Abortion, “The Fly” and the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem

"AWWW! He looks just like his father!"

“AWWW! He looks just like his father!”

The most interesting aspect of ethics is at the margins, those situations where absolutists are challenged to hold to their principles because of unforseen variations that no general analysis could anticipate. The absolute ban on torture as unethical becomes shaky under the “hidden nuclear bomb” scenario.  Capital punishment opponents find that their compassion evaporates when asked whether Hitler or bin Laden deserved execution.

This is the Ethics Incompleteness problem, which I last wrote about at length in March of 2014:

“The human language is not sufficiently precise to define a rule that will achieve its desired effects, that is work, in every instance. There are always anomalies around the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to temporarily abandon the system or rule and return to basic principles to find the solution. No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.”

I was watching the Jeff Goldblum remake of “The Fly” (written and directed by David Cronenberg) last night, and rather than being properly horrified by Geena Davis’s nightmare of giving birth to a yard long fly larva, I found myself wondering how anti-abortion absolutists would handle her unusual dilemma. The film follows the tragedy of scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum ) who has developed a means of teleportation. The process involves a computer breaking down a body, then transmitting the atoms electronically to a receiving “pod,” and reassembling them there. Unfortunately, when Seth tests the device on himself, an unnoticed fly gets into the sending pod, and the result is a version of Brundle that has fly DNA mixed in. (In the memorably campy Vincent Price original, what arrived in the receiving pod was a man with a giant fly head and a fly with a tiny human head.) Gradually Brundle mutates in form and mind into a monstrous hybrid, but before he knows what has happened to him, he impregnates girl friend Davis. Soon she realizes that something with insect DNA is gestating inside of her, though all tests show a healthy human embryo. Not surprisingly, she wants an abortion.

Would those who argue that abortion is murder maintain that she shouldn’t be able to have one, or that aborting the fetus is wrong? Let’s make the problem harder: let’s say she only learns that she has a fly-baby in the third trimester, when our laws wil not permit abortions unless the mother’s life is in peril. Some questions:

1.The baby looks human, even though, by this point, the father does not. Would we take the position that an abortion would be lawful and ethical because this isn’t a human baby? Seth Brundle, though mutated, presumably has all of his rights as a citizen and human being, regardless of his new fly component. How would we deny the same to his son, who is arguably more human than he is, being only 25% fly, rather than 50%?

2. Would abortion opponents who make  (illogical and hypocritical) exceptions for rapes and incest only really argue that these are better reasons to abort than the knowledge that your unborn child isn’t fully human, or even fully primate?

3. Is the proper analogy the abortion of a seriously deformed embryo? Nothing in the tests show that little Buzz (I think that’s what I would name him) isn’t healthy. The analogy now defaults to the question of whether to abort a child with a high probability of possessing a so-called “lethal” gene. Under current law, however, such an abortion would not be legal so late in the pregnancy.

4. Davis says that if no one will abort Buzz, she will do it herself. Should that have any bearing on the decision whether to permit the abortion?

Note that through all of this, the proud father has turned into something that looks like an animated meat loaf and is running around dissolving people’s hands by spitting up on them. I would conclude that the Ethics Incompleteness Principal applies to the ethics of the situation (the law is another matter), and that of course a woman is not behaving unethically to abort an unborn child that she knows is a part-human, part insect monstrosity. I am not sure I wouldn’t approve of her throwing it out the window after it was born. Obviously I would apply the same logic to Rosemary’s Baby.

Do you agree?


104 thoughts on “Abortion, “The Fly” and the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem

  1. Hi Jack,

    Happy New Year!

    I disagree with a couple of your points.

    First, I disagree that little Buzz would be 33% fly. Assuming Dad is 50% fly, wouldn’t that make Buzz 25% fly?

    Second, and more seriously, I don’t see why the exception for rape is either illogical or hypocritical. I am against abortion, though I would hardly describe myself as an absolutist. As I understand it, the crux of the pro-abortion argument is that women should be able to choose what to do with their bodies, hence the “pro-choice” moniker.

    The problem I have with this is that they already got to make a choice when they decided to have sex. In my view, this substantially weakens the pro-choice position. In the case of rape, though, a woman hasn’t had any choice. By definition, it’s been forced on her. Now the argument that she should be allowed to choose what to do with her own body carries more weight. To me, this puts rape precisely in the “unforeseen variation” category you’re addressing here.

    Regarding point 4, my answer would be no. If I think an action is unethical I don’t see why someone threatening to do it themselves, even if it risks them botching it and causing harm to themselves or others, should affect my decision about whether to assist them. Perhaps there are exceptions that at the moment don’t occur to me, but an abortion wouldn’t be one of them.

    Those points aside, I agree with your premise. Buzz is an aberration, like Rosemary’s Baby, and ethical considerations about abortion go out the window, along with Buzz if he is born.

    One last nitpick: I cut and pasted “unforseen variation”. The spell checker didn’t like “unforseen”. Apparently it has an e after the r.

    • 1. Yup, it’s 25%, not 33%. I’ll fix that.

      2. If the objection to abortion is that it is taking a human life that should have the right to live, how that human life came to live is irrelevant. It’s hypocritical, because it adopts the pro-abortion orientation—the mother’s interests trump any interest that the child may have—only in those cases. It’s also unethical: who am I to say that having the child of a rapist is worse than having an accidental child when a women is too young, doesn’t have resources and has different life plans? If the issue is life, then rape and incest are irrelevant. I think the choice argument is a “gotcha!” Most unwanted pregnancies were not, in fact, “choices.”

