Science, Religion, and Personhood

Costa Rica is the last country with a full-on ban of in vitro fertilization. The motivation behind the policy is similar to that expressed on the bumper stickers of anti-abortionists: that an embryo is a human, and ending its existence is tantamount to killing it. On the other end, infertile couples are often left without a method to conceive their own children, and as a result, some have brought a law suit against Costa Rica. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is set to rule on the issue soon.

Before the issue can be further assessed, the boundaries of personhood must be determined. Though these infertile couples should have a right to conceive their own children, they should not be allowed to do so at the expense of morality. A paraplegic has the right to walk, but he cannot cross the bounds of morality to gain it. The law cannot decide to equalize human capabilities at any expense. Thus, the line must be drawn to determine what is actually occurring on a moral level when embryos are artificially created and planted in a womb with a small likelihood of survival.

Finding that line in the sand for personhood may be impossible to do objectively. Perhaps the best method is to find the greatest and most significant biological change. But how do we determine what change is great enough to delineate between mere cellular arrangements and a human being? Or is it more philosophical–that a cellular arrangement that is structured to grow into a human deserves the treatment of a human, based not on its humanness but on its potential for humanness? This debate tends to toss the religious and the scientific into the boxing ring. Religion is often cast aside as fictional fluff, while science remains as ‘objective truth.’ But is there ultimately any difference between religion (the deep-rooted belief in the authority of a higher being and the weakness of man) and science (the deep-rooted belief in man’s ability to determine truth through reason and measurement)? Both are just different constructs for extracting truth, and neither can prove anything definitively, wholly, and universally through all infinite space and time. While the science behind gestation is important to our present and limited understanding of it, policy should not necessarily defer to science if the will of the people is drawn from a religious background. As we are incapable of determining pure truth, we cannot favor one construct for truth over another merely because it favors the external over the internal (and really, which one is more real to us? Cue the The Matrix references).



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