Two Embryos Went Into a Church... is the beginning of an anecdote to which I catch my breath:
- What is a human being?
- When does life start?
- What is life?
- Is it ethical to create many embryos using only one and throwing the rest away?
- Is it ethical to use those extra embryos for scientific research?
- Are we euthanizing humans when we engage in such scientific experiments?
- What is the legitimate way to create such embryos - ovum & sperm or ovum & cheek?
These are some of the basic questions human society is struggling to answer. One side advocates a human life starts when fertilization occurs and a soul is created. Experimentation on such an embryo is unethical and amounts to murder. The other side says the embryos can be used to cure diseases and improve medicine and presumably they hold that a human is not yet evident in such an embryo.
The best I hope to achieve with this discussion is to ask questions and thereby point a small flashlight on a as-yet darkened landscape within which we walk. There are no clear paths through the terrain. It is filled with myriads of flora and fauna throughout the diverse landforms. There is ample opportunity to stumble.
The most basic activity of any discussion is the definition of terms. It is the first activity that must be carried out in order to properly set the boundaries of a discussion. Unfortunately, it is the activity least performed and by neglecting it, most discussions disintegrate into verbal "fisticuffs" and rants of "oh yea?!".
A start to that definition phase will be the use of, and definition for, the term "embryo". Most of us visualize a human shaped form with head, torso, arms and legs in an amniotic sac. But consider that in the first few hours of fertilization the cell(s) are growing and splitting in an amorphous aggregate called a blastocyst. The important point to consider is the emotional meaning associated with words. People fight to protect a human-form embryo, but maybe not a blastocyst.
The context of this discussion is the U.S. House of Representatives bill banning human cloning that would make it a federal crime to clone people to produce children or to create embryos for
medical research. The ban passed on July 31, 2001, with a vote of 265-162 in favor of the measure. It would set fines of $1 million or more and up to 10 years in prison for violators.
I remain uncommitted as yet to one position or the other on this issue of human cloning. I belong to the school of scientific thought and easily lean to the side for medical research. However, the questions of what is a human life, when does it start, and does it have a soul catch my breath as I worry over 'just how' to explore those questions.
During the floor debate on the bill Representative Jim Greenwood, a Republican from Pennsylvania, sarcastically pointed out that supporters of the ban claim that a cloned cell - the product of an ovum and a cheek cell - would create a soul and thus need protecting. Rep Greenwood advocates allowing cloning for medical research.
This raised my eyebrows. Rep Greenwood has raised an interesting question:
What constitutes a human embryo - only the traditional Ovum&Sperm or does it include Ovum&CheekCell?
Medical science has forced us to re-examine our definitions. A small attempt at a list of questions that need extensive debate:
- When does life start?
- If not at fertilization, when?
- What is a "human" life?
- When does a "human" life begin?
- What method of fertilization produces a human embryo?
- What is a soul?
- When does a blastocyst or embryo "get" a soul?
Like me, you may now let out your breath.
Relax a bit.
Pose these questions to your subconscious.
Tell us what you think.
While you perform your daily activities pause once in a while and
look over that darkened landscape with your own flashlight.
Oh yes, finally... The Two Embryos?
Well, one was the dutiful child of a proper church going nuclear family. Daddy Sperm and Mommy Ovum sit proudly in the front pew with their offspring. This Embryo has a beautiful, pristine soul shining innocently next to her parent's (half?) souls.
The other Embryo was the result of an illegitimate union of Ovum's whoring sister and a randy Cheek Cell. Upon entering the church this poor child was whisked off to the cloisters to be hidden from society. That Embryo is to spend its time in prayer and solitude for the salvation of its soul.
A predetermined damned soul, but a soul nonetheless. (Derived solely from the half soul of it Ovum mother?)
At least that is what the city elders seem to say.
House Votes to Ban All Human Cloning, MSNBC NEWS SERVICES, http://www.msnbc.com/news/607516.asp?cp1=1, August 1, 2001.
House Rejects Clones, The Associated Press, http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/cloning010731.html, August 1, 2001.