Thursday, February 24, 2005

Persons or property that happens to be human?

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost is posting on this column by FindLaw's Sherry Colb.

Joe readily handles the basic thesis of Colb's argument that human embryos should be viewed as human property so I'll just comment on some leftover scraps.

Some quotes from Ms. Colb that I find odd include:

"Even if you take the latter of these positions (that the unborn are persons from conception), you might still believe that abortion should be legally permissible. You could take the view that an abortion kills a person but only in the way that refusing to donate blood or a kidney to someone who needs your blood or your kidney kills a person. "

You could take the view that intentionally killing a living person is the same as not doing everything you can to save someone who is already dying? Talk about ripping off the violinist. Somehow I can't understand how people can equate the two. My action of not sending enough money to save starving children in Africa is not the same as a decision to dismember a toddler.

"But what about the fact that stem cell research saves lives? That fact is relevant only if embryos are non-persons.

If they are persons, by contrast, then the fact that experimenting upon them would save lives has no more force in this context than it does in other human experimentation contexts.

She seemingly asserts in one sentence that embryonic stem cell research has saved lives when in fact it has done no such thing. It also seems that this part of her essay is trying to show that the unborn aren't really persons because some people who think that personhood begins at conception are also in favor of in-vitro fertilization and/or embryonic stem cell research.

"The difficulty with Judge Lawrence's wrongful death ruling - under this set of assumptions - is that it fails to correspond to people's intuitions about fertilized eggs and embryos that are made up of undifferentiated cells that have divided for only a few days after fertilization. A small cluster of undifferentiated tissue may mean a great deal to the man and woman whose cells gave rise to it, but most of us do not view that tissue as a person."

That tissue? I don't even know if an early embryo made up around 100 cells actually has what an scientist would call tissue. What an odd choice of words unless the sole purpose of that word choice was to dehumanize a self-integrating human being in the early stages of development.

Also, notice the survey method of reasoning. To Colb it seems that how "most" people feel about the unborn determines what they are. If most of us view embryos as non-persons well then they are, of course, non-persons. That same kind of reasoning would have worked for the slaveowner.

"When a child (or even a developing fetus after a certain point) dies, a person with characteristics such as sentience has lost something that he or she previously had. That loss stands in addition to that of the family members who mourn for the child.

In contrast, when an embryo is discarded by mistake, the only ones who lose are other people -- just as only other people lose when a couple decides not to have intercourse (and thus not to produce a child who could have been a wonderful person)."

To Kolb you can't lose your life and your life doesn't matter unless you have sentience and killing a human embryo is the moral equivalent of not having sex. She fails to recognize that the embryo is already produced. Sentience doesn't make something come into existence. The human embryo already exists. The human embryo isn't a "could have been," the human embryo is an "is." She is already a whole self-integrating human being who is currently not fully developed while sperm and egg are merely parts of other people.

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