There’s a difficult case in front of the South Australian coroners’ court at present. A baby was still born, Someone (it is not clear who) wants an inquest, but the coroner must first decide whether he can hold an inquest, because by law, inquests can only inquire about the deaths of persons, and by law, fetuses and still born babies are not persons. Local paper The Advertiser thinks that [t]he case is likely to fuel debate about the rights of the unborn child and abortion. To help that debate along, they’re running a handy little on-site poll, asking its readers to determine when life begins.
You can say whether you think life begins at conception, when the zygote develops, when the embryo develops, when the foetus develops, at birth or at first breath.
FFS! I know, this is all just a ploy to keep their on-line circulation figures up, but really. Does this add anything at all to any discussion about abortion? The casual alignment of life with sanctity, the implication that a vote is the way to settle moral disputes, the reifying of stages as though they are definite hard and fast moments instead of long and complex transitions (and that would include conception, BTW). These silly simplifications just muddy people’s understanding of how human life begins, and reinforce the thuggery of majority rules. And they certainly don’t encourage people to think about the assumptions they make, and the process of reflecting on moral issues.
Too much to ask for from what really is just a provincial newspaper, I know. Even so, would it be too much to ask The Advertiser to stop creating polls as silly as this one?
As for the case itself, as ever it will turn on legal principle and the particular facts. It’s not making a statement about abortion at all, and it would be helpful if The Advertiser didn’t try to make out that it does.
For the record, the results to date are:
Life begins at conception – 36%, when the zygote develops – 5%, when the embryo develops – 5%, when the foetus develops – 26%, at birth – 10%, at first breath – 18%.