Eight unique cells – Louisa Mifsud Houlton

I write about the law on embryo freezing being discussed in Parliament, on social media and in every corner of the island at this time. Before now, I could not put words to paper as I feared being criticised for attempting to impose my opinion and interfere in other people’s lives. Such are the arguments that are currently being thrown at whoever takes such a stand.

But after some reflection, I realised I have no need to withhold my opinion for the following reasons. With the war raging in Syria, do we take a passive stance based on the argument that it is not my life, not my country so I will decide to look on passively and not interfere? We don’t.

Those who have a minimum level of civic duty will try to think of ways of how to help, how to take a stand to stop it. We do not stand back because it doesn’t concern us, rationalising our apathy with the mantra ‘it’s not my country and not my family’.

When that happens, we often judge such persons as apathetic and self-centered living in their cozy bubble, not giving a hoot about anything else except their own level of comfort. In my opinion, the same can be said in response to this argument being thrown at anti-embryo freezing lobbyists.

It is argued: if it is not affecting my embryos, or my life, why should I interfere? Well the answer is simple: if it attacks human life, whether it is eight cells, a foetus, a baby or an adult, with all due respect, then the issue stops being a private matter, it becomes public; it stops being a personal one but becomes a national one. 

Several deceptive tactics are being used to manipulate popular opinion. Firstly, it is ludicrous how the argument about human life is being reduced to a discussion about eight cells. As if the number is important.

By constantly quoting the number ‘eight’, does one want to imply that since one is only talking of eight cells, ‘what is all the fuss about?’ Really? Nothing could be more deceptive.

Furthermore, some go further as to compare these cells to any other eight cells in our body, following it up with the argument: if all cells contain our DNA, even skin cells and hair follicles, is it being implied that those should also be saved? How ridiculous!

When I reflect about my existence, does it really make any difference that in the beginning those eight cells were only a ‘potential me’?

Is this totally inaccurate and incorrect scientific information being used to justify such arguments and draw final conclusions?

Who has a basic knowledge of biology knows that while all cells share the same DNA not all are programmed to develop into a human being. Coincidentally, these eight cells do. There is little in the point that they are just eight. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable to some? Maybe, but this doesn’t make it less true.

In a statement, local geneticists and molecular biologists came forward to confirm that whatever the number, those cells are the beginning of a human life (in fact, of no other species) and if left to follow their process have everything necessary to develop into a human being.

Demarcation lines between different stages are artificial and relative, the rest is a scientific truth. So where is the confusion? Even more farcical they say, “outside of the womb, these eight cells would not survive, so this would confirm further that they are not a person”.

But I would not go down that road. Would a baby survive out alone in the cold? Of course not, but no one questions whether a baby is a person.

Others have thought to strengthen their argument by quoting Fr Peter Serracino Inglott who had stated that what is “potentially human is not human”. But let’s call a spade a spade and not get lost in philosophical rationalisations even quoted from a person who carried a reputation of being intellectually gifted.

In the same way that I was taught to question and not to swallow whole whatever is given to me, no matter the source, I hope that just by quoting Fr Peter does not mean we have to accept all that he has ever said, just because he said it.

When I reflect about my existence, does it really make any difference that in the beginning those eight cells were only a ‘potential me’ even though perhaps Fr Peter’s philosophical thinking brought him to make this distinction? Beyond these highly intellectual philosophical rationalisations, if someone meddled with them would I exist today? No.

So what is the confusion? It’s truly simple. If everybody made this question, truly personal, they would realise that embryo freezing is not only someone’s private matter, it’s a universal one. If we all recognised that those eight cells were crucial for our existence and if meddled with, we might not be alive today, I am convinced that more would thoroughly defend these eight cells because such a reflection would return to these eight cells, their rightful dignity.

I appeal to lawmakers to realise that in the passing of this legislation, it is the future of these eight cells that is being decided, ironically, the future of human life.  In this way, I sincerely ask those who are passing the law to make a true examination of conscience before choosing the ethical principles that will guide their decisions.

Louisa Mifsud Houlton works in the education sector.

Ref: https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20180526/opinion/Eight-unique-cells-Louisa-Mifsud-Houlton.680018

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