Return to my home page.
View an outline of this paper

Dmytro Taranovsky
English 12 Honors
Teacher: Mrs. McPherson
May 17, 2000
Last Modified: August 2, 2002


One of the most important philosophical issues ever concerns the definition of a person and who is able to feel. Abortion, which is a deliberate termination of pregnancy, is one of the most important practical applications of that issue. Life on Earth is threatened with destruction from overpopulation and the poverty that overpopulation causes. Fortunately, abortion decreases and can prevent overpopulation. The question about whether abortion should be done is primarily the question about whether the embryo or fetus is a person. In most cases, the embryo weighs less than 100grams: less than 10% of human brain. Abortion should be legal since it is useful and since humans become conscious after birth, not before.

Values for Human Society

People are protected by ethics and by law since they are able to feel. Many actions are considered immoral because they cause innocent people to feel pain. If an object cannot feel, then it will not feel pain if damaged, and the treatment of the object is chosen to benefit those who feel.[1]

In general, actions are considered best when they cause the greatest happiness to the society, the collection of all conscious[2]objects. (In this paper, objects are used as a generic term for anyone or anything.) To prevent unbearable pain and cruelty, and to prevent abuses that can destroy the entire society, every conscious object has the fundamental rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (Jefferson) Any distinction among objects that feel should only be based on what the objects do since no reason exists to distinguish otherwise. Thus, a person is best defined as a conscious object.

Of crucial importance is when abortion should be performed. If a human embryo is conscious, its rights should be considered in abortion decisions. If it is not, the decision should be based on the rights of the mother and the benefit to the society. If an embryo that does not feel is terminated, then the conscious object, a person, is never created. Not creating a person is not immoral: When people are not having sex, they are not creating a person. If the society has an optimum population, the net benefit (benefit minus harm) of an extra person will on average be zero.

Practical Effects of Abortion

The world has a problem of overpopulation, not under-population. The environmental problems occur largely because too many people exist and strain the natural resources.  Thus, not creating an extra person is on average good for the society. (If creating a person would on average be good, then more people should be created, and the population size is too small, not too large.) In abortion, when a mother chooses not to create a person, the person is unwanted and thus probably should not be created.

Much of the poverty found throughout the world is caused by having too many children. Abortion prevents that and thus reduces poverty. Poverty contributes to crime. Therefore, abortion reduces crime. Unfortunately, the government in the USA does not support abortion for poor people.

A serious defect in an embryo gives additional reasons for its termination. For example, Down syndrome is a severe congenital disorder that "is a major cause of mental retardation, worldwide." (Cozic 138) Fortunately, fetal testing (with abortion) can prevent it. If the couple with a defective embryo is determined to have a child, the abortion and an extra pregnancy would be practically equivalent to curing the defect at the cost of an extra pregnancy. Women are sufficiently informed to know when the cost justifies the result.

Since the abortion is so beneficial, it should be legal and frequently encouraged, provided that the embryo is not conscious. Additionally, since any pregnancy disturbs a woman's body and people should have control over their bodies, the woman should probably be allowed to terminate the pregnancy.

Philosophy on Who is a Person

The problem remains to classify objects into those that feel and those that do not. Feeling is meaningless without comprehending. All evidence that an object is conscious is obtained by observing the object's behavior and verifying that the object has a special ability to think and comprehend.

A digression into some basic science may help to determine who or what is conscious. Scientific models state physical laws. No physical law states that any object can feel. Since feeling is a primary concept, it cannot be explained in terms of physical laws: It must be supernatural.[3]

In quantum mechanics, each system is in a superposition of orthonormal (mutually exclusive and normalized) basis states. Time evolution of the system is deterministic. Observation requires that quantum mechanics does not apply to the observer (an object that can feel). Otherwise, the state of the observer would not be a randomly selected basis state but a superposition of the basis states as required by the principle of superposition. Quantum mechanics seems to apply to all physical systems, confirming that observers are very special and supernatural.

Therefore, an object must possess a set of strong and distinguished characteristics to be an observer and thus be granted the fundamental rights of people--otherwise, the object would be mundane and be a plain physical object. The basic characteristics form the fundamental difference between objects that feel and those that do not. The characteristics must be observable because for an object to feel, the feelings must be closely tied to the physical observable object. The characteristics cannot be physical: A strong object is allowed by physical theories. Moreover, physical distinctions (such as DNA sequences, skin color, or chemical base of the object) are inherently arbitrary and thus unreasonable. Therefore, the characteristics are mental: a universal ability to learn, understand, and solve problems; an understanding of being conscious; and the ability to have direct memory of experiences. Other observable fundamental differences simply do not exist.

If a conscious object has a direct and correct memory of an experience, then during the experience, the object was able to feel and should be judged conscious. If the object did not satisfy other criteria during the experience, the consciousness is applied retroactively from the time the object satisfied all of the criteria.

