Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pro-ESRC Argument is Divided Against Itself

Alan Padgett, a professor at Luther Seminary, is advancing a variation on the "life begins at implantation" assertion. The crux of the argument is

We also need a little more clarity about just what an “embryo” is. Zygote is the name for the earliest fertilized cell, until it is planted in the womb when it becomes an embryo. After about a month after implantation, when the basic organs begin to develop, we use the word “fetus.”

While “person” is notoriously difficult to define, we also need some sense of what a human person is. At the end of life, there is general agreement that a human person needs, among many other things, some brain activity. When brain activity ends, the human person’s life is over — at least in this life. Applying this to the start of life, at least some brain or neural activity would seem to be necessary for an embryo to be a person.
OK, at this point, as a nearly life-long user of language, I refuse to accede commonly accepted definitions of words to redefinitions by self-styled experts. However, Mr. Padgett is technically correct that what we are talking about are not embryos (operative definitions from Merriam-Webster Online):

Main Entry: em·bryo
Pronunciation: 'em-brE-"O
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural em·bry·os
Etymology: Medieval Latin embryon-, embryo, from Greek embryon, from en- + bryein to swell; akin to Greek bryon catkin
1 a archaic : a vertebrate at any stage of development prior to birth or hatching b : an animal in the early stages of growth and differentiation that are characterized by cleavage, the laying down of fundamental tissues, and the formation of primitive organs and organ systems; especially : the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception
From part b, it is clear that there is a stage(s) of the developing (read living) human individual before implantation. Note that this goes at the root of the Specter argument. Now, I would point out to Mr. Padgett that "person" has been long defined:

Main Entry: per·son
Pronunciation: 'p&r-s&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French persone, from Latin persona actor's mask, character in a play, person, probably from Etruscan phersu mask, from Greek prosOpa, plural of prosOpon face, mask -- more at PROSOPOPOEIA
1 : HUMAN, INDIVIDUAL -- sometimes used in combination especially by those who prefer to avoid man in compounds applicable to both sexes
Therefore, the human individual is a person, by definition, who has a life cycle that extends before implantation. This renders the assertion that neural activity is required for personhood irrelevant. But just to beat a dead horse, which is distinctly different from beating an equine zygote, looking at the definition of life (again) requires only that there be "the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body." That a zygote can be placed in suspended animation and then later have it resumed such that his or her development may continue along the normal life cycle proves that the distinguishing quality for a person's life at the stage of a zygote is decidedly not neural activity.

That such pro-ESRC arguments require we redefine arbitrarily the language to avoid their self-contradictions for supporting the destruction of living individuals of the family of man indicates that what is at stake is whether we as a culture choose to deny the first of self-evident truths and conclude that some lives are more equal than others.

Stem cell mushroom harvest:

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) delivered a position statement in favor of embryonic stem cell research to all members of the US Senate.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order that directs the state to spend $10 million on stem cell research, thereby bypassing the state legislature.

StemPAC launched to support stem cell research by rallying grassroots support and targeting elected federal and state officials.

George Daley, representing the American Society for Cell Biology, lays out the argument in favor of ESRC in Senate testimony. It's a long post, but it ought to be read for G-2 reasons, if nothing else.

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