Is there a graduating scale of how alive someone is? Can we say the injured adult on life support for massive trauma is less human? They are not viable outside of the hospital bed, or self-sufficient. Under normal means, many people at any given time can be incapable of independent living. In the future they will hypothetically be capable of living on their own again. For this reason they are artificially supported. It could be a major trauma with a positive post-surgery prognosis or a debilitating disease undergoing treatment. The individual is factually incapable of living without support in the immediate; it is understood however they will at some definite point be able to function normally. It is a matter of time, not their present state, that determines the viability of a human.
There is a problem here. For a child, it is simply a matter of time, as with an adult, before they are independently able to develop. It can be tracked with relative exactness, more so than an injured adult waiting to achieve viability yet again. Is the worth of an adult life measured in the immediate? Is the use of medication or ventilators presently determining a lack of viability, thus a non-human status? We await the day a person heals and returns to normal. We await the day when a child takes its first steps. Eats with a spoon for the first time. Walks to school alone; was the child less human before each measure of independence from Mother?
This larger problem of independence looms. What stage of development is considered independent existence from their parents? Can anyone with a child actually claim they develop independently? A preterm baby, in a ventilator and receiving treatment as the trauma patient does, develops further. They follow the same route every baby does no matter their supported location or placement in time. A child still in the womb, at the same level of development, is just as capable of surviving the external treatment other children their age undergo. Is a baby post due date more, or less, viable? Are the considered “alive” but in the wrong location? They were considered “alive” and “viable” if they had been born on the due date. Is a preterm baby alive but non-viable? They are outside the womb, but not independent of support. Is a trauma patient alive but non-viable because of the same support? Does the location alone form the determining factor? Are children born in the “wrong” nation less human or less viable, because of locale?
There are milk banks, for women to donate breastmilk, for premature infants, some in the 20th week. Preterm babies do better when fed breastmilk. (Their own mothers won’t lactate for many weeks, given the circumstances). Studies show premature babies – even extremely fragile early ones – grow healthier and better when put skin to skin with parents or volunteers, and carried upright as part of routine treatment. These simple developmental facts of nurturing demonstrate their humanity. The children are not independent of support, even if considered alive and viable.
A newborn is certainly considered viable. If one, however, chooses to ignore their viable (and according to the definition, “further development can occur independently of the mother”) newborn and have them develop independently, they will find the opposite result of the definition of viable. The newborn will quickly die of a few factors. Failure to thrive and starvation being two immediate ones. A mother who does not rear her offspring kills it with neglect. How is this possibly independent growth? If anything, a born baby is less viable than a baby in the womb. A gestating baby has everything provided and done for it, the mother does nothing but exist. A born baby needs constant care and feeding. We also continually push back the age at which a baby will survive early labour. Even 18-week babies surviving, while rare, is not unheard of.
In the Victorian Era, there was a wasting disease of babies, called “failure to thrive”. The babies could be taken care of materially, but they would still die off. Orphanages had a 100% mortality rate at times. Anecdotal discoveries made some doctors instruct their nurses to hold each baby for a short session each day. The failure to thrive deaths drastically reduced. Children need human contact to be healthy and even to survive.
The direct translation of “fetus” (Latin) to English, is “offspring”. When is the fetus capable of growth and development independent of the mother? A baby’s world is the mother, whether in or out of the womb. A newborn needs physical contact to be healthy, has to be fed and needs to be cleaned when soiled, as well as protected from harsh climates (it is winter here in Ontario, necessitating shelter and warmth) and predators. An infant is no more capable of survival than a newborn, and a toddler may eventually be potty trained and go through the fridge, but cleanliness and nutrition are far out of reach. A child cannot outrun predators or fight back, but cannot care for and sustain itself alone. While most teenagers may actually get through singular survival out of sheer rebellion and foolhardiness, college and university students seem to be in regression. They apparently cannot emotionally handle mean words, they throw fits, smash things and scream when they don’t get what they want/their own way, and can’t cook Kraft dinner: making them about as capable as the toddlers.
So what is viability? What is humanity? If we found DNA floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter, it would be alien life, from Jupiter. When we find human DNA in a woman’s womb, we question what it is. That DNA is the same at conception that it is when born, that it is when an adult, and still the same hundreds of years after death extracted from the pulp of a tooth. That “mass of cells” is always going to be born from a woman, either naturally through the birth canal or via c-section. That “mass of cells” will always be a baby at birth. It is not a guessing game or mystery box. We never ask a woman “is it human”, but “boy or girl”, with the presupposition that she has a baby inside her.
A “mass of cells” at 7 weeks looks like a little peanut, with a visible head and body, and more importantly, with an evident beating heart, pulsing like a strobe light. That is not a mass of cells, that is a definable human being, with a brain. At 19 weeks, when the average ultrasound takes place, a woman can see her baby’s skeleton, the features of the skull, its actual brain and inspect the lobes herself; one can see the baby kicking, sucking its thumb and watch its heart beat and the different sections of the heart work.
Anywhere else in the world but inside a human mother we would say that baby is a human. The very place that baby is intended to be somehow negates its humanity and makes it a “mass of cells”.
No child is viable, by the definition of viability, for no child can live without their mother or a comparable surrogate. A newborn and infant surly cannot develop independent of their parents; warmth, safety, sustenance and even the need for touch are dependent absolutely on the mother (and includes the father). In what way is this dependence “independent development occurring”? The baby’s brain is still growing, the skull has a soft spot and the plates have to shift into place and eventually knit, it has no practical immune system, the liver doesn’t function for weeks and the digestive tract is incapable of processing normal food if the toothless gums could even manage anything; these are growth and development. There is huge visual and verbal development in the first weeks (compare the cries days after birth to the babbling and laughter-squeals at two months, or how long before the baby follows sounds with its eyes) post birth. Language and walking don’t come for nearly a year. Those are developments and growth, and language is dependent on the mother/father or family-clan-social group.
If we can kill children for a lack of viability, we have two solutions: there’s no killing of humans (especially for the decisions other individuals make), OR we can kill people for convenience or monetary reasons, up until they are able to work and provide for themselves. All a fetus needs is a place to live safely and a source of nutrition and contact with another human. Isn’t that the definition of survival and viability for all humans?