Home Abortion Ethics Important Posts Liberalism Potential People: A Life in Our Hands
Home Abortion Ethics Important Posts Liberalism Potential People: A Life in Our Hands

Potential People: A Life in Our Hands

Before we begin, let's meet David Bascombe.

David lives in Cleveland in a brownstone walk up. He has a dog, a terrier, and likes to play tennis on the weekends. During the week he works as a financial analyst at a small firm. Every Friday he goes to Red Lobster dressed in a worn navy blue jacket that went out of style a decade ago. Every morning he reads the paper back to front, beginning with the sports section. Each time he finishes he sighs, scratches the scar on his chin that he got when he fell off the roof as a boy, finishes his cereal with bits of banana crumbled inside and drives to work in his red Honda Civic. Though he would never admit it to anyone, he enjoys the life he lives.

David is a potential person. That is he may or may not exist.

Why would he not exist? For starters, because you want to kill him.

It's not because you hate him, David is a fairly mild sort of person it would take a lot of effort and energy to hate. You aren't out to kill him out of vengeance or any kind of bloodthirsty feelings. He's simply inconvenient. David is in the way.

Perhaps he's taking up the apartment you desperately want to expand into. Or he's right above you at the office and without him, that promotion and the life you want, would be yours. There are a thousand possible reasons, but what it comes down to is your life would be much better, if he was gone. If he had never existed.

But you're not a violent person. You certainly could never see yourself actually killing someone. Spilling their blood on your shoes. You want David gone. Out of this world. But you certainly don't want to be a murderer, not just because of the law, but because it would weigh on your conscience. Still there has to be a way and there is.

After gathering some crucial information, you step into a time machine (this is the future after all) and travel back in time to the night David was conceived. Before David's father can step inside, you corner him and give him some very bad news. You tell him his wife has been cheating him. With the aid of a little futuristic technology you even provide him with proof.

The fight David's parents have that night will very likely lead to their divorce, at the very least it will insure that David is not conceived that night. As you step back into your time machine which whisks you over to your present time, you know you are returning to a world in which David does not exist.

There may be an adult male living in the world that is named Bascombe, even David, and may have the genetic similarity to David, of one brother to another, but David himself is gone. There is no one driving that red Honda Civic to work every morning or wearing that out of style jacket or reading the paper while scratching his chin. You got rid of that person. You committed the perfect crime.

After all there's no body anywhere. No murder weapon. No blood. As far as the world is concerned, you haven't done anything at all. As far as your conscience is concerned, you certainly struck no fatal blow, you didn't watch the light in David's eyes go out as he died. You just neatly and cleanly insured that he would never be born.

Are you a murderer?

Someone who knew and cared about David might feel that you are. Even random people reading this might agree. After all here was a man who lived his life and even in some small subtle ways, loved, who has been snuffed out. Surely there should be some accountability for that crime.

And yet you can easily answer that, 'where's the crime?' Habeus Corpus, present the body. David never existed, so how could he have been murdered? The very act that annihilated him insured that his murdered could never be held accountable for it. For how can you kill someone who never existed? How can you kill a potential person?

For anyone's who made it this far and is wondering what the point of this little scenario is, it's this. We are all potential people. A particular series of events insured that we were born, grew up, formed a personality and identity and now sit reading these lines of text and the 'Us' that reads them thinks about them through the refraction of that personality.

Like us David was a potential person. Unlike us David no longer exists. His potential has been removed. His potential was, you might say, aborted.

Was killing David murder? Some people might feel that way because we got to know David. Because he had a personality and identity and a life. Or the potential for one. So do most babies who are aborted.

There are no time machines but there are abortion clinics. The process is messier than how David was removed from existence, but the end result is the same. A person who would have existed, no longer does. The odds for a fetus in America coming to term and developing into a full grown human being, are all told pretty good. When the process is interrupted, another David Bascombe dies. Unknown and unmourned, because no one ever knew him or got the chance to know him.

Is it murder? Is killing someone who never had a chance to be born murder? Does it change if you call him a baby instead of a fetus, does it change if he has a name? Does it change if you can see him eating cereal by the window thinking of the weekend.

Murder comes in many forms. Recently there was a case of a dying man flying for a desperately needed liver transplant with time running out. He was bloated with water retention from his liver problems and a United Airlines ticket agent told him he would have to pay for a second ticket if he wanted to fly. He didn't have the money.

Had someone not paid his second fare, he might well have died. He would have died out of sight of the ticket agent. She didn't need to lift a hand or take a single action to kill him. All she had to do was deny him access to the plane. She didn't need to want to kill him either. But he would have been dead anyway, more than arguably murdered.

