I’m a Usaian (read A Few Good Men if this term confuses you) – I believe in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. For humans, of course.
But what is a human?
The feeling that we need to answer this question and answer it definitely has been growing on me since before I wrote Darkship Thieves.
Actually, the question – if you also read my shifter series you’ll see what I mean – seems to be central to my writing. It’s one of those things I can’t help letting drop into the “soup” of a novel, whether I intend to or not.
The reason for this is probably that, according to the current means of determining what and who is “human” I’m not. And yes, I’ll explain this, but let’s leave this angle till later. It’s personal and I think this is bigger than that.
As I said this has been growing for a long time, and I think advances in science – manufactured humans; enhanced humans; the possibility of growing anencephalic human bodies for brain transplant – none of it is here yet, but none of it is so far that we can’t see the place they exist.
And then the question becomes “where is that line?” Because see, when you’re drawing that kind of line, it moves. If you say manufactured humans aren’t human because they were created outside the woman’s body by an artificial process, what does that make IVF babies?
And the problem with such lines is that whatever you use can rebound and include far more than you expect – or it can give people license to act according to their basest instincts, which is what all of civilization is designed to stop.
Right now, that line is blurry and moves. Different people have different opinions. And that gives the opportunity for incidents like the Kermit Gosnell mass murder spree to occur AND FOR NO ONE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT for years.
If you know nothing about it, you should click on that link. If you are a wussy and don’t want to, then let me tell you the general outlines. In PA abortion is illegal after 24 weeks (I think) but for years, this creep was giving women “abortions” almost up to the date of delivery, or not asking how far along they were. “Abortions” is in parenthesis because this unspeakable monster was delivering the baby and then cutting the spinal cord… of a fully viable baby.
There were other horrors, horrors that we’ve come to expect in this sort of thing, the same sort of horrors on any mass murderer’s den, or as a side effect of the camps in Nazi Germany. It seems to be fairly common of the human mind to slide into things like body parts held for souvenirs, grisly jokes about the murdered and ultimately a devaluing of everyone else – Kermit Gosnell also used unsterilized instruments, perforated women’s uteri, left patients to die lying on filthy tables, covered with filthy blankets.
This type of devolution seems to be common to the human mind. Yes, I know, you stand there and you tell me “Not me, I’d never do that.” But in fact, while it takes a special kind of evil (I almost typed “or insanity” but I won’t. That’s me flinching from the truth. I don’t think he’s insane at all. He’s just evil.) to be Kermit Gosnell, it takes simply being normal to go along with it.
The thing that shocked me more than Kermit Gosnell’s actions, even his keeping of body parts in various containers, was his assistants. These were mostly young, untrained, and their answers to why they did this were eerily familiar, “I was following orders.”
Look, let’s forget Hitler for a moment. Mao. The cultural revolution. Millions dead, millions starved. Yes, Mao was a mad man who will rot in hell (and to my atheist readers, rest assured if there ISN’T a hell I’ll make sure there is one just for him and Stalin.) But Mao didn’t fan out to the countryside following his deranged orders, turning on his fellow man, forcing people to stop doing what they’d always done to grow food, reducing them to feral behavior and even cannibalism.
No, those were mostly “normal” people who’d lost their mooring on what they were and what their victims were and what made what they were doing monstrous.
Terry Pratchett says the only sin is treating people like things. (Terry Pratchett is a secular humanist and therefore is clearly not properly trained in the ways of shame and guilt. I could list a lot more sins just sitting here. Yes, this is said tongue in cheek.) Robert A. Heinlein said that sin was hurting others. Hurting yourself was just stupid.
They’re both right if not fully right. Pratchett is right that in ultimate analysis, the last sin, the one that will rob you – yes you – of your own humanity is to get used to treating beings like you as things. Heinlein is right on the hurt thing, which is another distillation of the Pratchett thing. He is wrong that hurting yourself is just stupid. Because when you treat others like things, it rebounds on you. You start thinking of yourself as a thing. And then you become… what humans become when they’re not trying to hold themselves up to any sort of ideal. At the end of it the most normal human will end up snipping baby cords.
Christian, Atheist, Agnostic Animist or confused human beings who stop respecting humanity end up recreating the more lurid nightmares of Hieronymus Bosch. It just happens. It’s horrible and it’s human.
Which is why it’s important not just for us to decide where the line between human and non-human is, but to decide and to make it stick fast and bright.
Right now, it’s an individual line.
