Friday, June 08, 2007

Which DNA has the soul?

We would be surprised to hear that a president had vetoed our space program because the invisible spirit of the moon would be offended, yet we're not surprised to hear that the man who never vetoes will veto research on human stem cells because he believes in people without bodies who live in another universe far, far away.

Say you're an embryo - of course if you were, you wouldn't be saying anything or thinking anything, but I will save that for later. Say you're frozen in liquid nitrogen (another reason to be uncommunicative.) Say you're a clump of stem cells only beginning to differentiate into cells with specific functions, but you're frozen along with many others because you're not going to be used and are destined to go down the tubes like a dead goldfish. Because these cells each have a full human blueprint in their nuclei, George Bush would insist that they are human and possibly American citizens as well, even though he would hardly consider a few hundred cells taken out of his own body to be a separate and fully human being with civil rights.

Now what's the difference? even though that microscopic clump was put together in a petri dish from two other bits of cellular material already quite alive but soulless; at the moment the technician combined them, the invisible, omniscient, omnipotent, but undetectable humanoid waiting to destroy those who don't say the magic words, installed a soul. the set of plans in each zygote has no soul, but combine two strands and you get a soul. Sound like Magic? Of course it does, because that's all it is. Souls are no more part of reality than phlogiston or the Ether. The question is not and never has been about when life begins. Life began billions of years ago. The question is when does humanity begin and that's a question not easy to answer with a slogan.

For a rational entity, it begins with human characteristics and the prime human characteristic is mental function. For primitives, it's about supernatural, invisible, immortal entities with no physical reality but with the ability to think and move and perceive and suffer. It's about souls. Without the invisible in the picture, one lump of human tissue is no different than another. Humanity is achieved over time, not installed by magic and an embryo is just flesh.

This concept of supernatural souls with an independent being may go back to Aristotle, but it isn't really biblical in my opinion. There is no discussion of abortion in the Bible and to my reading, a foetus is only human after its first breath - just like Adam. The obsession with saving the souls of blastomeres is all about the notion of original sin and the damnation of unbaptized souls. The "right to life" people have no particular interest in keeping you alive once you've been sprinkled. The immortality of single cell souls is a religious notion peculiar to a certain dogma and something not really suitable to be supported by Federal law.

Some people were really pleased to have George Bush's Christian soldiers occupy our country and be quartered in our homes. Some felt like they had Jesus in the White House. For my part, I have respect for Jesus and none for George but I no more want either of them in the oval office than I want Quetzalcoatl in Congress or Krishna in the courtroom.


Reign of Reason said...

The idea that a ball of around 100 cells - a blastocyst -- is a "human life" is beyond absurd to anyone who actually thinks about it.

At this stage of development there is no cellular differentiation... and I believe this is the stage at which stem cells are harvested.

The irrational debates that go on concerning this topic are simply ridiculous: there isn't even an issue. It's like the national discourse is being conducted with the village idiot, but taken seriously.

d nova said...

gud post!

fust o all, some folk object 2 callin it a "clump," but i think it's a perfectly gud wrd.

2nd, clearly the techie who put it 2gether mus b the creator who endowed it w/ life, liberty, n pursuit o happiness.

3rd, i dunno when humanity bgins, but it's not fully human till it has a conscience, n that's smthng neither bush nor bushie cn speak authoritatively bout.

4th, i'm pretty sure it's at least a blastocyst by the time stem cells are xtracted.

Capt. Fogg said...

Cyst, mere - it's all Greek to me, but just don't call it a baby.