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FF Podcast 58 (Audio): That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58 (Audio): That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, HIV/AIDS, Politics, RH Bill, Science, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Podcast, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Society1 Comment

Population and Poverty

Father Castro, a church executive, recently mentioned, “100 million population, it’s good for the economy. Ibig sabihin niyan meron tayong workers, hindi bad news ang population. Na brainwash tayo na malaking population is equated with poverty.”

100 million

This sentiment has been repeated by many; that the growing population is good for the economy and does not lead to poverty. Their logic is that the the more people, the more workers; the more workers, the better the economy.

There is some truth to the assertion that a fast growing population may lead to faster economic growth. Even the New York Times published an article by Floyd Whaley called, “A Youthful Populace Helps Make the Philippines an Economic Bright Spot in Asia.”

Although it is true that more people can produce more goods and services, leading to faster economic growth, the question we should ask is, “Who benefits from this kind of growth?”

About 1 million people enter the labor force every year, each one of them competing with each other and with existing employees for jobs. With such an abundance of labor, employers face very little pressure to raise wages. After all, if one person doesn’t want to work for next to nothing, there are hundreds of others lining up to apply for the same job.

To quote HSBC economist Frederic Neumann:

“The Philippines stands out as the youngest population. As other countries see their labor costs go up, the Philippines will remain competitive due to the sheer abundance of workers joining the labor force.”

In other words, the economy will grow rapidly precisely because wages will not.

Who will benefit? The rich who have an army of workers competing for a small number of jobs, willing to work for next to nothing just to stay alive, and Father Castro’s church which will gain legions of faithful poor.

Posted in Advocacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism, Society2 Comments

Women’s Autonomy in the Hands of the SC

The legal state of a married woman’s autonomy over her own body has been put in a strange limbo thanks to two recent Supreme Court decisions.


Image by Justin Vidamo

In the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, certain provisions were struck down as unconstitutional. While most of the RH Law was retained, one of the provisions struck by the SC puts women’s autonomy in a precarious position. The provision that the SC struck down was Section 23(a)(2)(i) and in their decision the court stated that it is unconstitutional to:

allow a married individual, not in an emergency or life threatening case, to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse;

In the Philippine context, this is especially bad for the wives in a (heterosexual) marriage. Over the course of the lengthy RH debates, we’ve heard many stories of women who could not undertake reproductive health measures because of pressure from their husbands.

Women should have autonomous control over their own bodies, even after they have entered a marriage. After all, it is the woman’s life that is at stake when they undergo pregnancy.

The majority decision from the SC to declare unconstitutional the spouse’s autonomy over their own RH decisions becomes puzzling in the light of a newer ruling from the SC on marital rape. In this ruling, the SC upheld a decision from the lower courts that rape within marriage is still rape, doing a good job in laying down local jurisprudence for future legal cases of marital rape. In the decision authored by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, he says in the final note that:

A husband does not own his wife’s body by reason of marriage. By marrying, she does not divest herself of the human right to an exclusive autonomy over her own body and thus, she can lawfully opt to give or withhold her consent to marital coitus.

Justice Reyes’ decision on the status of marital rape was consented by four other SC Justices. Among these five, Justice Reyes and Chief Justice Sereno were consistent with in voting that Section 23(a)(2)(i) of the RH Law is constitutional. Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, and Martin Villarama Jr had voted it down as unconstitutional.

These two SC decisions on marital rape and reproductive health have put a strange tension to the legal question of women’s autonomy over their bodies.

On one hand, women in marriages don’t have autonomy over their own bodies when it comes to their own reproductive health decisions. On the other, they do have autonomy when it comes to deciding when to have sex in marriage.

In the marital rape ruling, the SC Justices have shown that they understand the importance of the human right to autonomy over your own body. It could even be said that three SC Justices have gained a better understanding about the importance of this right since the RH Law decision.

While RH groups won’t be appealing the SC rulings anymore, I hope future rulings on women’s autonomy follow the line of legal reasoning laid down by Justice Reyes in the marital rape case.

