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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #44A: 

               Sanctity & Dignity of Life

  Worldview Theme #44B: Animal Rights 
abortion--the termination of the life of a human embryo or fetus.  There are three types of abortion: 1) spontaneous--also called miscarriage--in which nature destroys an abnormal embryo or fetus, 2) therapeutic--in which a doctor intervenes to protect the health of the mother or out of concern that the embryo or fetus is abnormal, and 3) birth control related--in which the life of an unwanted fetus is intentionally terminated. If this is done in the last trimester of pregnancy, it is some- times called a partial birth abortion.    see reproduction, human

bioethics -- ethics as applied to medicine and the biological sciences. A field that lies at the heart of dealing with many dignity and sanctity of life related controversies: doctors, medical insurers, biotechnologists “playing God”; “Brave New World” fears about cloning; environmental concerns about genetically engineered plants; animals suffering as medical researchers conduct experiments; etc

capital punishment -- the government legitimized ending the life of a someone who committed a particularly serious crime based on a verdict sanctioned by the criminal justice system.

cloning -- producing a group of cells that are genetically identical to an original ancestor cell with some purpose in mind. The process typically begins with removing the nucleus of an egg cell. This egg cell is then fused with a adult cell, whose genes take over the egg cell and result in it developing into a whole new organism.

contraception--the deliberate prevention of conception or pregnancy through use of various birth control devices or methods

creating life in the lab -- Using the amino acid blocking blocks of DNA (A, C, G, T) in the form of dust like powders, an instruction set they design (specifying complicated sequence based on A, C, G, T) and a DNA sequencer machine, researchers can make genes. They are working on synthesizing a gel-like container (enclosed volume with a manmade cell membrane) from non-living organic molecules to hold the genes they make. Many feel that creating life in the lab is a very doable project that will be much cheaper and easier than putting man on the moon and will happen sooner than most people think. When someone expresses surprise upon hearing this, expresses skepticism based on the notion that some divine spark or God blowing the “breath of life” will be needed so that they can’t possibly succeed, they reiterate that creating life in the lab is a very doable project!

DNA -- deoxyribonucleic acid, the gene bearing double helix molecule, that is the primary hereditary molecule in most species. It’s made up of millions or billions of pairs of linked subunits (called nucleotides) that, along the length of the molecule, can be specified using letters (only possible designations of each individual link: AT, TA, CG, GC) in composing a long genetic code sequence.

eugenics--the study of methods by which the genetic constitution of human beings can be improved.  This can involve weeding out or repairing genetic defects, or breeding in or engineering desirable traits in an effort to produce superior individuals.  Many associate applied eugenics with unethical Nazi experimentation during World War II.

euthanasia -- putting a suffering person or animal out of its misery by killing it 

gene -- generally they can be thought of as the basic physical and functional unit of heredity that is transmitted from one generation of living things to the next. Perhaps more importantly than any other factor, our genes determine what we become--shaping everything from what we look like to how we behave.  Located on chromosomes residing in the nuclei of cells, specifically they are segments of DNA coded to provide instructions for making particular proteins.

gene therapy -- by replacing defective genes with normal genes genetic disease can be cured.  This new field holds promise for the future treatment of diseases with a genetic basis. 

genetic engineering--involves the direct manipulation of genes to achieve a desired outcome.  While humans have been indirectly doing this for thousands of years in guiding natural processes with selective breeding of plants and animals, in recent decades they have begun using their new understanding of how living things work at the level of genes / DNA and new techniques to directly modify that DNA.  This technology has great potential--especially to increase agricultural producti- vity and improve human health.  Critics worry that genetically modified organisms pose environmental risks and argue that, given bioethical concerns, society will outlaw certain human genetic engineering procedures such as cloning. 

infanticide--intentionally killing a baby, which some societies have used for population control.

life--a difficult to define term, partly due to the diversity of life on Earth, and partly due to how one answers the question, "Are viruses alive?"  Those who answer in the affirmative typically require that living things are able to make copies of themselves (replication), use matter and energy to regulate and sustain themselves (homeostasis and metabolism), and repair errors that may arise in their genetic or metabolic related structures.  Most biologists feel that viruses are not truly living organisms.  Their definitions might typically also require that living things be made of cells and they be able to reproduce and metabolize on their own--not through the hijacking on some other organism's cellular machinery. Of course the preceding definition is modern science based. Those embracing vitalism may build their definitions around the idea that living things possess a vital spark or life force.  

mercy killing -- the popular term for euthanasia

population and family planning--refers to efforts to limit the number of children in a family.  The goal of such planning is to insure that all children born 1) are truly wanted, and 2) can be adequately supported and raised to adulthood given the resources available. While implemented at the individual family level, policies can be formulated at the national government level. This has most notably occurred in China, where the "One Child Policy" was adopted in 1979 to address population growth concerns.  Family planning services typically focus on promoting and providing access to birth control devices (contraceptive pills, condoms, etc). Where those fail, counseling as to whether to use an abortion clinic's services may be provided.  More draconian options include forced sterilization--which has been used in the United States to prevent mentally deficient people from reproducing.

reproduction, human--begins with sexual intercourse in which the male penis deposits sperm into the female reproductive tract.  There it combines (at the moment of conception) with an egg (in a process called fertilization) to produce a zygote. Containing genes from both parents, this grows rapidly (via cell division) and soon is referred to as an embryo incubating inside the female uterus, where it receives nourishment from its mother.  After two months this developing human organism is termed a fetus.  After a (typical) slightly longer than nine month pregnancy, reproduction is deemed successful if the fetus emerges into the world as a new human being.  

