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ONLINE READERS COMMENT: Data absent from the abortion debate

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The debate in Jamaica over abortion has been noteworthy for the almost complete absence from it of bio-medical data and, disappointingly, of those knowledgeable in that field. As a result the protagonists have been divided between moralists and church people on one side and, on the other, those concerned for the victims of rape and for girls and women often forced into dangerous back street abortions.

Bio-medical research into human conception, starting from some 60 years ago, has been extensive. The complexity of that process is immense, with findings as a result much controverted. However, one datum is widely accepted, though the numbers proposed stretch from 10-20 to 70-80 per cent. The numbers are of the human embryos lost ('wasted') between fertilisation in the fallopian tube (where a male sperm penetrates the egg coming from the ovary) and implantation in the uterus (where foetal development occurs). Speaking now not of a single woman but of the many women surveyed, lost embryos are simply passed out in their next menses.

This loss of embryos does suggest that the notion of souls inserted by special divine action at the moment of conception is ill considered. No reasoned argument has been given for it. It is an assumption that does not make sense. One humourist has asked about Heaven being “peopled” with billions of embryos with souls!

The church people who rail against repeal of the articles (72-73 of the Offences Against the Person Act) that ban abortion appear to disregard the straightforward distinction between human and human being. The cell swabbed from inside a human cheek is human. It has 46 chromosomes. It can be used for an in vitro fertilisation to become a human embryo. It is not yet, however, a human being any more than a pear seed is a pear tree. No matter the difference in value (because of potential) between pear seed and human embryo, a human embryo is human but at embryo stage, not at human being stage. It is far from a minimal level of humanity – the ability to survive outside the womb that stems from months of development. (Which is not therefore to sanction abortion at any time up to that point.)

Furthermore, the embryo will be undeveloped not only in its body component but also in its spirit or soul component. The two are mutually complementary, made to develop together. The embryo's soul cannot be at such a level as to qualify its possessor as a human person or human being and thence to make the deliberate termination of its life the murder that church people proclaim. The absurdity of the disproportion between embryo body and personhood should be patent.

My hope is that Health Minister Chris Tufton will continue to push as bravely for the closure of the decades-long and inconclusive debate on abortion as he has done in raising it.

Horace Levy

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