Posted in Politics, RH Bill, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 38: Filming an Abortion

FF Podcast (Audio) 38: Filming an Abortion

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 38 - Filming an Abortion

This week, we talk about Emily Letts, an abortion counselor who filmed her own abortion and posted it online.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Gender Rights, RH Bill, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 36 - Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, RH Bill, Science, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 36: Watching Your Words

FF Podcast 36: Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, RH Bill, Society, Video0 Comments

In Baguio for RH Verdict

In Baguio for RH Verdict

We went to Baguio last April 7 for the Supreme Court’s decision on the Reproductive Health Law. Here’s how it turned out.

Posted in Advocacy, Media, Podcast, RH Bill, Video0 Comments

Anti-RH Supreme Court Justices and the Arroyo Connection

We have confirmed through reliable sources within the Supreme Court that the instigator of the ongoing hold order against the Reproductive Health Law was Justice Arturo Brion, who was appointed by GMA and has supported her throughout her administration and, it appears, beyond that. He penned the dissenting opinion on Arroyo’s electoral sabotage charges, coming out in favor of her. He maintained this position when the motion was reconsidered. He also voted to grant Arroyo’s travel request.

He also made his sentiments on RH clear.

The other identified Justices leading the Anti-RH camp in the Supreme Court are Justices Teresita de Castro and Roberto Abad. Abad joined Brion in the travel request vote. De Castro, with Abad, joined Brion in his dissenting opinions on both times Arroyo’s alleged electoral sabotage faced the high court.

Over the last month it has been observed that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo entertained a series of visits from prominent leaders of the Catholic Church. From Bishops Tirona, Odchimar, Marquez, Talamayan, and Villena to Lipa Archbishop Arguelles, ex-president GMA, currently under hospital dentention on plunder charges, has no shortage of friends claiming the authority of the Almighty. With her close ties to the Church, she maintained throughout her presidency opposition to all forms of the reproductive health law.

(Pajero_Bishop_Scandal)_Filipinos_protest_against_the_Bishops_that_allegedly_accepted_money_and_luxury_cars_from_former_president_Macapagal-Arroyo_in_exchange_for_support

The former president has had a history of making deals with the Catholic Church hierarchy, purchasing their silence with checks for luxury SUVs. What is notable now is that even Archbishop Oscar Cruz, formerly a vocal opponent of hers, has visited her and is now calling for her to be moved to a more comfortable state of house arrest.

Other luminaries gracing the former president’s place of detention include pro-life partylist BUHAY’s representative Lito Atienza. GMA’s spokesperson confirmed that they discussed the passage of the RH law.

Legal experts and some members of the Supreme Court itself showed that the arguments supporting the SQA border on the farcical. This was further demonstrated by Anti-RH arguments from Francisco Tatad.

We know that the Supreme Court is supposed to be impartial, but we also know that GMA has subverted that impartiality to her benefit in the past. Given the circumstances surrounding the core Anti-RH bloc in the Supreme Court, it is not unreasonable to suspect that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has recruited the Catholic Church leaders’ support in exchange for influencing the high court’s ruling on the Reproductive Health Law.

Image Credit: Westcrosse via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Advocacy, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Society0 Comments

Anti-RH Church Leaders Blame Calamities on RH

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-13Why would God let calamity hit a predominantly Catholic country? “God is not the cause of the suffering,” answers Father Bacaltos, a Tacloban parish priest. “God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature.”

Many Catholics would agree that nature, not God, is to blame for this tragedy. But for some leaders of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) law is to blame. Which leaders? Well, what a coincidence: the ones who are most vocal against RH.

Here’s Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who campaigned against “Team Patay” through tarps, reminding us that rather than Nature’s random acts, calamities like Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) are God’s reminders. He adds that when we continue to oppose God through the RH Law, we put our lives in danger:

 What happens to us — earthquakes, floods, storms — are reminders.We are reminded to never forget life… Even our life is in the hands of God so we better make it meaningful… Let us not forget him. We remove Him, for example, in this [RH] law that goes against His will. So when we oppose God, we are in danger.” [some parts translated]

And here’s Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an anti-RH voice in mainstream media since 2010, explaining why Typhoon Pablo was no coincidence:

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or it’s because the Lord is trying to tell us that if you talk about that [the then RH bill] seriously it’s like there’s a message saying that many difficulties happen to us… especially since we [the Catholic Church] don’t want the bill deliberated hurriedly and secretly so that it is passed.” [translated]

Finally, here’s Father Melvin Castro, who frequently heads anti-RH contingents during demonstrations and vigils, blaming the RH Bill for the heavy rains of “Habagat:”

Although we would not give other meaning to it, nonetheless God speaks through his creation as well. Nature tells us to respect the natural course of things.

