Why Personhood Matters

Imagine you lost your mother, after an illness, at the hospital. In as much as any death is easy, hers is… and then it starts.

Months later, after much legal fighting, they finally give you her mortal remains– a couple of tissue samples in little boxes, kept behind the secretary’s counter for when you came in to get them for a proper burial. You’re handed the shoebox and told to sign here, here and here, be careful, those are bio waste.

Horrifying, isn’t it?

How about this:

Your little son’s best friend, the youngest in his family, is a little corker– always cheerful, full of mischief like boys often are, a whirlwind of energy. He’s nearly a decade younger than his older brother, who has a dire medical condition. Your son mentions that his friend will be in the hospital for a while, but doesn’t really have any details– it’s doctor stuff, and his friend hadn’t given much detail.

The little boy doesn’t come back. After a lot of trying to find out why, you find out that he was born to be a suitable donor for his older brother. There was a complication in the donation, and the little boy didn’t make it. His mother is considering hormone treatment or possibly a surrogacy pregnancy (sorry, hiring a “gestational carrier” or two) if the transplant doesn’t “take” in the older son.

Maybe you’ve seen Blade Runner? Pretty ridiculous, right? A cop that goes around killing people because they happen to be clones that had a bit of a quirk added to mark them as not “really” people….

Ooops.

That only took about four years from when they started publicly suggesting cloning humans in emptied animal eggs.

Hey, how about that proposal to bring back Neanderthals? If they stick to that pattern, we’ve got about three years until we find out they’ve already done it. Not sure when we’ll find out they’ve been gestated, although I can’t imagine it will be too very long until we find out that the animal-egg-humans have been. Given the low success rate for cloning mammals, I shudder at the number of small, dead people.

Even clones who are utterly identical aren’t automatically treated as people in pop culture– Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode where an entire colony of clones was on screen, passing seamlessly as totally normal humans, and ended with a main character killing his own clone. Righteously indignant that someone had dared copy him without permission, in fact. (About a decade later they tried to “fix” this philosophical issue, but only with a fully developed clone that could speak. For added irony, the character was a womanizer– that’s how they got his DNA, he was flirting with one of the clone ladies.)

Hey, while we’re busy pruning the tree, how about a few modifications?  They mean well, after all.  (In fairness to Star Trek, they touched on this in Deep Space Nine– modified humans are basically second-class citizens, but that’s just to keep people from saying “screw it” and taking the risk.  They had several episodes about the bad results, even when it went as intended.  Played as a sort of induced autism, which seemed like a pretty good choice….)

Look to the Netherlands for a notion of where we may be headed; ’non-voluntary’ euthanasia, killing babies for ‘quality of life’ reasons… amazing how many lives just aren’t worthy of life once you start in that direction, isn’t it?

The comments over at this article on Ricochet lead me to a description of “The Thanatos Syndrome.” I can’t bring myself to read it– some things are just too close to be enjoyable, and I really don’t need the situation to be humanized.  Already read a few books on the Nazis, back in high school. Still remember those simple black-and-white photos of lady’s gloves made from human skin, and lampshades with the tattoos carefully displayed.

Hey, anyone want a Pepsi?

9 Responses to Why Personhood Matters

  • O Brave New World! Huxley was the prophet of the times in which we are living.

  • That is too horrid to contemplate. And, they’re (the guvmint) stealing your hard earned (those of you that still have employment) money to do it.

    Of course you are evil and filled with “ancient religious hatred” (phrase uttered by Clinton press sec’y Lockhart re: opposition to sodomy) if you oppose it.

    Earth shakes on Tuesday; hurricane hits on Sunday: we have it coming . . .

  • I was recently asked to consider contributing a paper to a group producing a series. The paper was to consider the importance of a “personhood amendment” to the U.S. Constitution – an amendment that would define a human being at all stages of life, from conception to natural death, as a “person”.

    After reading relevant Supreme Court cases (and doing so again for an undergraduate course I am teaching this Fall), I let the group know that a personhood amendment would not solve the problems in which we find ourselves. My reasoning is that the current crop of “personal liberty” cases involving abortion focus on balancing the mother’s “liberty” with that of the state, and in nearly all cases, the state loses. Why? It’s not because the unborn isn’t considered human, or even a person – rather, the court’s language indicates that the state has no ability to protect the life of the unborn prior to a certain time, and never under certain conditions, and that the woman’s choice is paramount.

    To use the language of Casey:

    “It must be stated at the outset and with clarity that Roe’s essential holding, the holding we reaffirm, has three parts. First is a recognition of the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. Before viability, the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure. Second is a confirmation of the State’s power to restrict abortions after fetal viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger a woman’s life or health. And third is the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.”

    And, of course, “health” in the jurisprudence is so loosely defined so as to mean “any reason whatsoever” – from the Roe justifications:

    “Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it.”

    So, here you see the Court engaging in removing the problem of whether the unborn is a “person” or not, casting the language in that of self-defense and medical care. Even if the courts were presented with a constitutional amendment of personhood, this still would not undo the damage of Roe, Doe, and Casey. In addition, the instrumentalizing problems you suggest, I opine, are a result of a utilitarian calculus, whereby the means to a happy end are through horrors. A direct amendment of the constitution against abortion, fetal harvesting, cloning, etc., would be the most powerful statement, but a “simple” personhood amendment, I fear, would change nothing.

    Just a short aside on a thought your post sparked.

  • Jonathan -
    I didn’t know anything like all the specifics, but when I think about it I’m not surprised. Wasn’t there a ton of unwinding needed to undo all the precedent after slavery was abolished, not counting the attempts to get around the legal equality of former slaves/blacks?

  • Foxfier,

    Yes, and in the process, the Court and Congress created all sorts of wonderful things designed to enhance their own power.

  • A good scifi movie that explores a possible “clones for organ parts” scenario is “The Island”. Unfortunately it falls into the stereo type of all big corporations, governments and rich people being evil, but interesting movie nonetheless.

  • Yes, science has steedily moved in this direction since the first decade of the twentieth century. Darwinism and evolutionary thought generally, led peopel to see human beings as expendible, and subject to scientific engineering. To the latest ideas regarding the greatest good or the individual’s desire. No longer are we seen as created beings responsible to our Creator, the Creator who has revealed his nature and will through scriptural revelation and who is believed on by faith.

  • Thanatos syndrome, yes, Walker Percy. I meant ot bring him up the last time, but I couldn’t remember his name. In one of his novels, Percy communicated that we really are at the center of hte universie, God and us, and that what concerns us is the story we’ve been given, the BIble. As always. Some things don’t change. Paradigms shift, but the fundamental concerns remain.

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