re not a threat to others.

    Do you think Nazis living peacefully in South America should not be brought to justice because they’re no harm to others anymore? I think they must be brought to justice because future war criminals might think they’re able to get away scot free from punishment because once the war is over, they are no longer a threat to anyone.

    I don’t think capital punishment is any more excessive or cruel than lifelong incarceration. I know I’d rather get the electric chair than face lifelong incarceration.

  28. Define “table”.

    No matter how easy it seems, you can’t — at some stage, you need to make a judgement that can’t be spelt out.

    Same as “human being”. There are too many edge cases that make things tricky.

  29. And Alex, you can’t say these rights are absolute because clearly killing in self-defence, for instance, is permissible.

  30. “A table is an item of furniture comprising an open, flat surface supported by a base or legs.”

    SB, in what way is a collection of cells without organs a “human being”, even if it has human DNA?

  31. Jeremy, Human Being = a distinct living human creature. I.E. something that is human and has the property of being.

    To deny foetuses the property of being is a legal fiction at best. To deny them the property of being human is insane.

    The real argument concerns the respective rights of the foetus and of the mother. There is no logical case at all for allowing terminations after the time a foetus becomes viable.

  32. Does that mean a stool is a table?

  33. “Jeremy, Human Being = a distinct living human creature. I.E. something that is human and has the property of being.”

    So a collection of cells is a human being? The moment after conception?

  34. Manolis, that’s why I specifically made an exception for when the lives of others are at immediate risk.

  35. Is this the same issue that was on 7.30 report tonight – that young man who was jailed for a supposed rape based on an error with DNA analysis? I don’t understand how these things can happen.

    Sorry if I’m on the wrong track.

  36. The abortion debate is always going to be messy. Ever tried to argue about a Palestinian state with a Jewish patriot and a Palestinian?

    I don’t like the definition that a human being is created at the moment of conception or the Catholic belief that every sperm is a potential human being. It is probably a little strange to get upset over using the morning after pill – you probably kill more cells when you stub your toe. (At the risk of being a hypocrite.) Remember, with cloning any cell in your body is a potential human being.

    I also don’t like the definition that a human needs to be born before it becomes a full member of the human race. This would mean the person I cloned earlier would not be a human being even after he was decanted.

    There is a big difference between a potential human life and a human life.

    I think a much safer definition is if whether or not it can survive outside the womb. Why should a few centimetres of the mother’s flesh to determine if it deserves full rights?

  37. Every day our skin sheds thousands of cells.

    Where’s the outrage over this loss of human life!!1!

  38. Chris: the Catholic belief that every sperm is a potential human being

    That s merely a parody of Catholic belief.

    The question Jeremy has raised is whether at the 2 cell stage, is there a distinct human being.

    The question he is avoiding is whether women’s rights trump the foetus’s rights even at the stage where it is capable of being born alive.

  39. And the question you’re avoiding is the one I just asked you. A collection of cells after conception – human being or not?

  40. Jeremy: the 7.30 report segment was alarming from my perspective. How this can happen with science must surely come down to a handling breach at the analysis stage. Which leads me to a whole bunch of questions for Vic Police!

    The Law Society(?) guy interviewed pretty much said outright that giving your DNA to prove your innocence is bad. So what do people in Mr Jama’s situation do? If you don’t submit a DNA sample the cops think your guilty or hiding something, but if you do, you run the risk of this kind of thing happening. And this is without even complicating matters with people whose first language isn’t English.

    Crazy business.

  41. Oh and I meant to add, meanwhile on the side there’s a whole bunch of journalists social commentators ranting like hell about African crime rates and stoking fear that anyone of a certain origin is to be feared. Which in turn feeds into the atmospherics which are sure to influence criminal investigators.

  42. Jeremy:The question you’re avoiding is the one I just asked you. A collection of cells after conception – human being or not?

    I answered your question. The answer is that at conception the male and female cells join and you have a separate human being at that stage. The really interesting question is what rights it is entitled to, and how they are balanced with the rights of others.

  43. It’s a perfectly interesting question as to how you can call a collection of cells – cells that are basically a fluid – are “a separate human being”.

    I strongly disagree that IS “a separate human being”, and accordingly, I don’t find it at all an “interesting question” as to what rights it is entitled to – none.

  44. Then Jeremy, when does it become a human? After 12 weeks when you can see it’s facial expressions in the scan? When you can feel it kick and respond to touch?

