Posts Tagged ‘Personhood’


Yesterday North Dakota became the first state in the Union to pass a personhood ammendment that covers humans in their embryonic stages of development. Read it here at HuffPo. For all the work involved in getting to this day, the easy part is over, and the real fight lies ahead.

The lesislation, SCR4009, states:

“The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

While this amendment is beautiful in its absolutist elegance, it presents the Pro-life Movement with a constellation of challenges in selling this proposed amendment to the North Dakota voters who must now vote to ratify it. That won’t be an easy sell when the voters move past the noble principle and consider the specific applications in the lives and reproductive health of North Dakota’s women.

The first objection that will need to be overcome is what is to be done in the case of ectopic pregnancy, which occurs at a rate of 19.7 per 1,000 in North America. This is no small question, as even pro-lifers are split on the approach to this potentially fatal condition. All would agree that it is out of tyhe question to sit back and let nature take its course. Read here for a good article about ectopic pregnancy.

While many case spontaneously resolve, with the embryo being resorbed by the mother’s body, many do not. In the case of tubal pregnancies there are two basic approaches, only one of which is morally acceptable to Catholics. The first, and morally unacceptable method, is to treat the mother with drugs such as methotrexate, which target the baby for death. Proponents of this method prefer it, as it preserves the Fallopian tube for future pregnancy.

The direct targeting of the baby is morally unacceptable to Roman Catholics, leaving salpingotomy (removing the tube with the baby inside), as the only morally acceptable solution. This approach satisfies the moral principle of Double-Effect, which according to the David Solomon article just linked states:

four conditions [need to] be met if the action in question is to be morally permissible: first, that the action contemplated be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent; second, that the bad result not be directly intended; third, that the good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result; and fourth, that the good result be “proportionate to” the bad result.

A question that arises is whether Catholic pro-lifers are willing to endorse methotrexate over salpingotomy in the case of ectopic pregnancy. If not, count on the other side arguing that we are trying to force our morality on the public through this amendment. When asked, how will we respond?

Will fidelity to our moral compass fracture the absolutist tone of the amendment’s language? If so, what other concessions will be sought and made? How rapidly will personhood be eviscerated?

These questions require answers now, today, as North Dakota voters are forming their impressions as we speak.

More potential objections and exceptions in Part II.

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Pro-Life Academy Every Tuesday and Thursday.

Okay gentle scholars, a double-dip today in two separate posts. First, a final word about diversity in gametes.

If it seems that I’m going back and adding details on in layers, go to the head of the class!!

One of the great difficulties students encounter in studying meiosis is that there are a blizzard of details and new vocabulary that cause one to give up hope half-way through. It’s best to spread this material out in bite-sized pieces.

Building on all that we have seen, let’s go back to the beginning of meiosis where the homologous pair of chromosomes undergoes DNA synthesis. And let’s recall that what makes a pair of chromosomes homologous is that they have the same genes at the same location from top to bottom along the chromosome. Here comes the diversity.

A gene, recall, is a stretch of DNA whose nucleotide sequence is a code for building a certain protein. Now, let’s say that the first gene on a chromosome is the gene coding for hair color. We’ll call that gene the hair color gene. However, there are blondes, brunettes, raven black hair, and red heads. So clearly, not all hair color genes are the same. There are alternative forms of the hair color gene, as there are alternative forms of a great many genes. We call these alternative forms of genes alleles.
Some alleles are mainifest or what we call expressed in a dominant manner. That means if a dominant allele and a recessive allele are inherited for hair color, the dominant allele gets expressed.

Let’s consider hair color. My mother was a strawberry blonde. Dad had brown hair. That means mom gave me a recessive allele and dad gave me a dominant allele. Therefore, what’s left of your professor’s (rapidly) graying hair is brown. When the homologous pair of chromosomes contains a mixed pairing of alleles, the dominant allele gets expressed. Brown and Black are Dominant. Blonde and Red are recessive. (If the gentle scholars want a class on those pesky Punnett Squares for predicting offspring traits, let me know in the com boxes.)

Dominant alleles are designated with an upper case letter.
Recessive alleles are designated with a lower case latter.

So, as things stand we get one chromosome in a pair from mom and the other from dad. That mens that half our gametes will contain one, and half will contain the other after meiosis. But nature has a way of shuffling the genetic deck even further. It turns out that during the first phase of meiosis the chromosomes from mom and dad in a homologous pair overlap or what we call cross over and exchange pieces of DNA. Such chromosomes where recombination of alleles has occurred are called recombinant DNA.

Here are two videos showing this process. The first video is shorter and more generalized. The second is a little longer with more specifics.

Still with me here?

Now for the payoff.

First, imagine meiosis without crossing over and consider the possibility for different gametes.

Half of the gametes could contain all 23 chromosomes from my mother, the other half all 23 from my father.

Some could contain 22 chromosomes from my mother, 1 from my father.
Some could contain 21 chromosomes from my mother 2 from my father.
These can occur in any of a mind-numbing series of combinations.

NOW add to that the crossing over and exchange of alleles in each of the chromosomes.

Add to that the fact that crossing over and exchange of alleles on any given chromosome pair occurs at many different loci means almost infinite possibilities for genetically unique gametes in any given parent. Then, the offspring are the result of two gametes from such wildly different genetic backgrounds.

The result is a genetic uniqueness never duplicated in nature, save for identical twins. Even among identical twins, there are differences in appearance, personality and longevity.

So human individuality is not the result of one’s collected neurological experiences, but is written in our genome. It is this unique genetic identity that controls neurological development and function. To the extent that behaviors have a genetic etiology, these instructions are present from the moment of conception.

Therefore individuality is ultimately, at the biological level, a function of genetic inheritance.

That begins at conception. It is never repeated again.
Photo via johnlarroquetteproject.com

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This today from the Journal, Science

Science 1 January 2010:
Vol. 327. no. 5961, p. 25
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5961.25
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Embryo Ruling Keeps Stem Cell Research Legal

Gretchen Vogel

A ruling from the Irish Supreme Court has reignited that country’s debate over the legal status of human embryos, confirming the legality of research with human embryonic stem cells but leaving such work in a regulatory limbo that may not be resolved soon. On 15 December, the court ruled that human embryos outside the womb are not “unborn” and therefore are not protected under the country’s constitution. The case before the court, in which a woman wanted to implant frozen embryos against the wishes of her estranged husband, does not directly involve stem cell research, but an opposite ruling could have made such work unconstitutional.

The great hope, for Ireland and elsewhere, is the realization that ESC technology, now 28 years old has not even come close to making it past animal trials, as these cells are too prone to developing tumors. Cash-strapped governments (Obama notwithstanding) will increasingly cast a favorable eye on adult stem cells, as ASC technology has already yielded hundreds of applications in human therapeutics.

It’s tragic to see Ireland, the bastion of Catholic fidelity, descend into the abortion quagmire.

Stay tuned.

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