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Response to stevenleser (Reply #43)

Wed Sep 18, 2013, 03:24 PM

64. Steven, the artificial placenta takes us to an interesting excursion into bioethics...

However, I think some of those issues are already being settled by the existence of surrogacy, if you think about it. Married couples have been doing this for some time, in cases where the wife has been unable to carry a child to term herself -- perhaps she has ovaries but no uterus, for instance, or some other medical condition. Gay couples also now have that option. (Michael Jackson himself became a father by hiring surrogate mothers, and there seems to be considerable doubt that any of his children were biologically his, by design.) A man who wants to become a father by himself has the option of hiring a surrogate, just as a woman who wants to become a mother by herself has the option of visiting a sperm bank -- Neither imposes parenthood on an unwilling partner, and each personally takes on the attendant immediate costs, risks, and the lifelong crapshoot that is parenting, and I wish them all the best. A baby wanted that much is off to a good start.

The biggest question such couples have is what to do with the leftover frozen zygotes. They are emotionally and financially invested in their creation, but really -- a dozen or two dozen invisible zygotes waiting in the wings? I think the law in the UK is to store them for only so many years and then bye-bye, which at least removes the burden of decision from the couples involved. That's probably the way to go.

Which brings me to the "viability" you brought up regarding life at the farthest reaches of conception. My instinct is to say: don't go there (see above), but I'll work on being more nuanced. What I have is essentially a spiritual point of view regarding women, but the science is this: every month the menses of uncounted women wash away fertilized ova, anywhere from a few days to several weeks along. Literally countless ova are fertilized that don't implant themselves. (Sometimes the hormonal changes show up on an over-the-counter pregnancy test for awhile, and then the woman gets her period anyway. That's why.) Then there are the ones that do implant, but don't stay -- a very early miscarriage or a late period depending, and this is important, on your point of view. My mother used to say: Sometimes Mother Nature makes a mistake, and that's how She corrects it -- meaning, there was something inherently wrong, a lethal defect. Trying to make this about evil intent on the part of the woman (see: proposed laws regarding the criminalization of miscarriages) is just wrong.

A zygote or a fetus is not a parasite, nor is it entitled to full personhood; it is a genetic blueprint of what might become. In understanding that and in acknowledging that real people have feelings about that, we can try to come to a better understanding of each other. There is a spiritual dimension to those feelings for most women, whether they can give voice to them or not.

Legally, though, we need to stick with Roe vs. Wade, which was based on a common societal understanding that in fact goes back to the dawn of time in nearly every culture and religion: the first three months are entirely in the woman's domain (nonviable, doesn't have any of the necessary capacities to live outside the womb, used to be women didn't even tell anyone in case it didn't continue, and if she doesn't think she can take care of it for any reason going forward, she should be able to safely terminate).

The second three months it still is not viable -- and even though prenatal science has pushed the boundaries to save miscarried babies, on the whole they are not very healthy going forward, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on hospitalization -- The woman should still have the choice not to have motherhood imposed on her. Abortion, however, becomes more dangerous for the mother, and it should be in a clinical setting. It's a nonviable fetus. Roe allows some restrictions, but life and health of the mother are paramount, as well as fatal defect of the fetus.

The third trimester is where it gets tricky, because it looks like a baby, has developed most of what it needs, and with medical intervention most can survive a premature birth now. It's "viable." That's where Roe placed most of its restrictions, and this is where most of the anti-choice hysteria centers. The restrictions in place seem sensible to most of us, because abortion at this stage is dangerous to the mother and the baby looks like -- well, a baby. Nonetheless, the necessity remains: we still need an exception for the life and health of the mother, and we still need an exception for fatal birth defects like anencephaly. Those are real issues. No one gets to that stage of pregnancy and wakes up one morning and puts "abortion" on her to-do list.

None of this is to deny the sorrow of infertile couples (some of whom may be helped by your hypothetical artificial placenta) -- which brings me to the spiritual dimension of intention. A wanted pregnancy is an intention. Just as the zygote is a genetic blueprint for what might become, becoming (or choosing to remain) pregnant because you want to is an intention to live a certain way. It doesn't mean anything will turn out the way you meant it to (see "crapshoot" above) but it does mean you willingly take it on as a free choice made by a free human being. Actually, you don't have to see that as spiritual at all, but it helps if others can comprehend that some of us do -- and that in our religious concepts, free will has a big place.

Didn't mean to go on at such length, but when Hekate revisits Demeter, sometimes a lot comes up.

Hekate

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