    Or only at the moment of birth? Have your own kid and then tell me what your thoughts are…

  45. It’s a perfectly interesting question as to how you can call a collection of cells – cells that are basically a fluid – are “a separate human being”.

    Jeremy – to be fair to SB I think you should now answer his implied question – i.e. do you consider a fully formed child (i.e. late-term pregnancy) living inside its mother to be a human being?

    It seems to me that you’re being highly selective in the defence you are offering to the following statement of yours:

    It hasn’t been born. It is not a human being.

    It’s easy to defend this sort of fundamentalism when referring to a ‘collection of cells’ at the beginning of a pregnancy, but how do you justify it in the face of a viable human child at the end?

    (Manolis-like clarification here: I fully support abortion as a woman’s right and would fight to see it retained)

  46. Speaking as a woman, my thoughts are that until this entity can survive outside my body, then it is part of my body. It is, by definition, a parasite; it cannot survive unless it is attached to me.

    As such, it is my decision on whether or not this parasitic entity remains inside my body.

    Once it is viable and can live outside my body there is no decsion to be made: it doesn’t matter if I keep it or if I choose to have it removed early for whatever reason – it will probably still survive. The abortion question is at that stage is moot.

    The arguments about late term abortions are bunkum and a deliberate distraction from the issue. The amount of late-term abortions are a tiny, tiny percentage of total abortions, the overwhelming majority of which occur between 8 and 10 weeks. Late-term abortions occur when the foetus is discovered to have deformities or conditions incompatible with life. Even then, if this is discovered too late (ie well into the 3rd trimester) then the woman generally gives birth anyway and deals later with the death of the child.

    Cases where a woman has to abort late in the piece because of a danger to her health are so miniscule they are hardly worth mentioning. What generally happens is that the baby is so close to term it is able to be born live by emergency caesarian. It is not abortion, it is merely an earlier than expected delivery.

    Yes, it sometimes happens earlier (ie between 16 and 20 weeks) but, again, most women opt for an induced early labour rather than a deliberate abortion. In many (of what is very few) cases the baby dies, but the mother’s life is at least spared.

    This is the intent of the legislation and it is working the way it was intended. Women have the right to choose to terminate their pregnancies until the foetus is viable; after that it is a medical decision. These cases are few and far between, despite the emotional rantings of the forced-birthers.

  47. Mondo’s question should be answered.

    From the moment of conception a separate life exists. It is human and it has the property of being – it exists. From then on it is a matter of development and growth which continues for decades. This is the scientific position.

    Any attempt to draw a line at some other stage of development is purely arbitrary.

    I can understand a legal argument based on the rights of the foetus and the balancing of those rights with the rights of the mother.

    Any argument proposing that even at two cells are not human life makes no sense. It has no basis in science.

  48. The abortion question is at that stage is moot.

    Of course you have moral cretins like Obama who have supported legislation allowing babies who survive of abortion to be killed.

  49. I don’t buy the “it’s just a collection of cells” argument because, if you want to argue reductionally like that, so are all of us. Unless you believe in spirits or non-material stuff making us human, we are all essentially cells.

    I also don’t buy the “once the umbilical cord is cut, it’s human and a separate life” argument either. The fact is, although there’s no physical connection to the mother anymore, the child is still completely reliant on others. The child doesn’t think, doesn’t have a personality, is not conscious, can’t survive on its own — there’s nothing at all human about it.

    Picking any single point in a human’s lifecycle, from conception onwards, and saying after said point this collection of cells is a human being is a legal fiction. There are good reasons for doing such things in that it means standards that we can all live by more or less harmoniously are set, but it’s still a legal fiction that covers over the very complicated question of what make a collection of cells human.

    In order to make the functioning of society work as justly and smoothly as possible, I would probably argue (I haven’t really that about it in depth) that the cutting of the umbilical cord is the point when the child becomes human for legal purposes.

    Philosophically, though, I find such a position naive and glib.

  50. Manolis, can you clarify a couple of points?

    Are you saying that you should be able to terminate the foetus immediately before you cut the cord, even if it would survive the cutting of the cord? Why isn’t it more logical to take the point of viability as the cut-off for legal rights?

  51. “Chris: the Catholic belief that every sperm is a potential human being

    That s merely a parody of Catholic belief.”

    You weren’t raised a Catholic, were you SB?