      3. I agree with you on 4.

      • Re #2 — Jon was making the point that the “choice” was to have sex. The consequence of that choice is often pregnancy. The choice precedes the pregnancy, wanted or not. But…

        This is where I get hung up. I am pro-life* and I get his point about rape and incest victims not getting that pre-pregnancy choice, therefore making their cases for abortion more palatable. But. I get hung up here for the very reason that Jack mentions: “who am I to say that having the child of a rapist is worse than having an accidental child when a women is too young, doesn’t have resources and has different life plans?” I was a single mother as the result of a choice I made to have sex with someone. Had that someone been a rapist, I can’t imagine that I would have had an abortion. (But who’s to say, 26 years later?) Anyway, IF there were a case upon which my pro-life stance could possibly suffer from the Ethical Incompleteness Problem, it might be such a case. On the other hand, there are several alternatives to abortion, and there is no guarantee that the process of going through a pregnancy that occurred through rape would proverbially “ruin the life” of the victim. The pregnant rape victim, who didn’t have a choice at the beginning of the pregnancy certainly has choices besides abortion. This kind of thinking, of course, requires the community to take some responsibility and help the victim and the child.

        * womb-to-tomb pro-life, but complicated because I follow The Seamless Garment concept put forth by the late Cardinal Bernardin, which includes how folks are treated between the womb and the tomb, and not just regarding capital punishment or euthanasia/assisted suicide, but the concern for a human being’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care, etc.

        • I could be wrong, but I think the caveats to rape and incest aren’t done in good faith. Maybe I said that wrong…. But there’s an element of law and politics in here that make this complicated. There’s a difference between telling someone to lie in the bed they made, and forcing them to lie in the bed someone else made.

          If you think that abortion is unethical regardless of the circumstances, you might still understand the world we live in, and I think that if we wanted to legislate that women be forced to carry a child conceived of rape the laws would never pass. There’s an ick factor. It’s like a child of incest… There’s no real damage done to the mother in the case of two consenting family members…. There’s just ick. It’s so much Ick that we don’t want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. I think those people aren’t making good faith exceptions so much as compromising for the sake of tangible gains. Jack is right, from an ethical standpoint, those exceptions make no sense.

          • Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but I read you as arguing two contradictory points.

            “There’s a difference between telling someone to lie in the bed they made, and forcing them to lie in the bed someone else made.” This is my point exactly. I’m not sure if you meant to address my argument at the end of your post, but I don’t think that by considering a pregnancy resulting from rape as different from one resulting from consensual sex that I’m compromising for the sake of making tangible gains at all. (I’m not even sure what kind of tangible gains I’d be trying to make. While I’m interested in this topic, it’s hardly something I spend any time lobbying anybody on, other than commenting here.) I just think it’s not clear at all in the case of rape what the answer is.

            I did a brief internet search of rankings of crimes in order of seriousness and in all of them rape wasn’t far behind murder. It seems incredibly unjust to force a rape victim to then carry the child who resulted from that rape to term.

            I’m not completely convinced that this outweighs the interests of the baby, though. By the way, Jack, I never said that the mother’s interests trump the interests of the baby. What I said, or intended to convey, anyway, was that now we have two competing sets of interests and that a valid argument can be made for each. I still fail to see what’s hypocritical about that.

            One other point: in the case of incest as you described, Humble Talent, between two consenting family members, I don’t think an exception should be made. The ick factor is irrelevant.

            • The point I was making is that while I understand the difference in circumstances as experienced by the mother, the experiences of the child are exactly identical, and that life is innocent.

              When we talk about the reasons why abortion is unethical, we don’t say it’s ethical or unethical because the mother shouldn’t have control over her body, we say that the child is innocent, and it’s an ethically crap position to end that life. Sometimes we have better reasons than others to do something unethical, but that doesn’t mean the behavior becomes ethical per se. (Is it unethical to steal? Yes. What if you’re starving? Still yes. What if your kids are starving? Still yes. But each permutation is more understandable than the one before it.) But at the end of the day, the child is still innocent. A life. Potential. And none of that changes because her father was an asshole or her mother was stupid.

              And so, if the ethical consideration is based upon the unborn, and the circumstances do not change from the perspective of the unborn, the circumstances of conception are essentially non-ethical considerations.

              Couple of choice quotes:

              “(I’m not even sure what kind of tangible gains I’d be trying to make. While I’m interested in this topic, it’s hardly something I spend any time lobbying anybody on, other than commenting here.)”

              Believe it or not, my comment wasn’t for you specifically, or in a vacuum. The language around abortion as spoken by policy makers is that there are exceptions for rape and incest. And I believe that those exceptions are based on the political expediency of compromise, they garner more support with the exception than they would without them, and not a reflection of their genuine beliefs.

              “It seems incredibly unjust to force a rape victim to then carry the child who resulted from that rape to term.”

              Force is an ugly word. And I don’t recall once suggesting we do that. There’s a difference between forcing someone not to do something, and labelling them an ethically bankrupt monster when they do it. Aborting a child conceived of rape might be more understandable… Might mitigate the monstrousness, but doesn’t make it ethical.

              “What I said, or intended to convey, anyway, was that now we have two competing sets of interests and that a valid argument can be made for each. I still fail to see what’s hypocritical about that.”