If I researched further back in time, I’d probably find even more Church leaders who blamed calamities on God (or the people who disobey God, depending on how you look at it). And something tells me it’s only a matter of time before some distasteful CBCP leader does it again.

But there are priests, like Father Bacaltos, who are more tactful, more humble, and it’s Catholic leaders like these that I continue to respect. As Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.

***

image source: Trocaire

Posted in Religion, RH Bill8 Comments

Pediatrician Claims to Have “Final Answer” to Question of Life

trust-me-im-the-doctor-royal-bros

A little over a week ago, The Philippine Daily Inquirer published a letter written by the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), claiming that science had presented a final answer to when life begins. To quote the relevant section of the ACPeds letter:

As stated in our website, “Scientific and medical discoveries over the past three decades have only verified and solidified this age-old truth. At the completion of the process of fertilization, the human creature emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is not one of personhood but of development.” (http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/life-issues/when-human-life-begins)

This is the final answer to this issue, as Professor Kischer puts it. In an article titled “When does human life begin? The final answer,” which was published in the Linacre Quarterly, he categorically states: “Virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook of human embryology states that fertilization marks the beginning of the life of the new individual human being.”

There are numerous problems with ACPeds’ assertions.

The first is their statement that “virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook” agrees with their stance that life begins after fertilization. A cursory search turns up several notable embryologists and researchers in relevant fields who wouldn’t hesitate to call out at ACPeds’ claim.

For instance, there is Professor Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College, who has stated in one of his more notable lectures (available here) that there is no consensus among embryologists on when life begins. Here is a basic rundown of Professor Gilbert refuting common misconceptions about fertilization, as summarized by Rationalwiki:

  • Instructions for Development and Heredity are all in the Fertilised egg. The view that we are genetically determined by the combination of parental DNA has been shown to fall far short of the complete story. How the DNA is interpreted can vary greatly affected by things such as the maternal diet. Similarly some development requires certain bacteria to be present. Thirdly, and most surprisingly, the level of maternal care can determine which areas of DNA are ‘methylated’ which radically alters how they are interpreted. As such the view that we are ‘complete but unformed’ at conception is far from accurate.
  • The Embryo is Safe Within the Womb. Modern research shows that 30% or fewer fertilised eggs will go on to become foetuses. Many of these early miscarriages are because of abnormal numbers of chromosomes. The view that every fertilised egg is a potential human being is wrong in around 70% of cases.
  • There is a Moment of Fertilisation when the passive egg receives the active sperm. Again recent research has shown that the previous commonly held view that the fastest sperm races towards the egg and, bingo, we’re up and running is wrong on many levels. Fertilisation is a process taking up to four days. As such there is no magic moment, rather there is a process.
  • There is consensus amongst scientists that life begins at conception. There isn’t even consensus amongst scientists as to whether there’s consensus. However, Scott Gilbert’s paper lists embryologists who support each of the major view points belying the common and oft repeated assertion that there is consensus amongst embryologists, let alone scientists.

Lewis Wolpert, a well-known developmental biologist, also made similar points in his lectures regarding when personhood begins:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop”, he says. “I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being. The cells divide and the question I’m going to deal with a little bit here…how do the cells know what to do. So, how do they end up looking like … you? It is amazing that you come from one single cell. I’m sorry to give you a lesson in embryology but you should know how you develop.”

And then there’s professor Paul Zachary Myers (of crackergate fame) if you like your rebuttals served with a side of snark and heat.

I’m hoping you get my point – that there is no such consensus among the scientific community that life begins at fertilization, and that several scientists have in fact spoken at length on why they disagree. This leads to another problem with the ACPeds letter. By using language like the title “Science’s final answer to when human life begins”, ACPEds implies that they speak on behalf of the rest of the scientific community. This is not the case, and it reeks of arrogance on their part to assume they do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that ACPeds has been caught making questionable claims.

