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Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #42

Worldview Theme #44A: Sanctity and Dignity of Life                              Worldview Theme #44B: Hands Off My Body

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: sanctity, bioethics, rights of unborn children, capital punishment, genetic engineering

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: bodily integrity, pro-choice vs. pro-life,  creative destruction, abortion, assisted suicide


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.   These are often done to save the mother's life and are controversial --but increasingly so is any abortion. See next entry. 

abortion, illegal—before the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision effectively legalized abortion, thousands of women faced a stark choice: having an unwanted baby or going to jail as criminals or finding a way around the law.  Many from well to do families opted to travel outside the country to get a legal doctor-administered  abortion; many poor women unfortunately chose a more dangerous option: an illegal abortion, sometimes done with a coat hanger until non-sterile conditions. Thousands died as a result.

assisted suicidekilling oneself accomplished with the help of another person. If the other person is a doctor then we refer to  physician assisted suicide. A doctor might agree to help with this if the person making the request is terminally ill; the help might come in the form of prescribing lethal drugs. In some jurisdictions physician assisted suicide is a crime.

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

birth control—has preventing pregnancy as its goal. Also known as contraception, or fertility control,  this service is a typically part services offered by  family planning clinics.  In  many conservative regions it is opposed for religious / moral reasons.  

bodily integritya principle that generally refers to the self ownership of one’s own body,  the inviolability of its boundaries, and the importance of self determination and asserting one’s rights over one’s own body.

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.

conflict resolution–the act or process of settling or making an effort or attempt to settle a conflict, that is, a situation or disagreement characterized by tension, antagonism, and sides whose motives, purposes, and intentions seem totally at odds and perhaps irreconcilable. The process can involve informal discussion or a formal procedure with rules and mediations.

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!

creative destruction, non-economic related—out of the death of something, something else is born or gets a growth spurt .  Examples: 1) the dinosaurs dying out 66 million years ago when an asteroid struck Earth cleared the way for mammals to flourish; 2) thinning several seedlings in a garden to provide  space for one to grow;  3) dead fish have been used as fertilizer;  4) stars explode and enrich the surrounding interstellar medium leading to a new generation of star formation; 5) innovation:  something happens—perhaps beginning with just an idea-- that leads to the demise of an old technology and its replacement by something  new. 

culture war—a cultural battle for dominance between social groups with highly divergent worldviews: different beliefs, values, practices, sources of information, etc. The term was first used in the USA in the early 1990s to describe the cultural divide / widespread societal disagreement between traditional conservative and progressive liberal camps with hot button issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, separation of church and state, gun laws, immigration, multiculturalism, etc. Increasingly the battle lines are between those who cynically don't believe the mainstream media,  buy into charges of "fake news" and "a rigged system," embrace certain (mostly fictional) conspiracy theories to some extent, resent experts and the elite, etc. pitted against  those (many with more idealistic, less cynical outlooks) who are comfortable with a society based on facts, science, professionalism, competence, meritocracy, etc where people compete on a playing field based on these things.  

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.

ecofeminism—roughly speaking this is about the relationship of women to the Earth / nature, typically concerned with issues at  the intersection of feminism, environmentalism, and patriarchy. Within the field some are more centered on egalitarianism, some with issues of respect, some Earth-centered spirituality, etc.

ecology–a branch of biology involving the study of living things and their  interrelationship with each other and the environment. Its Greek roots (oikos = house & logy = study of) suggest it refers to study of one's habitat

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

fetus--the unborn young of a human or vertebrae animal showing signs of the mature creature

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 relatively new field  of medicine dates from the completion of sequencing of the entire human genome in 2001. By 2020, according to USA National Health Institutes Director Frances Collins, specific genetic defects  that cause over 7000 diseases had been identified. Treatments—some increasingly being thought of as “cures”—have been developed for many of them including sickle cell disease.  Gene therapy holds great promise for the future treatment of once thought to be incurable 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 productivity and improve human health (see the above entry.)  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. . 

gestation--the period of time the young develop inside the mother's womb, in humans associated with a roughly nine month normal pregnancy time frame

gun ownership and violence—while analysis of data does not unequivocally link  higher rates of gun ownership with higher rates of homicides—nor suggest that mentally ill people with guns are any more dangerous than mentally healthy people are-- it does strongly support that higher rates of gun ownership is linked to higher rates of suicide.

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

integrity--wholeness, entireness, completeness, unity, soundness; see also bodily integrity 

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


patriarchy /  patriarchal society—social system dominated by men in positions of power, decision-making, leadership and moral authority. In some cases it can extend to include the domination, exploitation and oppression of women. Some use traditional male / female attributes to include environmental destruction as part of a negative critique of a patriarchal society; some lament male domination of human society has led to “the rape of the Earth. ”

preventive medicine -- medical care that emphasizes 1) prevention over treatment, and 2) actively working to keep people healthy rather than merely treating their illness, disease, or symptoms of poor health. Tools in this medical approach include health education, nutrition, and public health efforts to provide safe drinking water, a healthy environment, immunizations, etc. A key rationale for preventive medicine is the widespread belief that spending a bit of money on prevention can save many times that amount in avoiding expensive medical treatment costs later.

