Size Matters: For Some Humans, Size is a Death Sentence

Size Matters: For Some Humans, Size is a Death Sentence June 6, 2013

When does life begin? Back when I was pro choice, I used to field that question in debates all the time. 

I knew that the people asking the question meant human life. When does human life begin? 

The answer is no use to us in the besetting questions of our age. Life, human life, doesn’t begin. We pass it from one to another like a baton in a relay race.

The reason for this largely useless answer is that the question itself is poorly worded. We don’t really mean When does life begin? What the questioners were trying to ask was, When does human life that we owe legal protection begin?

Unfortunately, even that question begs the underlying issue. Individual human life, with all its complexities, begins at conception. This is not theology. It is simple and obvious science. A human conceptus is a unique, perfect human being. So is a human embryo.

I was a human embryo. I do not mean that I was the makings of something that would become me. I, myself, was a human embryo. I was just as much me then as I was me when I was a six month unborn baby and when I was a 5-year-old kindergartner and now that I am a rambling, writing, mom, state legislator and all-around trouble maker.

I was always me at each one of these stages of my life. Life is something we pass from one another like a baton in a relay race. But our lives, our individual existences as persons, begins at conception.

You were an embryo, too, you know. In fact, you still are that embryo, only in another stage of life. Your life began at conception. Your earthly life will end at your death. But you will go on after that, and then, as now, you will always be you.

A reader who seems intransigent in his advocacy for killing little humans ranging from unborn late-term abortion victims back to the earliest conceptus, commented “I just can’t get worked up about microscopic embryos.”

Is that the reason so many people are willing to denude human beings of their humanity early on in their lives? Is it a matter of size?

It is important to remember that calling someone an “embryo” is an entirely arbitrary designation that people created for convenience. As it is used in practice the designation of this stage of a person’s life lasts from shortly after conception up to about 8 weeks. The person is, admittedly, tiny during this whole time, but they aren’t always microscopic. The question still remains: Would their lives matter more if they were the size of dinner plates?

I’m being a bit facetious here to make a point. Size shouldn’t be a death sentence. But when we begin to deny the obvious fact that these are human lives we are taking, we find ourselves in the conundrum of defining what makes the rest of us safe from the long knives of science.

The same science that gives you central heat and air can snuff you out like the flame on a match. The only thing holding it back is law. 

The legal barriers we erect around human life are our only protection from the rapacious disregard for human beings that sits at the base of every godless philosophy. Science itself is neutral on the issues of God and morality. It is not inherently moral or immoral. It is, rather, amoral.

Our safety and security rests, not in the self-defined great minds of scientists, but in the little minds of politicians. It is politicians who have kept us from destroying every bit of life on this planet with the scientist’s great gift of nuclear weapons. It is politicians who erect the walls of legal safety behind which we hide against the darker impulses of those who have no regard for us at all. Politicians and the laws they write are the method we have for keeping the monsters beside us at bay.

Make no mistake about it, science has acquired the power to be a death-dealing monster that can destroy us all.

Are human embryos human beings? Of course they are. There isn’t any question about that. The question is, do we think we are capable of creating, exploiting and killing whole classes of human beings and not letting this death-dealing disregard for human life spread to the rest of us? The answer for any thinking person who has the least knowledge of human history is, no.

Once the law allows one group of people to kill other groups of people for any reason they chose, the gun is loaded, cocked and pointing at the rest of us, as well.

We already kill human beings throughout their pre-born life. We kill them because they are disabled. We kill them because they are “unwanted.” We kill them because they — unlike us, we seem to say — are going to die soon anyway.

Is that the new value on human life? To have a right to life, do you have to be “wanted,” or physically perfect, or not be going to die?

By that logic, there is no person on this planet who has a right to life.

Do you realize that? By the logic we apply to embryos, who are killed because they are too small to have a right to life, and for all unborn babies, who are killed because they are unwanted-disabled-going-to-die-anyway there is no person on this planet who has a right to life. 

Is that exaggeration? I think not. The agitation for euthanasia is growing. Already several nations and a few of our states have taken down the wall to killing people who are a burden to others, in pain, mentally ill, depressed, etc. They pass these laws under the guise of — you guessed it — they will be dead soon, anyway. We’ll just kill the terminally ill, they claim. Nobody will die except those who volunteer for death, they tell us.

But as soon as these laws pass, the criteria begins to broaden, and soon people are being euthanized without their knowledge, for all sorts of reasons.

Why? Because if any group of people may be legally killed for reasons of their murderer’s devising, then all our lives are forfeit.

The selling of death by those who want to kill has become slightly more subtle than it times past, but the underlying message is the same.

