March 2, Fetal Personhood

When my gametes were both still haploid,
Before my sperm and egg had met,
Because I had not become diploid,
I’d not achieved personhood yet.

Then, a single sperm from my father
Won the trans-fallopian race,
And entered an egg from my mother,
So, fertilization took place.

And that unleashed further potential:
The embryogenesis run.
The fusion of gametes, essential,
(Without it, sex was just for fun.)

Through preprogramed gene activation,
Just like in the lowly earthworm,
Cell division, gene regulation,
Make tissues from fused egg and sperm.

Is this ball of cells the beginning
Of life and of our personhood,
Or just, “Batter up,” the first inning,
Of possible new babyhood?

We know when the pitcher starts flinging,
There isn’t a preordained text.
And when all the batters start swinging,
We cannot predict what comes next.

Does life start at fertilization?
Well, maybe, as we’ve realized.
For, if there is no implantation,
Then nobody will get baptized.

And other mistakes have been noted,
That cause a zygote to be lost.
When critical genes are miscoded,
An embryo’s life is the cost.

If we start by asking the Bible,
It says life starts at the first breath. (1)
Those causing miscarriage are liable
To pay fines, not sentenced to death. (2)

Greek Stoic philosophers tell us
The soul’s in the first breath at birth.
Other writers in ancient Hellas
Say the unborn have adult worth.

The soul enters eggs at conception,
(Though they did not know what that means.)
The Church also blocks contraception;
Gametes have a right to fuse genes?

At birth, a formed baby will greet us,
Two arms, two legs, dark or light skin,
All programed to form in the fetus.
(And in each identical twin.)

Developing all of these features,
Requires genes that are well-controlled,
Which is true in all earthly creatures,
More change goes on as we grow old.

A fertilized egg is potential.
Our personhood takes many years.
Life’s experiences are essential:
Education, laughter, and tears.

Is there personhood in a fetus?
Not yet but potential is there.
Reliance on just “holy” treatise
Makes judges more likely to err. (3)

(1) Genesis 2: 7.
(2) Exodus 21: 22-25. This law is remarkably similar to one of the laws in the Code of Hammurabi, from about 1755 to 1750 BCE, where we read that causing a miscarriage makes you liable to the same penalty as the fine for a slap in the face (10 shekels.) The Code of Hammurabi, in turn, appears to have derived from the Code of Ur Nammu in about 2100 to 2050 BCE, where the fine for causing a miscarriage is also the same (10 shekels) as the fine for a slap in the face. In all three law codes, if the mother is injured or killed, the penalty is “life for life,” etc. The views of Sumerian, Babylonian and Biblical gods were the same over many centuries.
(3) See the Alabama Supreme Court decision on the personhood of embryos, February 26, 2024. The Chief Justice invoked God’s law and glory to justify his ruling.