  52. No. However, the ‘every sperm is sacred’ meme in all its variants is a mere parody.

  53. Manolis, perhaps sentience is the difference between a collection of cells and a human life?

    If a person is a total vegetable, kept breathing by a machine they are no longer really alive, just a collection of cells that was once a human being.

    Equally a collection of cells that has no sense of self is not yet a human being either, merely a potential life.

    SB, i too find abortion abbhorent but i feel that it is one of those neccisary evils. Late term abortions however should, and i think are, only available in the most dire of circumstances.

    My gf had an abortion when we were both still at uni and not in a position to have kids. I had nightmares the night before about it screaming and railing at me, pleading me not to let it die.

    Ridiculous as she was only 6 weeks pregnant, but it really effected me.

    It was fucking horrible, and as a couple if we have any more accidental pregnancies we will NOT be going down the abortion path again.

    But equally, the idea of forcing people to have unwanted babies is awful too. There are already enough neglected and abused children in the world IMO.

  54. “No.”

    That’s why you believe that. I was, which is how I know you’re wrong, and why I found the Meaning of Life song so amusing. Because it was true.

  55. It’s revealing how the anti-abortion crowd are trying to concentrate debate at the – as chinda points out – rare and extreme “could be born alive” end of the spectrum. The end where abortions really only happen if the health of the woman (UNDOUBTEDLY a human being, remember) is at stake.

    My answer to the question, which I’ve given already, is that you only become a human being at birth – when you are no longer part of your mother.

    That makes a lot more sense to me than to suggest that the cut-off is conception, when there’s not only no brain – there aren’t even any organs of any kind.

    And the anti-abortionists need to be clear that that’s what they’re claiming is a “human being”. Particularly when they oppose things like the “morning-after pill”.

    SB – the allegation that Obama voted for the killing of human beings – babies who’d been born – seems unbelievable. What’s your evidence for this?

  56. SB, I’m saying that the argument for legal purposes is a whole separate thing. I don’t have a worked-out position as to when a child/foetus/collection of cells should have legal rights, although I am sure that whatever position I might take for legal purposes will mean I am brushing over a lot of complexity and will definitely be unjust in a lot of situations.

    And Duncan, babies in the womb are sentient. Not sure how early they are sentient, but they are at some stage. Nonetheless, I still wouldn’t call a baby in a womb a human as I would a fully-fledged adult.

    And if a collection of cells that has no sense of self is not yet a human being, that means new-born babies are not humans, only potential life as well.

  57. Hang on Manolis.

    You just said that babies in the womb are sentient, but then claim new born babies are not sentient.

    Ho exactly does that work?

    I support a womans right to have an abortion. However, that doesnt mean i have to like it.

  58. Sorry that should be “how does that work”

  59. Sentience means the ability to feel, which all animals, including humans, have.

    A sense of self is something perhaps uniquely human, yet something that new-borns don’t seem to have.

    Babies in the womb are sentient just as new-born babies are. This means if sentience = human, babies in the womb must be human.

    Babies in the womb do not possess a sense of self, nor do new-borns. This means if sense of self = humans, babies in the womb and new-borns are not human.

  60. I know what sentience means manolis, otherwise i wouldnt have used the word.

    I think you have confused yourself a bit.

  61. No confusion on my part.

    I’m just saying that the definition sentience = human has the consequence that babies in the womb must be considered fully human, which is not a standard position.

    Alternatively, sense of self = human means that new borns can’t be considered human, which is also a non-standard position.

    The two definitions for human are different, and either one makes for non-standard or non-intuitive situations.

    My overall point is that this making of definitions is the problem because there are so many edge cases that don’t quite fit into our overall scheme of things.

    At one end of the scale, we have a fully-fledged adult, at the other sperm and an egg. Along that line, there is no single point where we can definitely say “from here on in, human”. For legal reasons, we have to pick some point on that line, and that point might be where sentience or the development of a sense of self is situated. Humans, though, don’t think legalistically — we have a messy language and a categorisation scheme full of edge cases. And that’s why we have this unresolved argument about edge cases such as when is a collection of cells human.

  62. Jeremy, I would have thought that having a law allowing babies who can be born alive to be born rather than killed is a fair compromise, particularly if, as you say, abortions after that time a re rare. It is certainly not my personal view, but then I don’t manage to get a lot of my personal views legislated.

    The ‘only after they are born test’ seems to allow babies who are able to be born to be killed immediately prior to birth which does not pass the balancing of rights of mother and child test.

