Why Personhood Matters

Friday, August 26, AD 2011

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:

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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.

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  • 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.