              Because when we talk about abortion, there are two separate topics: The Laws associated with it, and the ethics of it. Her body, her choice, is an ultimate legal argument. That doesn’t make the abortion ethical. Abortions aren’t ethical when you consider all parties involved, and even if you want to approach it as a zero-sum game, her discomfort is still not as ethically significant as the child’s life.

    • Actually, it’s likely that the baby would be more than 75% human, but not less, as we share DNA with all sorts of eukaryotic organisms, flies included (see Punnett’s Square and other genetics information). For me, abortion breaks down to one very simple consideration; is the child human. Matters of convenience or consent don’t amount to the child being guilty of a capital crime.There are differences of opinion about what point humanness is reached, but it is this very lack of consensus that convinces me that conception is the only logical answer. All other arguments can be handily destroyed. This isn’t a human being. Put up the fly tape.

      • Ick Factor. Let’s put Abraham’s test to it. If the child is 99% human, 1% anything else, is it ethical to kill it? 98%? 90%? What’s the cut-off? What’s human? I’d say the offspring wouldn’t be seen as anything other than a severely handicapped child. I could see a % cut off at 50%, anything less than 50% human gets a whole separate set of ethical considerations.

        • Your percentage dilemma is essentially the same as us declaring that abortion is murder beyond a certain gestational period. It’s why the only point that makes sense is conception.

          • I disagree. I’d like to see explanation of that.

            But let’s say I did agree, it would seem then that the “Life begins at conception” errs on the side of letting babies live as early as possible because even the smallest amount of humanity counts as human…. which should then lead YOU to believe that in the percentage game, even a 1% human hybrid is protected from abortion…to err on the side of the smallest amount of humanity.

            • To me, it’s apples and oranges. Flybaby is an unholy aberration. As far as human abortion, period of gestation does not correlate to degree of humanity. If it did, it could be argued that you’re not fully human until you’re in your early 20’s, as you’re still developing. Some people say that the cutting off point is when the baby feels pain. In that case, killing people after fully anesthetizing them shouldn’t be illegal. Some say when the heart is beating. Why? Humans are routinely given circulatory system support in many various forms. some say it’s the age of viability. The mean age of viability has been decreasing with the advent of improved technology, and there are many individual cases of preemies surviving at much younger ages. There are even some who believe that it’s right up until the baby’s head leaves the vagina, and as you probably know, babies have died by having their cervical spine snipped by monstrous pieces of shit that call themselves doctors. I almost forgot about the ghouls that believe it’s not until a baby takes its first breath. I could go on and on and on, as there are so many rationalizations I’ve lost count. It seems to me that they all have less to do with defining life, and more to do with what different people find palatable. The only point that makes sense is conception. The template for everything in this person’s corporeal existence has been set, and everything after occurs on a smooth continuum, right up until death.

              • Your expositions sounds precisely like what I was thinking when I said I disagreed. If it is apples and oranges then the percentage dilemma is not same as the gestational period dilemma (as you claimed they were the same).

                So now I would still like an answer to the Abraham test.

              • To me, the fact that we could actually end up having partial-birth abortions become acceptable to even a small segment of our society and our legislators tells me that our collective moral compass is unsound, and that we need to reassess this issue knowing that we’ve been de-sensitized to the truly violent and abhorrent nature of it.

            • ‘errs on the side of letting babies live as early as possible because even the smallest amount of humanity counts as human’

              Say it isn’t so!

              ‘1% human hybrid is protected from abortion…to err on the side of the smallest amount of humanity.’

              First, I’m not sure that aborting animals is ethics free. It might have different ethics, but I’m pretty sure that giving abortions to animals because you think it’s fun is still a pretty shitty thing to do.

              Second, The argument could be made that Buzz does have a right to life…. I’m not sure I would make that argument myself, I like the escape the incompleteness principle offers me, but in playing Devil’s advocate: At what point does a life lose the protection of being a ‘human’ life?

                • I think it’s an answer to the percentage game. Certain Primates have DNA that is 98% identical to us. I don’t know what does or does not make a human…. But I’m pretty sure that we can say what is and is not life.

                  So that’s where I’m coming from, let’s assume the offspring is 100% fly. Is it ethical to abort the fly?

                  • Let me clarify and see if you’ll answer then-

                    Ignoring the shared DNA… Taking that 2% that exclusively says “genetically human”- and expand that to our continuum. With the low end being 0% and the high end 100%. Now we can talk about “diluting” the genetic humanity. What then is your answer?

                    • Diluting humanity? We get Swamp People on The History Channel.

                      But in seriousness…. irrelevant? This is kind of philosophical. If the question is: Is it ever ethical to abort for convenience, I don’t know that the answer can ever be yes. Is it ethical to have an abortion because your baby will be deformed? I just can’t answer yes.

                      And then, is the answer really broken down to a percentage of human genetic material, or the fact that the unborn is an innocent life? I get that the ethics of killing baby animals might be different than killing human babies, but I don’t think we huck ethics out the window the moment we lose a certain amount of genetic code.

                    • ” I get that the ethics of killing baby animals might be different than killing human babies, but I don’t think we huck ethics out the window the moment we lose a certain amount of genetic code.”