He goes on living today but many aren't so lucky.

The debates over abortion often get stuck in the same timeworn murky territory, rape, incest, risk to the life of the mother, when does life begin, which trimester. There are no easy answers to these questions. But most abortions aren't done because of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. They occur because the pregnancy is inconvenient. Because it will dramatically disrupt life, sometimes wreck it and maybe disastrously so.

The practical arguments over the morality all too often fall into extremes with no shades of grey in between. But the shades are many. Depersonalizing the baby by calling it a fetus or personalizing it by calling it a baby, is one tactic, two viewpoints. Does a developing life have rights? Does a person who is yet to be, have a right to live?

We all became who we are because no one stepped in at a crucial moment and prevented us from coming to be. We are all potential people. We exist because no one stopped us from existing. Looked at from a purely 'Here and Now' standpoint a fetus is nothing more than a collection of cells. Abortion is a rejection of the future, a rejection of the person who will come to be.

A person's journey through life can be expressed as a three dimensional path. The continuity of that journey is the totality of that life. The path extends behind us and ahead of us. There are no easy answers, only the choices we make and there are times in our life when we hold another person's life in our hands.


  1. One of my co-workers had had an abortion. She cried every time she thought of it. She saw herself as a murderer and kept an empty frame by her bed to remind her of what she lost. She asked me to become a counselor and make sure I told her story to every girl who came in. I did.

    I think only those whose heart is as hard as Paroah's can go through the act and not care. Those who are human are ripped to shreds afterwards because they're not blind to the reality of what they had done.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Anonymous8/2/07

    Excellant analogy . You explained it rightly. I wish more people had your insight to this.

  4. Anonymous8/2/07

    The reality is very few abortions are done to help the mothers health or save her life.
    Most abortions worldwide are just used as birth control or because the pregnancy is inconvenient at the time.

  5. I know what you mean, Yobee. Though my mother didn't have an abortion, she did suffer from a miscarriage before getting pregnant with me. It was in the first trimester.

    Even into her 70s, when doctors would ask how many times she was pregant, she would always say four times, not limiting her answer to the three live children she had.

    And each time they'd ask her the question, she'd wonder outloud if the baby was a boy or girl. How could she look at her living children and not wonder about her unborn child and his or her potential?

    Overall though, I think abortion (typically the result of out of wedlock sex) comes down to personal choice rather than on the potential of the fetus. How many scientists have been murdered in abortion clinics all because it's inconvenient for the mother to carry the pregnancy to term?

    Humanity keeps lowering the bar on what it considers human potential--at all levels of the lifecycle--from unborn babies, to infants, the elderly, the handicapped. They don't see the instrinsic value of human life. If the potential isn't high in their eyes or the cost to benefit ratio isn't favorable, the life isn't worth saving or maintaining.

    Taking it a step further, look at how many people die in DWIs, just because someone wanted the joy of drinking. The potential risks versus the enjoyment of the drinker. A few hours of fun for one person can utterly destroy the lives of so many others.

    Yet despite all the warning against DWI, people still call them "accidents." But like abortion, many people have the "there but for the grace of G-d go I" attitude. Some support abortion because deep down they feel they would want one in certain circumstances just as most people involved in DWIs consider them accidents because they also drink and drive and if caught, wouldn't want a judge to throw the book at them because it was all an accident.

  6. Anonymous8/2/07

    Well written Sultan, but, (with no disrespect intended) this being said, I find it difficult to understand your support for pro- abortion Giuliani.

  7. Guliani is not pro-abortion, he's against abortion, he's not in favor of banning or criminalizing it, which when you get down to it, few even republicans are in a blanket way

    halacha certainly does not match the kind of blanket abortion ban the anti-abortion movement would want either

    especially when you consider that those people repeatedly will make the argument that the life of the mother can be sacrificed for the life of the child

  8. That's always troubled me about the anti-abortion movement--their insistance that the mother should be sacrificed for the life of the baby. How do they come to the ethical conclusion that the baby is more valuable than the mother? Absent severe and uncontrolled bleeding or severe infection there are little genuine medical reasons for an abortion to save the mother's health, though, at least in the first trimester.

    I think when the mother's life is truly in danger everything must be done to save her, even if it means aborting the baby. But these situations are rare and most abortions have nothing to do with the life of the mother.

    Most second and third term abortions are done because of fetal abnormalities like Downe's Syndrome. Giving birth to a handicapped child does pose any significant risk of death to the mother. But it can upset her household and way of life. Hardly the same as an actual physical threat to a woman's life.