The American College of Pediatrics is actually a breakaway faction from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and was formed by a small group of healthcare providers who did not agree with the latter’s support for adoption by gay parents.

Since its establishment in 2002, ACPeds has been caught intentionally spreading numerous disproven claims about homosexuality, and trying to pass it off as science. The group has the distinct (dis)honor of being personally called out by the director of the National Institutes of Health for misrepresenting his work. Dr. Collins was not the only researcher who was upset by ACPeds, as seen here and here.

If there is anything we can learn from ACPeds actions, both in the Inquirer letter and in their previous activities, it is that they’re more about pushing an ideology and a political agenda than about promoting truthful and fact-based science.

If you’d like to read more about the matter of when life begins, we’ve also got a couple of articles here and here, written by fellow freethinker  Garrick Bercero

Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill, Science0 Comments

FF Podcast 013: Is Gender Equality Against Freedom of Religion? Plus—Soylent!

FF Podcast 013: Is Gender Equality Against Freedom of Religion? Plus—Soylent!

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This week, we talk about the claim by Couples for Christ that gender equality in the RH Law goes against their religious freedom. Then, we discuss Soylent, the food replacement drink.

You may also download the episode file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Gender Rights, Podcast, Politics, RH Bill, Society0 Comments

An Open Letter to All RH Supporters: A Response

Dear Pro-Life Philippines,

It is undeniable that in the protracted fight for women’s rights, both sides of the RH debate have had their fair share of mudslinging and cynical caricaturing. I do not doubt at all that the anti-RH mean well. I believe in the sincerity of your positions, though I do believe that these positions are often misleading and often scarily absurd. I have no illusions that your side will reconsider any of these positions regardless of evidence, but in the interest of goodwill, I will sincerely address the statements in your open letter.

First of all, you claim that you share our concern for the health of women. Again, I do not doubt this, but I do question the way you act on this concern. The RH Law does provide for increased funding for maternal health services. You do not seem to be opposed to that, only that you are hung up on the matter of contraceptives.

It is totally unnecessary to lie about cancer links to oral contraceptives, since your opposition to the RH Law is founded on dogma, not medicine or scientific research. You would oppose the law even if it would only provide for barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms. If you want a civil discussion, let us not pretend that the argument is really about abortion or about cancer concerns.

Citing cancer links only serve to weaken your position, when better studies have refuted then. You cite the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of oral contraceptive pills as group 1 carcinogens. As the Mayo Clinic clarifies, this classification was based on studies on old OCP formulations. While studies did show links between breast cancer and OCPs, these links completely disappear in studies on modern formulations.

In the largest modern study on current lower estrogen and new progestin formulation oral contraceptive pills involving over 9000 women, no breast cancer links were found. It is plainly intellectually dishonest to pass off old data as current.

Science improves through time, and old positions are discarded in the face of contradictory evidence. I understand that this method of revising and improving ideas is foreign to faith, but it is no excuse for when anti-choice advocates try to speak on matters of science.

Second, you claim to respect the right to choose. This is simply not true. Forgive me for lumping the actions of the Catholic Church hierarchy and its government allies with yours, but let’s not pretend that your ideals are not identical. If this is an inaccurate statement, then feel free to denounce the following.

The Catholic Church and its members have worked tirelessly to restrict access to contraceptives, even just in recent memory. The city of Manila, under the mayoralty of then-Pro-Life Philippines President Lito Atienza (your president), banned the provision of contraceptives in city hospitals and health centers, which the poor had relied on. A stronghold of the Opus Dei and the Saint James the Great Parish, the Ayala Alabang Village, banned the sale of all contraceptives to anyone without a prescription, even for barrier methods. There were also several copycat ordinances in other parts the country.

With your own then-president implicated, as well as your Mother Church, saying that you are not against choice and the freedom to acquire contraceptives is clearly a sin against the eight commandment. (That’s the one about lying.)

The issue of choice is also not simply having contraceptives available for sale. To pretend that it is betrays a level of privilege that is inexcusable for a supposedly charitable organization. It goes against the very notion of social justice. This is like pretending that any poor person has the free choice to be a doctor or a lawyer, without the assistance of scholarships and educational subsidies.