It’s only a small over-simplification to say that all these people at the vulnerable stages of life are dying because of money. Those who kill human embryos to harvest their body parts promise us miracles in a test tube that will give us cures for every dread disease. But what they are really about is massive amounts of government funding. Unborn children die because abortion is marketed by those who make money off it. They die because we would rather become murderers of our own children than write laws that protect women’s ability to have children and hold jobs, get educations and walk the streets without fear of rape. We kill the infirm, the depressed and the elderly, so they won’t be a “burden” on our health care industry.

We kill for money. We lie and twist the facts to claim that we are killing them for kindness’ sake. But in truth we have done away with the legal protections of the basic right to life of whole classes of people largely for money.

Does size matter? In the case of human embryos, size is a death sentence. But for other people we kill, it is just a matter of getting rid of what bothers us.

I haven’t mentioned theology or even morality as a reason for not killing whole classes of people with impunity. I don’t need to. There is an entirely secular reason for granting a universal right to life to all human beings at every stage of our earthly existence. That reason is self-preservation. 

Unless you are one of the gods of our little earthly universe — one of the powerful, the wealthy, the “decision makers” who live in shadowy enclaves inside super zip codes and pull the strings on the rest of us — unless you are one of them, you need this wall of law to protect you.

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46 responses to “Size Matters: For Some Humans, Size is a Death Sentence”

  1. The only thing holding it back is law.

    Beautiful post, but I disagree with this statement. The law itself doesn’t stop anything. What is required is personal and corporate morality—the willingness of individuals and society as a whole to protect life, to promote laws that protect life, to enforce such laws…and to resist immoral acts even when they are legal.

    • You are right, of course. Christians are going to have to decide whether they follow the Christ or the world.

    • “What is required is personal and corporate morality”
      I know this sounds terrible, but that morality need not be based on Catholic morals. I am happy if everyone obeys the law and does unto others as they would have done to them, as Jesus is quoted as saying. Catholic morality generates an entirely different and additional set of rules.

      • You’re right—morality could be based around your bizarre (to me) and frightening morality wherein people can be killed more or less at different stages of life based on their value (to whom? others? themselves? who decides?), or around Catholic morality, etc. My point is that the laws, though generally extensions of morality and/or societal consensus, are in and of themselves little protection.

        • That can’t be true because we are protected by laws prohibiting criminal acts against us in just about everything we do. The Romans deserve a lot of credit for this, including Justinian (if you consider Byzantine to be Roman).

  2. I agree excellent. I was particularly struck by this:

    “A reader who seems intransigent in his advocacy for killing little humans ranging from unborn late-term abortion victims back to the earliest conceptus, commented “I just can’t get worked up about microscopic embryos.” ”

    When I debate a pro-abort person I usually wind up getting angry. When I saw this statement third party, if you will, I wasn’t angry, just filled with gloom. It’s just such a sad statement. Such a lack of compassion suggests a darkness with that person’s heart. I’m afraid we’ll never get them to expand their sense of compassion.

      • Finding out that there is no God for whom all things are possible was the biggest disappointment of my life. Having faced that, other losses such as the loss of an embryo or fetus do not even register on the disappointment scale. Such a God would warrant more complaints then all those ever made on this site. Anyone who has miscarried or lost a loved one should know that.

        • You haven’t found out no such thing. You can’t prove a negative. You may surmise there is no God, you may BELIEVE there is no God, but even if no God exists, there is no proof. You can’t prove or disprove the metaphysical through the physical.

    • Manny, the other day I saw my friend’s 5 pound granddaughter and my first instinct was to feel compassion for those aborted. But when I thought about it, I realized how misguided that compassion would be if I acted on it and tried to tell women that they cannot terminate their pregnancies because I find babies to be so adorable. It’s not my call nor anyone else’s but the women’s. and they should also be able to donate their eggs or embryos for research.

      • The devil works with reason. You obviously are not against having laws that prevent people from murdering others. Abortion is murder.

        • Murder is the illegal taking of a life. Abortion is legal and therefore not murder. Capital punishment is another example that is not murder.

          • OK, I stand corrected. You are not against laws that kill innocent human life. You feel the compassion, as you said above, and yet still agree with the killing. So sad.

            • Manny,

              There are no laws that kill innocent life. Roe v Wade is a court decision not a law. I would be against any law that impedes research or denies a woman’s right to choose. I don’t advocate killing.

              • Oh that is most definitely wrong. You do advocate killing. You said so above when you argued that abortion is not murder because it’s legal. Stop with the cutesy self denials. Admit you advocate killing the unborn child. Obviously it’s alive and it’s human, and an abortion terminates its life. That’s killing.

              • Bill, the comment that there are no laws that kill innocent life is sophistry and legalism. Reminds me of a lawyer who kept telling the jury his client was “not guilty” of a particularly gruesome murder. The client actually had committed the crime so the lawyer couldn’t say the client was “innocent” but only “not guilty.”

