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LIBERTY: Rights & Tolerance | January 16, 1989


An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

You were right when you recently asserted that "the [Supreme Court] justices, with some validity, might modify the trimester approach of Roe [vs. Wade]. But the right to abortion, as important to millions of women as the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, should be preserved intact." In fact, the legally and ethically proper modification was suggested some years ago by an article that appeared in the Times.

In that article, the top neurosurgeons in the world were reported to have determined that the nerve connections required for the functions of truly human thought, feeling, and awareness do not form in the fetal brain until the 28th week of pregnancy. Rather than continue the fuzzy precedent of declaring human life to begin when the fetus may be viable outside the womb -- more a reflection of medical technology than natural viability -- if we instead define the beginning of human life as the beginning of human brain life, we would be consistent with that once controversial, now generally accepted legal precedent that human death is defined by irreversible human brain death. A brain-dead body or a 6-month fetus may look human, breathe human, or even issue a silent scream; but neither is fully human without the higher functions of a human mind -- those uniquely human capacities for soul-searching decision-making present to one degree or another in the newest born baby, the most senile senior citizen, the highest-IQ genius, or the lowest-IQ Down's Syndrome patient.

If I thought abortion before the 28th week was tantamount to infanticide, I too would join the sensitive souls vehemently opposing abortion clinics; but it is not -- aborting a fetus not yet brain-alive is virtually the same as "pulling the plug" on a cadaver brain-dead. God gave us the skills to answer such medical and ethical questions -- let's use our talents, for the sake of justice.

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