The 23 Week, 8.6 Ounces, Baby and Late Abortion


The basic moral question at the heart of the abortion debate is what is a human being? This is one of those things where Peter Singer is analytically correct – we face a Sorites problem here. That insight being some thousands of years old. Here’s a “pile” of sand. Moving one grain over to there doesn’t create two piles. We’ve not stopped our pile being a pile by removing one grain, one grain is not a pile either. But as we continue to move grains from one to t’other at some point we do indeed have two piles. And at some point in the process our first pile will stop being one.

OK, when?

A San Diego hospital on Wednesday revealed the birth of a girl believed to be the world’s tiniest surviving baby, who weighed just 245 grams (about 8.6 ounces) before she was discharged as a healthy infant. The baby, named Saybie, was born at 23 weeks and three days and was sent home this month weighing 5lbs (2kg) after nearly five months in the neonatal intensive care unit, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns said in a statement.

We say that there’s a something called a human being. Which has certain inalienable rights – not being killed being one of them. Exactly where that dividing line is between a not-human being and a human being is a tricky point. It’s a Sorites problem. We don’t accord full and all the inalienable rights until – in the US at least – they’re 21 years out of the womb. We accord some rather earlier than that – not being killed perhaps the earliest of them.

The human/non-human distinction is thus important. We protect non-humans very differently. We can be done and jugged for fighting with dogs – Michael Vicks was – and for torturing them etc. We can’t be for euthanising them. We can be for killing humans.

Different attempts are made at drawing that line. Ancient Greek – in fact most pre-modern societies we believe – culture saw nothing very wrong with exposing unwanted infants on a hillside. The Catholic Church currently insists that the moment of conception creates that human with rights. UK law seems to be based upon “viability” – at least in the absence of deformity. If it could survive outside the womb then it’s protected.

Which makes it all a bit tricky, doesn’t it? Because we’ve now evidence that survival outside the womb starts rather earlier and smaller than current law insists…..