Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Decisions, decisions

Mike Stark called radio host and pro-lifer Andrew Wilkow during his show and posed the following dilemma (I almost typed "koan"):

You find yourself in a blazing fertility clinic - the fire is ferocious. In one corner there is a two year old girl. In another, there is a petri dish with five fertilized blastula in it. You can rescue one or the other, but not both. Which do you rescue, the girl or the petri dish?

Well, I'm going for the petri dishes (sans the blasted blastulas) and the flasks, beakers, test tubes, and all the megabuck electronic equipment in the lab. Why of course anyone in his right mind grabs the toddler! Not microscopic clumps of cells! Not even if there's a roomful of them.

The following points by commenter "Quibbler"are on the mark.

1. Life doesn’t begin at conception. The sperm and egg were already “alive” prior to fertilization. The ovum has actually been alive for decades, because it was formed when the woman was a young girl.

2. The gametes (spermatazoa and ova) along with the zygote (fertilized ovum) which they form are about as “alive” as a hair follicle and most of us don’t hold funerals every time a hair falls out.

3. It is equivocation and false analogy to equate the “life” of a non-sentient, single-celled zygote, to the “life” of a meaningfully conscious, human person. A zygote doesn’t have a brain and therefore cannot suffer brain-death or even pain. Thus, it cannot die in the same way that a human being, with trillions of brain cells and a functional nervous system can experience death.

4. Nobody doubted that cells in Terri Schiavo’s body were “alive” in the non-sentient, biological sense. The reason that pro-lie whackos lost this debate in the view of the overwhelming majority of people, is because people recognize that everything that made Terri who she was as a conscious, living human, died when her brain was deprived of oxygen decades ago.

5. At conception a “blue print” is created to build a human person, but a blueprint is not the same thing as the finished product. Tearing up a blue print of the World Trade Center is quite different than knocking down the real thing.

6. The reason that saving the actual child is the right answer, Wilkow’s ignorance notwithstanding, is because the blastulas are non-sentient blueprints that cannot feel pain and cannot even become human beings unless they are implanted and survive a lengthy pregnancy. The little girl has cleared all of these hurdles and, while she still needs care, is qualitatively different than a tiny lump of cells far smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

My only criticism is that the blueprint-WTC analogy in No. 5 may not be fair since the design plans are in and part of the building itself so to speak.

(via Unscrewing the Inscrutable)

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