Monday, November 26, 2007

What begins when?

Talk about this blog being late to the debate. In a political ad for Mike Huckabee, we hear him say:
I believe life begins at conception.
Stop right there. From a biological point of view, that's nonsense. Why? Because there is life in the egg and sperm prior to conception. An egg and sperm are "life" (doomed to die if they don't merge, but life none the less). So what is Huckabee talking about?

Almost surely, he is speaking of ensoulment:
In Christian theology, ensoulment refers to the creation of a soul within, or the placing of a soul into, a human being ...
Where "human being" is any collection of cells (from one to trillions) with Homo sapiens genes aggregated together.

In the abortion debate, the use of the term "ensoulment" should be widespread. "Life" is a confusing word since it can refer to tumors, cells shed when shaving, blood, and any other cells undergoing metabolism.

Also, using the term ensoulment makes it clear what's being discussed. Virtually everybody would say that "life" for a unique genetic human, has a starting point at conception. But fewer would agree that "ensoulment" starts at conception. Some don't believe a soul exists. Others place encoulment later in fetal development (e.g. quickening).

So the next time someone talks about abortion, be sure that they use the term "ensoulment" throughout the debate. Accept no substitutes.

CODA: In the Huckabee ad there is a text-overlay: "Supports Federal Life Amendment". Shouldn't that be "Supports Federal Ensoulment Amendment"? And wouldn't that put it in direct opposition with the First Amendment?


Do you have some sort of comprehension problem?

I had no trouble understanding Huckabee. He's saying that a human life begins at conception. An egg is not a person, nor is a sperm. Once the two merge, the DNA is uniquely combined, and a unique human begins to develop.

This is the source of the Catholic Church's objection to birth control pills. The pill prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Hence it is actually a form of abortion because a human life is created, then destroyed when it fails to embed in the womb.

No need to involve the soul. Eggs are not unique individuals. They contain an exact copy of the mother's DNA. Neither are sperm. They contain an exact copy of the father's DNA. When the two combine, they create a new, unique individual human being. No need to confuse the issue with "ensoulment" and other semantic cleverness.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/26/2007 4:20 PM  

Actually this "unique human" can and does split into two different people up to 2 weeks after conception.

It's just a ball of cells until it is fully differentiated.

Granted, it has the potential to develop into a person, and in the natural course of events it will, but as a practical matter killing this undifferentiated ball of cells is no different than preventing an egg and sperm to join.

By Anonymous Troy, at 11/26/2007 8:22 PM  

oh, and I've been around enough pro-lifers to know that this ensoulment issue IS the main drivespring of their moral opinion on abortion. They believe God "knows people" in the womb, since there's an Old Testament verse to that effect.

By Anonymous troy, at 11/26/2007 8:26 PM  

To anon: Really? If Huckabee and others really care about human tissue, then shouldn't they support the maintenance of tumors removed from patients? It's human DNA. And it's unique (there will always be some differences at the molecular level). It's just as human as a fertilized egg. Why not care for these cells as well?

As troy said, it's because they believe there is something in there (i.e. a soul) which is not present in a excised liver tumor.

And I'm not trying for "semantic cleverness", I'm looking for a clear definition of terms and consistent application of policies (towards "life" or "ensouled entities" - depending on which you choose to support).

By Blogger Quiddity, at 11/26/2007 10:57 PM  

Q, I do think you're trying to be a bit too clever. You need to argue this on the gut level, not the "toenails are human too!" abstract level.

A large amount of religious people do believe that this is about souls, but they are perfectly able to disguise this, even from themselves, as anon above so ably does.

The larger issue, to them, is the woman's interference in God's plan. God clearly wants the woman to have this baby.

At the political level, it's important to attack these buttinskis at the moral level, and the best way to do that is to re-argue the moral and legal logic of Griswold & Roe itself, namely society can have an increasing interest in the viability and health of the fetus, but we must always balance this interest against the right of the mother to be in control of her body, and health, at all times.

By Anonymous Troy, at 11/26/2007 11:18 PM  

If Huckabee gets his way, are masturbators, off hand, his next target?

By Blogger Shag from Brookline, at 11/27/2007 6:01 AM  

Troy: "God clearly wants the woman to have this baby."

Then your God is a real klutz when it comes to creation, as something like 20%-30% of all embryos are lost due to miscarriage. If "God clearly wants the woman to have this baby," why so many miscarriages?

I don't care what Huckabee's (or Paul's or Troy's) imaginary friend thinks - birth control and abortion are no one's business but the woman's.

By Blogger Laurie Mann, at 11/27/2007 10:26 AM  

Laurie, I'm just repeating what I think the pro-lifers think.

Those miscarriages are also part of "God's plan" -- these people think anything, good or bad, is part of God's plan.

It's a powerful logical trap they've fallen into.

The way I like to argue this is trying to get them to examine the difference between contraception and the undifferentiated blastocyst.

It's a common fact (that they have to agree to) that the ball of cells they think is a person can become TWO people, naturally, up to two weeks after fertizilation.

Interfering with the development of this blastocyst, like eg. the "morning after" pill can, perhaps, be seen as morally equivalent to interfering with the fertilization itself.

If they can agree to that, then the moral and legal logic of Griswold and Roe can be followed.

By Anonymous Troy, at 11/27/2007 10:36 AM  

Not to hijack this thread but I've often wondered why Christians don't support human cloning. I mean the whole object is to get as many "saved" people into heaven so if you're "saved" you should clone yourself and that way you'd get two people in heaven for the price of one. In fact, logically, Christians should exterminate all non-Chrisitans and then just repeatedly clone themselves as necessary to maintain population. Then everybody would go to heaven and no one would ever go to hell.

By Anonymous e. nonee moose, at 11/27/2007 1:58 PM  

With cloning, what is to come of "love babies"?

By Blogger Shag from Brookline, at 11/28/2007 11:14 AM  

Anon has a two-fold comprehension problem. He gets both theology and science wrong. Well played!

The pill (and the morning after pill) prevent fertilization, not implantation.

The Catholic Church, unlike the ignorant bible thumping fundamentalist churches endemic to the US, actually knows something about science, and understands the issue. Their objection is that interfering with the progress of sperm interferes with God's will. This is why the Church is against ANY form of birth control, save the rhythm method.

Some within the US Catholic hierarchy have reached the opinion that the free will of a woman to prevent a rapist's sperm from fertilizing her eggs should be respected in Catholic hospitals. This opinion is not broadly accepted by the wombless celibates who run the Church.

By Anonymous mark, at 11/28/2007 6:40 PM  

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