Since everything that can be understood can be explained logically, an object that can think logically can understand everything[4]. Logic is based on a very small number of basic processes. Thus, if an object cannot understand something, it cannot think logically and is unable to understand something very simple. Understanding complex ideas is composed of understanding many simple ideas. Since the number of basic simple ideas is very small, almost every complex idea requires understanding of a given basic idea. Thus, either the object has potential for universal understanding or has a very limited to nonexistent understanding. Universal understanding is one of the key distinctions between people and animals closely related to people, such as chimpanzees. Clearly, children do not obtain that ability until several years after birth.

One of the primary concepts is the ability to feel. The understanding of the ability cannot be derived from other concepts since it is primary. Instead, the understanding is one of the criteria for determining whether the subject can feel. No evidence indicates that a newborn (and thus unborn) child understands the concept.

The ability to form memories is clearly necessary for conscious learning: Otherwise, the object cannot remember and thus cannot process the information. Thus, the ability is required for universal understanding and thought. Memories are also required for identity: If a person does not remember anything before his or her birth, no evidence exists that the person was still the same person before birth (or that the person had existed before birth at all).

Can an object not satisfy these fundamental criteria and still be a person? That point of view contradicts to the fundamental distinction between objects that feel and those that do not. It also contradicts to a basic statement that justifies human rights: "all men [conscious objects] are created equal". (Jefferson) An object that does not satisfy the fundamental criteria is fundamentally different (cannot be fundamentally equal) from an object that does. Since all people are fundamentally equal, the former object cannot be a person.

The ability to form memories is the easiest and most precise way to determine whether an object is conscious for an object that is expected to become conscious. Earliest memories of humans generally trace to three years after birth. "We know we have no memory of self-awareness before our first birthday, or even before our second." (Elroy) Thus, a collection of human cells normally becomes conscious about three years after birth. Since an unborn baby cannot yet feel, it should not have rights and the woman should have unrestricted rights to terminate it.

Infanticide vs. Abortion

Should the mother be allowed to kill her child after birth? Although the child does not yet feel, certain crucial differences exist between abortion and infanticide. From both psychological and physiological points of view, a born child is much closer to a person than an embryo. A slight probability exists that a one year old child is conscious; the possibility cannot be accepted when deciding whether to destroy the child. Since its destruction is somewhat similar to destroying a person, encouragement of the destruction can lead to encouragement of violence. No clear distinction exists about the time the object becomes conscious, making it dangerous to allow termination of the child until it is believed to become conscious. Additionally, the woman's body is altered by embryos, not children.

However, when abortion is unavailable, infanticide immediately after birth might be a necessary method to prevent creating an unwanted person. In Africa and in Latin America, safe abortion is unavailable but overpopulation is a major problem. Infanticide should be used there as population control. Moreover, since many severe defects become known at birth, infanticide of abnormal babies immediately after birth is very useful.

No strong reasons for infanticide exist several weeks after birth since infanticide can be made in the first day. For the many reasons mentioned above such infanticide should be prohibited. Thus, laws should allow killing of the child by the mother only for the first week after birth, and then only when abortion was not safely available or when the child has abnormalities.

Abortion vs. Non-terminal Damage

Although abortion should be allowed, the pregnant women should not have a right to bring serious nonfatal harm to their future children. The harm does affect a conscious object (the future person) and is bad. Thus, it is reasonable to require pregnant women to have an appropriate lifestyle for development of a normal person. If a woman fails to have an appropriate lifestyle, she may be penalized with forced abortion (to prevent creation of defective people).

Bible and Abortion

Although some claim that the bible opposes abortion, the evidence shows otherwise. The bible says,

Then God said, "Let us make man [people] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. (Genesis 1:26-27)

"In his own image" cannot refer to a biological similarity; instead, it refers to the special ability of people to think and understand anything. This suggests definition of a person as an object that can think and understand and is consistent with the definition given in this paper.

According to the Bible, God instructs:

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [has miscarriage] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury [to the woman], you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:22-25)

The death of a fetus is considered a destruction of property instead of destruction of a person since the penalty is only a fine. Damage to the woman, however, is a much worse crime since the punishment is much more severe.

In Numbers 5:11-31, if a woman committed adultery, she is to have a bitter drink that poisons her to punish her and bring miscarriage. Thus, abortions are approved in case of adultery by the woman. In biblical times, abortions were accomplished through poisoning the woman, clearly a cruel procedure. "The typical abortion methods were to poison the mother (hoping she lived while the fetus died) or to physically abuse the mother's abdomen." (Gilbert) Thus, abortions were not recommended for insubstantial reasons.

