10 February 2008

Personhood

I offer here two candidates for the status of person, with all the moral and legal implications which that status carries, including the affirmation that the physical destruction of this entity would constitute murder from a moral and legal standpoint. See if you can guess which of these two the mainstream Christian religion accepts as a person.

Candidate #1 is an irregular microscopic spheroid consisting of between 70 and 100 undifferentiated cells. This entity has no consciousness; it has no awareness or volition of any kind, not even in the sense that an insect does. It has no brain, no nervous system, no senses, no organs whatsoever; it has none of the capacity for purposeful activity that, say, bacteria and other single-celled organisms have. Barring extraordinary and unlikely intervention with advanced technology, it will never develop into anything other than what it now is.

Candidate #2 is a middle-aged female whose IQ is somewhat below yours and mine. She cannot read or write, but she understands a great deal of spoken English and can use a vocabulary of at least a thousand words of another language which is widely-known in the United States. She is active and self-aware and has a very distinct personality. She experiences the full range of feelings typical of human beings: affection, curiosity, anger, frustration, pride, joy, sympathy, sexual lust, and so on. She has friends. She makes jokes. She paints pictures. She wants to have children.

Ready for the answer?

Candidate #1 is a blastocyst generated as a surplus by-product of an in-vitro fertilization procedure, being kept in storage at the clinic where the procedure was done. There is no prospect of it ever being implanted into a human uterus and developing into an actual fetus, but the embryonic stem cells it contains could be of immense value to medical research.

Candidate #2 is Koko the gorilla.

To fundamentalist Christianity, the blastocyst is a person and the act of destroying it to harvest the stem cells it contains constitutes murder and should be forbidden by law -- because it has human DNA, just as do the cells you shed (far more than 100) every time you blow your nose or scratch your skin. Koko, an individual who thinks and feels and understands and "talks" (in American Sign Language) is essentially a thing, because she is a member of a species other than human -- though more than 97% of the gorilla genome is identical to the human genome, with less than 3% of it showing any differences.

I beg to differ.

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6 Comments:

Blogger tina said...

Wow, I like this post! Craziness of it all...

10 February, 2008 17:58  
Blogger the chaplain said...

Excellent post. We humans tend to have some very skewed ideas about ourselves and our place in the cosmos. These ideas lead to strange, sometimes disastrous, decisions regarding resource allocation and morality.

11 February, 2008 06:20  
Blogger Ordinary Girl said...

Nice post, Infidel.

12 February, 2008 04:26  
Blogger FranIAm said...

Holy crap- what a great post!

This shows where literal and linear thinking alone gets you.

Dynamic and critical thinking seems to be the solution.

13 February, 2008 06:44  
Blogger Batocchio said...

Now that's an interesting angle!

13 February, 2008 12:02  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

That's fucking brilliant! Very nice contrast.

27 February, 2008 11:35  

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