Mississippi Proposition 26 – Think before you vote.
Proposals to provide single cells with the rights of citizens is dangerous on several levels. The ongoing desire of passionate groups to eliminate the reproductive rights of women is based upon the religious belief that a fertilized egg houses a human soul. That religious belief is based upon no evidence and a great deal of misguided faith. People who believe the special nature of humans is that we have a soul entering the body at some point in development and leaving the body at death also believe that causing that spirit to leave the body is considered manslaughter, if not murder. We have accepted the idea that once the brain becomes inactive (flat-lined) and the cells of the body continue to live, that the soul has left the body and that allowing the remaining cells to die is not considered manslaughter or murder. Those of us who have been to many funerals have heard clergy of all types describe death as the soul leaving the body behind and moving on to another journey.
The question that still creates much controversy is which event allows the soul to enter the body. Keep in mind that almost everyone understands that the brain is the part of the human body that houses the soul. Co-joined twins that have two heads have two distinct personalities and are treated as two people, regardless of how many body parts they share. A baby that is born with several duplicated body parts, but one head, is considered to be one person, not several. It’s all about the brain. If you are religious, you might accept the idea that God created a human brain to be able to house a soul. Identical twins develop from a single fertilized egg which is then separated after fertilization and those two cells then develop separately into two separate bodies. Does each twin have half a soul?
Trying to determine the beginning of a human life or any other life is nonsense. Life does not begin at fertilization or at birth, it began a long time ago and continues through a series of important events. One of the things we have in common with everyone on this planet is that all of our ancestors lived long enough to reproduce and pass those living human cells on to future generations. That long line of life involves a sequence of living human cells going through a series of beginnings and endings of significant events, not the beginning or end of life. The question of manslaughter or homicide is determined by whether or not the human cells or cluster of cells houses a human soul, and if one has caused that soul to leave the body. An atheist or agnostic might use the word independent intellect instead of soul, but the same points apply. If your religious belief is that a fertilized egg or a fetus in early stages of development houses an independent soul, that belief is protected in this country and our government cannot punish you for having that belief. The same should be true of my belief that the soul enters the body at birth, the first breath of the baby. Both events are important in the continuity of human life, fertilization to create a cell with the full genetic complement to develop a human body, and birth to bring the body and spirit together and a new, independent individual into the world. If a fertilized egg houses a soul, what happens to it as that first cell divides into a ball of cells and later into layers of types of cells and finally into specific body parts? Do all the cells house the soul, or does it move into the brain later? I contend that most of society will accept the idea that a baby taking its first breath is an independent individual with a soul (or underdeveloped but independent intellect). If your religious belief is that an independent soul is present in a fertilized egg, you have the right to that belief, but you do not have the right to impose that religious belief onto the rest of society. I believe that a pregnant woman is developing a human house, but that there is nobody home until birth, when that house becomes occupied by a soul.
Imposing religious beliefs of one group on all of society is something this country has fought since before its beginning as a nation. Shall we develop laws that prohibit driving or other activities on Saturday or Sunday because some people have religious beliefs that require them to refrain from those activities? Shall we force women to cover their heads and faces because some religious beliefs require that behavior? We respect the rights of individuals to worship as they please. We do not allow the beliefs of those individuals to undermine the rights of the rest of us. The greatest danger is to promote the idea that our country needs to allow religious fringe groups to control the rest of the country. Be very careful of how much control you want the government to have over your independent decisions and individual rights, even if in this particular case the proposition under consideration is consistent with your individual religious beliefs.
If you agree, please feel free to republish this letter unedited.