You seem to be oblivious to just how deprived of choice the poor are. Otherwise, ignorant statements like, “A law cannot give the people something the people already have,” would never even merit a moment’s consideration. But if it needs to be said, let me say it. The poor cannot afford meals, let alone contraceptives. No, they did not have a choice before the RH Law, and they still don’t, thanks to the status quo ante order against the RH Law.

Third, you claim not to be against the poor or progress. You claim that the solution to poverty is job creation, feeding programs, and education. I am certain that these are not bad ideas, but to advocate these to the exclusion of reproductive health is absolutely short-sighted and unsustainable.

Six out of every ten pregnancies is unwanted. This is particularly relevant to poor women who have a greater problem of achieving their desired family size. It takes little logical effort to figure out that abortions stem from unwanted pregnancies. If you are truly against abortion, reducing unwanted pregnancies should be your primary concern.

Poor women are especially burdened with having to provide for, feed, and educate unplanned children, when they do not even have the resources to feed themselves, let alone the other children they already have. I’m sure many of these parents grow to love their unplanned children, but this does not diminish the fact that families suffer because of having even less to divide among family members. This is a recipe for abuses, such as child abandonment and child labor.

Let us have a society where every child is wanted and is born to a loving family that will care for their well-being. That doesn’t have to be a controversial wish, but it is in the Philippines.

Women deserve a life where they can pursue happiness, however they define it. Incidentally, that definition usually does not include having a child too young or when finances are tight.

It is true that both sides of the debate share the goal of seeing the Philippines flourish. I do not believe the caricature that the anti-RH are against the law for the selfish reason of putting more people on pews. I believe that you want to help people, but understand that we want to help people in this life, not in some imagined afterlife that punishes people for all eternity.

Your concern for the faith of Catholics is not, and should not, be shared by the State. Your concern should not burden the Filipino people who, by an overwhelming majority, baptized Catholics and non-Catholics alike, want to take control of their reproductive choices.

You claim that it is “so easy” to distribute condoms and pills to the poor. On the contrary, it is not. Reproductive health advocates have fought for the right to do so for over a decade now because of the oppressive tactics employed by you and your Church. What is easy, though, is to pay lip service to providing education and employment to people without considering the realities of unwanted pregnancies. It is easy to misrepresent the RH movement as deludedly offering a silver bullet to poverty. That is not what the RH Law is about. It is not supposed to address all the problems of poverty. The law aims to help families achieve the family size they want. It aims to provide economic and personal freedom to women who cannot afford the opportunity costs of pregnancy.

It is easy for a privileged and powerful institution to talk about “empowering” the poor, then oppose one of the surest ways to achieve empowerment—freeing a society’s women from the shackles of forced pregnancy. People of means never have to worry about carrying a pregnancy to term while worrying about how to feed yourself and your already starving other children. If you want to talk about easy things, compare your lives to those who have less than you.

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Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill4 Comments

When Does Life Begin? Revisited

It seems that every “debate” (a term I use very loosely) on the Reproductive Health Law will always devolve into dogmatists bellyaching about one question: When does life begin?

This happened during the debates in Congress and it is happening again in the debate in the Supreme Court. In both cases, government officials have voiced out that it was not for politicians and non-scientists to decide on the matter. And yet, we can fully expect that this question will be raised over and over even after the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law.

I had written a piece on when life begins three years ago outlining a scientific attempt at answering the anti-choice challenge. In the following, I will revisit and clarify the obscurantism of conservatives on the question. There is a lot of ambiguous language that conservatives employ to muddy the real issue and their intention in asking the question in the first place. Most confusing of all is how they conflate “life” with “personhood.”

 

Who cares about life?

Life is an ill-defined concept even in the science that studies life, biology. There are many attempts at defining it, but mostly we have the pornography standard. That is, we know life when we see life. Some attempts at defining life include the following criteria: having structural organization, being able to produce energy by decomposing organic matter, being able to respond to stimuli, being able to reproduce. These are not to everyone’s satisfaction, so the debate goes on.

But, just because something is alive, does not mean it is worthy of protection. We eat living things. Even vegans and vegetarians eat living things. We kill living things, such as bacteria, parasites, and pests. Clearly life has begun for these organisms, but we shed no tears at their demise.