    The gruesome partial birth abortion is actually more dangerous to a woman's life than giving birth to a live baby for many reasons.

  9. Anonymous8/2/07

    The argument for what's considered a person has got to be the most ridiculous thing on earth. The one that surprises me most is when it's said that since the "thing" in the mother's womb is dependent on her for survival, it's not a person yet. I wonder what they think of the person lying in a hospital bed on a respirator, etc and their life is dependent on machines. Do they cease to be a person?

  10. yo, actually as we saw with the terry schiavo, they do think that about people on respirators

  11. k.a. a lot of these people don't care about baby or mother, they're pursuing some kind of weird theological obsession and their behavior has done more to legitimize abortion than anything else

  12. I couldn't agree more. And it isn't odd how the christian right oppose abortion yet miraculously support the death penalty, in light of the many death row convictions being overturned thanks to DNA?

    And the liberals support abortion for all but oppose the death penalty and howl about how inhumane Saddam's execution was?

  13. Yo, society wants to kill off(without using those terms) anyone that is not useful, young, attractive. They project their own feelings onto the disabled person. Because they wouldn't want to live in that condition they assume no one would. It's pure arrogance and grossly insensitive.

    Isn't it odd how liberals rallied around Christopher Reeve but never spoke up for the rights of Terri Schiavo?

    Her parents loved her and weren't burdened by her condition. She was incurable but NOT terminal. What happened to her was murder by starvation.

  14. yes, there's no real consistency, just people pursuing their agendas and both sides are morally flawed

  15. Anonymous9/2/07

    Keliata, the thing about being disabled is you do feel less human. :] It has nothing to do with what the world perceives, it's that you know you were created to work and be independent, to make a living. It's in our DNA. :]

    When all that is gone, it does something to you. Maybe if you were a bum to begin with it might not bother you (LOL) but those of us who thrived on being useful to society it's tough. It's a battle to overcome.

    My outlet now is trying to make my disabled friends laugh and encourage them to never surrender - never give up. It helps me with my own struggles to win.

    Sultan: I forgot about that case. Thanks for the reminder! So we're back to reality. If a person is only a person by not being dependent on any thing or being - then no one is a person. (big grin) The moment Hashem stops thinking about a person, they cease to exist - Poof! We're not independent beings. :]

    I told someone once that they didn't exist, that only Hashem does and they got really angry. It infuriated them to think they weren't an independent entity. It was really fun to watch! (evil grin)

    Have a good shabbos everyone! :]

  16. Shabbat Shalom Yobee :) You too Sultan :) You, too Lemon :)

    A lot of the problems I see with how society views the disabled is that most people worship independence. Some of it boils down to outright selfishness. Having a disabled person do as much as they can for themselves is one matter, ignoring their needs and demanding that they stand on their own two feet is another.

    What's wrong with interdependence on one another? Aren't we all disabled in one manner or another because of illness, disability or financial circumstances?

    We as a society are all dependent on Hashem and He wants us to look out for one another, too.

    Whether it's abortion, death penalty, end of life treatment, or the disabled we've all become much too lax in our respect for human life. Abort a fetus for flimsy reasons such as the convenience of the mother. Execute a person (who might be innocent) who has gotten subpar legal representation or was convicted before the advent of DNA testing.

    Consider the cost-to benefit ratio of continuing care to a ventolator dependent person. A big thing on most hospital bioethics boards.

    And on top of all of this, we have people who value animal life more than human life.

    A case in point. Years ago, a local woman was arrested for blinding a donkey. The DA was flooded with calls. Granted, it was a tragic story. The donkey was old and very gentle. At the same time, a baby was murdered in the city.

    No outraged phone calls to the DA. Nothing. People cared about the donkey and not the baby.

  17. Anonymous10/2/07

    re: the sci-fi scenario and "potential humans"

    let's say the average woman is capable of giving birth to twenty five babies and she opts to only have five. That's twenty people that COULD have existed who now don't. So do women "kill" and "murder" simply by refusing to pump out as many babies as humanly possible? Should we have that right?

    so let's say "David" is/would be the tenth child, but "David's" mother doesn't want to have any more children. Should she be forced?-To have as many babies as she is physically capable of having? What role does a woman's WILL play in this? Do women even have wills? And if so does that matter?

