Monday, June 11, 2007

ensoulment entrapment

drawing lines on imaginary slippery slopes to preserve human dignity...

this story is timely, but of deeper consequence than PH news. I'm referring to the recent mouse experiments which achieved creation of embryonic stem cells without embryos (Scientists Use Skin To Create Stem Cells).
scientists have:

"coaxed ordinary mouse skin cells to become what are effectively embryonic stem cells...all adult cells, including easily retrieved skin cells, carry dormant genetic instructions for turning themselves back into embryonic cells."
notably, the first word I heard from the church was positive:
"Morally and practically, this new approach appears to be far superior," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
his blessing is of course for the eventual avoidance of human embryo destruction while pursuing miracle cures for the already born. politically religious types applaud because human lives (the innocent, almost microscopic type) will be saved.

this opens an avenue of acceptance for therapeutic cloning.

it also points out the crumbling foundation of moral reason the church must now logically dance around.

why? because according to doctrine, people are not supposed to "play God"; yet science is shoving into our faces the fact that we do and must "play God".

if we oppose advances in modern medicine we'll tend toward the extremes like the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse even blood transfusions, prefering to let "nature take it course". but soon, for us in the mainstream, we will be able to "preserve human dignity" and also avoid debilitating illnesses.

hopefully, sometime in the near future, I will have the option of using my own skin cells (hundreds of which I destroy daily one way or another), to generate new organs for my aging body so like a classic car, I can keep going a long, long time.
as my different parts wear out I'll grow new kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, intestines, skin, bones, brain cells... where does it end?
like the story of the ancient ship whose rotted wood was replaced piece by piece until none of the original boards remained, I'll still retain my "me-ness" throughout. I won't even be a chimera, because all these new organs I grow will have my own DNA - just as the food I eat becomes "me", so will these new parts be incorporated.

so after all my parts are replaced, what's happened to the "me" that was conceived and grown in my mom decades ago?
the answer lies in viewing personhood as not a discrete object (or particle) in time, but switching to the "wave theory" view of being like my buddy Ray Kurzweil, the "patternist" describes. he sees personhood as a bundle of memories of experiences interacting with other bundles of consciousness and describes in analogy the view that "being" is less like a unit of water, and more "being" the pattern or shape of water flowing over rocks in a stream.

but back to the question about playing God...
as was explained to me, the church's philosophy is that "life begins at conception" (pro/con) because, without better evidence, that is the earliest possible moment the soul, or personhood as it were, could be incarnated. therefore, to be on the safe side, it's immoral to destroy human zygotes (the church looks at intent - if you are willing to murder what may be a person, then you for all intents and purposes are guilty of homicide).

but soon, with embryo-less therapeutic cloning there is no murder... only creation anew and the continuum of life is maintained without conception.

isn't this a problem?
well, what we're talking about is these embryonic stem cells (traditionally made via sexual reproduction). one problem with placing personhood or "ensoulment" at conception has been the fact that after a few divisions the little bundle of joy can split up and become twins. hmm, so there was one soul, one person, now two...that's a bit of a problem. but what's worse, what about of all the skin cells I'm destroying? please realize that with this newfangled procedure, each one of them will have the potential to become an embryo!
in other words, a cell of me can revert back to embryonic stem cell status from which it can proceed to become another person. so much for starting life at conception. this discrete view of being is going to be as antiquated as the view of the universe revolving around the earth.

you could say skin cell destruciton is not murder because "well it's only a potential"... yes, but isn't that what the pro-choicers have said all along? and yet the church seems to now agree!

I guess is the best defense is to keep having good intentions. that should keep us out of hell, right?

"Ordinary cells reprogrammed to mirror stem cells" (LATimes)


jennifer said...

Hi Tom...

Yeah, things are getting complicated! :-)

As you state... at this point I think the only thing we can do is live in awareness with the best intention for the highest good.

I don't know any other way to manage the difficult questions that arise!

Great post!


cooper said...

"The Church" is ever dichotomous.

To give us the ability to live forever may indeed be what the "God" from whose image we were metaphorically cloned anyway had in mind all along. One we are there he can get some rest.

Great post, and much too much for my tired little brain.

The Bluerose said...

good read.

thanx for visiting my site

tomawesome said...

the ancient ship reference is (I re-discovered today) is known as the "ship of theseus" paradox (see now if I could just rediscover the story about the knife that was so sharp...

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