rights of unborn children—the issue, made important by the pro-life movement, of what rights do unborn children have, and when do they have them.  Pro-lifers argue that such rights—the most fundamental being the right to life--begin with the beginning of life, which they equate with the moment of conception.  Others argue that fetuses have rights—this stage of development begins about eight weeks after conception when the body’s major structures and organs have formed.  Still others won’t grant developing fetuses rights until they have reached the point where they are viable outside the uterus—generally after 25 weeks or so.

sanctity--the quality or state of holiness, sacredness, or inviolability that something possesses

selfish genes -- a term from Richard Dawkins. Whereas human bodies tend to be rather short-lived, in comparison combinations of human genes passed on from generation to generation can be around a very long time. While genes are associated with heredity, they can also be thought of as an instruction set. Most basically they provide instructions for assembling proteins, but in so doing they govern a great deal of the overall development and function of the organism. Thus, human behavior is shaped to some extent by genes. Dawkins imagines genes giving the following instructions to the body they reside in: “do whatever you think best to keep us alive”. While this is a seemingly selfish orientation, it could explain altruistic behavior within a family of genetically related individuals. Thus when a father or brother sacrifices himself so that a son or sister can live, in either case the “selfish genes” are kept alive.

stem cell therapies -- offer the promise of curing presently incurable diseases, regenerating failing organs, and healing diseased tissue. The most versatile, and most controversial, such cells are from week old human embryos, which have the potential to grow into any desired type of human cell. These cells are typically obtained from unused embryos created for clinics where couples seeking in vitro fertilization go, embryos which supposedly would otherwise be thrown away. Use of adult body stem cells is not as controversial, but these cells (typically from bone marrow) are less versatile. (Bone marrow derived cells are only capable of developing into a few different types cells in blood or immune cell families.) Research continues, somewhat slowed by the controversy, and many hope that exciting new stem cell treatments will result from it. Others who have moral and ethical qualms, want to halt embryonic stem cell research altogether.

suicide–the voluntary taking of one's own life.  Reasons for doing this include shame, guilt, depression, desperation, extreme emotional pressure or anxiety, physical pain,  knowledge that slow painful death is inevitable, financial difficulties, etc.  The WHO estimates 1 million people per yr end their lives this way; another 10-20 million attempt to do so.

wholism (or holism) -- a philosophical orientation that promotes consideration of whole systems , rather than exclusive focus on individual, component parts. This consideration is urged in the belief that the essence of the system can not be grasped by merely analyzing its constituent parts. Examples of systems that lend themselves to wholistic study: a human being, the human species, the Earth’s biosphere, planet Earth, the Milky Way Galaxy, the universe. The opposite approach to wholism is reductionism.

  animal rights --the idea that some animals should have the same most fundamental basic rights as human beings, and that animals in general should be treated with greater respect. Thus some animal rights advocates work for legally guaranteeing certain animals (notably the great apes) the right to life, liberty, and freedom from torture; others push for ethical treatment for animals in general.

deep ecology --believing that humans are not separate from, but rather part of the Earth, this philosophy urges people to take an ecocentric not anthropocentric perspective. Thus it urges more equally valuing all living things, the integrity of ecosystems and natural processes.

ecological groundedness -- a feeling of being intimately, confidently , enjoyably -- sometimes even joyously -- connected to the wild, natural community where one lives.

ethical treatment of animals -- whether the issue is the treatment of monkeys in research labs, cows being fattened for slaughter, etc, basic minimum standards that those in charge should adhere to include 1) minimizing (if not eliminating) pain that animals under human care suffer while they are alive, and 2) making sure that their deaths are quick and merciful. To these, many would add 3) recognition that people must not just use animals, but must give something back to them in terms of their happiness and enjoyment of life, and 4) treating confined animals in a way that preserves their dignity.

ethology--the study of how animals behave in their natural habitat, and why they behave this way.

Jainism--a religion of ancient India, one of the world's oldest.  Built around asceticism, non-violence, a tradition of scholarship, dharma, karma, reincarnation, and moksha (nirvana), it teaches that a person's soul can be liberated from suffering if one lives in a way that respects and honors nature. Jains are strict vegetarians and believe that all living things have souls capable of attaining moksha.

paternalism and dogs-- In general, paternalism is a system in which adults are treated in a fatherly way like children, with their conduct regulated and their needs met. Typically in exchange for this care, the authority expects loyalty and that those receiving the care will accept their relinquishing of personal control.  If you  replace the word "adults" in the above description with "dogs",  you have the system that governs the relationship between people and  the beloved canine family pet!  

protein production, inefficient--the amount of grain (in pounds) that must be fed to animals to produce a given amount of meat / protein (say one pound) varies from an inefficient factor of seven or more for feedlot beef to a more respectable just over two for poultry, to just under two for certain species of (fish farm produced) fish.  Given that the modern farming practices behind grain production are highly energy and water intensive (typically 1/2 ton of water is needed to produce one pound of grain), and that around 38% of grain worldwide is fed to animals to produce meat for human consumption, there is a direct link between increases in meat consumption and increases in water, energy--and thus increases in greenhouse gas pollutants (from the fossil fuel energy inputs).  According to the UN's  Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  And University of Chicago researchers have found that the typical American (heavily meat based) diet is responsible for an additional 1.5 extra tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse emissions per person per year beyond those associated with a no meat diet. To put this number in perspective, it exceeds the amount of greenhouse pollutants saved by switching from a standard sedan to an energy efficient hybrid vehicle.  

soul -- another term difficult to define. Here are three definitions: 1) the vital spirit in all human beings;      2) the part of a human being that is immortal; 3) the feeling /emotional domain of one’s personality. Do animals have souls? “Yes!” some would say.

vegan -- one whose diet does not include animal products of any kind. So unlike vegetarians, vegans do not eat dairy products (milk, cheese, etc) or eggs.

vegetarian -- one whose diet does not include meat of any kind (including fish)



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