For instance, what Kermit Gosnell did was already against the law in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania doesn’t allow abortion after what is considered a viable age. (And they’re out of date. It’s been 20 weeks for at least twenty two years because I counted that very carefully in my first pregnancy. Yes, explanation of that will come later.)
It is not however against the law everywhere in the country. There are states, where it is legal to do what he did (except for the filth, etc.) with one minor change – the baby can’t be DELIVERED when you cut through his spinal cord. So doctors will turn the baby so it will come out feet first, so they can snip the cord while the head is still in the birth canal and therefore the baby isn’t LEGALLY born. Yes, women have this done. Yes, doctors – presumably psychologically normal human beings do this.
And this is why Gosnell’s associates didn’t know there was anything wrong going on. And this is why the authorities turned a blind eye. Yes, it was illegal in PA – but I mean, it’s a minor thing and it can’t be intrinsically WRONG because it is LEGAL elsewhere.
In essence, any baby – in practical treatment in the US – until its head emerges from the birth canal is only a human if the mother says so.
Hospitals will go through untold effort to save a pregnancy at sixteen weeks because the mother wants that baby very much. The same hospitals will go through untold effort to make sure another one ends, because the mother says so.
Yes, I’ve heard the justifications. One of my friends who was horribly abused as a child is very pro-abortion because (she told me) “if my parents had aborted me, they wouldn’t have abused me.” This is insane in more ways than one. I shocked her and surprised her by telling her “They’d never have aborted you. They wanted you very much. They needed a scapegoat in the family.” I shocked her and made her think, but as with any such deep-set convictions, it wore off.
That’s essentially the justification for believing that those the mother wants (BTW this is very similar to the Spartan culling system, where the father chose which babies would be exposed and therefore weren’t human) are human and the others aren’t. It is believed wanted babies are happier or better cared for. In this it’s forgotten that mothers can want babies for all sorts of reasons, and that “wanting” is transitory, if all the ads to give away 1 year old, 4 year old, 7 year old dogs on Craigslist are any indication.
When I was eight years old, my mother – and no, she’s not a naturally cruel woman, but you’d have to have known me at eight. I’m sure I tried the patience of a saint – in the middle of a screaming argument, told me that I was only there because my father had found her appointment for her SECOND attempt at aborting me. He’d told her if she succeeded he would walk out. (Yes, there was a first. Yes, it might or might not have killed a twin, depending on what hint and mumble you believe. Unless pushed beyond endurance, mom will not discuss such things.)
So, you see, as far as “mother’s choice” goes, I am not human. Or does the choice change because when I was born extremely premature and riddled with the normal issues of such babies who are not given the most up to date assistance, she fought and spent a small fortune to keep me alive? (Because she doesn’t believe humanity is mother’s choice. And for the curious, there are extenuating circumstances. Mom believed – justifiably – that she should not have children. She also lived in a place and time where there was no contraception. It might have been technically available – I’m almost sure that condoms were – but if anyone bought them in the village, the ENTIRE VILLAGE WOULD KNOW. In a Catholic – it’s in the constitution – country like Portugal, back in the sixties, this could lead to ostracism or worse. So mom had an excuse for desperate measures. I don’t have to like it, but I admit it was there.)
Does it do something to you to know you were not wanted? Well, yes. It’s not helped by hearing things like asthma, which I had until I was 12, called “the illness of the unwanted child” which they did when I was small – apparently believing it mostly psychological. Thank heavens they don’t do that now. (And I can assure you it’s wrong. My second son was desperately wanted.)
However, even if the relationship with mom was always fraught until recent years, I LIKE being alive. I think even mom would agree that it would be a pity for her to have succeeded. (Well, she would agree now, I’m not a teen. But that’s sort of normal, right? I spent most of the boys’ teen years going “I should have stuck with cats. They can’t be mass murderers. No thumbs.”)
So, there’s my bias. I think I’m human. My mother would not have chosen me. Am I human? If you cut me, do I bleed?
It is of course, ritually required, at this point to say “of course I’m pro choice.” As with other ritual observances, I’m not going to that church.
“Pro-choice” is a nice, bland affirmation, avoiding all sharp jagged questions of the “who is human?” debate. Who isn’t pro-choice? I like choosing my clothes, and how I do my hair, and I like choosing what I eat and drink. But when it comes to choosing who is human, who chooses? And why? And does it make any sense? Does it make a bright, bright light so we know “this is like me. This I must not devalue, lest I devalue me”? Or is it hidden under the bed, and secretive, and case by case?
