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Girl Ipsa suggests that we've been asking the wrong question all along...
This issue has been right in the front of my brain for a long time now. After all, I am a woman, a mother, an intelligent person, and a member of humanity all of which implicate a desire to satisfactorily resolve the question of
"When does life begin?"
Last week in constitutional law class we briefed and discussed both Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (its more recent progeny). Both of these decisions refuse to answer our question. They couch the issue in terms of "Potential Life" and then decline to issue an ultimate answer, a finite point, at which we will all say "Yep! That's life alright." We just suffice it to say that the state retains an interest in the protection of potential life. **
Potential life... Girl Ipsa has already suggested (The Pope and learned scientists all concur) that ALL GAMETES ARE POTENTIAL LIFE. Lets just face the fact that technologically all CELLS may be potential life. With the advancement of cloning, your fingernail clippings are potential life. Anything that contains DNA. The cells naturally sloughed from the inside of your cheek and contained in spit have the potential to be cloned into a new human life. Does George Bush imagine a day when we will work hard to protect ALL POTENTIAL LIFE? I honestly do not know what he would think of that idea but I must imagine that he would find it just as laughable as I do.
When life begins is not that hard a question to answer. Both sides of the abortion debate hesitate to answer it, though, since it will most likely create a bright line of demarcation. A nice, dark, clear line which on one side allows folks to do whatever they want with what is not yet life and on the other side effectively precludes doing anything but buying diapers and starting a college fund.
Isn't this the ultimate situation where our own dislike of the result works to change the process? To change the answer. To change the path we take in order to get where we want to end up and to hell with the plain simple fact of the matter that life begins when sperm meets egg and cell division starts?
I think we're asking the wrong question. (Think for a bit about what the correct question might be...)
Here is an interesting article about scientists putting a lot of effort into "technically" protecting life. I am excited about the idea of compromise, some point where we can feel alright with ourselves morally while still gaining all the advantage and knowledge and progress we can from science. However, to be honest, isn't this just technically better than another option? Do we really prefer creating a fetus which could never become a person to stopping one from becoming a person in the first place? What is the actual difference in the end? We're splitting hairs with this kind of distinction. To my mind we're wasting time as well.
Then I am left to wonder since when do we care what the U.N. thinks anyway? Really. Is the current administration going to praise the U.N. for calling for a ban on cloning? Does this some how make the U.N. relevant again? I'm sorry for my confusion. I just can not keep up with when they are relevant and when they are irrelevant and when we care what what they think.
Back to the question. Have you been pondering the correct question? Or the more correct question? I have a suggestion, friends. It's just a suggestion but think about it.
The question is not when does life begin but rather when will we protect life. At what point do we, as a society, assign individual rights requiring protection to a life?
Obviously, as the mother of an unborn fetus, I am allowed to protect it from harm and to vindicate its rights from the moment of conception. No one may force me to abort it or to hand it over for medical experimentation. I can maintain a cause of action for its death or injury. And if you kill it with malice aforethought and without my consent, you can be prosecuted and punished for its murder.
Also obviously, once a baby is born we protect it. Society protects it even from its parents. It goes without saying that we protect persons individual rights, including those rights of the woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Clearly an adult woman is "human life" beyond mere potential...
So the question is really when will we begin to protect life, not when does life begin.
Keep in mind that we are discussing things here. We're thinking. We are formulating opinions based on factual information and thoughtful contemplation. Perhaps after that we'll start to suggest some answers but for today we're looking for the correct questions.
** I do not subscribe to the idea that these sorts of questions are meant for the United States Supreme Court to answer in any event. I do not think that a bunch of judges are better able to decide this than scientists and theologians and philosophers and parents and grandparents and doctors and priests and anyone but a bunch of old judges.