September 25, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Why Horton was wrong: a person is not a person no matter how small, even in Mississippi

Horton Hears a Who in Mississippi
Horton Hears a Who: Personhood movement in Mississippi.

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. Other states are starting to pursue the personhood movement as well.

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.

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