God (according to the bible) preordained some prophets before their conception. The prophets were given a miraculous ability to communicate with God. Some obtained soul even before conception. Jeremiah 1:5 states that God knew Jeremiah (a prophet) before conception. Those prophets, of course, are not the majority population. Often, their being human before birth is one of their distinctions from ordinary fetuses who become people (that is conscious) after birth.

The New Testament places strict moral rules. Nowhere does it say that abortion is wrong or that a fetus is a person. Its moral reaffirms the position that people are people through their understanding and thought.

Additional Evidence on whether a Fetus is a Person

In the early stages of pregnancy, overwhelming evidence shows that the embryo is not conscious. A zygote is only a cell, it is clearly unable to think. A zygote can sometimes evolve into more than one person (identical twins). Since splitting of a soul in two is prohibited, zygote cannot have a soul. Finally, "Up to 50% of fertilized eggs do not implant. Of all implantations, only 10% are successful pregnancies." (Cozic 115) If God considered embryos as people, he would have prevented their death in such numbers.

One of the main reasons that groups of people were granted rights is that they demanded the rights. No fetus or newborn child has ever claimed that it has insufficient rights or that abortion is immoral. Fetuses fail the important test for humanity: people demand rights.

Appearance refers only to external characteristics. Since it does not refer to mental abilities or the ability to feel, appearance should not be used to determine what or who is a person. Fetuses may appear like a person; however, they are not people. Size, however, can be used to help understand object properties.

The article "Fetus" (Encarta) has the following data:

Time after conception 4months 6months 7months Newborn
Mass of Fetus 113g 624g 1.1kg 3.4kg

The mass of human brain is about 1.5kg. Even after six months, a fetus has a clearly insufficient size to be considered a person: It weighs less than a half of human brain. Abortions are typically performed when the fetus does not weigh much. "Fifty one percent of all abortions in the United States occur before the eighth week of pregnancy" (Cozic 114); over 91%-in the first trimester; "and more than 99% by 20weeks" (Cozic 114-115). 

One of the main arguments against abortion is: "Fetus is a human. All humans have a right to live. Therefore, fetus has a right to live." The argument is due to a confusion about who or what is a human. From biological point of view, "a human is a collection of cells that form an organism and have identical genome corresponding to subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens." From the perspective of human rights, "a human is a conscious object"[5]. A fetus is a human according to the first definition but not the second. Since human rights are based on the second definition, the fact that a fetus is a collection of human cells does not mean that it should have rights.

Effects of Prohibiting Abortion and Conclusion

Unfortunately, abortion is prohibited in some countries. The laws do not prevent abortion--many women have abortion anyway--instead, they make abortion unsafe and illegal. "The total deaths due to illegal abortion in Mexico alone is thought to be 140,000 out of 1.5million abortions [per year]". (Emmens, 114) Legal abortion in USA is safe. On average, only 0.0004% of abortions are fatal, only 0.5% of cases have major complications, and the reported rate for minor complications is 10%. "By 1985 the risk of dying from a legal abortion had decreased dramatically--to 0.4 deaths per 100,000 legal abortions." (Cozic 188) Of course, abortion ends pregnancy, and pregnancy along with raising children is a major complication on any woman's life.

Therefore, abortion does not involve killing of an entity that can feel. The decision for abortion should be based on the effect on the society. Abortion is very useful as birth control since it is 100% effective and since it can administered several months after the sexual intercourse. (However, abortion should supplement other birth control, not replace it completely.) Women should have a right to abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy. The right will benefit us all. It will enforce the fundamental concepts on who is trully a person, on the equality of all people, on fundamental rights, and on the rights of people to control their bodies.

Works Cited

Bible. New International Version.

Cozic, Charles, ed. Tipp, Stacey, ed. Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc.: San Diego, 1991.

Emmens, Carol. The Abortion Controversy. Revised Edition. Simon, & Schuster, Inc.: New York, 1991.

"Fetus." Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation. 1998.

Gilbert, Jeff. Abortion Perspectives. Available:

Jefferson, Thomas. Declaration of Independence. 1776.

McKinley, Brian Elroy. Why Abortion is Biblical. Available:

[1]If an object was conscious, but temporarily ceased to be conscious, then killing the object would affect a conscious object since the conscious object existed and if left alive, the object would resume consciousness.

[2] Conscience refers to the ability to feel and to comprehend the ability to feel. Since feeling is meaningless without comprehending, an object that is not conscious cannot feel. Moreover, all direct evidence that an object can feel comes from its communication of the ability.

[3] Feeling is required since it is the only way to obtain information about the world. Thus, denying existence of feelings is denying all information about the world, including its existence.

[4] Religion is also based on facts and logic; however, discussion of religion is beyond the scope of this research paper.

[5] The quotes are used to set apart views and are original, not from some source.

translations of this essay:
Dutch (translated by Johanne Teerink on January 22, 2019)