More on Embryo Rights! — Instapundit gives a shout out to Bryan Peterson and his new blog, JunkYardBlog, where Bryan laments that anti-cloners are unfairly cast as reactionary laggards, while cloning advocates picture themselves as the rational vanguard. Bryan’s remains agnostic about cloning, but he does have views about the qualifications for Full Moral Standing. Turns out there aren’t many:
I’m a Christian, but my reason for being pro-life is only partly based on my faith. It’s also based on science–DNA, the genetic code that determines hair color, eye color and some basic aspects of our personalities, is present at conception. The presence of DNA means that even at the earliest stages the fertilized is destined for birth as a human child. To draw lines of legality at the first or second trimester is, to me at least, an arbitrary solution brought about for political expediency. Nothing wrong with that per se, democracy is founded on the notion that most questions can be settled that way. But we’re talking about defining life here, and in my mind it’s best to draw clear, bright lines and discourage people from crossing them.
Bryan, your DNA is present in every cell of your body, but you’re not made of billions of little people. DNA is just a molecule, almost indiscernible from the molecules that code for monkeys or dogs. A fertilized human egg is not destined for birth as a human child. There are a great many supporting conditions neccesary for an embryo to develop into an infant. In fact a great many fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted. A fertilized egg might become a human infant if lots and lots of pieces are in place.
Now, if you’re not going to be theological, you have to tell us what so special about humans such that they have a right to life, while monkeys and dogs don’t. There’s something that makes us different and special. Whatever it is, it’s not yet there at the big-bunch-of-cells stage. Until it is there, whatever it is, then there is no reason to regard bunches of cells with human DNA any differently than bunches of cells with monkey DNA. The potential to turn into a person is the potential to turn into something that one day will have rights. But before that happy day arrives… nada. Rights are something one grows into. You don’t – POOF – have them all at once. Five year olds have very, very few rights (can’t buy liquor, can’t decide where to live, can’t buy a Glock, can’t get married) and for good reason. If you back up far enough you get to a stage in human development where the organism has no rights at all.
And the issue isn’t one of defining life. Cabbages are life. The issue is defining the criteria for personhood , for what it is to have Full Moral Standing (or even Partial Moral Standing). To ascribe FTM on the basis of the presence of a not-very-remarkable molecule that might one day, if countless other things click, give rise to an independent, rational, reflective, empathetic, communicative, and productive being — that seems arbitrary. Bright lines are sometimes nice, but you don’t want them so bright that you’re blinded to crucial distinctions.
Man, I could have this debate forever. Wait! I have been having this debate forever!