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LIBERTY: Rights & Tolerance | July 19, 2001


An E-Mail to a California Democratic Party Representative

Note: Although I am a Catholic, my position on abortion is, obviously, less like the current position of the Church, which asserts that human life begins with conception, than like an older position, as I understand it: Saint Augustine considered human life to begin with the first stirrings in the womb. Regardless, I must believe what I believe to be true.

If you ever have any science questions, don't hesitate to ask. Although I'm...an artist these days, I was at least once one of the best biological students in the country (if you believe in standardized tests [I scored in the 99th percentile on the Graduate Record Examination in Biology in 1977]). I still try to follow articles on science in general, but I haven't been able to keep up with all the new developments in genetics...

From what I gather, the basic idea behind stem cells is that they're some of the first cells to form in the human embryo and, thus, they have to go on to produce all the other kinds of cells in the human body -- they're the ideal candidates for growing new tissues and organs.

So then you get into the important but often absurd science vs. religion debates like on the front page of today's LA Times. When does human life begin? Well, every cell in the human body, from the fertilized egg to the one at the tip of your nose, is alive, all by itself. And each living cell arose from the division of another living cell -- so human "life" never begins and ends, it just goes on and on.

All this reminds me of the debates waged, what, 20 or 30 years ago about "when does human life end"? Most law now says it ends when there is "irreversible brain death". Not surprisingly, the same folks fighting abortion rights now are pretty much the same cast of characters opposed to "pulling the plug" back then.

Actually, if I believed abortion was the killing of a truly human being, I too would be vehemently (although not violently) opposed; and I respect anyone who values human life (better than the alternative, like in Germany 60 years ago). But, of course, there's something to be said for liberty, too.

Whenever I want to know about the "facts of life", I go to science (beats the gutter!). And according to the best neurologists in the world, the nerve connections required for truly human thought, feeling, and awareness do not form in the developing human brain until approximately the 28th week of development -- although that figure can vary somewhat, due to the individual or the experiment involved, I've never seen a reliable figure of less than 25 weeks, and 28 weeks seems to be the accepted figure.

The point is, if we as a society have come to accept brain death as human death, then it only stands to reason that fully human life begins with the beginning of brain life -- truly human thought, feeling, and awareness -- exactly what is required for a human "soul", if you believe in such things (an eggplant or an elephant is a wonderful creature, but without truly human thought, feeling, or awareness nor a human soul, how could an eggplant or an elephant be held responsible for its conduct, in a church or a court of law?).

The early fetuses shown in The Silent Scream may have precious little toes and fingers and they may even let out a scream, but so do terminally ill patients in a vegetative state.

At this point in the argument many of the then or previously pregnant ladies listening to me think me a monster, although the "facts of life" are pretty well clear on this point -- before the third trimester, the developing fetus, let alone the earlier embryo, just doesn't have a brain developed enough for truly human thought, feeling, or awareness -- "brain life".

So if people ask me if I'm "pro choice" or "pro life" (such euphemisms!), I have to say both -- for the first two trimesters I'm pro-choice; for the last trimester, pro-life. So both sides hate me.

But when people say that's a weird position to take, I have to refer them to the Big Decision: Roe vs. Wade -- something everyone talks about but few people really know about. As I understand it, the Supreme Court ruled that states are not allowed to impose very many, if any, restrictions on a woman's right to an abortion during the first two trimesters; but the states may impose many restrictions during the final trimester. Although the logic cited was the "survivability" [viability] of the fetus, I believe, that criterion relies upon the state of medical technology, not the natural state of the developing human being. Fortunately, as I see it, the ruling came down at just about the right point, balancing the right to life of one individual with the right to liberty of another.

I just wish both sides in the debate would be less dogmatic and more understanding. Until now, the pro-choice forces have pretty much held the upper hand -- abortion is still legal for the most part -- but polls show that public opinion has slowly been shifting the other way; and if the Supreme Court were to now tip the balance, by reversing Roe v. Wade, there'd be a lot of protest from many quarters, but there'd probably be enough people squeamish about the whole abortion issue to just let it pass (Who wants to be called a "baby killer"?).

Anyway, as long as we live in a country where people are letting their conscience be their guide -- whichever side of the issues they happen to be on at any given time -- then there's hope for America...

Whatever happened to "the good old days", when things were just black and white?

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