                      Good, then you too recognize that this thought experiment has little to do with human abortion and more to do with abortion at all…

                      However, inside this last sentence you’ve created a conundrum for yourself. 1st you acknowledge there may be 2 sets of ethical formulae for 2 different situations. Then you don’t want to chuck ethics out the window because the situation changes. Neither do I. But Yes, the entire thought experiment is WHICH ethical formula applies, when the 2 situations are MIXED.

                      I think the percentage question IS valid.

                      We either say:

                      1) If ONE iota of “humanity” is found in the fetus, does 100% of the human ethical formula apply?

                      2) If even 1 bit of “non-humanity” is found in the fetus, does 100% of the non-human ethical formula apply?

                      3) Is there a percentage cut off for either formula to apply?

                      4) Does the gray area create a 3rd ethical formula to apply to the scenario.

                      None of the questions have been answered except by a few on here who seem to say one bit of dilution means chuck the human formula out the window and treat the fetus like a monster…

  2. Being generally pro-life / anti-abortion, I could concede a “monster clause” type of exception and hope that death penalty opponents could do the same. Giant fly mutants running around just won’t do.

  3. There is no crime in being part-insect; therefore, killing the unborn part-insect child would have no justification. Abortion is really this black and white. Since it is a crime to murder people, and the father of the child is murdering people by dissolving them, he could justifiably be summarily swatted if approaching a potential victim, under the doctrine of self-defense/public safety. Unless (or even until) the child begins dissolving people, there is simply no justification to kill it, although common sense would suggest it be institutionalized/quarantined immediately.

    The child-monster hybrid is really is not all that hypothetical a question. There is research that has attempted to produce human-primate hybrids, for instance. There are even rumors, I am uncertain how true, that some of these hybrid embryos were able to successfully complete at least a few rounds of mitosis in a petri dish, before being aborted by researchers. Treating life as beginning at the moment of conception, such research that deliberately cripples the embryo with foreign genetic matter is unethical. To then abort the resulting crippled individual only turns this into a train-wreck.

    By abortion, I wish to clarify that I only include actions that deliberately target the embryo or fetus for termination. Aggressive treatments that target a proportional illness, such a giving chemo therapy to a pregnant women experiencing cancer, foreseeably place the fetus at risk, but need not be withheld.

    The hypothetical incest-child bearing mother example is analogous to rape. She certainly never consented to conceiving such a monstrosity, and is herself a victim. (This following part might sound condescending, but it is compassion and giving the benefit of the doubt at work within black and white abortion ethics). To wish to harm or destroy the fetus is understandable, given her distressful situation, however terminating the fetus is simply not ethical. The child has a right to life, even if its debilitating condition means it must live in isolation. That she threatens to do it herself has no bearing; there is no compelling interest to aid in such unethical behavior. Aborting a conceived child is always wrong.

    Now, to address the purely science-fiction elements, if the contaminated genetic material were directly teleported into her uterus, and began to grow, the ethics would be less clear. In the former situation, the hybrid is conceived through ordinary means, and is indisputably morally human. In the latter, it might be considered a clone and thus protected, or it might be considered a pathogen and considered treatable.

    Even if the teleported material contained genetic material from the male researcher, it would not necessarily be a “fetus”. There is no ethical issue against manipulating adult cells to change their cell type, for instance to repair or replace a hypothetical damaged organ. Even if the teleported material grew into some sort of recognizable form, it might still be ethically destroyed, because it is not unethical to remove a diseased organ.

    The bottom line is that if conception were chosen at the moment human life begins, there is no ethical reason to destroy that life until it criminally harms someone. Criminal behavior, by definition can only occur outside the uterus, thus abortion under any circumstances is unethical. With a fly-child, the ethics of the situation depend on whether a child was conceived, either through natural or artificial means. If a child, even a severely disable child, were conceived, no abortion may take place; if no child were conceived, there is no abortion to take place.

    • The threshold question on which you are assuming an answer is this: Is a fly child a human being, or something else? What if a woman were going to give birth to a 100% fly? Surely you wouldn’t argue it should be treated as human purely because the mother is human, when it is the mother who rejects it. Is 75% human still human? Chimp DNA is more like ours than the fly baby’s…

      • This finally seems like the perfect time to ask for a discussion about whether a gorilla or a bear would win a fight to the death at some point. This too is a conundrum that needs answering, at least to me.

      • Well, I answered the question mostly to address the actually research involving human hybrids. Even with the hybrids, “humanity” is a somewhat open question. If an ape sperm and human egg (or visa versa) were successfully coaxed together, has a human child been conceived? I cannot answer that question; I find the risk of exterminating a child too high to allow such experimentation, however.

        With 100% fly, it would be analogous to the horror trope of the insects laying eggs within a human host; it would be unquestionably ethical to exterminate the parasites. In the movie situation above, I think the ethical analysis hinges on the healthy prenatal scans; there is no evidence of horrific disability (monsteritous?), regardless of “percent fly”.

        The ethics of double effect might be applicable; having a fly hybrid inside her is a clear, though unknown and unknowable threat to the woman’s health. I would not, I suppose, object to inducing labor, even prematurely, so that the fly-child could be born live and medically attended in quarantine, even if it might die due to lack of development later. (I accept that this approach might also be appropriate for some high risk pregnancies in real life). I simply cannot, however, tolerate directly destroying an unborn child under any circumstances, including gross genetic contamination.

    • “Now, to address the purely science-fiction elements, if the contaminated genetic material were directly teleported into her uterus, and began to grow, the ethics would be less clear. “

      Less clear? That just sounds like science fiction rape to me…

      Does this thought experiment really answer questions about abortion among humans? Or does it merely expand the question to ALL living things which reproduce?

