Saturday, February 25, 2006

Being human is extrinsic to who you are...

Domenico Bettenelli has a post about a Vatican conference on the issues raised by research involving stem cells derived from embryonic human beings (linked above).

The article he cites, at Catholic World News, observes that the Catholic Church's opposition to such research "is now under attack, the Italian bishop noted, with advocates of embryonic research and of the “morning-after” pill advancing the argument that human life does not begin until the fetus is implanted in the uterus" (emphasis added).

Now, let's think about this -- not theo-logically, but merely logically.

Shall we say that "being human" depends on this exterior interaction -- i.e., the fetus being implanted in the uterus?"

Consider: what if a human embryo could mature fully without ever being implanted in a woman's uterus? Not too many years ago, that would have sounded rather fantastic, but is it any longer? Let's not kid ourselves -- someone has to be working on this -- an artificial womb.

So, shall we really say, "this? This is human, because she or he was implanted in a uterus; but here? No; because it never was."

No theology here; just basic reason. Is that reasonable? Someone defend this, please.

Because what that means is that being human is not an intrinsic quality -- but an extrinsic quality. And if that's true -- if it's something "added from outside," then others -- not the putative human subject we're talking about -- decides.

And, of course, that's where we've been with legal abortion thus far. The actual legal reasoning at work in our present law on the subject is that location makes one a person -- specifically, the location of your head: if the fetus' head is located inside the womb, he or she is not a person. Hence partial-birth abortion.

Those of us who live in societies with the expectation of safeguarding that gift of Christian civilization -- universal human rights -- live every day in the expectation that our humanity is not in question; we don't have to prove it; we don't consider that anything exterior to ourselves would make, or unmake, our humanity.

Try thinking about life without that...go ahead: imagine living in a world in which whether you are human depends on what someone else says about you; or what someone did -- or didn't do -- to you at some stage of your development. Two "beings" are in all ways essentially the same; one is human because of where he gestated; the other is not.


Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

Good for you, Martin. I guess I was laboring under the impression this was too obvious to need defending.

It would be interesting to see if your post convinces anyone who is illogical enough to think otherwise.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Fr Larry:

I don't expect to do any real convincing, but I figured I might be able to provide some articulation for folks who are on the right side, but don't know what to say.

It may be someone will attempt, as I requested, to provide a serious defense of the other side, on logical grounds; if so, I will benefit from seeing just what that argument looks like. I'm not holding my breath for that to eventuate; but it would be nice.

Rachel said...

The second part of this page
has some very superficial arguments against the Catholic position.

This page notes that some scientists are redefining pregnancy to begin not at conception but at implantation. This lets them deny that the Pill can act as an abortifacient: sometimes it fails to prevent ovulation and fertilization, but does prevent the early embryo from implanting in the uterine lining. I think quite a few Christians who don't accept Catholic teachings on birth control would nevertheless give up the Pill if they were aware of this.

I take the First Things definition of life: something that possesses an inherent active biological disposition for self-directed development toward species maturity. It will become a human adult, given the required environment and nourishment. (Saying a person shouldn't count as human unless she can nourish herself denies the humanity of newborns.)

Rachel said...

Hm, that first link got cut off on my screen. It's

And the second (just in case) is