Tuesday, 27 May 2008

More heat than light...

{Never knowing when to shut up, I jump headfirst into a little discussion amongst a few smug mutual back-patters on the Holy Smoke blog regarding the varying considerations of the child in the womb - the usual 'it's a blob for the first few months; and can be treated accordingly' bilge. There was also a snide aside regarding our 'gnosticism' regarding when ensoulment occurs. Unable to sleep [overtired - long story] : I started to type.}

I wish you'd stop presuming what catholics believe - we have absolutely no idea what a soul is except that it exists - we have no idea if there is a process called ensoulment at all [i.e. whether it is intrinsic to the material form by its being held in being by the Holy Spirit or if it is an external interaction] - we don't have to know in order to believe in its essential validity - the 'what' and 'how' we leave to Divine Mystery. I could still push you down the stairs without knowing Newton's laws of motion, I could slap you without knowing anything about quantum theory, electrostatics or neurons.

Ok here's my question :
Let's remove the whole 'human life in potential' argument from the equation and ask :

When in human development is it concretely valid to determine and classify the embryo/foetus as 'not a person' ?

Well you've probably all seen intra-uterine photos of 12 week old foetuses who look almost identical to sleeping infants - so I don't suppose any of you will use 'looking human' as a determinant;

what about intelligence ?
we already use that criterion to switch off the severely brain-damaged's ventilators ; and if the vital organs function we'll dehydrate them and starve them [it's a mercy isn't it ? nobody would wish to live like that would they ? anyway it's all perfectly legal since Jamie Bland] The same goes with abortion of the brain-damged foetus [a blessing - beter off not to be born and suffer]
yes, Intelligence seems an adequate determinant for 'personhood'.

well you might not like to know when we are at our most intelligent - the time when a human has the highest amount of active and interactive neurons and is at its optimum learning capacity with the highest IQ it will ever accrue - is seven months after conception !
You may be aware that before 22 weeks a foetus's brain has yet to develop folds in order to increase its mental capacity - what you may not be aware of is that even at this stage the foetus has the intelligence and learning ability of a seven year old child ! regress further week by week and you'll discover that a significant amount of foetal abortions happen to human beings of an intelligence quotient equivalent to ourselves and greater than any adult primate or cetacean [for whom we have so much sympathy] could ever achieve! we need to travel many many weeks further back to arrive at an 'insignificant' level of even human intelligence, let alone the animals we treat with 'human-like' sensibilities.

Do any of you remember that bitterly ironic day when the Liberal democrat party voted for the motion proposing abortion on demand and subsequently voted for the banning of the use of goldfish as fairground prizes on the grounds of cruelty ? who says evolution and civilization isn't a wonderful thing ?

Ok what about walking away from the brain thing and see what the biologists and geneticists say. How about working out the life-cycle of the human being and discerning how brief this embryonic development is in the totality of human development ? nine months versus three score years and ten - surely this will prove something.
Well ! If you remove the temporal length of stages one discovers that our life is more redolent of a mayfly than we'd believe. Out of the 41 stages in the human cell-life cycle we undergo 37 of them in the womb. If one accepts that past half-way is nearer the whole , technically the embryo is long past middle aged before its mother knows she's pregnant !

what about the foetus/embryo feeling pain ?
it's illegal to inflict pain on sentient animals; I kick a cat and I could end up in prison - some think it's barbaric to kill a spider and not humanely dispose of it in some other way.

Well the developing neural cortex attaches to the developing brain stem at 17 days after conception - the embryo certainly feels pain from that point - but is it aware of it ?

Maybe we should move onto sentience ?
there must be a time during human development where there is no self-awareness whatsoever - maybe embryology will give us an answer - then the abortion debate may become clearer - even if the embryo is undergoing a painful death surely not being aware of it or actually 'experiencing it' with self-awareness, cognition, memory etc might make it tenable to consider this as the killing of a non-person ?