    The Obama thing arose when he was a state senator. He was on a committee which considered legislation to prevent the killing of abortion survivors. Obama spoke <a href="Jeremy, I would have thought that having a law allowing babies who can be born alive to be born rather than killed is a fair compromise, particularly if, as you say, abortions after that time a re rare. It is certainly not my personal view, but then I don’t manage to get a lot of my personal views legislated.

    The ‘only after they are born test’ seems to allow babies who are able to be born to be killed immediately prior to birth which does not pass the balancing of rights of mother and child test.

    The Obama thing arose when he was a state senator. He was on a committee which considered legislation to prevent the killing of abortion survivors. Obama spoke against the legislation.

  63. That link is hardly a fair report on what he actually said or did. Do you have the speech they paraphrase?

    Not agreeing with how the bill worked isn’t the same as supporting killing babies.

    Anyway, killing babies isn’t abortion, it’s infanticide, and is already against the law. If it’s born, it’s a baby.

  64. Suspended animation would be a good punishment. The cost of refrigerating prisoners should be less than the cost of feeding them. For capital cases we could excise the brain and keep it in a jar, greatly reducing the prospect of recidivism.

    I think you’ve watched Demolition Man one too many times.

  65. It’s revealing how the anti-abortion crowd are trying to concentrate debate at the – as chinda points out – rare and extreme “could be born alive” end of the spectrum.

    First of all Lefty – I’m not an anti-abortionist. In fact I have explicitly noted in a comment above that I am pro-abortion. It is entirely unfair (and dishonest) of you to label me as such in your attempt to make an argument.

    Secondly – if your preferred definition of “human being” excludes fully formed babies only days from birth then you should be willing to defend that position. It’s true that your definition is relatively uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases, but it can also be used to justify the killing of fully formed babies. Are you even willing to recognise this, and if so then how do you justify it?

    I ask because I too struggle with this concept and I haven’t, as yet, been able to come up with a satisfactory resolution. I support late-term abortions in many cases as a practical necessity, but I simply can’t agree that the children killed during the process fail to qualify as human beings. This, to me, seems like an (understandable) act of self-deception.

    I think some of us in this thread are questioning where the line should be drawn in abortion cases (I suspect that nobody here is actually ‘anti-abortion’ per se). You seem to be presenting a dichotomy that this line must be drawn either at the point of contraception or at the point of birth.

    I put it to you that this is a false dichotomy, at least in theory. Why can’t we create a more sophisticated definition of ‘human being’ – one that prevents a viable child from ever being left to die?

  66. “First of all Lefty – I’m not an anti-abortionist. In fact I have explicitly noted in a comment above that I am pro-abortion. It is entirely unfair (and dishonest) of you to label me as such in your attempt to make an argument.”

    That remark wasn’t directed at you.

    “It’s true that your definition is relatively uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases, but it can also be used to justify the killing of fully formed babies. “

    I’d argue that it’s not a “baby” until it’s born. That to say it’s a baby, a human being, denies the fact that it is still part of the mother. Birth is the point at which it becomes a separate entity, and thus a human being.

    “You seem to be presenting a dichotomy that this line must be drawn either at the point of contraception or at the point of birth.”

    No – I’m asking for people to declare where they stand. SB does say the line should be drawn at conception. I say it should be at birth. Those are the two possible ends, those are two clearly-defined logical ends – each with their own problems, of course, since mine argues that you draw the line as a result of location, and SB’s argues that a mere collection of cells is a “human being”. But they’re clearly-defined. Those arguing the line should be drawn somewhere in the middle should have a suggestion as to when and why.

  67. I’m not sure that SB is drawing the line where you think he is Lefty. My reading of his comments is that he merely disagrees with your definition of ‘human being’, not that he necessarily opposes abortion.

    But maybe I’m projecting my own views on to SB – a somewhat dangerous activity given his ability to argue his own case.

    Those arguing the line should be drawn somewhere in the middle should have a suggestion as to when and why.

    Well I can’t answer the ‘when’ question because I just don’t know, but I can certainly answer the ‘why’.

    The reason why I think the line should be drawn somewhere in the middle is that I don’t find your definition of “human being” at all compelling. I personally view viable and healthy babies capable of survival outside the womb as human beings, and I find the notion of their being killed in the absence of serious medical reasons to be somewhat unethical.

