250px-PersonhoodSupremeCourtSo, I’ve been reading a rather large book on practical ethics that I don’t actually like all that much (I actually agree with most of their conclusions, but I think their approach to getting those conclusions is entirely wrongheaded and unnecessarily complicated… and it opens the door to some conclusions that are simply wrong). Euthanasia is a particularly complicated subject at the moment, especially with the concepts of a ‘right to die’ based on the assumption of ultimate freedom of choice, the concept of quality of life as a primary issue in aging, and the question of how to define a human person (is any entity with naturally occurring and clearly human DNA a human being or a human life? Does the existence of life itself imply personhood or are their other important qualifications of personhood?). Today I would like you to interact with one of these issues in particular that affects both the abortion debate and the euthanasia debate: what is a human person?

First of all, consider: does the question of personhood even matter? If it can be established that killing or letting die (is there a difference between the two) is immoral in the case of any human being or arguably human entity, then the entire question of personhood is moot. However, if it is not, what criteria can be established for human personhood? Consider that the Chinese philosopher Mengzi argued that there were four virtues (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom) and that the ‘seeds’ or foundational forms of these virtues were naturally occurring in man. Thus, if anyone didn’t have these seeds (for instance, a sociopath) that individual couldn’t be considered human in a truly meaningful sense. However, from a Christian point of view, it seems that any individual with a human soul (i.e. a soul made in the image of God) is sacrosanct. Aquinas and Aristotle both defined the human soul as a rational soul. That is, human souls were differentiated from animal souls by the ability to reason, intentionally develop virtuous habits, and choose to ignore their instinctual impulses. Does this definition also rule out sociopaths as human persons? Even if not, how do we know when the soul is in the human body? We could instead adopt a purely or effectively physicalist position by arguing that the soul is unimportant. All that is required for human personhood is a living entity with naturally occurring human DNA. However, this would seem to imply that some effectively brain-dead individuals who have enough of brain function to effectively maintain a limited degree of autonomic functioning are still human persons. For instance, assuming that we could remove an individual’s higher brain, leaving the lower brain intact, and administering sustenance through feeding tubes, should we consider this individual, who has no hope of every being a conscious, reasoning human being, to be a human person?

Your challenge today is to consider this issue and write a story of 1000 words that presents and defends the position that you choose. Enjoy!

 

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