Monday, June 16, 2008

Defining Life Beginning and End

Presidential nominee Ron Paul, an obstetrician for thirty years, who has delivered 4,000 babies is convinced life begins at conception and he is not making a political, moral or religious statement; he is making a scientific statement.

I can assure you life begins at conception. I am legally responsible for the unborn, nomatter what I do, so there's a legal life there. The unborn has inheritance rights, and if there's an injury or a killing, there is a legal entity. There is no doubt about it.
Determining when the fetus is "viable" outside the womb is often used as a measure of when "life" begins. There is no doubt that future advances in medical technology will continue to reduce the time a fetus is dependent on the womb for survival, thus, lowering the legal definition of when life begins. Should our definition of when life begins depend on future scientific achievements or should we use our common sense and determine the beginning of life by the beginning of life?

Our current and future capability should have nothing to do with determining when it's OK to terminate "life". Sophisticated ultrasound and other technological breakthroughs show the roots of human behavior begin to develop only a few weeks after conception. The embryo's brain begins to bulge right away. At five weeks, the cerebral cortex is deeply creased and convoluted. At nine weeks, the embryo can bend its body, hiccup and react to loud sounds. At week ten, it moves its arms, "breathes', amniotic fluid in and out opens its jaw, and stretches, yawns, sucks, and swallows as well as feels and smells. From 12 weeks gestation, the baby appears to be “walking in the womb” and between 13-15 weeks the baby can taste. By the end of the second trimester, he or she can hear. These little creatures sure keep busy and sound full of life to me.
Life the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally; the animate existence or period of animated existence
New evidence shows that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks gestation and possibly earlier. Don't you think it's better to err on the side of the baby feeling pain earlier?

My mother told me I was operated on at three-months old with no anesthesia because infants didn't feel pain. Well, guess what? They do. No wonder I feel so strongly about this issue as I'm sure anyone older than 25-years old who has had the great privilege to be sliced open in the first couple months of post womb experience would. Supposedly we are not able to remember pain, well, I do! I remember the pain!

Maureen L. Condic, a assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, in her article, Life: Defining the beginning by the end tries to answer the question, "What does the nature of death tell us about the nature of human life?"

The medical and legal definition of death draws a clear distinction between living cells and living organisms. Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner. We can take living organs and cells from dead people for transplant to patients without a breach of ethics precisely because corpses are no longer living human beings. Human life is defined by the ability to function as an integrated whole-not by the mere presence of living human cells.

What does the nature of death tell us about the beginning of human life? From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances. The embryo generates and organizes distinct tissues that function in a coordinated manner to maintain the continued growth and health of the developing body. Even within the fertilized egg itself there are distinct "parts" that must work together-specialized regions of cytoplasm that will give rise to unique derivatives once the fertilized egg divides into separate cells. Embryos are in full possession of the very characteristic that distinguishes a living human being from a dead one: the ability of all cells in the body to function together as an organism, with all parts acting in an integrated manner for the continued life and health of the body as a whole.
Embryos, fetuses, babies or whatever term you choose, are unique human organisms. As Ms. Condic pointed out, life is not determined simply by a group of living rather by the ability of various cells to function as a coordinated organism.
From the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan (1976) on, the courts have consistently upheld organismal function as the legal definition of human life. Failure to apply the same standard that so clearly defines the end of human life to its beginning is both inconsistent and unwarranted.


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