Mary Anne Warren


Mary Anne Warren, stated a human being is one who is a “full-fledged member of a moral community” (Warren pg.798) and not just a member of the Homo sapiens species. She claims that for one to be a member of the moral community, you first must be considered a person. According to her, a living being or entity must meet several or all of the five characteristics before it is considered a person, “traits which are most central to the concept of personhood, or humanity in the moral sense” (Warren pg. 799). First, it should have consciousness of objects that exist inside or outside of it. Specifically, the capacity to feel pain. Second, it should have reasoning, “the capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems” (Warren pg. 800). Third, its actions should be independent and not controlled by external forces. Fourth, it should have the ability to communicate about different topics. Finally, the presence of self-awareness, “either individual or racial, or both” (Warren pg.800).
Warren indicated these traits are what make up a person and if an entity does not possess them they are not considered a person. She also argued that since her five characteristics determine an entity personhood you do not have to take into consideration genetic qualities. A living being can be considered a person without becoming a human being. She defended this argument by using the examples of a man or woman who lost their consciousness; she argued they are still a human being but not considered a person, and however a woman who has no mental capacity cannot be considered a person. She went on to say that since a fetus does not yet possess any of the five traits of personhood, it is not a person who is entitled to any moral rights “Fetus is a human being which is not yet a person, and which therefore cannot coherently be said to have full moral rights” (Warren pg.801).
John T. Noonan stated “The criterion for humanity thus, was simple and all embracing: If you are conceived by human parents, you are human” (Noonan pg. 790). He argued against the opposing views of a living thing’s humanity and argued that even a fetus still inside the womb of the mother should be considered a human being. He argues that a fetus does experience things while still inside the womb, because it responds to touch especially by the eight week. “The embryo is responsive to touch after eight weeks and at least at the point is experiencing” (Noonan pg.791). Before the eighth week, he claims a fetus reacts to its environment inside the womb. “Zygote is certainly alive and responding to its environment” (Noonan pg. 791). He then went on to say that some argue that living things should first experience or be conscious of things other than its self before it can be considered human and a fetus under his terms is human.
He continued his argument by indicating even though a fetus is dependent on the mother for existence; he said this dependence does not make a fetus less human. He explained that even a “child of one or three or even five year of age is absolutely dependent on another’s care for existence” (Noonan pg.790). Yet, a five year old is considered human. Therefore, dependency should not equate with one’s humanity.
Finally, Noonan discussed social visibility and probabilities. People do not perceive a fetus as a human being because they cannot communicate thus making them not socially visible. Therefore, a fetus cannot be counted as a member of society. To this argument, Noonan said that social recognition is an invalid test for humanity “As moral rules are rules for the behavior, they cannot be made for behavior toward what is not a member” (Noonan pg. 792). He used the example of the slaves during the Roman Empire who were not recognized as human beings or the landlords experiences in communist China being “classified as enemies” (Noonan pg.792) by the elite. Those slaves and landlords were fully developed human beings who were capable of communicating. He stated that recognition cannot be used against the humanity of a fetus “Any attempt to limit humanity, in the name or perception of a controlling group runs the risk of furnishing authority. (Noonan pg. 792)
In his argument of probabilities and potentialities, he described the number of sperm and oocytes and the probability of conception being four out of five. “We base our actions on probabilities and in morals, as in law one has taken of the probabilities” (Noonan Pg. 793). According to Noonan, from conception we receive a genetic code and with this “a being with a genetic code is man” (Noonan Pg.794). Noonan then revisited his Catholic Moral theologies on this subject and ended his essay with biblical scripture “love your neighbor as yourself” stating that the fetus is considered a neighbor.