    For this reason I think we should explore other options. For example I would probably not necessarily oppose a law banning late-term abortions for non-medical reasons, provided sufficient protections existed to safeguard the mother’s wellbeing (and provided it could not be used by the pro-life fundies to chip away at at general abortion rights).

  68. “For example I would probably not necessarily oppose a law banning late-term abortions for non-medical reasons,”

    Which involves telling a woman that she has lost autonomy over her own body. It involves violating her most basic human rights.

    “(and provided it could not be used by the pro-life fundies to chip away at at general abortion rights)”

    Which of course it would be.

    It’s fairly silly to be having the debate about that end, anyway, since it has practically nothing to do with the vast majority of abortions in reality. Late-term abortions are pretty much exclusively undertaken for reasons relating to the health of the mother. Any voluntary, non-medical abortion would take place a long time earlier.

    Birth is a meaningful point at which to view a human being coming into existence because that’s the point at which it is not part of its mother, and where it can have individual rights that don’t infringe on hers.

    This is the bottom line: can anyone here imagine the state forcing them to continue a pregnancy they didn’t want?

  69. So, Jeremy, it should be perfectly legal to kill a baby the moment before it is born?

  70. It’s not a baby before it’s born.

    So, SB, it’s perfectly alright for the state to ban the morning-after pill and to force women who conceive to continue with that pregnancy until it results in a baby they don’t want?

  71. Jeremy you need to stop being so evasive (just answer the question, rather than ducking it by arguing about the definition of baby) and dishonest (I explained my view above – give the baby the benefit of the doubt after it is viable).

  72. Which involves telling a woman that she has lost autonomy over her own body.

    Yes it does. We, as a society, would be saying that if you want to abort your baby as a matter of personal preference you need to do it before the baby becomes a viable human in its own right.

    It involves violating her most basic human rights.

    I don’t agree. We, as a society, can accord people whatever rights we want. There is no inalienable right granting people autonomy over their own bodies (unless we decide to create one).

    Late-term abortions are pretty much exclusively undertaken for reasons relating to the health of the mother.

    Yeah – it’s the words “pretty much” that cause me a problem. You are implicitly accepting that our law should allow the occasional killing of viable babies for non-medical reasons – I think this is why you keep fielding questions about this aspect of your argument.

    I’d accept that these occasional deaths are necessary if it were the only practical way to ensure that the right to medically necessary abortions is preserved – but I’m not convinced that it is. Have we, as a society, really considered our options in this regard?

    Why can’t we look at ways of modifying the law so that you don’t need to use the “pretty much” qualifier? Why can’t we explore ways to ensure late term abortions are exclusively allowed where there are legitimate medical reasons?

    What would be your objection to that?

  73. “There is no inalienable right granting people autonomy over their own bodies (unless we decide to create one).”

    Really? I’ d argue it’s such a basic right that it goes without saying. Are you really saying you’d have no problem with the state telling you that something inside your body had more of a right to it than you do?

    “Why can’t we look at ways of modifying the law so that you don’t need to use the “pretty much” qualifier? Why can’t we explore ways to ensure late term abortions are exclusively allowed where there are legitimate medical reasons? “

    My objection to that is that it’s the state taking over someone else’s body – a HUMAN BEING’s body – and turning them into an incubator without autonomy. Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy – or forcing someone to go through childbirth – is a power the state should never have.

    If a foetus is still inside the mother, then it’s not a “baby”. If it’s inside the mother, the state has no right to pretend that it’s a human being whose “rights” give it the power to tell the mother what she can and can’t do with her own body.

    It’s a viable baby, a human being, once it’s born. Then it has full human rights.

    And I note SB continues to avoid clearly supporting or opposing the morning-after pill.

  74. What more do you want me to say, Jeremy? I have stated repeatedly that the line on abortion, as far as the law is concerned, should be drawn at the point of viability. Clearly use of the morning after pill occurs well prior to this point and should not be criminalised.

    My position is based on a reasonable balancing of the respective rights involved. Your position is extreme and arbitrary, and makes no attempt to balance the respective rights.

    I have clearly stated my position. You are still evading questions.

  75. You’ve also said you think a “human being” begins at conception – so on the above, you support the killing of “human beings”.

    In any case, how do you define “viability”? And if a foetus as “viable”, what are you saying we should do? Force the woman to continue the pregnancy? Then force her to give birth?

    And what question have I “evaded”?

