June 21, 2011
The Code of Federal Regulations is an almost sure-fire antidote to insomnia. If boredom were a commodity, the Code would be its biggest resource.
The arcane and involved language of the Code is one reason why so few people read it. Yet within its myriad pages are the rules that govern government itself - how laws are applied, how legislation is to be understood, and even how words used in federal regulations are to be interpreted.
Some of those words are more important than others, and those that deal with the very nature of human personhood are, perhaps, the most important of all.
In the October 1, 2009 edition of the Code, we read that Fetus means the product of conception from implantation until delivery.
There we have it: an unborn child is merely the product of conception, conception itself evidently needing no interpretation (that it takes place through the sexual union of two image-bearers of God is, apparently, irrelevant).
What are we to make of this product? This collection of cells and blood and tissue stored within the veil of human flesh? Heres what David said of this product, this fetus, this creature:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)
From conception onward, this fetus has all the same DNA as every reader of this piece. What are the criteria for its humanness?
Is it less human because of its size? If so, then anyone shorter than someone else is less human, as well.
Is it less human because of its development? If so, then anyone with a physical or mental disability is less human than those more physically or mentally advanced.
Is it less human because it is dependent? If so, then any child is less human than the parents on whose support she depends for food, clothing, shelter, etc.
And so it goes through whatever other comparisons can be summoned: Intelligence, appearance, etc. What changes at time of delivery, per the Federal Registry, is not the personhood of the child but his place of residence. He lives nine months within his mothers womb, and the remainder of his life outside it.
Even the term fetus, used as a medical euphemism by those unwilling to confront the unborn childs humanness, is telling if rendered honestly. Fetus is Latin for offspring or young while still in the womb. Those who persist in its usage for the purpose of dehumanizing that to which they refer cannot avoid the potency of language itself.
Sometimes euphemisms have their place. Saying that someone is all foam, no root beer is a pleasing way of conveying that the individual referenced is full of talk but has no substance or seriousness. Yet language, however we might use it to obscure, can never fully hide that which it described.
To this point, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his landmark work Ethics, wrote,
Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.
The language of the Code of Federal Regulations is tedious. Its impact on American public life is profound. But its artful obfuscation of that which is most compelling of all what it means to be human is unsuccessful.
A fetus is a baby is a person is a human being. No euphemism can hide that truth and you can take that to the bank.