As is often the case this deserves a better treatment than I am about to give it. Still, with several folks bringing up Ron Paul’s odd paleolibertarian positions I thought a few notes on this might be useful
1) As far as I can tell no one but the religious right gives this issue the significance that it deserves. It is a big deal any way we slice it. The ability to create new human beings/ new persons is the most powerful that we have. How we use it is of vital moral and practical importance.
2) The distinction between a human and a person is perhaps the most important question of the coming century. While today one could reasonably argue that almost all persons on earth are biological humans, such a suggestion will soon be ridiculous. How we treat persons vs. how we treat humans will matter a lot for how society is structured.
3) The only place in the current world where we get to really think this through in a practical way is with the process of human development. Most people readily concede that human haploids – sperm and eggs – are not persons (though I think it is silly to deny that they are humans). Most people readily concede that the overwhelming majority of adult diploid human beings are persons.
Somewhere along the line then personification must take place. How that happens is crucial to our understanding what we mean by person.
4) Do we really think that there are human rights? Rights that extend to all humans regardless of personhood and no non-human persons. How can this be anything but species prejudice?
5) Don’t all of our Kantian moral judgments depend on personhood, not humanness.
6) Is there any reason at all why utilitarian moral judgments should be confined to humans. Here its not even clear if personhood is the right characteristic or if it is merely the ability to experience suffering or joy.
7) We don’t actually behave as if babies have any rights at all. Perhaps, the right to life but even that is questionable. A list of baby’s rights that are violated without a second thought:
d) Freedom of Expression
e) Pursuit of Happiness / Self-determination
f) Blood and body
g) To be governed by mutual consent
And, given that babies are not allowed to refuse medical treatment its hard to say under what reasoning they are granted a right to life? A duty to life is imposed upon them, but even if the baby expressed a desire to allow natural processes to precipitate his or her death, that desire would be refused without a second thought.
If a baby can’t even allow nature to takes course on the baby’s own terms then in what sense does the baby have a “right.” None of its preferences or beliefs have to be respected by law.
It can be force fed. It can be forced medicine. It can have its blood taken against its will. It can be forcibly examined, prodded and even have instruments inserted into it. Its body can be cut open and operated on if the parents or state deem it in the baby’s best interest.
This individual has nothing that could be called a civil right in our society.