      • To be fair of course after the scientists raped the woman by teleporting something inside of her, one would certainly need to determine what exactly was teleported inside of her to determine solutions. If it’s a human that was forced inside of her, the same rape ethics apply. If it isn’t a human that was forced inside of her, then cut it out…

        (by the way the scientist ought to be shot)

        This sounds like a great LMN and SYFY crossover movie…

          • But is it less clear? Forcibly shoving a foreign object into a woman through her private parts is a kind of rape just as forcibly impregnating her is another kind. I think we already have the framework in place for making these judgments regardless of if technology makes the vehicle of rape cosmetically different.

  4. First of Happy New Year to everyone!

    While I would agree that tossing the “fly baby” out a window, following birth, would be the first thought that would pop into my head and would applaud the show’s mommy, I am against aborting babies. So please pardon my simplistic outlook on this, but would the question raised change if we looked at this issue from a societal or tribal point of view?

    What if we had an island, let’s say in the Pacific, inhabited by fly people? On this island they maintained a civilization that conducted itself as most countries do in that they built a civilization, worked hard, produced goods, and interacted with the rest of the world in a very positive manner. Would we feel obliged to “nuke” them, e.g. abort them, out of existence even though from all appearances, they appeared as clones of “Seth Brundle”?
    Changing the circumstances around, if the fly people exhibited behavior that removed all doubt as to whether or not my personal well-being would be threatened (insert Islamic State here), then I would support “aborting them and the sooner the better.

    It would seem that when you address this question from the national perspective, with all the very unique and individual people that make up this country, trying to impose ones standards will invariably please some and p— others off. Should we have had a national standard on the question of abortion or would it have been more practical to have allowed local laws to dictate what we can or cannot do in this regard? I do realize this issue may be beyond change, but it appears that whenever we get involved in a national debate on something, you have invited everyone with an opinion that covers every nuance and shade, to speak up, making it difficult to arrive at a true majority consensus.

    I am also anti-drugs though I do not feel threatened by anyone claiming to be from Colorado. So, they are safe, at least for the moment.

    Perhaps it is the scope of the issue that makes it a difficult question to resolve? Maybe working on issues locally would achieve better results. This would at least free up the federal government so it could concentrate on those things that are easier to achieve at the national level, like for instance, defending this country.

    Just a thought and I hope I am not being unethical. It would one heck of a way to start a new year!

    • In addition to my ramblings that were posted after yours, I have always believed that abortion was not an appropriate law-making action by the US Supreme Court. (And its use of the “privacy” right was a real stretch, considering the Constitutional mandate for the Supremes.) The issue should have been discussed and decided in state legislatures, whereby the mores and culture of each jurisdiction could be decided. Why is legalizing marijuana in certain jurisdictions all right, but abortion is a federal issue? Frankly, I think Colorado was wrong, but I’m not part of the Colorado culture, and we will have to wait a while to see what good or ill comes out of it.

      On the abortion issue, I still think it should be thrown back to the States, for each individual jurisdictional culture (and they do differ widely) to make decisions.

    • “What if we had an island, let’s say in the Pacific, inhabited by fly people? On this island they maintained a civilization that conducted itself as most countries do in that they built a civilization, worked hard, produced goods, and interacted with the rest of the world in a very positive manner. “

      We keep Ireland around, and they haven’t reached those standards you established for the Flyland…could we loosen the standards some?

  5. Okay, this response will be all over the map, I know, And I also know I will receive all the “slippery slope” arguments from other readers. I am against abortion (especially for those yuppies who want a boy instead of a girl, e.g., or a blue-eyed versus brown-eyed child. Don’t argue: it happens all the time). This has become a eugenics nightmare. And if the pregnancy is “inconvenient” for your career and life plan? Your conception “accident” has led to the creation of another human being? Can your ‘convenience’ be the deciding factor in whether you allow it to live?

    And if you learn from pre-natal testing that your baby will have serious health problems, can you just decide to kill it? Worse eugenices nightmare. And what about poor women who regularly use abortion as birth control? There are those who think they should take this tack more often: the number of babies growing up in our society in poverty and without fathers in their lives is astounding. And you can thank Planned Parenthood for that: I’m pretty sure Planned Parenthood kills more babies than it prevents the conception of same: contraception has been around for a long time, and easy abortions should not be in that equation.

    (And pardon me, but I also hearken back to Hitler, who only wanted to “purify” the “Aryan Race,” by either killing or sterilizing those not deemed to be “up to snuff” for meeting his goals. He was and is considered a monster. But with things the way they are, I think we’re on that same road, and it’s pretty scary.

    But is it the right of the rape-victim mother to decide that she doesn’t want to gestate a baby created BY FORCE by a violent sociopath? Or the woman who finds out that her much-loved scientist has become part INSECT? What does the medical/legal establishment do if this (25%/33%) DNA-combined infant is actually born? Kill it? Study it? This extreme sci-fi example reveals — horrifically — why this woman (among others) would be terrified to bring certain babies to term. (Insects ARE sociopaths, of course: Jeff Goldblum was right about that: survival the only instinct, no love, morality, ethics there.) When he begs, in the movie, that Geena Davis leave and not come back because he’s sure he’ll end up “hurting” (read “eating”) her, he had enough humanity left within him to scare the crap out of her and get her out of there. Why would one assume she would take a “wait and see” attitude toward this part insect she had growing inside her?

