Guest Post: Whales, Babies and the Assassination of “Personhood”

03/09/2012 / blog posts 

by Jonathon Van Maren (republished with permission)

The July 2012 issue of the Reader’s Digest featured an interesting article, especially for someone who spends a substantial amount of time every week debating the concept of “personhood,” and who should be shielded under its protective umbrella. The article, written by Jeff Warren, was entitled “Why Whales Are People Too.”

The article argues that since whales are extremely intelligent, have an intricate way of communicating with each other as well as very sophisticated social networks, they should be regarded as “persons.” According to one marine biologist, “We are not saying that dolphins should vote or go to school—obviously this is preposterous. What we are saying is that the rights of a species should be based on their critical needs. In the case of whales, they should have the right not to be killed and tortured and confined, the right to live free in their natural environment. This is very basic stuff.”

baby-smallInteresting statement: “They should have the right not to be killed and tortured and confined, the right to live free in their natural environment. This is very basic stuff.” I think you can see where I’m going with this.

I don’t object to the idea of whales being protected by environmental law. Whales at one point were hunted almost into extinction, a shameful abuse of the environment and a callous attitude toward the existence of these grand creatures. However, this story is another sign that the entire idea of “personhood”—which was and should be defined as all human beings—is being mangled into some meaningless term that can be applied to any group of mammals that activists desire, and removed from any group considered to be inconvenient.

Warren writes that “whale personhood…represents the latest revolution in human sensitivity.” Really? Why, then, are pre-born human beings in Canada subject to arbitrary death by abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy? Why hasn’t our human sensitivity rebelled at the fact that a child literally in the birth canal in Canada is not considered a person?

Some biologists think that whales should never be subject to death or torture. I think that human beings, regardless of age, should “have the right not to be killed and tortured” and have “the right to live free in their natural environment,” which is of course the womb. This is not some religious point of view, it is a simple matter of science and the most basic human rights—even the atheist writer Christopher Hitchens has written that “Just as no human being of average moral capacity could be indifferent at the sight of a woman being kicked in the stomach, so nobody could fail to be more outraged if the woman in question was pregnant. Embryology confirms morality.” At least for some people it does.

I could wade into the debate surrounding the ridiculous antics of groups like PETA or eviscerate the twisted logic that somehow renders chickens and sea mammals more valuable than pre-born babies. I could point out that when human beings are denied personhood, it does not tell us what they are but rather indicates what sort of a society we are living in. I could point out that many groups of human beings have been denied personhood status throughout history to devastating results: women, aboriginals, African Americans, and Jews.

But I’ll leave you with one question that deserves your attention: While various interest groups lobby to have personhood rights bestowed on various fauna, shouldn’t we grant our own offspring personhood first?

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