Friday, February 17, 2006


Human Value Sans Theology

If we remove disputed theology from the question of what is essentially human, what is left? Well, it turns out, quite a bit.

We still have the facts of embryonic development. While it is clear that a human fetus, at the earliest stages of development, does not experience the human condition, it is equally clear that the fetus does know at least some things before birth.

We can safely say that at some time in its development, it can feel pain. It can react to light. It hears sounds. The eyes, ears, brain and the rest develop slowly, inexorably, as the cells strive to become a human being. .

If we base our choices on well established facts rather than theological dogmas, we will have great difficulty deciding exactly when an abortion is or is not permissible. We cannot define human life with precision without reliance on dogma. But we still must make the attempt, no matter how messy the result. The easy way out is to reach for whatever brand of dogma feels most comfortable, and to stop thinking or worrying about it. Far more difficult is the attempt to reason and think through the questions.

To forbid late term abortions, when the fetus surely can experience pain, seems like the appropriate course when we consider the facts. Likewise, to allow early abortions, when the fetus cannot properly be said to experience anything, also seems reasonable. But somewhere in between these two points is where we will want to draw the line.

To determine where, the most sensible course would be to make a case-by-case adjudication. The only person in possession of all the facts in a particular case would be the pregnant woman.

Under these circumstances, it seems necessary to grant to the woman the exclusive prerogative of making her own decisions in early pregnancy. By the same token, it would seem reasonable to legislate restrictions on late term abortions.

So, it turns out that we have an apology for the current state of affairs. This is not fully satisfying to anybody: we have two camps, each one convinced of their own utter moral superiority and each one bitter enemies of the other. A position that says simple answers are too simple cannot fit either ideology.

The battle between these two camps will likely continue until science and other developments render the conflict irrelevant.

In the meantime, there it is, the value of human life rereasoned.

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