Monday, October 11, 2004

Mere Comments on Christopher Reeve...

With regards to recent comments on my post I "respect" your belief, the post, CHRISTOPHER REEVE, in pace requiescat, by Patrick Reardon at Mere Comments is worthy of presenting in full:
This morning, when I learned of his passing away, I prayed the De Profundis for Christopher Reeve, claimed at last by that Final Enemy, the eschatos echthros (1 Corinthians 15:26) that all of us must, in due course, confront one way or another. Mr. Reeve had been on my mind more than usual over the past few days. In the presidential debate last Friday night, Senator Kerry appealed to "my friend Chris Reeve" by way of arguing his own case for the governmental support of human embryonic stell stem research. Reeve's name came up again the following evening when Cal Thomas spoke of both him and Michael J. Fox, who has also recently contributed his own support for Senator Kerry, likewise seeking governmental support for human embryonic stem cell research. Cal Thomas asked what I think is the question most prejudicial to the efforts of these two men in this respect: What makes the life of Christopher Reeve or Michael J. Fox more important than other human lives? What is there so special about these two actors that renders their existence, even their well-being, of greater worth than the lives of the embryos that they want to be created and exploited on their behalf? What justifies the killing of very small and helpless human beings so that the tissue of their flesh can be used to improve the lot of men like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox? Indeed, if a society can be persuaded to place so diminished a value on helpless human lives, why should such a society care one whit for the reduced existence of Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox? Why should they receive a preference that the Florida Supreme Court recently denied to Terri Schiavo? Putting it plainly, wherein is the life of Terri Schiavo found wanting except that she somehow failed to be a movie star? These are the questions on my mind today, as I consider the passing away of Christopher Reeve. His nefarious political activism causes me to think of him very differently from those who recall him chiefly as an actor and movie director, or even as a man of great courage and dedication. Christopher Reeve's desperate, Promethean striving for renewed strength during the final decade of his life, when his relentless brain remained as the only fully functioning organ of his wasted body, resembled nothing so much as the supreme trial of an Ubermensch far superior to the rest of men. He became a very strange and ironic embodiment of the Superman part for which he is most readily recalled. Perhaps, the title of his best known book sums it up, Still Me. My prayer for Christopher Reeve today is sincere: "Despise not, O Lord, the work of Thy hands." —Patrick Reardon


Paul said...

I have a question related to this, and I thought you might be able to help. Note that this is a genuine question, not an attempt to trick you.

What is it that makes someone a human? Presumably it's not concepts such as thought, love, self-awareness etc., as these don't apply to embryos. So it seems like it could either be the potential for such things (a practical definition) or some 'mark of god', however you might define it (a religious definition). Can you explain what people with your beliefs would say? Thanks!

Rusty said...


Just a simple, little question, huh?

There have been essays written on this question by the likes of Frank Beckwith, Greg Koukl, Robert George, etc., but I can certainly give you my take on it.

Yes, as Christians, we believe that the human species is imparted with the Imago Dei - the Image of God. Now a complete definition of what that entails would be quite extensive. Suffice it to say that we understand it to include certain attributes that are similar to those that God has. For instance, we believe that humans are not simply physical entities but possess spirit qualities as well. This aspect can be manifested in many ways, such as, the practice of spirit worship, concern about the after-life, ritualistic burial of the dead, creativity, imagination, awareness of right and wrong, self awareness, etc. It is interesting to note that when the Genesis account of creation describes the creation of humans, it uses Hebrew words that describe both the creation of something from pre-existing material in conjunction with the creation of something entirely new.

More towards your question, while certain attributes of humanity distinguish us from the animal kingdom, it is true that not all humans possess all those attributes at all times of their lives. Yet this fact alone does not warrant declaring such individuals as non-human. For instance, while a newborn baby is considered a human (Peter Singer's views excluded) there are many things that infant cannot do that most other humans can. An infant cannot sit down and have a burger and fries with me, nor engage in conversation, nor ponder questions such as yours. Yet we still consider the newborn a human.

If a newborn is considered a human, what about the child just about to enter the birth canal? In fact, what are we to make of the unborn child as we wind the clock backwards from a full term fetus to a grouping of cells? At what point does the conglomeration of cells stop being a human? Does it?

Consider the aspect of our genetic fingerprints. At what point were you and I stamped with such a fingerprint? If, from that point onward, all we needed for a normal existence was nutrition and a safe environment, then shouldn't that point be considered our starting point as humans? Does the mere fact that embryonic cells have not yet attained the developmental stage as you and I negate their humanity?

I would argue it does not.

Again, keep in mind this is my quick take on the question. Any others out there want to chime in? (Bonnie?)

Paul said...

Thanks Rusty - I don't expect anyone to have the definitive answer, but that's valuable information!

Bonnie said...

Rusty, I think you said it very well. I can’t get into it too deeply at the moment, but the first argument that comes to mind is your "winding back," or in the other direction, "genetic fingerprint-forward" idea.

The development of a human being really does begin at the moment of conception and continue inexorably onward (to natural death) unless, by omission or commission, something arrests that development. Therefore, at no other point on this continuum could the human organism possibly, consistently, be said to "become human" except at the very beginning.

Matt Powell said...

I think you said it well, Rusty. The problem you have is that if you date "humanity" at any point other than conception then it's just some arbitrary benchmark that could equally apply to someone outside of the womb. Brainwaves? Maturity? a heartbeat? Visible fingers? Whatever it is, it's arbitrary. But if you date it back to conception, then you're expressing the full respect for human life that Scripture commands us to have.

Paul said...

One clarification: Do you think the argument carries back even further, say to when the egg and the sperm are separated by a millimeter? At that point all they need is "nutrition and a safe environment" to get the job done.

Bonnie said...

Well, that's an interesting question, Paul. As far as whether a 1mm-removed potential human being is an actual human being yet, I would say no. However, the problem you address is the reason the Catholic church has opposed contraception (other than NFP).

Here's an analogy that may help: a competitive swimmer is going all out at the end of a race. His hand quickly approaches the touchpad, yet his time will not register on the clock until the exact moment of contact by his closest finger.

Still, yours is an interesting question. I'd like to learn what others have to say about it.

Rusty said...


I would argue that since the sperm and egg are not yet united, there is no human being. Whether or not we should intervene in their uniting is certainly a good question, but involves another issue entirely. The essence of who you and I are can be reduced, backwards in time, only to a fertilized egg. In other words, although we are the product of the sperm and egg, our humanity is not found in either individually.