Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Wednesday, 09 May 2007

I'm going to try something new here, If you want to participate, there are a few rules.  If you don't want to participate, you can just follow along.  If nobody participates, I won't try this again.

I will ask a question.  You get one chance to answer it on this thread.  One.  Nobody can argue with it on this thread.  This thread is only for stating your thesis in answer to the question based on your experience, any research you do, and your personal thought process.  Each comment is a sort of mini-post on the part of the person posting it.  Do not respond to another person's comment.  Just make your own.  In one week, I will open up a discussion thread on this topic.  Take your time.  Make it your best effort you can put into it over the week.  Then you can get your fight on if you would like, when I post the discussion thread.

Question:  What definative measure should be used to determine "personhood" in society?  By what measure(s) should personhood be legally acknowledged by society, and by what measure should it be removed?  Do you have any theological, philosophical,historical, legal or medical support for your assertion? Does your definition necessitate any caveats, modifications or accomedations for certain states of being?  You don't have to address them here, but simply identifying them will help for clarity.

Reminder:  No multiple comments. No comments on other people's comments.  No argueing.  There will be time for that later.  Stay focused. Don't get distracted.  Bring your own personal knowledge, perspective and expertise to the table.I reserve the right to delete frivelous posts, multiple posts, posts that are obviously intended to disrupt or subvert the intent of the exercise, and also trolls and such.  Not that I expect anything of the sort, but you know how it is.  Other than that, only participate if you think this will be fun!


Wednesday, 09 May 2007 06:13:56 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [3] | #
Thursday, 10 May 2007 13:34:11 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
I'll start this show! (you bunch of chickens)

Since we are not determining when life begins (at conception), but when "personhood" is attained, I'm going to use the old "I think, therefore I am" argument.

After all, We are allowed to "pull the plug" on someone when they become brain dead. Does this mean they are no longer a person? Well, in legal and medical terms I guess it does. Why else would we be allowed to end the life of the body without being charged with murder? Yes, that is the correct wording. Without the functioning brain, it is only a body - not a person.

To think, you must have a brain - and that brain must be functional.

For a long, dry, boring (but interesting) read:

K.J.S. Anand, a leading researcher on pain in newborns, and P.R. Hickey, as published in New England Journal of Medicine in an article titled "PAIN AND ITS EFFECTS IN THE HUMAN NEONATE AND FETUS":

"Functional maturity of the cerebral cortex is suggested by fetal and a neonatal electroencephalographic patterns, studies of cerebral metabolism, and the behavioral development of neonates. First, intermittent electroencephalograpic bursts in both cerebral hemispheres are first seen at 20 weeks gestation; they become sustained at 22 weeks and bilaterally synchronous at 26 to 27 weeks. By 30 weeks, the distinction between wakefulness and sleep can be made on the basis of electroencephalo- graphic patterns. Cortical components of visual and auditory evoked potentials have been recorded in preterm babies (born earlier than 30 weeks of gestation), whereas olfactory and tactile stimuli may also cause detectable changes in electroencephalograms of neonates. Second, in vivo measurements of cerebral glucose utilization have shown that maximal metabolic activity in located in sensory areas of the brain in neonates (the sensorimotor cortex, thalamus, and mid brain- brain-stem regions), further suggesting the functional maturity of these regions. Third, several forms of behavior imply cortical function during fetal life. Well-defined periods of quiet sleep, active sleep, and wakefulness occur in utero beginning at 28 weeks of gestation. In addition to the specific behavioral responses to pain described below, preterm and full-term babies have various cognitive, coordinative, and associative capabilities in response to visual and auditory stimuli, leaving no doubt about the presence of cortical function."

In essence, what this means is that brain activity (electroencephalograpic bursts) begins at around 5 months after conception.

So - Personhood begins at around 5 months after conception.

Personhood ends when brain activity ceases and has no hope of being recovered.

That's my story and I'm stikin' to it... What say the rest of you?
Thursday, 10 May 2007 14:21:34 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
My big mistake in the other forum where this discussion was taking place, was that I glossed over the fundamentals of what I understand commonly constitutes “personhood”, and limited it to what I perceived the scope of the discussion to be. Clearly, this was a mistake, as others didn’t share my understanding of the terms.
So I’ll go over the basics of personhood as I understand them.

1) Independence. This means biological independence. Not relying on the biological systems of another to provide the environment necessary for life, and having biological systems that maintain themselves more-or-less independently. Nursing doesn’t count, because substitutes for nursing have always been available, though not as desirable as nursing, they have been adequate to support life. (I would have thought this obvious, as babies have survived the deaths of their mothers in childbirth for centuries.) Artificial heart valves don’t count either, because the valve is just one part of the system. Ditto pacemakers, feeding tubes, respirators and so on.

2) Autonomy. (what Paine called “Personal Competency”) Possessing and demonstrating an independent will. Some autonomy must be present for personhood. The degree of autonomy determines the level of agency the person can exercise on their own behalf.
Temporary interruptions in the ability to express autonomy where autonomy was expressed in the past, and it is reasonably assumed autonomy will be expressed in the future do not negate personhood (sleep, coma, seizure, etc.) Once again, you would assume this is obvious. Temporary transfer of agency is necessary, however.
A permanent and irreversible loss of all autonomy (brain death, Persistent vegetative state where it has been demonstrated that the required areas of the brain for conscious thought are destroyed and absorbed by the body, etc) would mean the loss of personhood.
Diminished capacity would require the transfer of agency to another party, but does not negate personhood.