    What if on the night "David" is to be conceived "David's mother" isn't feeling frisky? Should "David's" father force her to have sex against her will? Does she have the right to refuse sex that could lead to a potential human being formed? Does any woman? Rape is just forced sex-who cares about the women's will-it's no big deal to force her right?

    what if a woman is about to have an abortion for a bad reason? To what lengths is it acceptable to go in order to save the unborn's life? Would it be okay to strap a woman to a gurney and MAKE her give birth against her will? Put an IV in her against her will so that the baby is sure to get nutrition? I mean that woman is WRONG-who cares about her will? Shoot while we're at it why not put microchips in women to track women and make sure that none of us tries to abort? Do women have the right to refuse being microchipped if it would end abortion?

  18. Of note is the fact that the European Union has said it will stop all foreign aid to Argentina if that nation does not permit abortions immediately.
    you can see how the culture of death demands sacrifice of infants on Molochs altar.

  19. With all due respect catlady, there is a vast difference between a married couple using birth control--natural or artificial--and abortion.

    With birth control, the baby never existed. In abortion, the baby/fetus/embryo is very real and very much alive. Debates of personhood aside.

    Also, I don't believe an unborn baby should be treated differently merely because the mother wants the baby or not. For example, when doctors do in vitro surgery on a fetus (yep, it happens) they ensure that the general anesthetic is sufficient to relieve the pain of both the mother and the baby.

    In abortion, the baby suffers horribly with every act of abortion--first, second, and definitely third trimester.

    No one forces a woman to give birth. She can use birth control or abstain from sex. Does that seem extreme? Well, human life is that important. So important that sex shouldn't be engaged in casually with little regard for the consequences.

  20. Anonymous11/2/07

    hysteria over abortion escapes me.
    Why would women be so hysterical over the right to kill?
    And what does birth control and abstinance have to do with abortion catlady?

  21. Anonymous11/2/07

    re: keliata's remark
    well yeah, I think there's a vast difference between using birth control and having an abortion
    just as I think there's a vast difference between having an abortion and killing a baby

    but if we are going to regard fertilized human eggs the same as born human beings-why stop there-"before I formed you in your mothers womb I knew you"

    we say things like -just because the baby isn't born yet why should that make it any less human? Well just because the baby isn't conceived yet why should THAT make it any less human?

    born and unborn, conceived not conceived-what's the difference?

    re: LL's remark
    women having very early abortions is not the same as sacrifices to moloch-
    and no women should die from illegal abortions because they aren't allowed to have early abortions

  22. "we say things like -just because the baby isn't born yet why should that make it any less human? Well just because the baby isn't conceived yet why should THAT make it any less human?"

    There's a difference between talking about something that exists and something that doesn't.

  23. Catlady--No one forces any woman in western countries to have an illegal back alley abortion. No one ever has (except perhaps in countries like China). The women who died undergoing illegal abortions made a choice. It's not as though they didn't have a choice. They did.

    Women have many other choices--birth control, abstinence, birth and adoption.

    It's a myth that women are perpetual victims of their bodies. We have many choices as I already stated. But I think ultimately it's about controlling our sexuality. Ditto for men as well, though the stakes are higher for women.

    A woman having sex before or outside of marriage or a teen having sex before marriage is simply more likely to seek an abortion.

    It's quick, relatively inexpensive and as long as the woman tries and is able to block it out of her conscience, it's easy.

    Birth control and abstinence are options for married couples. Or if their finances are strained they can have the baby and give it up for adoption or have relatives raise it.

    Unmarried couples simply shouldn't be having sex in the first place. Period. We're not animals. We do have self control.

  24. I cannot reconcile how a physicians can perform surgeries on an infant--born or in utero--and then in an abortion suck a fetus (who can feel pain)out of its mother's uterus or burn it with saline or..well, I'll not go into partial birth abortions other than to say it's the abortion industry's attempt to skirt laws against infanticide.

    Why does one fetus warrant compasionate and humane care and the other not? Why is a fetus tortured and killed just because its mother doesn't want it?

    It's hypocritical, barbaric and immoral.

  25. Anonymous11/2/07

    Catlady says:

    "just because the baby isn't born yet why should that make it any less human? Well just because the baby isn't conceived yet why should THAT make it any less human?


    I guess when a person murders a woman, he/she should also be charged with the death of her "potential" children? Shouldn't this be the case for men then, too?

    Why is it so difficult to understand that abortion is harmful not just for the baby who's life is terminated, but for the woman/girl who makes that awful decision for the sake of convenience?

    There will come a time in the life of a woman who has had an abortion, when she will become profoundly aware of the family she destroyed. Don't delude yourself into thinking this is some small unsettling realization.

