By Patrick B. Craine

VICTORIA, British Columbia, October 23, 2009 ( – The video of Wednesday's debate on abortion at the University of Victoria (UVic) is now available on Youtube, showcasing a brilliant example of pro-life apologetics and civil, academic debate.

The debate, hosted by UVic's pro-life club, Youth Protecting Youth, featured Stephanie Gray of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform and Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge, UVic philosophy professor and bioethicist.

Miss Gray's argument cut through the various issues that are often raised to confuse the abortion issue, boiling it down to the two simple questions: Are the unborn human?  Does abortion kill them?

If the unborn are human, and abortion kills them, then abortion must be wrong, she maintains.  Using potent examples, she explains how criteria such as disability and the lack of experiencing pain are not satisfactory justifications for killing any human if we recognize that they are human, unborn or not.

She demonstrates that all of the differences between an unborn human, even at the moment of fertilization, and a born human are merely accidental – size, level of development, environment, dependency.  Each of these differences, she says, distinguish a two-year-old from a twenty-year-old just as they do a fertilized embryo from a born person.

Dr. Kluge, on the other hand, agreed that the unborn are human. For him, however, the central issue is personhood.  Abortion, he said, can only be condemned if the unborn are not only human, but also persons.   Personhood, he said, is determined by the “capacity for sentient cognitive awareness,” and so a fetus is not a person until “eighteen to twenty weeks.”  Abortion is not unethical until the fetus has reached that stage, he said. 

Even after the period of 18 to 20 weeks, however, he says we must address the problem that occurs when the rights of the fetus come into conflict with the rights of the mother.

Dr. Kluge dismissed what he calls the “argument for potentiality,” which would condemn abortion in the early stages of development because the fetus is a “potential person.”  “Is the fetus a potential person?” he asks.  “Yeah, of course it is.  So what?  My sons and my daughters are potential Nobel prize winners.  Do they therefore have the right of the Nobel prize right now?”

In rebuttal, Miss Gray said that Dr. Kluge's argument defined personhood as being “human plus something.”  By making sentience or brain activity the criteria for personhood he distinguished personhood based on level of development and this is “age-based discrimination,” she said.  “Why should I believe that definition?” she asked.  “Why shouldn't I say the definition is birth? … Or you could be Peter Singer and say 'no, no' it's sometime after birth, if you can function in a certain way, then you're a person.”

Dr. Kluge maintained, in response, that sentience is, in fact, a “threshold” that is not just about age or development.

The two sides were clearly in disagreement, and impassioned by their cause, but eminently respectful.  Despite a small protest and certain remarks from the audience, the event was in marked contradiction with recent attempts for similar dialogue on other Canadian campuses, providing a strong example of academic freedom in the face of strong disagreement.

See related coverage:

University of Victoria Abortion Debate Overflows Capacity 

McGill University Officials Speak Out Against Silencing of Pro-Life Presentation 

Pro-Life Event at St. Mary's U Told to Disband after Protesters Disrupt