What Is Human?

Over at the corner, KLo complains about cloning and a judge that rules that anencephalic babies should be aborted:

Besides the culture of death embraced by New Jersey and California on human cloning (we can clone as long as we kill that new life), the courts insistence on legal infanticide re disallowing partial-birth-abortion bans, and, of course, Roe, Shannen Coffin reminds me that two federal judges here ruled that the government had to pay for abortions of anencephalic babies because they had no chance of survival, i.e., no value to life. (Fortunately, some cooler heads prevailed in the court of appeals where one of those two decisions was reversed (another is pending in the dreaded Ninth Circuit.) How far off are we, really?

At the risk of creeping people out (hey, I have to (re)establish my non-conservative bona fides occasionally here, what with all the complaints about this being a “right-wing” site), I have to say that she sets much too much store by DNA. This all really begs the question of what is human, and what represents human life (an essay that I’ve been meaning to write for years, but never get around to, primarily because it’s a tough problem). The short version is that I don’t believe that having human DNA is either necessary or sufficient to be human, or at least to be a person with rights.

While I can see the conservative objection to aborting “human” clones (it’s at least consistent with aborting in general), I’ve never understood the convervative objection to cloning in general (other than the Leon Kass “Yuck factor“).

I use the word “human” in quotes because I’m on the fence as to when an embryo actually attains that state. I don’t believe that it’s at conception, but I do believe that by the time there’s a brain stem there, you’ve got something that shouldn’t be deliberately killed without a damn good reason. Which brings us to her second complaint, about aborting “babies” that literally have no minds.

These are creatures with human DNA, but can they really be said to be truly human? I think that much of what makes us human resides in our minds, and that absent a brain, there’s no possibility of humanity. For a person in a coma, it can be argued whether or not they are really “there,” even if there’s no measurable brain activity, but if there’s not only no activity, but literally no brain at all (at least none with any higher functions) and no prospects for developing one, what are the prospects for a meaningful life, and what indeed, is the value of such a mass of tissue?