  3. ” I was just as much me then as I was me when I was a six month unborn baby and when I was a 5-year-old kindergartner and now that I am a rambling, writing, mom, state legislator and all-around trouble maker.”

    I disagree. You became who you are today as a result of having lived for the thirty nine years that you have. No one would have known anything if you died as an embryo.

    • So … was I less of a person at 5? Will I be more of a person at 85, or does that slide backwards and I start losing my personhood as I age?

      I’m not 39, btw. Haven’t seen that in quite a while. 🙂

      • It all comes down to what you mean to other people starting with your mother carrying you in her womb. If she doesn’t want you, and if no one else wants you, then…you know. Today, depending on the state, you would not be protected by the government until a certain stage or until you are born.

            • It is. One is either on the side of life, or one is on the side of death. Most of us are imperfect, and it may be that only vegans have the most consistent ethic.

              • It’s not fair to me to say that I am either on the side of life or the side of death. You know that I am for embryonic stem cell research and a woman’s right to choose. That doesn’t put me on a side.

              • If only the DID have a consistent ethic. Most vegans I know are are as ardently pro-abortion as they are adamantly (almost religiously) vegan. It’s one of my pet peves that so many of the people I work have no problem with any form of abortion but can’t stand the thought of eating meat ’cause they oppose cruelty to animals.

    • Bill S., You’re not talking about the same thing Rebecca is talking about. Rebecca is talking about her physical being. Her being as a physical person. You are talking about other stuff – her education, health, experiences, associates. Everyone’s life experiences shapes their personality, how they interact with the world. But that doesn’t effect their human-ness. She is the same person she was as a zygot, an embryo, an infant, a toddler, child, adolescent, young adult and adult. So am I, so are you. Affected by experiences, yes. But still the human Rebecca.

      • I get blasted by responses everytime I say this. I honestly believe that the value of one’s life varies over the course of one’s life and is not the same from conception to death. I am sure that is some kind of heresy. I will use my own life as an example so as to not belittle anyone else. My life had its maximum value when I was the sole supporter of my family when my two boys were todlers and my wife wasn’t working outside the home. I had zero value as an embryo and will have negative value when I grow old. That is why I support embryonic stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia.

        • Value? Who, exactly, gets to decide how valuable your life is? And if your primary value is based on providing for some group of others, such as your children, then you only have value as long as they do. So who decides how valuable your children are Bill? You? You’re biased, your judgement can’t be trusted. The State? Then your children, and thus you, only have value if it can be proved their continued existence can provide more service (whether that be in taxes, innovations, what-have-you) than it costs to support them.

          Say immigration and wage laws are passed that allow cheap foreign labour to completely take over unskilled and most if not all skilled manual labour. You have another son, but through whatever method, the state determined that he’s unsuitable for any white-collar job. He can’t pull an honest wage as a garbageman, since those jobs are all gone.

          Can you honestly say if some government stooge came up to you with a warrant saying one of your children, or your wife, or anyone else you care about, had been determined valueless and was due for the Soylent Green factory, you’d just hand them over?

          Say, instead, “value” is determined by the person’s family. Someone disputes that. That person’s value is cutting into the value of this other person. How do you resolve this? A civil suit in a court of law, loser gets executed?

          If human life has no value beyond whatever material value it can be proven to provide, then one has opened the gates to everyone having to prove to a court that they should be allowed to live. Don’t have a 3.00+ GPA when you graduate high school, it’s off to the chopping block.

          This is insanity. Not just that, it’s evil. Monstrously so.

          One of the only ways to protect people from possibilities like those is to enshrine in law a right to life for everyone, from conception to death.

          • That’s a typical response I get when I say the value of my life has varied over its duration. You get the gist of what I am trying to say. You don’t have to raise all kinds of hypothetical scenarios where the government or courts decide who should live and who should die. You know that’s not going to happen.

            • Wow, Bill. You have a lot of faith in government. More than is justified, I think. I personally do NOT have faith that someday a government will not use some arbitrary litmus test to determine if or when people should die. It happens all the time in many parts of the world. And they use the rule of law to justify the decision. But of course this is true of all governments. Not just that government over there, or the other one over in that other place, but all governments.

              And as to your comment that your life had more value when you were a young man supporting a family; I believe that was the time you felt the most productive and recognized the serious weight of being the provider for your family, but that is not the same as intrinsic value. You may not be contributing to society now in the same way you did then (I have no idea of course), but still your life has value by the fact that that it is human. Yes, yes, I know you may not recognize there’s anything special about being human, but really, there is. “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into
              barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than
              they?” Of course!

              • OK. Since the government covers the care of many patients who are being kept alive against their will, something needs to be done about that. We need to accept that at some point we simply should pack it in. I experience extreme opposition when I push for death with dignity but I am for it.

