Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Human-Embryo Liberation: A Reply to Peter Singer

Patrick Lee and Robert P. George have written the most comprehensive treatise I have yet seen on what makes us human, why an embryo is also human, and therefore why abortion and euthanasia are wrong. This is "a reply to Peter Singer" because Prof. Singer, in light of the dust-up involving the Korean dry-labber Hwang Woo-Suk (who claimed to have cloned human embryos when in fact he had achieved no such thing), held that the very possibility that someone might succeed where Hwang failed destroys the argument against cloning, abortion, and all the rest.

As Lee and George make clear, Prof. Singer (the same man who said that a mother ought to have a month's grace to decide to kill her newborn infant if she so desired) tries to equate each cell of our bodies with a human embryo--or most likely a zygote, which is the single-celled stage of an embryo. The trouble is that body cells are more like gametes--commonly called sperm (literally, "seeds") and eggs--than like embryos. The distinction is important: a sperm cell or egg ceases to be in the formation of a new being, while an embryo simply is. The embryo comes into being through fertilization and continues to develop until birth, never ceasing to exist at any time.

And by the way: though Lee and George never say this, they have written not merely an answer to Peter Singer, but also to Michael Schiavo, Jodi Centonze Schiavo (yes, he and Sweet Patootie got married over the weekend), The "Honorable" George Greer, the Hemlock Society, and everyone else who says that Terri Schindler Schiavo essentially lost her rights when she lapsed into a coma. If we accept the Singer view, then we kill a person, legally as well as clinically, when we put him under general anesthesia (for what is anesthesia, after all, but a controlled coma?), and the whole notion of therapy of patients in coma, reversible or not, falls to the ICU floor.

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