Neuromaturation and the Moral Status of Human Fetal Life
Flower (Michael J.)
Source: Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 1985 Aug;10(3):237-51
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Publisher’s Abstract

  1. The fetal human possesses an active central nervous system from at least the eighth week of development. Until mid-gestation the most significant center of activity is the brainstem. By the end of the first trimester, it appears that the brainstem could be acting as a rudimentary modulator of sensory information and motor activity.
  2. What importance ought to be attached to such regulatory activity is uncertain. Some argue that it represents a level of integrated activity sufficient to bolster an argument for conferring some measure of standing at this point.
  3. Our thinking about sentience is not advanced a great deal, as we as yet have no good way of talking about it at the brainstem level.
  4. As for the neocortex, available evidence indicates that it does not become a functional part of the neuraxis until at least mid-gestation. It is not until then that the thalamus – the major gateway for sensory input to the cerebrum1 – makes its first afferent contacts with the neocortex.
  5. KIE2: A review is provided of what is known about the development of the central nervous system of the human fetus3. Four processes are featured:
    1. The appearance of fetal motor activity;
    2. Development of the neocortex;
    3. Establishment of a connection between the neocortex and its major input channel, the thalamus; and
    4. Maturation of the electrical activity of the brain.
    Very tentative observations are made concerning the implications of neuromaturational events for the development of fetal sentience and fetal pain.

Author’s Introduction
  1. The question "When does human life begin?" has become the well-known and controversial encapsulation of a central issue in the conflict over abortion4 the moral status of embryonic/fetal5 life.
  2. From one perspective the question as put is thought to frame the issue adequately. In this view personhood is a matter of natural objectivity; we are simply presented with the fact of full humanness or personhood – an intrinsic and scientifically discoverable property emerging during the course of a continuous ontogenetic process.
  3. However, there is a problem with this notion of intrinsic personhood, and it is deciding which of several different suggested properties is the one "real" answer to when a particular and personal human life has begun.
  4. Is it possession of the unique human genome achieved after fertilization, loss of embryonic6 ability to twin (i.e. developmental individuality) roughly two weeks later, appearance of fetal motility at six to seven weeks of gestation, emergence of unmistakably human form a few weeks later still, first awareness, or birth?
  5. In deciding, one must give reasons for one's choice and thereby necessarily introduce "extra-biological" dimensions as part of the choosing. As a result, the biological indicators come to serve as little more than the material referents for these reasons.
  6. The recognition that reasoned choices among contending properties must be made has led many to focus precisely on those reasons, and to claim that the properties whereby we understand and value prenatal personhood are not those discoverable by science but those constituted within a social fabric, and most properly by those who are directly involved with the fetus7 before and after its birth (Solomon, 1983, p.220).


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: I don’t know what this stands for!

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - March 2019. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page