    The child of a rape victim, we all agree, would not necessarily become a rapist. The child of a sociopath, would not necessarily become a sociopath. The child of incest has a particular problem, however; since the combination of familial genes has long been proven to be a huge negative in the possible production of a “normal” child. An even greater eugenics nightmare.

    In the movie, tho, it is pretty clear that non-human DNA would have to be a special case. I only feel absolutely certain that the this would be the deciding cause for an abortion. (And Jack, you have it wrong: Geena Davis’ character learned pretty early on — first trimester — about the human vs. fly problem. It may have been a bit later on that she made a firm decision — after watching the love of her life turn into an insect — but wasn’t she right to be terrified about what she was gestating?)

    All human life — in embryo — is sacred to me. What we as a society have yet to figure out is when or if there is a stronger moral imperative to occasionally not let these embryos grow and develop and be born. i don’t see any easy answers. And I don’t think the dialogue on this is honest in the least.

    If this incident in “The Fly” brings up this issue again for serious discussion, then you’ve done a real service, Jack.

    Finally, if you’re still reading this, why do we not see — and discuss — the fact that most pro-lifers also tend to support capital punishment for violent felons? If all life is sacred, then all life is sacred. And why then should a woman not make her own choice when the government makes that choice for criminals all the time? Just another conundrum in this entirely baffling debate. In fact, I believe that once a human being has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not worthy or able of being a member of our society as it is constituted then it is the right of the government to have him executed.

    • “If all life is sacred, then all life is sacred. And why then should a woman not make her own choice when the government makes that choice for criminals all the time? Just another conundrum in this entirely baffling debate. “

      This is not a $#&*!%*&(@@ conundrum. This NEVER has been. This is just an anti-capital punishment obfuscation. INNOCENT life is sacred and to be protected. A flippin murderer IS NOT INNOCENT LIFE.

  6. 1.I’d think anything greater than 50% human would merely constitute a severely deformed child and those ethics apply (should read as do not abort). For less than 50%, I’m undecided.

    2. Good thing I’m consistent on those so-called exceptions.

    3. Yes, that’s the proper analogy. But the real question that remains to be seen is how much foreign genetic material would change the humanity… don’t we all have a certain percentage of neanderthal in us?

    4. No, this doesn’t change the calculations. Should I kill my neighbor because I heard someone on the street is already planning on doing it? Nerp.

    Does this not really just open the abortion question to all animals as opposed to clarify any questions in regards to humans? I don’t think this changes any considerations made by the anti-abortion crowd.

  7. My take on this is rather alien compared to how most people think of it, since I don’t use most of their a priori assumptions, having built my ethics system from scratch. I prioritize conscious entities, and base my ethics system on promoting consciousness.

    To me, human and person are not synonymous. That means that a person need not be human, but it also means that a human need not be a person. Less conscious humans may include not only humans who are brain-dead or raving mad, but also humans who walk and talk among us, just like everyone else, and simply don’t think on their own initiative, relying on animal reasoning expressed with human vocabularies.

    Neither do I see personhood as a binary. There is a minimum background level of consciousness (for all intents and purposes none at all), possessed by inanimate objects, but consciousness has no real upper limit. It’s bad when any conscious being is destroyed, but it’s slightly less bad when the being is less conscious. It’s less bad when animals die than when people die, but it’s still the destruction of a consciousness. Yes, I do have a detailed definition of what consciousness is and the many ways in which it can be expressed.

    My theory of consciousness is slightly complicated by the idea of the gestalt consciousness: conscious beings working together can form a more powerful consciousness through their interactions. It is likewise complicated by the idea of reincarnation: conscious beings with significant similarities in their fundamental traits are different incarnations of the same concept and share part of their identity, to the extent that if one dies they can be said to still exist in a way, reflected in the other. Since members of an animal species often live basically the same life, I would say that for most animal species, many individuals are basically the same individual, and so the death of one is no great loss. I also believe in the validity of the omniverse (all universes “exist”, and so nobody actually stops existing), but I’m not going into that in this post.

    As far as I can tell, a human starts out as an inanimate cell, formed by two inanimate cells fusing. At some point between then and infancy, it starts developing a consciousness on par with an animal, but much more geared towards learning. This consciousness develops throughout childhood until it becomes an average human, a rather mediocre being with vast potential that it usually doesn’t bother reaching, being distracted or intimidated into stagnation by the rest of society. This exists for decades until it either dies or degenerates due to a breakdown in the integrity of the brain and then dies. (I hope technology eventually advances to the point where we don’t have to die, but if we don’t first find a way of getting rid of powerful people who screw up the world other than waiting for them to die of old age, we’re doomed.)

    I see an abortion as a waste of a healthy body that could develop a healthy consciousness, but ultimately I have no reason to believe that the entity perceives itself ceasing to exist, either because it does not perceive itself at all or because it would simply “wake up” in another version of itself somewhere else. That said, an adult human dying gets a similar regard from me except that it has had more invested in it and is much more differentiated from its fellow conscious beings, making it more tragic in my eyes. However, a person can be said to live on through their effects on the world and by inspiring others to become like them, and there is nothing to regret from dying after having a positive impact on the world.