    Women and girls who abort their children who have emerged out of the narcissistic, me, me phase of their lives, realize fully what they've done. Yes, some are unaffected. Others will never get over it. Something they can never make right. Guilt, depression, self- hatred, substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide are only a short list of the nasty side effects of ending a pregnancy - not to mention the barbarity of killing the unborn. Why do people who would never dream of killing an unborn puppy support abortion? What's wrong with adoption?

  26. Anonymous12/2/07

    I'm so sick of the cr*p shoveled out to justify abortion: A woman's right to choose or the "health of a woman?"

    As humans this is not a far cry from molech but as Jews to somehow stridenly attempt to justify hacking off the branches of of our own tree is ... indescribable. It leaves me without words. Women in death camps risked their lives to protect an infant so unfortunate, or blessed to be born in a concentration camp. And today we are so sophisticated and, and cavilier about how an unborn Jewish child can be such an inconvenience. Excuse me while I go weep.

  27. "Before you were formed in the womb I knew you" does not refer to the physical house which encloses the spirit.

  28. Absolutely Udiyah. And I doubt abortion clinics ever let a woman listen to her baby's heartbeat or perform sonograms prior to most abortions. If they did, there'd probably be fewer abortions.

    As Sultan concluded this article by saying we hold a life in our hands. This is very true. The thing is, do we value a life that cannot speak? A life that is incapable of work? A life that can result in financial hardship?

    Well, by that criteria we could just as easily be talking about the handicapped, elderly, the poor, the homeless--as well as the unborn.

    It's easy to dimiss a HUMAN embryo as a fertilized egg as if it's no different from a chicken embryo.

    I was once a fertilized human egg...then a fetus...then an infant...and so forth. My form may have changed, developed, but the essence of me, my life, has been began with the union of my mother and father.

    At what point would someone be justified in ending my life, and in the most horrendous means possible? Embryo? Fetus? old age?

    Thank G-d, my life was in loving hands from the very beginning.

  29. Anonymous14/2/07

    I realize this thread is dead but re: kaliata's remark

    1) the "pro-life" movement is against birth control-among other actions they have successfully pressured HMO's not to cover oral contraceptives

    2)you say "unmarried couples simply shouldn't have sex in the first place. Period. We're not animals. We do have self control." Well golly-it's just so simple isn't it? Hey while we're at it -people simply should just NEVER kill or steal or lie or do any other sin -wow!!! it's just so clear to me now- no need to consider what to do WHEN peole murder or steal-the answer is "just don't do that" no further thought required. We should all just be perfect-instead of being flawed humans beings who make mistakes!!

    what really irks me about this topic is that I agree with prolifers-I'm not pro abortion I think abortion stinks- but the disregard for women's lives THAT"s what really stinks-but hey no need to think about it-just don't have sex-it's so very simple.

  30. Anonymous15/2/07

    Catlady says:

    "but the disregard for women's lives THAT"s what really stinks"

    It stinks because it's an excuse. The reason women actually terminate a pregnancy for "life threatening" reasons is miniscule. It's a great excuse.

    That's what stinks.

  31. Anonymous15/2/07

    here's an example of concern for non-conceived humans -I'll just post a small piece -if you want to read the whole thing go to the site at-

    By January W. Payne
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, May 16, 2006; HE01

    "New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

    Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

    While most of these recommendations are well known to women who are pregnant or seeking to get pregnant, experts say it's important that women follow this advice throughout their reproductive lives, because about half of pregnancies are unplanned and so much damage can be done to a fetus between conception and the time the pregnancy is confirmed."

    (notice how this concern for women's health is for the sake of the yet to be conceived baby and not for the actual living woman herself )

    re: udiyah's last remark-your not the only one here who said the number of women who terminate pregnancy to save their lives is miniscule-this in itself is trivialization and disregard for women-the purpose of this statement is to draw attention away from women and bring it back to the unborn

    then one can follow up this statement by adding that the number of women who die from illegal abortion is miniscule compared to the number of unborn babies that die

    followed by-the number of women who have abortions because they are raped is miniscule....

    followed by-the number of women who actually are suicidal and/or psychologically unable to bear the child is miniscule....etc etc.

    the point point being-disregard women and focus on the unborn

  32. I've heard of this piece before and seen it make noise in feminist circles

    it seems dubious to treat any woman as potentially pregnant and that approach has led to doctors refusing some kinds of medication to women who were not pregnant and not planning to be pregnant

    however it's impossible to say there's no concern for the lives of women either, with all the programs that do exist for women's health by the government


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