There are, of course, differences between the child in the womb and a born person. What are these differences, and are any of them morally significant? There seem to be four major differences between a preborn and a born person:
2. Level of Development
4. Degree of dependency
The child in the womb at seven weeks is normally smaller than the newborn child. The latter is normally smaller than a one-year-old child, who is normally smaller than a five-year-old child. A 100-pound girl is smaller than a 250-pound football player. This is of no moral significance. The larger person isn't any more a person, or more precious, than the smaller. A small newborn baby is just as precious as an older child, or an adult. The child in the womb is simply a smaller child.
A baby is less developed than a teenager. Is he or she less a person? Being less developed, as well as being smaller, represents earlier phases on the human life continuum. But he is equally a person; he is the same person at his earlier stage of development as at the later stages, or else it would not be his development. The child at seven to eight weeks is less developed than later, but he is already very well developed.
As noted earlier, "After the eighth week no further primordia will form: everything is already present that will be found in the full term baby." For example, "a human face with eyelids half closed ... hands that will soon begin to grip, feet trying their first gentle kicks."
If one person is in one environment and another person in another environment, nothing changes concerning the reality, or dignity and worth of the two persons. Being inside his mother, nesting in her womb, represents being in a different environment than the familiar environment we know. But the being in the womb is as much a real person, a real child, at that time as after birth. A child in an incubator is no less a real child than one in natural surroundings.
The preborn child is in the incubator of his mother's womb, a warm, protective nesting place. It is the necessary environment he needs while still small and fragile, what he needs for protection, nourishment, and growth. It is the environment he needs to develop into a being who can survive the rigors of life in the outside world. The difference between the preborn and postborn child is one of needs, not of reality or worth or dignity.
We are all dependent on one another, physically and psychologically. Some are more dependent than others: children, the sick, the handicapped. A more dependent person - someone in an intensive care unit, for example - is not less of a person, than someone who is relatively more independent. To see clearly the moral irrelevance of degree of dependency for the reality, dignity, and preciousness of a person, consider the following:
Degree of dependency is relative. It is, precisely, a matter of degree, of more or less. Everyone is dependent on others to some extent, physically and psychologically. At certain times, each of us becomes, or can become, more dependent on others than usual: if we are lost, if we've had a serious accident, if we are blinded. Clearly these conditions do not affect our being as persons, our preciousness and dignity, our right to live.
Specifically, it is important to remember that when you are dependent on others, that is, more dependent than usual, you are the same person as you were before, and will be later. So, too, is the child in the womb. He is, at this stage of his life, the same person who will later be born and grow up to be less dependent.
Suppose that you are now healthy, thus relatively independent. Then you have a serious accident that leaves you paralysed, thus very dependent on others. The continuation of your life depends on others for protection and nourishment, parallel to the child in the womb. You are still the same person. You have the same dignity and right to live.
Physical dependency, as it applies to the world in the womb or to a person who is paralysed, concerns a person's bodily dimension, and not the person as a person, or his right to live. I remain myself through the various changes, phases of growth and development, phases of relative dependency or independence, that pertain to my body. I am not any less me because my body may be in a state of greater dependency than at another time.
Thus we see that dependency through connection to another person has nothing to do with being a person. It has only to do with how the body is sustained. To kill a normal child sleeping in his crib is a terrible evil. Killing a child in an incubator, dependent on that incubator, is no less evil. Abortion is killing a child in the incubator of his mother's womb. A more dependent child is a more fragile child. He deserves more care and protection, not less.
|Foot @ 21 years||Foot @ 8 weeks in utero|
|Elderly man in hospital @ 78 years||Premature baby born @ 26 weeks|
| Dependent child@ 1 year
|| child in utero @ 20 weeks