Becker, Daniel C. (2012) “Personhood: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement in the 21st Century,” Liberty University Law Review: Vol. 6 : Iss. 2 , Article 2. Original article.
[W]e move from the taking of life [abortion] through making life [IVF] to what I have somewhat crudely termed the faking of life: the capacity of developments in the fields of nanotechnology and cybernetics to manipulate, enhance and finally perhaps supplant biological human nature.87
Chuck Colson and Nigel Cameron
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do [Tower of Babel]. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
Simply put, Personhood is nothing less than the pro-life battleground of the 21st century. As we have shown historically and doctrinally, Personhood is the biblical teaching of the sanctity of life. Throughout Church history, the doctrinal teaching on this issue has been based on Genesis 1: 26-27: humankind is created “in the image of God” (Imago Dei) and therefore, has worth at all stages of life. This is the bedrock of Western civilization’s understanding and practice of human dignity. We are also told in the Gospels that John the Baptist was known by God, called by God, named by God, and then filled by God with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. John the Baptist is an example of the biblical worldview of Personhood.
Let’s contrast our biblical perspective with an emerging secular worldview. The following excerpt was taken directly from the FAQs listed on the website of Peter Singer, the DeCamp professor of bioethics at Princeton University:88
Q. You have been quoted as saying: “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” Is that quote accurate?
A. It is accurate, but can be misleading if read without an understanding of what I mean by the term “person.”89
Singer argues his case in his book Unsanctifying Human Life. While he does believe that the “right to life” should be granted to all “persons” equally, his definition of “person” is extremely narrow, excluding not only pre-born and disabled children and the elderly infirm, but also perfectly formed born infants through 18 months of age. Singer goes on to declare that his own mother would probably no longer be alive if he were the sole caregiver in his family.90
One would expect to hear that Singer’s position is on the loopy fringe of public policy discussions. Surprisingly, his prestigious position at Princeton and his vast international influence have earned him acclaim as one of the leading bioethicists of our day. Don’t be surprised if twenty years from now we find his positions on “Personhood” to be encased in law, applied by our hospitals’ ethics boards, and resulting in the entombment and execution of embryonic children at our research laboratories and universities.
The Right to Life movement is “fifteen years behind the curve in addressing and responding to this threat,”91 cautions pro-life bioethicist Wesley Smith. Our narrow anti-abortion focus in the 20th century failed to equip pro-life citizens to counter a host of 21st century issues. Even though national pro-life groups continue to warn of these emerging threats to human dignity, the local grassroots supporter is not engaged. We need to adjust our strategy and message to one of Personhood so that we can successfully transition our base from being primarily anti-abortion to recognizing and protecting the sanctity of life wherever it is being assaulted.
It’s No Longer Just about Abortion
An example of the failure of the Right to Life movement is its lack of response to a new and emerging challenge against the sanctity of all life, as seen in the state of Missouri in 2006. On November 6 of that year Missourians approved a “ban on cloning.” Unfortunately, it was a fake ban that actually allowed cloning for “therapeutic” purposes. Put off by the use of the word “therapeutic,” the grassroots pro-life voter failed to discern that a human life hung in the balance. The ban changed the Missouri constitution to allow for a human child, brought into existence in a laboratory through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), to be “grown” for 14 days, subjected to human experimentation, and then destroyed. The pro-life base failed to understand the issue, recognize the danger, or reject this assault on human life and dignity. More dramatically, this case verified that the word “therapeutic,” when placed in front of any unethical or life-assaulting biomedical practice, assures that the vast majority of voters will condone the practice in question—in this case the destruction of children at an embryonic level. After all, so the thinking goes, the procedure must be moral if it seeks to discover cures for “grandma’s” Alzheimer’s or Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease or if it embodies the promise that someone like Christopher Reeve will walk again.
Destruction of human children at the embryonic level has now expanded beyond research laboratories to be enshrined as a “procreative right” of infertile couples seeking to become parents. It is not uncommon to create between 15 and 20 embryonic children at one time and then, through the process of selective reduction or the eugenic practice of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to kill all but one or two of those children. As tragic as it may be for a couple to struggle with infertility, when did it become acceptable for a couple’s “right to parent” to supersede another’s “right to life”? Infertility is not a justification for murder. Neither is infertility untreatable. A pro-life couple must be fully informed of all options before embarking on a path that assures the IVF clinics and biotech industry more human subjects to sacrifice on the altar of technology.
Drug companies and biotech businesses need human subjects in order to perfect their products; steady supplies of human embryos are needed in order to conduct these lethal experiments. Because fertility clinics cannot possibly supply the large number of embryos needed, the biotech industry has resorted to a transgenic solution: combining 98% human DNA with 2% cow DNA to form a human-animal hybrid known as a “chimera.” As mentioned earlier, Cornell University in May of 2008 created a “glow in the dark” human child by crossing human genes with a fluorescent gene from an Australian jellyfish. The embryo was destroyed before its third week of life, and a spokesperson for the National Institutes of Health explained that “the Cornell work would not be classified as gene therapy in need of federal review, because a test-tube embryo [child] is not considered a person under the regulations.”92
Our efforts to promote a culture of life in the 21st century require that we develop a clear and consistent message to alert our culture to the dangers that lie ahead if the definition of “person” is allowed to be eroded from its historical meaning. Personhood is the clear battleground of the pro-life movement in our century.93
87 Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: a Christian vision for public policy, edited by Charles W. Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 26.
88 Ronald Bailey, “The Pursuit of Happiness, Peter Singer interviewed by Ronald Bailey,” http://reason.com/archives/2000/12/01/the-pursuit-of-happiness-peter , 2000, 1 (accessed 11 November 2010).
91 In a conversation with the author in May 2008 at Georgia Personhood
92 Andrew Pollack, “Engineering by Scientists on Embryo Stirs Criticism,” New York Times (13 May 2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/science/13embryo.html (accessed 13 November 2010).
93 My pro-life organization, Georgia Right to Life, has produced a website at Personhood.net in our attempt to engage the 21st century with a clear “Sanctity of Human Life” foundation. I would encourage you to familiarize yourself with its resources and message.