by Wayne Lutz, April 19th, 2001
Recently I had the misfortune to become involved in yet another abortion debate, during the course of which I was given cause to ponder a wider perspective on the issue than the usual, mundane "oh no you can't," "oh yes I can" pro and con banalities. Bear with me.
The spark which fired these particular synapses came from an unexpected source - an otherwise intelligent being of my acquaintance, man of science who on most social issues leans decidedly to the right of center. The sentiment leading to my arousal was expressed as follows:
"A fetus, at least early in development, is not a human being. "Killing" a fetus is no different than "killing" any other tissue biopsy. ...the bottom line is that all this bull- about a five-celled embryo being a full-fledged human being is bull-." (Expletives modified so as not to offend my own fragile sensibilities.)
At first blush this would seem a perfectly logical assumption. A mushy little cluster of cells could hardly be characterized as a "full-fledged human being" by any thinking person. That cluster of cells - how many was it? Five? - has not yet had the opportunity to develop any recognizable human form - no arms, no legs, no system of nerves through which to feel pain or pleasure, no brain, no mind, no beating heart. It probably doesn't even have a social security number or a 401K.
The obvious question to proceed from that position is, of course, just how many cells does it take a life to make? What is the magic number of cells to which when just one more cell is added transforms a "tissue biopsy" into a human being? And more importantly, who among us would be so arrogant as to presume to know?
The answer, of course, is that no one can know. Therefore, we are called upon to make one of the two easy choices: Either life begins at conception, or it begins at birth.
There really is no rational reason to believe that a "tissue biopsy" is somehow magically transformed into a human being as it passes into the cold, unless one is willing to believe that God Himself is standing at the end of the delivery table waiting to breathe life and soul into that mass of cells at that moment. But life-begins-at-birth is the most convenient claim for the self-absorbed, or for the justification of such procedures as partial-birth abortion.
The life-begins-at-birth position is, of course, every bit as arbitrary as would be a claim that life begins when the cell count reaches 110,041, if not moreso. Ergo, in our quest to determine just when it is socially and legally acceptable to obliterate a new life, why stop at birth?
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton who calls himself a "Darwinian leftist", is known for his advocacy of animal liberation, infanticide, and euthanasia. In his book Writings on an Ethical Life, Singer argues that logical reasoning from the principle of ethical impartiality supports his claim that the lives of some animals are more valuable than the lives of some human beings. He asserts, for example that "a chimpanzee, dog, or pig...will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of advanced senility."
Killing a human being, then, is more serious than killing an animal only in that humans are capable of planning for the future, while animals are not. Therefor, if it is permissible to kill an animal for some good purpose, then it is equally permissible to kill a brain-damaged infant or a senile oldster.
To take this to its logical conclusion, even normal human infants lack the rational capacities for self-awareness that are found in some animals, and the life of a newborn human is therefore no more valuable than that of an animal with greater intellectual capacities.
There is then no rational behind the arbitrary assigning of "full-fledged human" status to that mass of human cells for no better reason than that it has passed through the birth canal, and the line between infanticide and "abortion" is blurred even further.
Now it falls to someone to decide at just what point in the mental development of the human child it does attain "full-fledged human being" status, with the concomitant right to life.
By extension, the life of an older human who has reached a stage of advanced senility at which his intellectual capacities fall below those found in some animals also has less value than that of those animals, and it becomes permissable to kill him as well, regardless of how his wife, kids and sister, aunt Bessie, might feel about it. But again, someone has to decide when that point is reached - the point at which that human life no longer has "value."
Thinking such as this taps a keg of social horrors which, once released, would continue to foam until society itself is flat and dead.
It is the height of human arrogance to presume to know at what point life begins, or at what point life no longer has value and should end. At the moment of conception, that single cell does not have the capacity to plan for the future, nor can it feel love or hope or charity. But the unique genetic code for that unique individual has been set down at that moment, and the human being who is to come has been absolutely determined.
At that moment, the moment when God's blueprint for that indivdual human has been written, life has begun, and it is not for a fallible human society to decide that it has no value, or less value than its inconvenience is worth.
Nor is it for us to decide that a life in decline has lost value at some point prior to that at which God's code has determined that it should end.
If there exists on Earth just one valueless human life, then no human life has value, and nothing matters.