Sunday, July 8, 2012

It Was the Fetus in the Conservatory with the Candlestick!

The following is a blog post by Elliott Pearce, Notre Dame Class of 2013. The original post can be reached by clicking here.

Hello again, readers. If any of you were wondering why it's been so long since I've posted, it's because of this little thing called real life. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually have one, and mine has been rather busy lately, so I haven't had much time for blogging. I'm back now, though, so as always, here's the deal:

For this post, I'm gonna write about abortion. I've been blogging long enough that it's about time that I got around to this topic. Oddly enough, abortion isn't a hotly-contested issue right now. Most people fall into one of two camps: either they believe that the fetus is a human person from conception onwards and is therefore off-limits, or they believe it's just a lump of tissue and that granting it "rights" would be preposterous. Neither side can get the other to accept its basic premise, which is the foundation for all of its further arguments, so no argument can take place. People just agree to disagree (though they don't do so agreeably).

Those arguments that do occur center around the one, big, fundamental question: when does the fetus become a human person? I'm going to respond by beginning with another question, one that's slightly ridiculous. If a fetus were to somehow exit the womb, commit a murder, and return, leaving DNA evidence at the scene, who would the CSI crew identify as the killer? It sure wouldn't be the mother, because from the moment of conception, half of a fetus's DNA is the father's. How, then, can one say that a fetus is merely "part of its mother's body" when our most accurate and fundamental means of identifying tissue disagrees?

One could cite cells with virally corrupted or mutated genes as examples of "parts of one's body" that contain foreign or nonstandard DNA, but such cells are few and far between, and the unusual DNA makes up a very small percentage of the cell's total genome. There is no "organ" or "tissue" with 50% foreign DNA that grows naturally in the human body besides the fetus.

If it's not part of its mother's body, whose body is it a part of? Well, if we let our hypothetical homicidal fetus develop through birth and run a DNA test on the baby, we would identify the baby as the killer. If it's a part of anyone's body at all, the fetus must then be part of the baby's body. How can that be the case if the baby does not yet exist? Such a proposition is absurd, especially when one considers that every cell in the baby's body is a daughter cell of the original single-celled zygote. Every bit of the baby comes from the fetus, so the fetus cannot be a part of the baby's body, it IS the baby's body. Therefore, if the fetus exists, the baby exists.

This is a ridiculous example, but it's useful for illustrating some points about the continuity of the fetus's development from conception to birth. If a fetus committed a murder, would we charge the baby with the crime? Assuming this highly capable and responsible fetus became a similarly advanced baby, we would have to, because what was once the fetus is now the baby. What is now the baby, furthermore, will become the child, the teen, and then the adult. All throughout these differing stages of development, the child grows and matures physically and mentally, but its DNA and its basic identity in our eyes remain the same. The fetus participates in the same process and shares the same DNA. Should the fact that its development takes place inside the womb exclude it from the condition of personhood we extend to human life in all other stages of development? I don't think so.