    My chosen role in this paradigm is to help increase the level of consciousness in the world in general. On the small scale, I play this role by protecting, nurturing, educating, and empowering conscious beings as best I can. I err on the side of caution and respect by treating living humans as if they were people. I find that such treatment also helps them be more like people than they were being before.

    Though I wish to protect consciousness, sometimes the existence of a conscious entity is mutually exclusive with other highly desirable outcomes (though there is no excuse for not trying to think of ways to obviate the choice and save everyone). Sometimes there is no right answer, or at least none one can know in advance. The ability to make tough decisions and live with them, the ability to sacrifice while retaining full awareness of and respect for the importance of what one is sacrificing, is a skill just as important as nurturing is. This is a reality of existence, and I respect that some people will make different decisions about the no-win situations in which they find themselves than I would have in their place. I just try to make the decision that will best promote consciousness in the world, and in the vast majority of cases that involves helping people not die.

    With all that in mind, I would try to terminate a fly-hybrid gestating inside me, for my own protection. I could not be sure it wouldn’t try to eat its way out or otherwise harm me. If I’d already given birth? I would not kill it. Studying it would lead to great advances in science, and it might still lead a happy life, depending on how much its consciousness developed.

    • Have you ever read “The Physics of Consciousness” or “The Quantum Mind”? If not, I highly recommend them, though it seems that you have an awareness of some of the premises of the books. I believe that reality (our consensus reality) is made manifest by consciousness, and that there really is no subject-object differentiation, at least as we usually understand it. I believe the universe is becoming self-aware through its sentient beings.

          • Thanks for the recommendations, joed68! They look very relevant to my interests. Unfortunately I’m in engineering school at the moment, so it’ll be a while before I can appreciate them in full. It’s good to know that they exist, though, and looking them up has led me to several other interesting works. I would also recommend to you the blog “Wait But Why”; I was recently linked to an article entitled “A Religion for the Nonreligious.” I haven’t gotten the chance to explore the blog very much, but I think much of its content deals with consciousness.

  8. The whole premise is silly, Jack! There’s no question of this sort of thing happening because teleportation is a non-science that breaks the laws of physics. Like time travel, it’s a good plot device for movies and television, but nothing more. However, the question of abortion can arise in the case of a drug deformed or otherwise infected fetus. The best rule of thumb is Nature’s. If a fetus is unviable, it will die before birth through miscarriage. If it actually WERE to involve non-human DNA, then you don’t have a human fetus to begin with. Therefore, removing the fetus is no act of murder, but rather the removal of an unnatural monster.

    • At one point in time, there was a serious question of whether I qualified as H.Sap or not.

      The question was soon resolved, it was affirmed that biologically, I was classified as human.

      However, if that were not the case, I’d still argue that I am a person. On the simple basis that any entity capable of asserting its personhood is one. Any entity capable of writing this comment, and considering the ethical issues, is one.

      I would also argue that a hydatidiform mole, even though it is a product of conception and with no more difference from the human norm in its DNA than I have, is not. Personhood does not begin at conception.

      • It’s called DNA, Zoe. It defines us. That may be the most sophistic line of blather I’ve ever heard out of you. You managed to say exactly zero and attempt to make it appear profound! Did you learn this stuff in school or did it seep in from your coffee house clatch?? Good Lord…

        • Indeed. It’s the point I’m slowly trying to pull out of people with my percentage cut-off inquiries.

          Of course there must be some no-less-than genetic standard as a component however…an extremely well programmed Artificial Intelligence doesn’t warrant the same protections that an extremely mentally disabled child does.

      • What does “entity” mean and what does “asserting” mean?

        A nearly perfectly programmed Artificial Intelligence doesn’t qualify in my book… there has to be some no-less-than DNA component in the “humanity” equation.

      • I wouldn’t suggest that conception alone confers personhood, but that it does in conjunction with a full complement of human DNA, allowing for conditions of trisomy and other genetic aberrations, of course.

          • We share everything from codons up to some complex (tertiary or quaternary) protein structures with all creatures, but the human genome is unique.

            • If I repainted the Mona Lisa in EVERY DETAIL other than her hair color, of course my painting is unique. But it really isn’t.

              But since you won’t answer, I’ll assume that you do believe that anything less than 100% genetic human, EVEN IF FULLY FUNCTIONING other than some minor “flaws”, could get the axe because of some foreign DNA.

              Monsters right?

              • No, that’s not what I’m saying. We do share not only DNA, but entire genes with other creatures, and there are literally thousands of genetic aberrations accounted for in the human genome. What I’m saying is that, given a human cell nucleus’ genetic material to test (meaning all chromosomes), it will not be mistaken as that of another animal, and that of another animal will not be mistaken as human. At present, there have been no successful attempts to create a human/other creature hybrid in vivo, but if that day comes, I suppose someone who is not me will have to decide whether or not it’s “human”. If you’re saying that we don’t possess all possible human alleles, then of course that’s true, and that’s not what I was implying.

                  • Yes. I should have better worded my responses. The more I think about this, the more complicated it becomes. I just posted about my experiences in genetics class, where we used fruit fly/bacteria plasmids, and the fact that we do share DNA with them right up to the gene level of structure (continuous, non-discrete genes). This makes using percentage of “fly DNA”(a misnomer) sort of facile. There’s actually a chance, therefore, that we could tangle up our DNA with that of a fly, and it would still meet the taxonomical definition of human, in terms of genes. So along comes flyboy, and he doesn’t meet the taxonomical criteria, as it presently exists, for being human. We’re now stuck with either saying “it’s not protected because it’s not human”, or re-defining what is a human being, and what isn’t, based on other criteria. On what do we base that? Cognitive capacity? Empathy, and the ability to love? Abstract thinking? Whether or not he has wings and compound eyes, and is annoying the hell out of us when he’s buzzing around inside the light fixtures? Then we have to add in the whole artificial intelligence conundrum. Let me finish this thought after work.

