Short Takes

Another good explanation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, this time from Lawrence Tribe. Tribe thinks that if the issue is decided by the Supreme Court, a majority of the justices will find the Act constitutional.

John Paul Getty III has died. Remember when he was a young man and was kidnapped and held for ransom? I had forgotten what colossal assholes his grandfather and father, Sr. and Jr., were. Sr. and Jr. refused to pay the ransom, so after about three months the kidnappers hacked off III’s ear and mailed it to an Italian newspaper, with the threat of mailing more pieces of III every few days until the ransom of $2.8 million was paid.

The threat led Getty Sr. to pay $2.2 million, which, according to The New York Times, his accountants said was the maximum that would be tax deductible. Getty Jr. coughed up the rest but had to borrow it from his billionaire father, repayable at 4 percent annual interest.

Kind of takes your breath away, huh?

Some troglodyte in the Ohio Legislature has introduced a “heartbeat bill” (warning: do not read comments to the article; they are beyond twisted) that would ban most abortions after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is about six weeks’ gestation. Lots of women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks gestation.

According to 2009 data from the Ohio Department of Health, 56.6 percent of abortions in that state occur in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. And since the fetal heartbeat appears on monitors by six weeks into gestation in most cases, supporters of the bill believe that it could prevent thousands of abortions.

Correction — it would prevent thousands of medically safe abortions. However, the coat hanger industry would thrive.

Thinking about this got me thinking about the old brain wave question, which seems to me a lot more relevant than heartbeat as to when there’s a “person” there. There are tons of articles on the Web that say fetal brain waves can be detected as six weeks’ gestation, also, which is obviously wrong. I found a good article debunking the claim that says,

Remember, an EEG involves measuring varying electrical potential across a dipole, or separated charges. To get scalp or surface potentials from the cortex requires three things: neurons, dendrites, and axons, with synapses between them. Since these requirements are not present in the human cortex before 20-24 weeks of gestation, it is not possible to record “brain waves” prior to 20-24 weeks. Period. End of story.

There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the bottom line.

8 thoughts on “Short Takes

  1. Years ago, I remember reading somewhere that the Bible does not prohibit abortion. appears to confirm that this is accurate.

    As for when life begins–biblically speaking– it begins when a baby draws its first breath.

    Personally, I have no idea when “life” begins. Just wanted to point out that those who oppose abortion on Christian religious grounds may be hard put to find justification for doing so in the Bible.

    • As for when life begins–biblically speaking– it begins when a baby draws its first breath.

      I understand that’s what Jewish law says, and I’m not aware of anything in the New Testament to contradict that. I don’t believe it was that big a deal in Christianity until sometime in the 19th century.

  2. I’m sorry, and I know this is wrong to say, but if we had to wait for conservatives to show signs of “fetal brain waves,” we’d probably confuse them with signs of dementia, senility, or Altzheimers.

  3. Now, if you want to check Conservatives for “Fecal Brain Waves, ” that would be no problem.
    I think ‘shit-for-brains’ evolves long before before the heart, since they don’t seem to have one of those either.

  4. Larry Tribe is a smart man, which is why I can only guess his seeming polyannaish faith in the Supremes is actually an attempt to force them into having to decide that way, by making it widely obvious that people are watching and that any decision that is obviously in contradiction to established precedent will be noticed as hypocrisy.

    I have no faith they would decide the case correctly on its merits, but I do have some lingering hope that they might be made hesitant about pulling another Bush v. Gore when the spotlight is on them.

  5. Kind of takes your breath away, huh?

    Yeah, sure does! Considering that the going interest rates in that year were about 8 to 9%. What self respecting conservative billionaire would let over 4% of $2.2 million dollars escape his clutches?

  6. I have to agree with Tribe’s reasoning – he spoke with examples something I was mulling as a gut feeling – that the USSC would not find it easy to strike down the law on Constitutional grounds, whatever their political preference. Wasn’t it Scalia who met with conservative members of Congress for breakfast and gave them a lesson they did not want to hear, particularly re the tenth amendment.

    To those of a political bend, myself included, there is the tendency to look for those favorite constitutional quotes that support my view. To a Constitutional scholar, the process of making a decision is affected by the trend(s) of decisions on similar issues – which is where Tribe went in his editorial.

    WHEN the USSC reviews the Health Care Law, it will be important WHAT decision they decide to review because which issue is worthy of review will affect the outcome. So will the USSC review a decision based in the interstaye Commerce clause or the mandate or the tenth amendment.

  7. Harold J. Morowitz and Clarence J. Robinson, both from George Mason University, explain what they believe is the point in fetal development that defines it to being human in terms relevant to the abortion debate. They cite the brain stem as the defining factor in determining when a fetus becomes a person as it governs most of the body functions: heartbeat, respiration and automatic muscle responses.

    Before I continue, let me present the metaphor they use to help explain their rationale: a pile of wires and switches is not an electrical circuit and a pile of microchips is not a computer. Keep this in mind as I present their explanation.

    In their book, “Facts of Life:Science and the Abortion Controversy,” they make a clear distinction in electrical activity versus actual development of a functioning cerebral cortex, by pointing out the fact that all cells have some form of electrical charge, but it does constitute a working brain. They go to say that early in the development of the cortex, synapses form but there still is no large-scale wiring at this point.

    It is when there is a spurt of growth of spines on the dendrites (the branched projections of a neuron that act to conduct the electrochemical stimulation received from other neural cells to the cell body), that the brain transforms from a collection of individual cells into a connected machine capable of carrying out human thought. This development occurs at the 25-32 week mark and it is at this stage the professors declare that the fetus acquires the property of humanness—the closest step to personhood without actually being outside the womb.

    While I know science and conservatives don’t mix, Morowitz and Trefil do address the issue of “personhood” as recognized in our Constitution as a legal entity that has rights. While this puts aside your argument about the woman being viewed strictly as a “container” in righties eyes, it does approach the debate within the principles of the Constitution–something righties claim to hold dearly.

    But then again, it is science. Still, is a human considered living if they are essentially brain dead but still has a beating heart? Oh wait, we had this issue before with righties in the previous administration. *sigh*

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