Statesboro, GA, USA
"Unique DNA is both an arbitrary and a moving target, Stephen. It's arbitrary because there is nothing in the uniqueness of a DNA chain that defines human life. Many cancers carry a unique chain (i.e., mutated), yet I doubt anyone would argue against excising them."
Cancers are pathological, Ron ...involving random mistakes in the DNA sequence. They are not really unique chains at all ... they are skewed chains, not reconstructed ones through meiosis and fertilization. You canít compare reproduction and pathology convincingly in the real world. It isn't merely uniqueness of DNA, but the beginning of the individual human organism which should make plain the difference between an embryo and a neoplasm. There are indispensables in the beginnings of the human organism, that even cloning cannot get around. Individual human life will never happen without a beginning point ... a point where an oocyte is fertilized ... or given a nuclear transplant in the example of cloning. Either way there is a determinate starting point where an organism unique from the mother emerges. No branch of science considers an embryo to be an organ tissue of the mother... it never occurs during the female lifespan without fertilization from outside (either naturally or artificially). Embryology and Gynecology recognize that impregnation is the line where a new organism emerges that begins to follow marching-orders in it's own unique pathway.
Though I don't agree with some of the philosophical assertions made here, the following pages are a good presentation of what science contributes to the debate as to when human individual life begins.
"Once a person is hooked to a machine for life support, are there any conceivable circumstances under which a doctor can justifiably remove the support? Once a woman is pregnant, are there ANY conceivable circumstances under which she is justified in removing her "life support?" I don't see how anyone can possibly answer Yes to one without answering Yes to both. And the minute you do, we are no longer arguing the sanctity of life, but rather the "circumstances" that lead to our value of life."
The answer to the first question about Life support ... from someone who works around this kind of thing day in and day out . . . Emphatically Yes.
The answer to the second question about abortion . . . Emphatically No.
Must the answers be the same for each? Only if you are painting in broad enough strokes to overlook the significant differences between the two. Once a person is recieving life support ... what are the specific circumstances under which a doctor may justifiably remove the support?
1) When the patient is able to communicate his or her desire to withdraw artificial life support, or has communicated this through "Advanced Directives" ...involving the patient's direct choice
2) When, in a medical condition where the patient is unable to communicate, a designated family member or guardian who holds "Power of attorney" decides in the stead of the patient that life support is to be discontinued ... still often involves the patient's choice through choosing guardianship
3) When, in a medical condition where the patient is unable to communicate, a family member is forced to make the decision by default as "next of kin" ... still often involves the patient's choice, in choosing not to prepare advanced directives.
4) When, in a medical condition where the patient is unable to communicate, and there is no available family or guardian, the doctor makes the decision ... often involves the patient's choice in choosing not to prepare advanced directives, and in choosing his doctor.
In each of these circumstances there is at least some measure of the patient's choice or will being involved. And where the patient is able to communicate, the patient's will is law. In the other instances it is not wholly in the patient's hands. But in the case of abortion ... there is not a chance of the baby excercising any influence of will in the matter. Even when someone makes an ďend of lifeĒ decision for someone else with no input from that person, it is surrounded by justifiable circumstances ... usually end stage disease, and poor prognosis.
Let's look at the natural versus artificial distinction a little closer. It's not so much a matter of always insisting that whatever is "natural" is best. Rather it is looking at the whole context of the actions involved. I mentioned this before. Most often the choices concerning life support are due to end-stage disease, with poor prognosis, and many people in such conditions choose not to have it. Many people recognize that as Ecclesiastes says "There is a time to live and a time to die". Ron, as a nurse from a practical standpoint ... there are times when death is inevitable and it is known by all. Often everyone is brought to unanimity about the issue ... physicians, family, nurses, friends, and sometimes even the patient themselves. Ron you canít convincingly say that these two things are the same. Your points have some validity, from a standpoint of theorizing ... but not in practice. And if you want to say itís about quality of life rather than sanctity of life ... fine. Still, in a land slide of cases the actual future quality of life of an unborn baby cannot be predicted. Yet with end of life decisions, the prognosis and quality of life can be predicted very well. I see it day in and day out. Your juxtaposition reveals two very different animals here. Cessation of mechanical support also is in no way comparable to mechanical means to actively kill. There is a reason why ending life support is accepted and Kervorkian isnít. Now if you want to compare two practices which are actually very alike, compare abortion and Kervorkian-style active euthanasia. These are true kin.
ďStephen, you are trying to define a point on a continuum. What is the first numerical fraction between zero and one? No matter what number you pick, I can always find one both before and after it. And no matter how you want to define the moment of human life, there are compelling arguments that will move your point in one direction or the other. The alternative is to say that one second you're not human, and the next second you are. The Catholic church paints the point even before conception, recognizing that the potential for human life has intrinsic value. Others will place the point at viability. Every single point on the line is an arbitrarily chosen one. The conundrum is that none are logically wrong.Ē
Yes, Ron, I am trying to define a point on a continuum. We have to. But I am maintaining that scientifically (without getting into philosophical muddles that might for example suggest there is no real divide between say my Fatherís life and my own) there is good reason to accept that a an individual human life begins at conception. Embryologists and Gynecologists accept this in practice. There is strong persuasion here. And if you want to look at all offered points ... conception is actually the middle ground between the Roman Catholic view and pro-abortion. The difficulty with your stance is that in saying every line is arbitrary, every line must be just that ... arbitrary. But why stop with pre-birth decisions? What persuasive argumentation can you give against an arbitrary decision that infanticide is okay? ... or that murdering three year olds with IQs under 60 is okay? I agree with Jim about the dangers of justifying one thing by another ... (ie letting abortion ride on the merits of ending artificial life support). Your view also leads to a slippery slope in my opinion.
[This message has been edited by Stephanos (06-12-2003 05:40 PM).]