Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Denial of Personhood to Justify Abortion & ESCR

Today, a letter in the Post Dispatch by a "professor" of historical theology attempts to justify embryonic stem cell research by using false arguments to deny that personhood begins at conception. He, wrongly, asserts that since St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, because they did not view a fetus as a person, it must therefore follow that it is permissible to destroy the fetus or the embryo. Evidently, the knowledge obtained in the intervening centuries must be of no importance. Amazingly, he does not mention the first century document, the Didache, which clearly and unambiguously forbids abortion by any means.
Avoiding the issue

Lawrence A. Weber's Jan. 1 letter, "Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of life," disingenuously avoids the real issue. No one disputes that stem cell research involves the "disaggregation of a human embryo."

The question is whether a human embryo, tiny in size, months from developing a central nervous system, and not implanted in a woman's womb, could be called a human person. Being alive with human DNA differs from being alive with the sentience required for human personhood.

The great weight of Western tradition, including Christian (and thus Catholic) thought, has recognized this. Not until the 17th century, when through faulty biology scientists thought fertilized eggs were fully developed but miniature creatures, did the "fetus as a person" argument develop. Neither Sts. Augustine (354-430) nor Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), for example, thought the fetus was a person until later in pregnancy. Augustine compared the early developing fetus to vegetation.

There is precious little scriptural, historical or theological reason to think that the embryonic human life "disaggregated" in stem cell research bears any connection to a human person being destroyed. Weber's arguments could use more clarity of thought and language and less self-righteous sarcasm.

John W. Riggs
Professor of Historical Theology
and Church History,
Eden Theological Seminary
Webster Groves
Perhaps, Mr. Riggs would be well served to read Dr. Peter Kreeft's excellent article, "Human Personhood Begins at Conception", which can be read here.

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