To the editor,
I am writing in response to the science presented in the letter “Simple scientist” questions “hot potato” abortion issue (Aug. 4).
The suggestion that there is a simple definition of life is misleading. Rather, there is a whole set of attributes that set the living apart from the inanimate.
The individual is ‘simply’ defined as a separate organism. By the author’s own logic on using this, however, I would argue that a human embryo is not yet an individual as defined by biology, as it is reliant on the living maternal tissues to which it is intimately connected for survival and is therefore far from separate.
Genetic similarities and differences are not used in defining the individual in biology, simply because it gets complicated. For example, many species do sexual reproduction but also produce clonal offspring that are genetically identical to a single parent. Honeybees produce some individuals with a single set of chromosomes (male drones) and others with two sets (female workers).
A number of populations of whiptail lizards are exclusively female and do not reproduce sexually at all, yet their offspring are not strictly clonal due to chromosome rearrangements in the production of eggs. What if we ‘simply’ apply genetic identity to defining the individual for just humans then? It still doesn’t work. If I get a liver transplant, for example, does that mean that my new liver has an identity and rights separate from my own?
Clearly we have moved far beyond ‘simple’ definitions in modern society, and prefer not to live as worker bees that are solely part of the collective whole with no voice or choice.
Editor’s note: Catherine White, PhD teaches biology at Coast Mountain College and is responding to John Krisinger, PhD who taught biology and nursing at Northwest Community College.
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