Personhood and DIM

A collection of letters published by The Denver Post address Colorado’s ballot initiative that seeks to define a fertilized egg as a person (Amendment 48). The thee letters perfectly illustrate an idea of Leonard Peikoff: the three basic approaches to fundamental ideas are Disintegration, Misintegration, and Integration (or DIM, but I’m rearranging the terms to fit the letters).

Martin Voelker writes, “This impossibility to decide doctrinal merits is why government must remain neutral, as indeed our secular Constitution prescribes.” While it is true that religions have incompatible tenets, that is not a primary consideration with respect to 48. Voelker is essentially invoking skepticism: we cannot know, so we shouldn’t make laws about things about which people are bound to disagree.

Lamar Taylor writes, “Those of us who support the ‘personhood’ amendment are pro-life. We believe that human life begins at conception.” “We believe.” While obviously a fertilized egg (as well as a pre-fertilized egg) is both alive and human in the sense of containing human DNA, it is not a human person, which is the letter writer’s point. The letter writer offers no argument to back up the assertion that a fertilized egg is a person; “we believe” suffices. This is a symptom of Misintegration, or building a cohesive philosophy around a fundamentally mystical focus. The only argument that has ever been put forward that a fertilized egg is a person is that God said so.

Finally (as I’ve noted previously), Diana Hsieh writes:

A woman’s fundamental right to control her own body, including her right to terminate or sustain a pregnancy, should not depend on majority vote. This would violate that right in spades, based on the fantasy that an embryo is equal to an infant. It would force a woman to provide life support to any fertilized egg — even at the risk of her life and health and even if ruinous to her goals and dreams. It would make actual persons — any woman capable of bearing children, plus her husband or boyfriend — slaves to merely potential persons. That kind of moral evil has no place in a modern society…

Hsieh accounts for the real biological differences between a fertilized egg and a person. Hsieh’s invocation of rights points not to some mystical entity but to the requirements of human life and flourishing. Hsieh briefly counters the approaches of both Disintegration and Misintegration. While obviously she can only skim the surface in a short letter, Hsieh’s deeper theme is that reason and reality must trump both faith and skepticism.