3) Agency. The ability to act in accordance with the interests of the person. We allow for people to exercise varying degrees of agency on their own behalf depending on age, personal competency and other factors. Still, the agency is vested in them, and exercised on their behalf by others. The tendency is to give as much agency to individuals as is possible, and where it is necessary to give exercise of agency to others on their behalf, it is preferred to give it to the person they chose (power of attorney) or to those who are presumed to be most interested in their well-being (spouse, parent, adult child)

The first two are conditions determined by the state of the individual, and define personhood. The third is determined by interaction between the individual and society, and is the result of personhood.

A non-viable fetus does not possess any of these criteria.

A viable fetus could be argued to possess independence, but not autonomy, so the agency is fully vested in the mother.

A fetus that has reached the normal term considered standard for viability, but which will never be able to live outside the mother’s womb (such as in cases where the brain never developed beyond the brain stem)would not be considered independent, and would not be capable of ever gaining any level of autonomy.

A newborn, though they may require medical assistance, is clearly independent of the mother’s system, possesses some basic level of autonomy(can eat when hungry, refuse to eat when not hungry, cry when uncomfortable, etc.), but still cannot exercise a significant level of agency. After birth the agency for the child is exercised by the parents and, to whatever degree necessary, the state.

A mentally disabled adult, though possessing Independence and Autonomy, would not be able to exercise full agency in their own interest, but they should be enabled to exercise the degree of agency that they are capable of, without endangering their welfare.

An average , healthy adult has Independence, autonomy, and nearly complete exercise of agency, though his personal competency is limited by certain complexities in our society, such as the regulation of food safety, social justice, environmental standards, economy, etc. To manage this, he cedes some of his agency to the government, along with all the other people in society to employ it on his behalf, and exercises control in the form of votes, influence of his opinion on his representative, and his persuasiveness in civil debate and discourse.

A corporation is clearly independent, autonomous, and has agency vested in it. That agency is exercised in its behalf by the Officers, the Board of Directors, and the Stockholders (if public).

I will leave it to behavioral biologists to determine if other primates or animals have autonomy. I’m not qualified to answer that, but should they be determined at some point to have “personhood”, there would still be the question of their ability to exercise agency on their own behalf.

It the case of the chimp which is currently the “property” of the bankrupt zoo, the question is, can this chimp be sold into a situation that is not in its interest? Or should a guardian be assigned to exercise its agency in its best interest? Does it have a right to have its interest represented? Traditionally, no. But as we learn more about other primates, the question becomes more difficult to avoid.
That said, I’d rather we resolve the questions of social justice within our species in a rational way before we bring the debate to the genus level. Widening the scope before securing the fundamentals seems ill advised.
Saturday, 12 May 2007 21:56:23 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
Some incomplete thoughts:

The function of person hood is to decide what beings have moral and legal responsibility for their actions and what beings have rights as to the kind of treatment are they owed by others. I say there are two things to consider;
The nature of the being
The nature of possible interactions.

Nature of the being:
The majority of the experiences must be that one is: Conscious, rational, sentient, physically independent, and self-aware. So, sleeping does not count as one will awake, Comas are tricky because we don’t know if one will awake, vegetative state even more so. but tat is why we try to asses teh likelyhood of recovery. Early fetuses are tough as they will gain these traits, but I think you must first possess them.

Nature of interactions:
I think personhood is a social concept, so I include the ability to engage in social behaviour from a standpoint of being an individuated creature. So, ants are not individuated in their social behaviour. Babies get a lot of value from this one because they are paying attention and can be interacted with, though they don’t realize that there are two people involved yet. (I’m not really convinced of the personhood of babies who don’t smile….).

I think personhood exists on a continuum.
Persons in the fullest sense are aware of themselves as individuals and others as individuals. Because they are beings with the ability feel and act on pleasures and the pains of deprivation, they are beings with preferences and interests, have the ability to decide and pursue what is wanted. But tey also have the ability to recognize these traits in others. A normally functioning adult human is a clear example of a person. A rock lacks all the aforementioned features so rocks are not persons. Neither are insects nor trees plants. Full persons are owed certain things by others and have responsibilities towards others. In particular they should be allowed to live their life, as much as possible, the way they choose because they have preferences, can act on them and can act in accordance with the preferences of others.

Those beings lacking any of those aforementioned features have more or less personhood according to how many of the features they possess.

Late term fetuses and severely brain-damaged adults, have some limited degree of personhood as they are sentient and conscious. But they are completely dependent, lack rationality, self awareness and can only engage in limited social interaction.

Many nonhuman animals are more persons than late term fetuses and severely brain damaged humans. Many are more conscious, rational, sentient, independent, self aware and social than humans we protect. I cannot see depriving them of rights due to DNA, otherwise, the criteria is DNA and not everything I listed above. Even if those rights are nothing more than having their interests taken into consideration and/or being left alone. Like many humans though, they may lack certain rights as they are not capable of entering into certain social relationships.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to get Ann Coulter in the person category and my dog is now telling me I should go to bed.
a small penguin
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