Why Horton was wrong: a person is not a person no matter how small

Tomorrow night voters in Mississippi will vote on the so-called “Personhood Amendment”.

If passed, the amendment would make a fertilized egg by definition a human being with the same rights as a living, breathing, thinking, walking person in the state of Mississippi.

The consequences are not clear, but possibilities include such things as complete bans on all abortion and many forms of contraception, outlawing embryonic stem cell research, and throwing women in jail.

Polling indicates that the amendment will most likely narrowly pass, but it may be fading a bit in the stretch.

Republicans in the state favor the amendment by a staggering 65-28 majority.

Some may dismiss the amendment as nonsense, but it should be taken very seriously as the repercussions of it passing could be tremendously harmful.

As much as a fertilized human egg is a pretty amazing thing, it is not a person. I don’t see how 1 cell, no matter how cool, is the same as person.

It got me thinking about Horton Hears A Who, that famous story by Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel). In that story there are little microscopic people on a dust speck and we are taught that they deserve respect and rights like the larger creatures of the world. Perhaps the moral of Horton is that even small people and kids (i.e. actual people, not Whos) should be treated with respect and I totally agree with that, but the story takes it to an extreme to make that point resonate with kids. It’s a great story.

However, the reality is that microscopic things like cells are not the same as people.
Even if the opponents of embryonic stem cell research and of contraception might convince themselves they can hear little 1 cell embryos crying out for their help (from ‘evil’ scientists and women) like Horton hears the Whos, a cell or even a blastocyst with a few dozen cells has no voice, no organs, no brain, etc. Even though some have argued that cells actually do make sounds, perhaps the molecular machines in cells squeak or clang at times, they are not talking. They are not people.

Some have argued that human fertilized eggs are people because they have a diploid human genome, but by that argument the mole on my Aunt Bertha’s nose is a person.

If we give human rights to cells then in that equation there is no choice but to devalue the rights of actual real human beings. 

And that is exactly what many Republicans and many extremists seem to be arguing for. They are in favor of executing prisoners who might be innocent, taking away women’s rights, cutting aid to poor children, eliminating social security, and so forth…..but when it comes to fertilized eggs or few days-old blastocysts, they start carrying pitchforks and torches to attack those who might harm those things.

6 Comments


  1. I am pretty sure that tumor cells make a lot of noise too. And they are a newly evolving life-form. Somebody should protect them from those evil humans and oncologists that are killing them left and right. (sarcasm)


  2. Criminalize Abortion, Stem Cell Research, and the Birth Control Pill?
    And the embryonic stem cell research may one day help my paralyzed son stand up from his wheelchair? Out of the question. Stem cells might cure millions are made from IVF blastocysts, biological tissue that would otherwise be discarded.

    Amendment 26 would chill the advancement of biomedicine, an industry with good-paying jobs, and a hope for cure for suffering millions.

    As the name implies, embryonic stem cells are cells — not children, cells.

    To make a child out of the contents of a petri dish is biologically impossible.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-c-reed/criminalize-abortion-stem_b_1079236.html


  3. Thanks for the comments. While this specific amendment is worrisome, what makes me worry even more is the apparent more general push by some extremists to devalue actual real people across America.


  4. Also find it odd that folks are holding up signs quoting Dr. Suess (Horton Hears a Who). Theodor Seuss Geisel’s disdain for actual living, breathing children is a well documented. Ah, the irony.


    • The bitter irony is that some of the strongest proponents of cell/blastocysts “rights”, seem to have little regard for actual living, breathing human beings, especially children, women, and the poor. Very hypocritical and the cause of much suffering in the world.


  5. It makes about as much sense to call a fertilized egg a human as it does to call a stem cell a drug.

    Quoting from a recent legal memorandum of opinion:
    “The FFDCA defines drug to mean articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.”
    And so we see that the family dog would be a drug because they definitely have such affects — and that is one reason I have a dog.

    Legislation is as nutty as the prejudice that produces it. Everyone needs to back off and stop trying to stop the other guy from doing his thing.

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