  76. The question I asked was: So, Jeremy, it should be perfectly legal to kill a baby the moment before it is born?

    “Viable” means capable of surviving outside the womb. In those cases if a woman wants to discontinue the pregnancy she should be able to do so, but instead of killing the baby in the process it should be allowed to be born alive.

  77. It should be perfectly legal to terminate a pregnancy at any point prior to birth.

    It should NOT be legal to kill a baby.

    And now the questions in my last comment, SB?

  78. Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy – or forcing someone to go through childbirth – is a power the state should never have.

    Fair enough I guess. You’ve obviously held to this principle very strongly throughout your argument and I have no real basis for disputing your view.

    I just wish it was as clear-cut for me. For whatever reason I can’t accept that a baby’s “human rights” only come into existence at the point of birth, and I struggle with the practical consequences of the law in relation to some late-term abortions (as unusual and irregular as they are).

    I’d like to see some nuance in the law to prevent those rare occurrences, but perhaps this is one of those “all or nothing” issues.

  79. Jeremy: You’ve also said you think a “human being” begins at conception – so on the above, you support the killing of “human beings”.

    Personally, no. The cases in which I support the killing of human beings are fairly limited. However, the law should be as I suggested above. I acknowledge that there are limits to what can be legislated, and which parts of one’s personal agenda should be legislated.

    You try to evade the problem by your definition of ‘human being’, even though we are both talking about the same act.

  80. Abortion, other than in the case of rape or incest (yes, I brought that up) is the consequence of a decision that was made by the mother. It really is a case of medical science allowing a mother to escape the consequences of her decision. There are several options to prevent unwanted pregnancies;

    1. Don’t have sex – 100% effective.

    2. Use contraception – reliable but not 100% effective. You run the risk of getting pregnant (even if it is a small chance).

    If you choose option 1, I can guarantee you that you won’t have to make the decision regarding an abortion. If you go for #2, well, there exists a risk that you will become pregnant. If so then if you want an abortion, you are making a conscience decision to end a human life (even a human life in gestation). Don’t pretend that it wasn’t your fault, you had another option that would have prevented your situation. I’m not even religious, but I do know simple facts that are irrefutably true, much to some people dislike. Decisions have consequences, both good and bad – stop pretending that they don’t by debating whether an organism that in 9 months will be a living, breathing human baby is not life. Control over your body starts with not creating the predicament in the first place! Whoops – personal responsibility…not a very lefty concept.

  81. So cemil, a woman’s uterus is the state’s property?

  82. SB – don’t patronisingly suggest I’m being tricky with definitions. Your entire argument is based on defining a foetus as a “baby” and a “human being”. That is *NOT* a universally-accepted definition. Hell, you don’t even hold to it consistently – you say it’s a “baby” and a “human being” from conception, but you don’t mind it being killed at an early stage. And you haven’t given us any way of determining from outside a woman’s womb how we know when it’s “viable”, or how you’re planning on ripping that “viable” foetus out of the unwilling woman. Or admitted that what you’re essentially saying is you want the state to force women who don’t want to continue a pregnancy to do so against their will.

    Cemil –
    “simple facts that are irrefutably true”

    DEBATE CLOSED.

  83. PBT – where did I say that? A womans uterus is her own property – as is the consequences of what she CHOOSES to do with it.

    Jeremy – what closure of debate? What did I state that was false?

  84. Cemil, your “simple facts that are irrefutably true” are neither simple nor irrefutable. Hence the debate.

  85. Ummm….you have sex, you can fall pregnant. You have sex when using contraceptives….you still have a chance of falling pregnant as they are not 100% effective. Again I ask what is false about these statements?

  86. Your suggestion that abortion is about “fault”? Your allegation that a foetus is “a human life”? Your notion that women should be forced to continue a pregnancy because you think they should be punished for daring to have sex?

    PS “Ummm….you have sex, you can fall pregnant.”

    I can’t. A majority of the people on your side of this argument can’t. We men are entirely safe. Lucky us!

  87. And I ask – if you didn’t wish to fall pregnant, and therefore contemplate an abortion, why have the state endorse a solution to the consequence of your decision when you had the ability to prevent the consequence happening in the first place? Every day I wake up with multiple decisions that I can make…….why should I be bailed out if I make the wrong one that leads to the eventuality that the consequence eventuates? Don’t want to be killed in a road crash – don’t drive or be on the road. Don’t want to die of a drug overdose – don’t take drugs. Don’t want to get my gwife pregnant, option 1, don’t have sex. Option 2, use contraceptives…..but accept the consequences if they don’t work.