Mother’s choice of course evolved out of “women’s rights” because, well, doesn’t a woman have a right to her own body?
She most assuredly does. What she does not indeed have the right to is someone else’s body. I don’t particularly care where that body is. You can’t say “but it isn’t right to have a woman enslaved for months to bear some child” unless you have some other way for humans to come into the world. You want women not to be “enslaved” bearing children, you invent an external bio-womb. What you’re raging at is nature. It is inescapable. And please for the love of BOB don’t tell me “What if it’s a rapist’s child?” – we will go into that, but for now just rest assured (I’d bet you money) that you’re descended from hundreds of rapists. I guarantee it. Does that make you less human? No? Then why is a child less human because he or she was fathered by a scumbag? Let me assure you the tendency to rape is not hereditary, unless you believe the worst feminist claptrap where all penetration is violation. Every man alive is descended from rapists. And yet rape is a relatively rare occurrence. (Anyone bringing statistics from NOW which consider “I changed my mind” rape, will get hit but hard.)
Part of this is looking at pregnancies with the hysteria of adolescence. We all become crazy teeny boppers when we talk about it. “I don’t want this child in me foooooooorever”.
Yes, I’m fairly sure my first pregnancy (I HATE being pregnant. Yes, I love babies. Shut up. Are you always consistent?) lasted a geological age, give or take. But now, twenty one years later? It was a quick thing. I mean, you hear people say stuff like “We’ll have to live in this place till our house is built. Doesn’t matter much what. It’s a few months.” That’s all a pregnancy is to the mother. A few months. To the baby it’s life and a chance at liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“But Sarah,” you’ll say “What about when the life of the mother is at stake?”
Well, that is different, isn’t it. These are the dilemmas that try men’s souls. There the decision would have to go to the mother, being sound of mind, or the nearest relative if not. THAT is a case where it’s case by case. And for the record, with #1 son I made that decision. I had pre-eclampsia. BAD pre-eclampsia for which I spent much time in the hospital and the rest of the time flat on my back. I was told – argued at, cajoled – to have an abortion. I chose not to. I chose not to even though my husband would probably have chosen otherwise faced with losing me (The funny thing here is that every medical professional assumed he was the one not “letting” me have an abortion. Apparently abortion is such an unalloyed good that women will NATURALLY want one, if the husband doesn’t stop it.) It was not rational. I risked both our lives, for nine months (PLUS THREE DAYS. – yes, I resent that) in order to chance that he’d come through all right. It was what I had to do, because I wouldn’t be able to live knowing I’d killed him to go on.
Because that is the thing, see? I couldn’t fool myself what I was killing wasn’t a human being. We had worked too hard for that pregnancy, had ultrasounds from eight weeks in, KNEW he was there and was human.
So – am I saying all human life is human and therefore inviolable from the moment of conception?
I am and I’m not. My friend Kate is very afraid that if abortion is made illegal there will be a period police making sure that if you missed a period, you don’t abort. She says there are already laws criminalizing “bad behavior” while pregnant. Well, all right. There are laws criminalizing big gulps too (or were, in NYC) but there was no police measuring the cups. There wasn’t because it’s physically impossible. Even in a dystopian future, where a probe is inserted in each woman to notify you if she has bled, it would be impossible to correlate all the data and for human agents to take notice. (Now if law enforcement is all done by robots it can be done.) And the “mother’s bad behavior” thing is sort of like “hate crime” – persecutors will do that.
There is a time in every pregnancy where you can’t tell if it’s there. I don’t know what the timing is NOW, but in my day it was “before the second missed period” you’re not officially pregnant. I know that, because I miscarry early, and the only time I could get a doctor to intervene when it started, I had older son. BUT the doctor intervened because I was at a specialized infertility clinic. If I’d been at a regular hospital they’d have laughed at me.
I’d even go so far as to say that before the third missed period, a woman who wishes to fool herself (my mom, for instance who is, btw, anti-abortion) can say “I wasn’t really pregnant.”
And there are ways to stop a pregnancy WAY before that. Yes, contraceptives fail, but there’s the morning after pill. And if that fails, after the first missed period there are other interventions.
So, do I believe abortion should be illegal? All the time?
I believe we have enough laws in the books. I also believe murder is already illegal. Whether it should be illegal or not is something else. I can see reasons not to make it illegal. BUT legal or not, (yes, there’s legal murder — self-defense) when murder happens, we know the person killed was a human. That’s the important thing. It’s not done lightly even when justified, the person killed is not robbed of his humanity.
