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Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

When is a Baby?

The following is hot off the press...or CNN News...via the Why Evolution is True blog site:

This is a proposed amendment to the State Constitution of Mississipi coming to the popular vote on November 8th.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: As used in Article 3 of the State Constitution, the term Person or Persons shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.

CNN comment:

Voters in Mississippi will be given a chance to decide whether life begins at conception, a controversial abortion-related ballot initiative that the state’s highest court has refused to block. The Mississippi Supreme Court late Thursday allowed Measure 26, also known as the Personhood Amendment, to appear on the state ballot November 8. The decision was a rejection of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and abortion-rights groups. The 7-2 ruling said those groups had not met the legal burden required to restrict the right of citizens to amend the state constitution. . .Anti-abortion forces hope the amendment, if passed, would ultimately be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, providing another opportunity for the justices to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Now what really strikes me about this is that popular sentiment is assumed here to be capable of defining life. The religious right cannot, even in the US, use a religious definition...so they appeal to the other Vox Dei, that is, Vox Populi.

Now, while there is nothing new necessarily in the argument itself -

(indeed there are striking legal and political paralells with the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee in 1925 that I'll be exploring in my event on Sept 30th in Traverse Two...)

- I do think that this piece of legal flim flam from the Bible Belt does represent something new in it's underlying logic...or rather its dismissal of logic as "Just Another Opinion" you might or might not like.

The Enlightenment Project...or Age of Reason if you prefer, post Francis Bacon, was an attempt to transfer the truth defining authority of the Church to notions of "Evidence", "Science"...

But the underlying assumption here is that any attempt at an evidence based assessment of when a zygote becomes an embryo becomes a person...has lost any "objective" credence.

Reproductive politics, evidence based science, is now an episode of the X Factor.

In entertainment, economics, politics, and now religion and science, preference beats analysis, sentiment trumps evidence, sensation clobbers argument and voyeurism is better than story telling all over your TV.

Reality is whatever we want to watch on TV. If we like it, then it's true. Never mind that this law, were it to be tested, would define a miscarriage as manslaughter.

(Yes folks...that's in the wind too...there's quite seperate legislation coming up in Georgia right now that talks about "pre-natal murder" and puts the burden on the mother to prove that there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of their miscarriage.)


Knowledge and expertise are irrelevant snobbery...the market knows best. And whatever we choose as the truth is the truth...and so you're going to jail, and then to hell... if you lose a baby.

Maybe this isn't Georgia or Tennessee, but I think the same rot is eating at the heart of everything we might value across all of our public life. Does anyone else think we're in trouble? Or am I just whistling in the wind?

Come to the Traverse Bar at 4pm on Thursday 22nd and tell me about it.

Peter Arnott is Resident Playwright at the ESRC Genomics Forum April 2011 - April 2012. Appointed in partnership with the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Peter will be hosting a number of public engagements as he explores ideas and seeks inspiration for a genomics related play.

1 comment:

  1. The good people of Tennessee, I'm happy tro say, voted the amendment down. There is more sanity in the world than we are led to expect.

    (While cancelling referenda all round)