Surely sentience and higher brain function, the ability to express oneself, portray emotion ,dream etc can't happen until well into pregnancy , maybe the last few weeks ? or even the last few months ? possibly it begins around or before the abortion limit of 24 weeks ? maybe slightly before but surely not earlier than say 18-20 weeks ?

Ooops !
it's impossible to determine when it actuates, but the mechanism for its functions cannot preclude its absolute absence; so we must be willing to face the possibility that it occurs at the beginning of the organ's development - when it goes online as it were:

Well guess what !
during the fourth week of development after conception the heart starts beating, blood starts to flow around the body to and from the yolk sac, buds start to turn into hands, the eyes are developing lenses....and
the brain divides into five separate vesicles : one of these is the telencephalon !
what's that ?
only the beginnings of the cerebral cortex [controlling memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness]
and the basal ganglia [controlling motor control, cognition, emotions, and learning].

In other words it is impossible to determine if any of these functions have not commenced by this developmental stage. No matter how ill-formed or 'embryonic' - it is still present and potentially as active as every other aspect of the embryo.
Yes, less than a month !

and it gets even worse for the pro-choicer

In order for the brain vesicles and especially the telencephalon to form and function it requires morphological and molecular transient 'segments' known as neuromeres.

These neuromeres are already functioning in order to combine and differentiate and form a co-ordinate system.

These neuromeres - the spark of our whole psyche, awareness , intelligence, will - all that makes us a 'person'....

[wait for it]

...begin to develop on the 18th day after conception.

What am I saying ?
am I daring to make the ludicrous, preposterous suggestion that this lump of cells is self-aware, sentient and capable of the minutest form of cognitive function with a direct purpose and even a determined will towards actuating an end other than a simple form of chemical processes genetically engineered by its DNA ?

Well guess what ?
I'm going further and beyond this !

What's all this massive fascination with stem cells ?
why are they the new miracle on the block ?
why are they almost treated like some magical elixir that can solve all the world's medical ills ?

it's not so much what they do ; it's what they are !
they function beyond what we would seem credible to our common sense - to the point that we may feel compelled to call them miraculous or magical !

Go back a week or so and cut the cells which would form the embryo's head off above the forming notochord - well that which is destined to ultimately become a head - and flush it down the sluice !
then take the bunch of cells which are already developing into a proto-form of the lower body and place it where the head should have been.

what happens ?
a head develops - fully functioning brain etc - full kit and kaboodle.
In other words there's a self-directing entelechy within the organism itself external to the genetic code [whether it's controlled by nucleic acid concentrations pre-determined by the genetic code makes little difference - the self-directing motivation is now inherant within the organism]

this entelechy aims itself towards self-preservation and development to the point of self-repair and redirecting itself [changing legs into a head to replace a lost one - love to see Paul Daniels try that one!]

even if it's all basic biochemistry we're talking about an entity which from the very start is not developing into something which will eventually develop self-preserving , self-regulating and self-directing attributes - it already possesses them to the extent that within the first few weeks it's not the amorphous blob as insignificant as an amoeba , nor is it something many months away from brain function, self-awareness, cognition, emotion ; rather once it enters the foetal stage it's barely a month away from smiling, dreaming, mnetically reacting differently to varying sounds and sucking its thumb - all within twelve weeks - half the abortion limit !
Is it a person at twelve weeks ?
when wasn't it before this ?
want me to go through it all again ?
we simply cannot tell !!!!

there's no embryologist who can irrefutably claim that thought [no matter how primitive or merely motor-regulating] does not possibly commence as early as the 18th day after conception when those microscopic neuromeres emerge - and who knows what processes led to this and when they began ?

we're never dealing with a mere blob...

All this available information - and it doesn't alter catholic principles one iota; because we have fundamental moral principles that Life [however potential and requiring all manner of necessary things to become all it is designed to be] commences at conception ; because from that moment we can never know what wonders may be wrought within the womb and beyond in that entity's regard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How splendid. Thank you.