A Frozen Embryo Responds to Its Subpoena



Nick Gier

See this link for
the full article on abortion.  It contains references to the passages
quoted below.

Tom DeLay, U. S. House of Representatives:

All of us frozen embyros are quite miffed that Terri Schiavo received a subpoena to
testify but we, who have much in common with her, did not.  What we all
share is the lack of any mental life at all, because our brains have not yet developed and Teri’s has been
reduced to a brain stem over
fifteen years.

Michael Schiavo is really upset that all those right wingers are calling his
wife "Teri" even though they have never met her.  Mr. Schiavo invited
Governor Jeb Bush to come and visit Teri so he could meet her, but he never did. 
I just want Tom DeLay to know that if he ever calls on me to testify, he has my
permission to call me "Emmy."

Although I am
biologically a human being, I am not a legal person under English Common Law or
any other law of which I am aware.  In fact, if thawed out, I might decide
to become a twin, at which point my genetic identity, which some people
mistakenly believe makes me a person, makes me two potential persons before the
law rather than one.  My twin and I would have the same genetic identity
but not the same moral and legal identity.

If you would review your history, you would learn that our moral,
religious, and legal tradition holds that a person is a rational being, which
does not happen until late in my fetal development. In fact, the ancient Jews
and English jurist Sir Edward Coke believed that I am not a person until I am
born alive.  The great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas maintained that God
does not make me a person until late in pregnancy–"the completion of [my]
coming into being."

Following Aquinas, Catholic philosopher Jaques Maritain states:
"To admit that the human fetus receives the intellectual soul from the moment of
its conception, when matter is in no way ready for it, sounds to me like a
philosophical absurdity. It is as absurd as to call a fertilized ovum a baby.�

Protestants have joined Catholics in defining a person as one
created in the "image of God.� Paul Jewett of conservative Fuller Theological
Seminary states that the image of God "defines . . . a person, an individual
that is free and self-conscious, and a rational, moral, and religious agent . .
. . "  I wish I could claim such a valuable status, but I have to agree with
these fine theologians and wait for the proper time. 

Excuse me for being so philosophical, but I also have to add
another important distinction.  Starting at 25 weeks
I would be a
fetus-child with a serious moral right to life, but have no duties.  I would not
be an adult person with rights and duties, the sort that Jewett describes, until
I reach the age of majority.

simply do not understand why the Supreme Court justices did not use this solid
tradition for their decision in 1973.  Instead, they used fetal viability as a
standard, one which is gradually being pushed back by technology and one which
does not make a moral difference between viable animal and human fetuses.  A
close reading of their footnotes reveals that they knew about Coke, the Jews,
and Aquinas, and they should have ruled on that basis.

            For me
a rational being is one whose mental life is qualitatively different from animal
life, and even though this letter may indicate otherwise, I have no mental life
at all.  Right at the end of the second trimester of my future development brain will undergo a dramatic change.  Brain cells that
were once poorly connected now have millions of new connections, and my neocortex, undifferentiated at 25 weeks, will have its full six layers by 33
weeks.  After this point I would continue my explosive brain development, and,
if I were born premature, this could be monitored externally by rapid eye
movement, which would indicate a very lively dream life.

Although they used the wrong arguments, the good justices came to the correct
conclusion: the state should intervene to protect my life during the third
trimester not before. I wish to make clear that this definition of a person
includes even most humans of low mental capacity.  But, if I make it to
implantation, I just hope that I am not like Baby Ashley of Boise, Idaho, who
was born with only a brain stem and incapable of supporting basic functions, let
alone the mental life of a human person.

This argument about the start of my life as a person should be
used to determine the end of a person’s life as well.  In the cases of Karen Ann
Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Teri
the courts have been morally and legally correct:
humans who are brain dead are no longer persons. 

Parents of Nancy Cruzan and the husband of Teri Schiavo were
right about the only decent way to honor their loved ones’ dignity as former
persons.  In both cases doctors and scientists were unanimous in their opinion
that persons no longer lived in those biological shells, and no amount of
sincere sentiment would make it otherwise.

DeLay, if you are really serious about protecting me as the person I am not, you
should then pass a law that requires all frozen embryos to be implanted
forthwith in wombs that I suppose will be commandeered by federal marshals.  You
will also have to fund an urgent program that will prevent the spontaneous
abortion of at least 60 percent of my fellow embryos. 
But wait: the possibilities do not stop there. 
Spermazoa and ova are also living beings and the new culture of life would
require all of us to save and freeze all of them that did not result in
conception. There are just as much potential persons as I am.  "Postplay"
clean-up will now become just as important in our sexual activities as foreplay.

But relax, I am not a person and neither are
, so you will not have to do anything
as absurd as this.  At the same time, however, are not these the logical
implications of the "culture of life� that you so strongly affirm?  And how
about all the animal life that is being slaughtered for meat every day? 
Unless you bring religion into the mix, there is no moral difference between me
and any higher mammal embryo.

I’m really flattered that you have given me such a high moral
status, but I cannot honestly accept such a premature promotion.  Perhaps you if
can arrange for my release and a nice womb in which to be implanted, I could
honor you with my presence as a real live person.  But
my chances look very slim.  There are approximately 500,000 embryos
currently in deep freeze, but only 2 percent of them are available for adoption. 

Contrary to the Italian government, the
current US administration does nothing to discourage infertile couples from
producing excessive numbers of embryos. It makes me sick to see President Bush
cuddling those rare few that have been chosen for implantation and born alive.
("Pro-choice" meets "pro-life" with all of us embryos crying "Choose Me"!)
Bush’s "culture of life" means only a chilly eternity for me and thousands of
other lost souls. 

P. S. June 15, 2005: Teri Schiavo’s autopsy
has revealed that her brain was in worse shape than even the most pessimistic
doctors’ reports.  Medical examiners said that her brain had "profoundly
atrophied," down to half the normal size, and
amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of
neurons."  I just hope that I can get the chance to grow
a few neurons.

Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, taught philosophy
and religion at the University of Idaho for 31 years. 

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