Should we do the same with abortion? Yes, there are justifiable causes (if the father decides to keep his wife and not the baby, say) but is the baby human? Until a woman gives birth to a litter of kittens, what a woman carries is a human being. After that penumbra of the first two months (when most miscarriages occur, many of them unknown) if a woman aborts a child, yes it is murder. It might be justified, but it is STILL killing a human. (It is the same in the first three months, but it is possible for people to fool themselves, and illusion is necessary for functioning human societies.) What did you think she was killing? A cabbage? It’s a human, made of the same stuff you are – and don’t give me brain function or not being able to survive on his own. By that definition, depending on who moves the line, you end up including everyone up to two years old. The Chinese do. Google China and dying rooms – to devalue him or her is to devalue yourself.
“Mother’s choice” is not working because it’s internally contradictory and nonsensical. How can a woman be pregnant five months, and then suddenly the baby in her stops being wanted and therefore stops being human?
What makes you human? Are you human? What if your mother changed her mind? Oh, you’re out of the womb? Why should that matter?
Science is forever pushing back that line at which the baby is viable. It’s also making other nightmares possible. I’m not linking it here, but a commenter sent me a link to a blog talking about how it’s either already being done, or it can be done, that the ovaries of aborted babies can be grown to maturity in a few months, outside the body, and then the eggs can be used for “infertility therapies” – yep, egg donors.
So, are the babies born of those eggs human? Why? Because their adoptive mother wants them? Their real mother never got to be human. How is that possible?
On the other side of that lies a chamber of unspeakable horrors.
We don’t need more laws. I grew up in a country where abortion was illegal. Page up to where mom tried to abort me once and had an appointment to do it again. It was illegal. I have reason to think mom had several others. I went to school with a girl who – at 17 – had had ten. (BTW, stories of coat hangers are mostly that. Oh, it might have happened once or twice. There are always the stupid and the isolated. Most abortions were administered by doctors, quietly, and they were very careful because they didn’t want to get caught. Most of them were also before the three month mark, for the same reason. If people already knew you were pregnant, no doctor would do it.)
Laws against abortion won’t stop it, until the culture changes. (Though at this point to stop the horrendous abortion mill-lobby, it’s almost worth it. Almost but not quite.)
Abortions will still happen if we teach people what makes you human is your mother’s choice to have you or not.
Humans are funny animals. RES said in comments “Oh, it’s easy to know what humans are. They are people like me. Not humans are those other people.”
This is at the basis of every human society. “We’re human. Those so and sos over there aren’t.”
The problem is, we’ve gone past tribes and we’re now looking at all of humanity. You don’t have a dividing line between “human and non-human” that hinges on facial features or how they eat or where they live doesn’t apply. And so the line has receded to “those who can’t fight back; those who can’t defend themselves.”
It’s a bad line. If you can’t tell why let me explain. As assuredly as I stand here, you too, no matter how vital, how strong, how full of assurance you’re human, had a time when others made decisions for you. And as sure as I stand here, unless you’re very lucky, there will be a time they will again.
Who is human? Make a decision that doesn’t hinge on case by case choice. Decide whether it’s “before ten weeks there’s a high likelihood it won’t stick, anyway” or “We can kill them till they’re eighteen if they don’t park the car right.” Make a decision and stick to it.
But before you do beware that people – normal people – will commit unspeakable crimes against those declared non human. Be sure it’s something you can endure and that seeing their remains won’t break your heart and twist that which IS human in you.
I’m a libertarian. It’s no part of my métier to tell you WHAT to choose. I’m not pro-choice because when I DID have to choose, there was no choice. It was “I can’t continue living with myself if I have him killed.” – that is me. When I have to choose I will choose life. And not even (just) human life. I’m not such a chowder head that I believe we must respect meat animals, (well, I wouldn’t be unnecessarily cruel.) The why of that is a discussion for another time. BUT until then, I am the woman who will drive hours away in a snow storm to pick up a litter of orphaned kittens who probably won’t survive even with the best care I can provide.
That’s my bias. I will choose life for humans and those animals which (living with us) partake a little of our humanity.
Your bias might be different. But don’t fool yourself that it’s obvious, that we have the only system that makes sense, or that “of course” it’s this way.
Choose carefully between human and non human. The wrong choice will leave you on the wrong side of it. And no one will help.