Perhaps there is something unique, then, to human life? Consider that even the Catholic Church allows human beings with functioning bodies but incapable of conscious experience, what we would call “brain dead,” to have their organs extracted for the benefit of other humans. John Paul II called these brain dead humans as having lost the “integrative capacity” to have a unitary “personal self.” From this, we know that the specialness of humans can’t possibly be from just having the DNA or the body of a human being.

 

Who are the people?

The critical concept of “personhood” is at the core of the whole disagreement. Life is not equivalent to personhood. We do not treat life in general as important as we treat persons. Judging by the Church’s acceptance of harvesting organs from the brain dead, permanently terminating the organism’s metabolism, it is okay to end the metabolic life of a human being… as long as that human being is brain dead. We can see that the Church does not see the brain dead as persons worthy of equal protection.

So, it is persons that are important. We shouldn’t be asking when life begins. We don’t really care about life. We care about persons. But what makes a person? Clearly a brain dead human is no longer a person, even by Catholic standards. Where’s the difference between brain death and brain life? Well… the brain.

We consider brains as critical in calling a person, a person. A person is capable of suffering, of having aspirations, of planning for their future. But, can only humans be persons? Well, no. Non-human animals can have highly advanced capacities for conscious experience. Dolphins and whales are known to have deep self-awareness, so much so that they are considered “non-human persons.” And yet, you won’t see the Catholic Church hunting down whaling vessels even though they say they defend personhood.

Licensed under Creative Commons, Vince Smith

The trouble is, sperms, eggs, and embryos have no brains. They are incapable of conscious experience. Fetuses, with their just developing neural systems, are certainly less capable of conscious experience than even the pigs and cows we casually slaughter. So, if sufficiently complex brains make a person, then sperms, eggs and embryos are not persons! Easy, huh? Well, not so fast, says the Church.

There is a whole debate on the potential of future personhood that the Church employs to argue that since embryos can become persons then they must. This line of argumentation does not interest me, so I will not waste too much time on it. But I will at least explain why it is uninteresting. The argument from potentiality is a slippery slope that terminates on absurdity. If you take it to its logical conclusion, every proton in the universe has the potential to become part of a person. Every carbon atom in your body came from some other thing. As technology progresses, we will be capable of not just producing humans from embryos, but from any cell. We are doing this now with induced pluripotent stem cells—turning one kind of cell into another. Then every cell has the potential to become a person. You won’t be able to pick your nose and scrape skin cells without committing a mortal sin. So, when does the Church choose to terminate this slippery slope? At embryos—exactly where they wanted it to. How convenient. So embryos are worthy of protection because they have the potential to become persons. Although other things can become persons, embryos are special because we say they’re special. Talk about assuming your conclusion.

 

Confused? The soul is the key!

This all can be confusing, but bear with me, dear reader. There is a key to this puzzle that will make everything fall into place. The key is—the soul.

There is a lot of dubious mental gymnastics used to justify the complicated and inconsistent position of the Church on life and personhood, but they are all clear when you consider the doctrine of the soul. The Church believes on faith that the soul, crafted by God and unique to every human being, enters the embryo during fertilization. Dolphins are not persons, even though they are quite intelligent and have self-awareness, because they don’t have souls. Only humans have souls. And the soul leaves the body once it has ceased to have a functioning brain. This is what John Paul II meant by having lost the “integrative capacity”—the soul and the body are no longer unified. The soul will now float out into the spirit world with all the angels and trumpets and baby saints.

This all leads to questions that seem to yield no answer. If embryos gain their souls during fertilization, then do identical twins share one soul? Would it be okay to kill one twin since the same soul still resides in the other body? If two embryos fuse and form a chimeric embryo, do two souls share one body? Then is marrying a chimeric person actually bigamy?

Yes, this all seems silly, but this is what the Catholic Church actually believes. This is the basis for all the silly reasons they give out in court. If we are to have an intellectually honest discussion about the RH Law, it is about time to end the “When does life begin?” facade. All this talk about life is actually just conservatives beating around the bush. What they really mean is, “When does the soul enter the embryo?” But they can’t admit this, because it is not a medical, or even legal, question. It is wholly a theological one—a question that the government has no business answering.

Image Credit: Vince Smith, licensed under Creative Commons

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, RH Bill, Science1 Comment

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