ANSWERING THE QUESTION: WHEN DOES LIFE BEGIN?
When Quizzed by the preacher he stuttered, stumbled then said the question was above his pay grade. It is not above mine! The question he was really asking was: WHEN, IF EVER , IS IT OK TO TERMINATE A PREGNANCY?
Having studied theology, biology and ethics I composed this answer which was published on the front page of The Santa Fe New Mexican, July 31,1994. Here's a summary of the article entitled:
SOCIETY FACED WITH DRAWING LIMITS ON HUMAN LIFE
Hidden beneath the abortion and euthanasia debate is a value judgment society is being forced to make: Does human life “pop” or “taper” into significance? Does it “pop” or taper out of significance. Oddly, the welfare of humanity hinges on our choice.
Under the pop theory, human life springs into full significance at conception and retains full importance until the instant of death. The “pop” group wants us to treat with equal respect and resources the newly fertilized egg, the newborn baby, the full grown adult and those very near death. The “pop” group are pro-lifers. They believe a fertilized egg, smaller than a dot, should never be destroyed, not for rape, incest, deformity, inconvenience or population control. This is like believing that acorns are as important as oak trees. Forbidding all abortions, they would spend millions of tax dollars on deformed babies and the comatose dying, depriving the broad middle of humanity of medical care. Preserving that dot of human tissue is more important to them than the good of the world. They would likewise forbid doctor assisted suicide regardless of the patients wishes or suffering. They are wild extremist. They will wreck our world if we let them.
The “taper” group holds thatl LIFE TAPERS INTO AND OUT OF SIGNIFICANCE; that an acorn is not as important as an oak tree. Both human and oak life grow gradually into significance through a long series of organic steps–A newly fertilized egg is not as important as a 27 week old fetus. Likewise, we should not spend as much on folks near death as on our children.
The taper group believes in LIMITS OF EXPENDABILITY–points beyond which even human life is expendable for the greater good. Most societies have limits of expendability whether they acknowledge it or not. Poor societies tend to have narrow limits and wealthy ones broader limits. Nomadic tribes, for example, will abandon anyone permanently crippled. (Often respectfully and with food and thorn fences for protection, but left to die none the less)
wealthy societies can afford much broader limits, caring for the mentally and physically challenged.
What no society can afford, however, is to totally abolish ALL limits of expendability. We cannot afford to extend full legal and resource protection to the infinitesimal extremities of life. Medical cost skyrocket at the extremities of life. We will quickly bankrupt the nation and overpopulate the earth. We cannot take seriously the pro life position that all human life is equally important. Their position is cruel, fanatical, unrealistic and destructive.
So what should be our society”s limit of expendability? The current limit for oak trees is is five inches in diameter (city ordinance–Tampa Fla) and for human embryos up to 26 weeks development. Beyond these points, society prohibits the destruction of oaks or embryos because it offends our sensibilities.
26 weeks is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary limit. Why not 25 or 27. Perhaps that is when an embryo is potentially viable outside the womb. Nevertheless it is an arbitrary line AND OUR SOCIETY WAS COURAGEOUS TO HAVE DRAWN IT!
We have not similarly established limits of expendability for dying and suffering people. Our failure to do so is causing enormous waste and pain. Almost a third of our medical expenditure is for end-game treatment. Our children and working citizens are outrageously neglected by this crazy misallocation of resources. The health care industry profiteers on our sentimentality.
America must draw a line at the south end of human life as we have done at the north. We must boldly establish limits of expendability–limits that are as fair and humane as we can afford.
To those who shrink from drawing lines, I point out that ESTABLISHING CLEAR BUT SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY LIMITS IS WHAT DEFINES A CIVILIZATION. How fast shall we drive on the interstate? Why not 69 or 71? How much theft shall constitute a felony? At what age shall we allow the vote, marriage or consumption of alcohol? These limits are societies “best guesses”. They are all somewhat arbitrary, but absolutely necessary. We must guess, draw lines, set limits. The alternative is chaos.
Often we reset the limits as when we increased the speed limit. We might yet move the abortion limit back to 22 weeks or so. But to move it back to zero as the pro lifers advocate would be dangerous and cruel sentimentality.
Fanaticism, idealism or sentimentalism can wreck a nation. Fanaticism is wrecking Iran, Idealism wrecked the Soviet Union. I fear sentimentalism may wreck America.
CHALLENGE TO PRO LIFERS: Here's a question no pro lifer on earth can answer honestly :
Suppose a fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have only enough time to save a 6 year old child or a petri dish containing 10 fertilized eggs. Which would you save? (yeah--I thought so--
you really do believe that life TAPERS into significence)