The Question of Jake or John

This is a Public Domain document. It may be freely copied/posted anywhere.

The purpose of this document is to perform “reductio ad absurdum” upon a generic claim made by abortion opponents, that just because some entity is human, it also is a person. Well, persons usually have names….

(some fiction, including fictional persons)

Once upon a near-future time, there was a pair of identical twin brothers named Jacques and Johnathan. Their French mother and American father agreed that one of the boys deserved to have a fine French name –but as they grew up, everyone simply called them Jake and John.

Identical twins exist in degrees of similarity; some are easy to tell apart (a mole on the skin, say), and some are very difficult to tell apart, especially if they deliberately groom and dress themselves the same way. Jake and John were the latter sort, and delighted in pulling pranks that often caused both to be punished equally, but only half as much as was deserved, because no one knew which of them was really the guilty party, and which was innocent. (We are ignoring fingerprints, footprints, retinal scans, brain-wave analysis, and other specialized ID methods in this fiction.)

Eventually the boys became old enough to learn to drive an automobile. At first they were cautious and drove wrecklessly, but one day one of them became overconfident and drove recklessly. There was a truly terrible accident, witnessed and reported by someone who had been passed at high speed just before the wreck.

The emergency crew that reached the scene of the accident found both boys unconscious. One had a badly crushed spine and multiple broken ribs that had caused significant internal organ damage; the other had a fractured skull and several relatively minor additional injuries. Both were rushed to the hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit. Eventually the prognosis was determined: The young man with the fractured skull was brain-dead, and the other, comatose, would never walk again and likely would be bedridden due to the internal organ damage.

Or would he? As it happened, this hospital was in a large city and had in residence a world-famous neurosurgeon, Doctor Frank N. Stine. He had been involved in determining the prognosis, and now he proposed a bold idea, that a double head transplant be performed. The good head could be attached to the good body, and eventually a complete recovery would be possible. The dead head could be attached to the ruined body, and then be given a decent funeral. The case was ideal because they were identical twins, as perfectly matched donor and recipient as could be wished.

The parents, recognizing this as the best hope for their surviving son, agreed, and the surgery was performed without incident. Some weeks pass and the young man wakes from the coma. But who is that person, Jake or John?

(back to reality)

It may seem like a silly Question, but as far as the Overall Abortion Debate is concerned, the Answer has huge ramifications. For abortion opponents, whenever they talk about an unborn zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus, all stages of growth are equally important and must be allowed to survive. Now note that for the first 6 weeks or so, the unborn entity has in-essence no brain at all; a clump of neurons begins to fire during the 6th week. Nevertheless, if all stages of human growth during pregnancy are equal per claims that none may be arbitrarily killed, then abortion opponents opponents must be doing the equivalent of declaring that the early-term brainless body is as important as the brainy late-term body. Therefore the existence and capabilities of the brain are actually totally irrelevant things, to abortion opponents.

The primary all-encompassing (and unproved!) anti-abortion argument, that “human life matters”, has a problem in that the Constitution doesn’t use the word “human” even once; it only uses the word “person”, and only grants protections to persons. Therefore abortion opponents find themselves in the position of insisting that a living human body must be a person, regardless of the status of the brain. That is the only way all unborn humans can have protection under the Constitution. Therefore! For abortion opponents the Answer to the Question of Jake or John must Logically, despite its total absurdity, be something like this: “No matter which one his head claims to be, that person is actually the other one, the donor of the body.” Entirely because, to abortion opponents, the body is the person and the brain inside the head is irrelevant!

In one of the classic sequels to the original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” fantasy-story by L. Frank Baum, there was a person called Princess Langwidere, who could replace her head with another head and yet still be Princess Langwidere –that is, only the body mattered. (She also wanted to add Dorothy’s head to her collection, even though Dorothy wasn’t done using it.) Well, the Oz stories were extremely popular for decades, and are still “in print” (like Homer’s “Iliad” is still in print). Furthermore, Pricess Langwidere was featured in a relatively recent TV miniseries and movie (expiration of copyrights allowed new Oz stories to be written). In other words, knowledge of the idea that personhood can be tied to the human body, and the brain is irrelevant, is wide-spread. Perhaps that explains why many abortion opponents are willing to claim that unborn humans are persons, and thereby see Pure Logic take that claim and reach the absurd Answer described near the end of the previous paragraph.

Modern computer science has a thing called “GIGO” –“garbage in, garbage out”. This tells us (among other things) that if the conclusion of valid Logic is ridiculous, then at least some of the data fed into the Logic had to be ridiculous, too. So, if the Question of Jake or John can have the absurd Answer deduced above, then any notion that the brain is irrelevant is also flawed –and the notion that “only human life matters” is flawed, too! Because that last item is the fundamental claim made by abortion opponents, which got processed by Logic.

In The Real World, modern medical science knows that the notion of brain-irrelevant personhood is arrant nonsense. Many abortion opponents know it, too, but are unwilling to admit it because the Objecively Verifiable Facts utterly destroy their “human”=”person” anti-abortion argument. Thus we could call the fantasy described above “the Princess Langwidere fallacy” –that fallacy is fully embraced by the above Logical-to-abortion-opponents-yet-absurd Answer to the Question of Jake or John. In Reality, of course, a human body is not the thing that equals a person. This is even Formally Recognized in all modern medical cases involving a brain-dead adult human on full life-support. The doctors and the scientists and the Law ALL agree that if the brain is dead, the person is dead, and the still-living human body is totally irrelevant.

Meanwhile, pro-choicers know that a person is a mind, and so whoever the young man claims to be (and isn’t lying!), Jake or John, that is who he really is. The human body, and even the human brain, is totally irrelevant to the concept of personhood, and abortion is allowable because unborn humans simply don’t have minds worth talking about. If the mind of an adult pig is measurably more capable than the mind of a human infant, yet pigs can be routinely slaughtered because they are mere animals, not persons, and if dolphins can be declared to be persons because their minds are significantly even-more capable than the minds of pigs, then the barely-functional minds of unborn humans are just as much non-persons as their barely-functional human bodies. That is, abortion only targets mere-animal entities, not persons, even just before birth.

The situation is that simple.