Over at Red State, a "pro-life" person named PhoenixFire is saying some very strange things:
Personhood is obviously dependent on the essence of the being and has nothing to do with external factors. Objectively, the essence of a being is determined by its DNA. So the definition of a person, which ends up the same as that of a human, should be: A person is any life form (characterized by one or more cells and the ability to grow, respond to stimuli, metabolize, and reproduce) with human DNA.Which proves, yet again, how easy it is to solve thorny scientific and ethical problems when you drift in a Sargasso Sea of willful ignorance.
What is "human" DNA, in PhoenixFire's sense? Is it DNA that leads to a specific outcome in terms of function and structure - a functional cortex, for instance - or is it DNA that simply comes from human parents?
And what on earth is the "essence" of a human being? Self-reflexivity? Intentionality? Interpellation? Language? Compassion? The love of God? Or does one simply know it when one sees it, like pornography?
I assume PhoenixFire is presenting the ability to grow, respond to stimuli, metabolize, and reproduce as conditions that must all be met to justify a finding of humanity, and thus of personhood. But if a genetic defect leads to, say, anencephaly, there may be no response to stimuli at all. It's not reasonable to say that a child born with anencephaly isn't human. But one could reasonably argue that such a child is not a person.
Also, infertility can keep someone from being able to reproduce, without making him or her a nonperson. PhoenixFire's standards for personhood are perhaps a bit too high.
Or perhaps they're a bit too low. Human spermatazoa contain human DNA. They grow from spermatocytes. They can respond to stimuli, and metabolize. As for spermatocytes, they reproduce through both mitotic and meiotic division. By PhoenixFire's standards, then, a spermatazoan would seem to be a "person." The implications of this are troubling, to say the least.
The debate over the basic terms of bioethics will have to continue, I'm afraid. PhoenixFire's "person" is like Shakespeare's crocodile: it's shaped like itself, and the tears of it are wet.