                    • And that’s why I said in other sub-threads –

                      Humanity can’t ONLY be defined by DNA, but DNA certainly must be a component. Which leads to the still unanswered percentage questions.

                      The component of percentage that “makes us human” then would be the tiny tiny tiny percent that we share with NO other creature. Look at that tiny little sliver and ask yourself then, if any bit of that, even 1% of that were accidently changed for non-human DNA (that is DNA that is definitively not found in humans), would then the organism in question no longer be human?

                    • The problem is, percentage is not anywhere near being reliably indicative of outcome. In fact, most of our DNA doesn’t code for anything at all. Other changes in this scenario might amount to a silent mutations, resulting in no difference, or nonsense mutations resulting in unpredictable change, or a missense that results in a protein which can’t fulfill its original function, all the way up to a normal allele that would give us wings. In genetics, there is a great deal of turf between zero and 1%, and there would be millions of subtle variations in between. In other words, it would be difficult to quantify degrees of “humanness” based solely on the percentage scenario. That’s why I think humanness would have to be defined as either meaning that you match the genomic definition, or some other qualitative definition based on behavior, physical traits, level of consciousness, capacity for abstract thought or executive function, etc.

                    • But then you have the fact that all of the capabilities and qualities mentioned above vary widely among humans. I hope we have a few years to make up our minds about this.

      • I concur. One of the major defining features of conscious beings is that we transcend our origins. I’m disturbed by all these people that want to define personhood based on quantifying one’s Homo sapiens DNA. It indicates an addiction to the mindset of semantics, calling upon labels and rules to dictate how to treat life forms rather than an actual understanding of consciousness and how to appreciate the consciousness of other people. I cannot trust that these people would treat a space alien or an AI with respect.

        Furthermore, their attempt to measure personhood with DNA indicates that they don’t know the nature of their own conscious existence. I am worried that if many people think this way, they’ll keep trying to draw up some sort of twisted ethics system based on measuring people’s adherence to an arbitrary standard of physical perfection in lieu of learning about people and treating them on their own terms. Treating people as lesser based solely on their physical forms is never a good idea. We’ve seen this repeatedly.

        I think it might be possible to recognize consciousness by testing the ability to consider hypothetical scenarios different from one’s experience, a sort of “abstract thinking” test. Does that sound like a possible way of recognizing levels of consciousness?

        • There are lots of people out there incapable of thinking abstractly, and they’re breeding. Aren’t you suggesting an intelligence standard?

          • I don’t think they’re incapable; I think they just don’t know how. I’m not concerned with measuring people’s current levels except inasmuch as it helps me determine how they can best be prompted to move forward.

            Once we attain a society and culture which promotes the continuous practice of abstract thought, then setting standards for intelligence won’t be such a big deal. It’ll just be, “can you do the job you’re taking on? If you can’t right now, you can use your learning skills proactively and go find training.”

      • I missed your question until now, Tex. Fortunately, that’s not yet a question we have to deal with. Someday, who knows? But my main point was that the entire premise of teleportation is pretty goofy and never liable to be a factor at all.

  9. And there is another (un-) ethical scenario possible. Regardless of the preferences of the mother or the father, the government could step in and force the mother to deliver the baby so they can research it.
    All in the name of national security.

  10. I just wanted to comment briefly on this movie.

    I saw it when I was 12 or 13, home alone on cable, at night, in the basement of our isolated farmhouse. It freaked me out and to this day is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. (Because of the age/circumstances of course.) Jeff Goldblum was creepy to my eyes BEFORE he transformed into a fly. The animated meatloaf part just made him more terrifying.

    As for the ethical conundrum, this movie couldn’t be made today because of advances in science. Ms. Davis could have had a full genetic screen of her baby (or little larvae) at no harm to herself of the fetus. I know, I had this done with both of my girls just so I wouldn’t go crazy during my pregnancies worried about their health.

    If the baby turned out to be part fly, I would argue passionately that it would not be unethical to terminate. At a minimum, this would pose unforeseen health risks to the mother — and most certainly mental health risks on top of that.

    As a side note, Jeff G. was a pretty shitty scientist not to have done his experiments in a controlled Clean Room setting.

    • Beth, your sense of humor works well on me. I agree with your last statement – gave me a big laugh. I watched a few minutes of the movie many years ago. But that was all. Not because it scared me. I could not stop looking at Davis, and I knew about her and Goldblum (at one time, anyway), so I could not stop also thinking that maybe I shared Goldblum’s “fly” fantasy of having 10,000 eyes instead of two, to look at Davis in the way…that I was looking (and could not stop looking) at Davis while watching the movie.

      I have read all comments once now, and cannot follow the percentage discussion because my head is already hurting from the other post of Jack’s about posting photos of persons without their permission. But I can agree with (insofar as I can understand) what Cephalopod (“XF”) is saying.

  11. In point of fact, we do share DNA all the way to the gene level of structure with certain flies. We studied them in my genetics class, using PCRs and gel electrophoresis/southern blot primarily.

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