  88. “when you had the ability to prevent the consequence happening in the first place?”

    What, by not having sex? You think you have the right to insist that women who have sex without intending to conceive should be punished for it?

    “why have the state endorse a solution to the consequence of your decision”

    What? Women aren’t asking the state for permission as to what they can do with their bodies.

  89. Decisions = consequences. Always have, always will. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t make them untrue.

    Again I await your opinion on the subject once you have had your own child. My 3 week old has just been changed and bathed by me and fed by mum. We waited 10 years after getting married to have a child but we accepted that if she fell pregnant earlier due to a failure of the contraceptive, we would have to deal with it.

    It’s not an academic exercise once you have seen your own childs face on the 12 week scan. I am not trying to shit stir…but my world has changed in the last 3 weeks and I can’t see why people would want to end life simply because of the negative consequences of their own decisions.

    “What, by not having sex? You think you have the right to insist that women who have sex without intending to conceive should be punished for it?”

    Punishment? Simply the realisation of the consequences associated with having sex. You’re a smart guy J – are the facts of the matter as I am stating them wrong or do you just dislike my implications?

  90. “Decisions = consequences. Always have, always will. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t make them untrue.”

    The consequence is that she requires an abortion. It’s not that she must carry a foetus to term.

    “we would have to deal with it. “

    Well, you wouldn’t have “had” to deal with it by “having” to have a child, but you’d have chosen to do so.

    “Simply the realisation of the consequences associated with having sex”

    Having a child is not a “consequence” of having sex. It’s a consequence of having sex, conceiving, and choosing to continue with the pregnancy.

  91. shorter cemil: I WILL force the rest of the population to do what I want!

  92. Piss off Confessions – you just want people to have the choice to back out of the commitment they made when they decided to increase the chance of having a child from 0% to greater. You have the choice not to get pregnant….the chances are in my previous posts.

    “The consequence is that she requires an abortion. It’s not that she must carry a foetus to term.” Why does she require an abortion? Because she took the chance and the odds went against her? Personal responsibility for one’s actions are just that. You have to face them. Abortion in the case of an unwanted pregnancy is a failure of your own risk planning. But a child dies. Once again I am not religious or have any inclinations towards that sort of guff, but lets be honest here – you abort a healthy baby, you are killing a life. And all your ideological doctrines don’t negate that.

  93. Whereas you just want an authoritarian, anti-human brand of fascism.

    If you can’t be concerned about actual human beings you have no business claiming a…{ahem}… pro-life agenda.

  94. “the commitment they made when they decided to increase the chance of having a child from 0% to greater.”

    They made no “commitment”.

    “Why does she require an abortion? Because she took the chance and the odds went against her? Personal responsibility for one’s actions are just that. You have to face them.”

    Which is what she’s doing by organising an abortion.

    I take it if you were to have any kind of accident that was in any way related to a decision you’d made (including walking outside), you’d refuse all medical treatment. Hey, you wouldn’t want to avoid the “consequences” of your decision!

    “But a child dies. “

    No it doesn’t. A foetus is terminated. It is not a child. A child has been born.

    (Humour us – what’s your definition of “child”?)

  95. “Say that foetuses are not human beings is insane.

    They are not some species of non-human beings. They are human.

    This terminological part of the debate is no different to re-defining slaves as a species of property.”

    Anti-abortion law does that, by saying that the foetus has a greater right to a woman’s body than she has herself. See I do think that a foetus has a right to survive – however, I don’t think that right extends to requiring a woman to offer up her body to be its incubator. Much like how I have a right to receive blood if I’m injured and need it to survive, but not a right for anyone to be forced to give their blood to save me – even if they knew that their blood could save me, and refusing would condemn me to death, refusing would still be their right. And women have that same right when it comes to their uteri.

  96. Jeremy you misconstrue my position – the terminology is secondary.

    My position, the one I have consistently stated, and you have consistently ignored, is that abortion is a question of balancing respective rights.

    You seem to think all the rights lie with the mother, so any time before the moment of birth, the mother can choose to kill the baby.

    I find this curious. the main difference between abortion and birth is that with abortion you kill the baby on the way out.

    I do not think it is a huge infringement on the rights of the mother to delete this step in the process and let the baby be born alive where it is capable of being born alive. She still achieves her objective of not being pregnant. Sure she doesn’t get to kill the ‘thing’, but even ‘things’ have rights, too.

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