        • I am, frankly, sorry you value yourself so low. If utilitarian ethics are the only kind, then Hitler was right, and the Nazis have won.
          However, it is a stupid ethic (not referring to yourself, just to the ethic — smart people can believe dumb things, would you not agree), and one which I shall oppose for the remainder of MY life. (Which I do not regard as having lost value when I retired.)

          • I knew I shouldn’t have brought up the concept of our lives changing in value from no value as an embryo to maximum value as the sole source of income for my family. What time of my life would death be the greatest catastrophe? To me it would have been in my thirties. That is therefore when my life had the most value. It is declining even as we speak. If I become a grandfather it will increase again.

  4. Rebecca, I couldn’t have said it any better myself. You said what I was trying to say. Either every human has an absolute right to life by the mere fact of their existence, on no one is safe. Thank you.

    • We can all be safe under the existing laws. The government protects us from having our life terminated against our will from the moment we become fully developed and living outside our mother’s womb. That is a relatively new concept in our evolution. It wasn’t always that way. The government actually prohibits us from having our life terminated according to our will with some exceptions.

      • Existing laws are the key. They are fine now, (at least according to you, not me), but what if the attitude people like Peter Singer endorses actually becomes law? Parents should be allowed to commite infanticide because of the lack of self-awareness of infants? Useless individuals can be killed because they are useless? If one is not productive (whatever that means), one should be killed. Aren’t most gulags and concentration camps and killing fields “legal?”

        • I will cut to the chase. Death is our friend, not our enemy. Death is the key mechanism of natural selection. Now, don’t think I am mad or evil. Hear me out. Christianity has cashed in on our fear of death. Living forever is not an option. What annoys me is the way Christians oppose anything that results in the death of anyone. What do they think death is? It costs this country trillions of dollars a year prolonging lives of people who just want to shut their eyes and sleep. This is primarily do to the mythical battle between good and evil, life and death. It’s counter productive.

          • Bill, we don’t oppose death. It’s inevitable, we all know that. St. Francis called death his sister, and even though you may not believe in heaven, Christians do and the gateway there is death. We oppose one human killing another. We oppose governments killing humans because they don’t like their ideology, their ethnicity, their heritage, their skin color or their inconvienence. The church also has well-developed end of life guidelines, and prolonging life with extraordinary means is not necessary. Basic human care that recognizes the dignity of the individual being cared for is – for example, we cannot starve people. Catholics have a greater respect for the natural course of life than you’re giving us credit for, and I would posit that it’s mostly secularists who have a tremendous fear of death.

      • Bill, I don’t like being so blunt, but this is a naive viewpoint if I ever heard one. In fact, it’s so naive that I doubt you mean it. Are you just depending your position with whatever you can think of to say?

        The law can and does change constantly. It is heavily affected by money interests.

        To stake your life and the lives of the rest of the people in this society on a blind trust in some oddball idea that the law will never make it legal to kill you is, in light of recent history, bizarre.

        The law has been constantly broadening the number of people whose lives have no value and who may be killed for any reason whatsoever. In fact, it has taken the extreme position that people have a “right” to kill other people for no reason.

        That is what you are advocating. You are attempting to ignore the very obvious fact that the door on killing keeps swinging wider all the time. There is NO reason to suppose that this will change.

        Stop sticking your head in the sand Bill.

  5. You’re not doing your side of the debate any favours by misrepresenting your opponents’ positions. It’s not about size, it’s about sentience and the abilty to feel pain. Early stage embryos don’t have a nervous system so they can’t feel pain. Their brains are only just developing, so they have no self-awareness, no hopes for the future and no emotions. They cannot suffer. They are not persons in any real sense, since they have no memories, no desires and no personality. You weren’t you when you were an embryo, your sense of self developed later.

    The women carrying the embryo, on the other hand, does feel pain and nausea, does have emotions, does have hopes for the future which a pregnancy could destroy. She can suffer. That’s why, if she doesn’t want the pregnancy to continue, she should have a right to end it.

    As for all this nonsense about none of us being safe if abortion is allowed; it’s nonsense. Firstly, every society has allowed some limited killing of other human beings, whether it was the death penalty for criminals, killing the enemy in war, or burning heretics alive. Just because some killing is legal doesn’t mean that suddenly all killing will be. Abortion has been legal in many countries for many years and yet the murder rates are actually going down. There’s less killing now than there used to be, overall.

    Secondly, there are clear differences between embryos and human beings. Human beings are sentient and self-aware. Embryos aren’t. Embryos rely on the body of a host to sustain them. Human beings don’t.

    (Because some is bound to bring this up, the difference between babies and embryos is that babies can be given up for adoption and looked after by someone else if the mother doesn’t want them. Embryos can’t. )

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