Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reply to Steve

Steve commented:
    What I find appealing about the anti-ESCR position is that it simply identifies dignity with being a human organism. It doesn’t tread down that well-worn path which seeks to grant dignity to some but not others; rather, it is all-inclusive: if you are a human organism, you possess dignity, not because I grant it to you, but simply because you are a human being.

    Yeah, but doesn’t it bug you a little bit, believing that every single day there’s a massive embryo Holocaust as the fertility clinics take out the trash? If you could somehow know that you had successfully fertilized your wife’s egg, but the egg had failed to implant in the uterine wall (which happens about half the time), would you really mourn the loss of that embryo the way you’d mourn a baby, or even a miscarriage?

    Really, this “you have to draw the line somewhere!” argument might have scored points in college debate class, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that it actually proves anything. You’re drawing a line too, you know – the fact that we have a word like “organism” to neatly describe where your line is drawn doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a line. Somewhere out there, someone is disgusted that you won’t stick up for the inherent dignity of every sperm cell.

    For my part, I wouldn’t presume to know exactly where the line is drawn, but I’m pretty confident that you and I are way the f*** on one side of the line, and embryos in a Petri dish are way the f*** on the other side of the line. If you want to believe that embryos should be treated as if they’re actually little persons, then be my guest, it’s a free country. But the reason you take that position should be because you truly believe it, not because “it’s impossible to draw the line otherwise,” which is just a rhetorical jibe.

Steve's opening paragraph addresses the fact that people -- like myself -- who hold that the embryo has inherent dignity (apparently) do not mourn the destruction of human embryos in fertility clinics or miscarriages. In fact, plenty of women mourn when their pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. That aside, though, Steve seems to hold that we are to determine ethical truths on the basis of emotional responses. Supposedly, the fact that I don't weep over the killing of embryos in a fertility clinic somehow proves (in fact, it does not) that embryos are not morally equivalent to older human beings. Such a position is extremely vacuous. Prof. Robert George of Princeton does an excellent job of demonstrating this vacuity in this (lengthy) post.

I have to admit, I'm not sure what Steve's point is in the second paragraph, with his references to line-drawing. I agree, I do draw a line: human dignity is found in a human organism at the very beginning of that organism's existence. The line is at the first moment of that existence. I'd also challenge Steve, incidently, to find someone who holds that a sperm or ovum cell has the inherent dignity proper to human beings.

Finally, I do hold the position because I truly believe it, and I believe it because it's the only coherent stance. To "draw the line" later than the beginning of the human organism's existence (i.e. to assert that dignity is not possessed by the organism from the first moment of its existence) is either arbitrary or results in denying the dignity of human beings whose dignity is recognized by people on both sides of this issue (e.g. the severely mentally handicapped or the comatose).

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