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.  (This was rescinded in 2015 with reversion to a two child limit.)  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.

population growth concerns–reportedly since the days of the Babylonians in 1600 BCE–when the human population was thirty-five million–people have worried about the possibility of a growing population exceeding the capability to feed it. Typically the former grows exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, etc) while the latter increases but arithmetically (1,2,3,4, etc)–as Thomas Malthus pointed out in 1798.  A few years later in 1804 the human population reached one billion; by 1927 it had doubled to two billion.  The doubling time of 123 years is consistent with an average annual growth rate of around 0.6 % per year.  The next doubling to four billion took roughly 47 years, consistent with an average annual growth rate of around 1.5 % per year.  The growth rate peaked around 1970 at 2.1 % per year.  By 2020 it had fallen to 1.1 % per year, and the human population stood at 7.7 billion people.  UN Population Division projections suggest that by 2100 there will be 11.2 billion people. How many people can the planet support?  Answers vary.  Many environmentalists feel that the current population is excessive and that human activities are altering the global climate and causing dangerous disruptions of natural cycles.  Currently enough grain is grown to feed ten billion people a vegetarian diet

populous--used to denote the relative population, perhaps number of people, that occupy a region 

pro-choice vs. pro-life, the names of these movements —the often applied names of the opposing sides in the battle between those wanting to guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion vs. those wanting to end use of abortion to terminate pregnancy.  Critics of the former label argue that “pro-choice” doesn’t specify what issue is behind the choice involved. Critics of the latter label argue that many “pro-life” people support capital punishment—that is, something that involves taking lives of criminals, not allowing them life in prison. Partly reflecting these concerns, and partly in response to pollsters wanting to minimize use of emotionally-charged language and overcome difficulties in writing questions to gauge public sentiment, some feel the two opposing sides should be referred to as “abortion rights”  and “anti-abortion.”  Many who support giving women the right to choose an abortion argue instead for calling their movement “pro-reproductive rights.” In arguing for this name, they point out that it indicates support broader than just for abortion, in particular support for birth control and sex education

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 defining these rights is based on answers to questions, "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. In responding to arguments that a mother should have control of her own body and be the one who decides the fate of a fetus, one woman (Carolyn Gargaro) writes, "Just because the unborn is dependent on the mother for nine months, does that give anyone the right to choose to end its life?  Being dependent on others should not deprive a helpless human being the fundamental right to live, as we do not base human-ness on whether another person is around to take care of that life. Trying to justify abortion by arguing that the unborn does not have this right is a form of discrimination based on age and the fact that they cannot speak for themselves.

Rule of 72—this simple rule can be used to roughly calculate the doubling time for something growing exponentially at a fixed % per year rate. You start with 72 and divide it by the fixed % per year rate. Examples:  1) An investment of $1000 at a 6 % /year fixed rate will take 72 divided by 6 or 12 years to have doubled and become $2000; 2) A country with one million people whose population is growing at roughly 2% / year will need 72 divided by 2 = 36 years before it has grown to two million people

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.

spirit–another term difficult to define.  Here are three definitions:  1) an animating principle or vital force that gives life to organisms. It accounts for the difference between a living being and dead corpse;  2) a non-physical, non-quantifiable substance or energy present in living things.  While spirit is sometimes considered synonymous with soul, for many this latter term implies having an immortal existence–something not necessarily attributed to spirits; 3) an apparition, ghost, demon, sprite, or super-natural being.  Of course God falls in this last category.  It should be noted some conceptions of spirit include the belief that all individual spirits interconnect to form a greater unity, oneness, Cosmic Mind, etc

spirituality–narrowly defined as the quality or state of being spiritual–which relates to matters pertaining to vital spirit or soul–or more broadly as: 1) "the process and result of nurturing one's soul and developing one's spiritual life" (David N. Elkins),  and       2) "one's spirituality is the range of one's emotional relationships to those questions that cannot be answered..."like  'What happens when you die?'"(Jaron Lanier).  Some confine their spirituality to the boundaries provided by traditional religion; others look else-where to meet spiritual needs. Some link spirituality to feeling connected to something bigger.  3) In recent years Project Worldview has begun promoting a new way of metaphorically looking at spirituality—as the domain at the intersection of what both our heads and our hearts tell us is fundamentally important.

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.

sterilization—a more permanent form of birth control known as vasectomy in males and tubal ligation in females. These procedures can rarely be reversed to restore fertility.

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.


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