Rights & Tolerance | February 16, 2004
Column for Review
a Catholic and a biologist, I respect the value of life. As an
American, and a human being, I cherish the rights of life and
liberty. Abortion is an extremely difficult issue for most of us.
Fortunately, the facts of life do not yield to political
pressure; by seeking the truth, we can find peace.
does human life begin?" Disagreements
inevitably arise because that fundamental question is inherently
cell that composes a human body -- from a fertilized egg to the
cell at the tip of your nose -- is alive, capable of carrying
on the processes of life. And each living cell arises only from
the division of another living cell: At least since the days of
Genesis or the Primeval Soup (a different debate), "spontaneous generation" has been a myth. Except for the
evolution or extinction of a species, human or any other life
never truly begins or ends; it just goes on and on.
all well and good for the human species, but individual
human beings are born and do die. The question is not so much "when does human life begin?" but rather
one human life begin...or end?"
recent decades, as "right to life" laws have been
continually debated, "right to die" laws have been generally
decided: In most states, the end of a life -- a truly human
life -- is defined by the irreversible cessation of higher
body may have a heart that beats and lungs that breathe, at
least with the aid of machines; a body may exhibit reflex
reactions, from a jerking knee to a "silent scream"; but if
the brain no longer demonstrates truly human thought,
feeling, and awareness, the person who inhabited that body
is legally -- and most would agree actually -- dead.
that is when a truly human life ends, then when does a truly
human life begin?
to the very best science, the neurological connections required
for truly human thought, feeling, and awareness do not form
within the brain of the human fetus until approximately the 28th
week of development -- depending upon the experiment and
individual involved, that figure may vary somewhat; but by every
account, it is within the third trimester.
is no more murder to abort a human fetus in the first two
trimesters than it is to withhold life-support from a terminally
ill patient in a vegetative state. Unpleasant as they may be,
those are the facts of life.
when I am asked, "Are you 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life'?" I have to answer in good conscience "Both": I am pro-choice for the first two trimesters and
pro-life for the third.
that position typically evokes disdain from both sides of the
debate, I refer people to the law of the land: The Roe v. Wade
decision allows few restrictions on abortions during the first
two trimesters but many during the third. In its reasoning, the
Court focused on the "survivability" of the fetus; although
viability out of the womb is more a matter of technology, it
seems the Justices arrived at a decision consistent with
however, is more than biology. It is indeed, as the pro-life
forces insist, a matter of morality.
how can one say that a being -- not yet born or no longer
living -- possesses a soul if he or she does not possess truly
human thought, feeling, and awareness -- the very essence of a
soul, according to virtually every faith on Earth?
who favor "right to life" laws are generally the same as
those who opposed "right to die" laws. I hold them in
respect for erring on the side of life, as much as I hold in
contempt those who sent millions to their deaths in the
there are other lives at stake -- not only the women who are
pregnant but also, today, the victims of Parkinson's Disease,
spinal cord injuries, and other disorders who may benefit from
research on "stem cells", harvested from early human
of course, there are liberties, which as Americans we are supposed
to value at least as much as life itself.
is not simple. That is why God gave us brains. If we use them in
this emotional issue, we may discover our souls.
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