Why Personhood Matters

Imagine you lost your mother, after an illness, at the hospital. In as much as any death is easy, hers is… and then it starts.

Months later, after much legal fighting, they finally give you her mortal remains– a couple of tissue samples in little boxes, kept behind the secretary’s counter for when you came in to get them for a proper burial. You’re handed the shoebox and told to sign here, here and here, be careful, those are bio waste.

Horrifying, isn’t it?

How about this:

Your little son’s best friend, the youngest in his family, is a little corker– always cheerful, full of mischief like boys often are, a whirlwind of energy. He’s nearly a decade younger than his older brother, who has a dire medical condition. Your son mentions that his friend will be in the hospital for a while, but doesn’t really have any details– it’s doctor stuff, and his friend hadn’t given much detail.

The little boy doesn’t come back. After a lot of trying to find out why, you find out that he was born to be a suitable donor for his older brother. There was a complication in the donation, and the little boy didn’t make it. His mother is considering hormone treatment or possibly a surrogacy pregnancy (sorry, hiring a “gestational carrier” or two) if the transplant doesn’t “take” in the older son.

Maybe you’ve seen Blade Runner? Pretty ridiculous, right? A cop that goes around killing people because they happen to be clones that had a bit of a quirk added to mark them as not “really” people….


That only took about four years from when they started publicly suggesting cloning humans in emptied animal eggs.

Hey, how about that proposal to bring back Neanderthals? If they stick to that pattern, we’ve got about three years until we find out they’ve already done it. Not sure when we’ll find out they’ve been gestated, although I can’t imagine it will be too very long until we find out that the animal-egg-humans have been. Given the low success rate for cloning mammals, I shudder at the number of small, dead people.

Even clones who are utterly identical aren’t automatically treated as people in pop culture– Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode where an entire colony of clones was on screen, passing seamlessly as totally normal humans, and ended with a main character killing his own clone. Righteously indignant that someone had dared copy him without permission, in fact. (About a decade later they tried to “fix” this philosophical issue, but only with a fully developed clone that could speak. For added irony, the character was a womanizer– that’s how they got his DNA, he was flirting with one of the clone ladies.)

Hey, while we’re busy pruning the tree, how about a few modifications?  They mean well, after all.  (In fairness to Star Trek, they touched on this in Deep Space Nine– modified humans are basically second-class citizens, but that’s just to keep people from saying “screw it” and taking the risk.  They had several episodes about the bad results, even when it went as intended.  Played as a sort of induced autism, which seemed like a pretty good choice….)

Look to the Netherlands for a notion of where we may be headed; ’non-voluntary’ euthanasia, killing babies for ‘quality of life’ reasons… amazing how many lives just aren’t worthy of life once you start in that direction, isn’t it?

The comments over at this article on Ricochet lead me to a description of “The Thanatos Syndrome.” I can’t bring myself to read it– some things are just too close to be enjoyable, and I really don’t need the situation to be humanized.  Already read a few books on the Nazis, back in high school. Still remember those simple black-and-white photos of lady’s gloves made from human skin, and lampshades with the tattoos carefully displayed.

Hey, anyone want a Pepsi?

Cross-posted to The American Catholic.


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