Content Warnings: Death
I heard that life is sacred, but I don’t know what that word means.
A woman outside a clinic told me that a tiny mass of cells was a person. I was skeptical, but she said that the bundle of cells was just what a person looked like when it was very small. She said it had the same genetic makeup and all of the same DNA as a fully grown person and therefore had the same right to life. I watched her scratch her nose, dislodging a thousand skin cells containing her full set of DNA, which described her entire genetic makeup. The skin cells died.
The bundle of cells in a pregnant woman’s abdomen would grow into a fully developed human being, she said. That is, unless they didn’t, as was frequently the case. But, the bundle of cells had the potential to grow into a real person. The woman outside the clinic told me that life begins at conception.
If she had said before conception, I might have believed her.
A man in black told me that a woman produced a special kind of cell each month. If the special cell came into contact with another special kind of cell produced by a man, a person would grow out of it. That is, unless it didn’t, as was frequently the case.
The special cells were living things, individual forms of life. The man in black told me it was a sin to keep the special cells from meeting each other. He told me about pills and implants and lubricated pieces of rubber. They kept the special cells from joining. He told me these things were murder.
I told him my sister’s special cell came out of her body in a stream of blood. She hadn’t been with a man, so her special cell died.
The man in black was not impressed.
A doctor told me that a girl is born with one to two million immature special cells in her body. Most of these immature cells will die. When she reaches reproductive age, only about 400,000 of the immature cells will remain. With each cycle of ovulation, approximately 400 immature cells will die and one will develop into a fully mature special cell capable of growing a person. If it doesn’t come in contact with one of the special man cells, no person grows and this cell will also die. He said these cycles will generally continue until a woman is in her late 40s or 50s.
The doctor said that a man produces approximately 1,500 special cells every second. In a single day, a man produces well over 100 million special cells. These special cells are very short-lived. Even if the man introduces them to a woman’s special cell, most of them will die.
I met a celibate man and a celibate woman. They both died at age 75. The woman was born with two million immature special cells. Over the course of her life, 400 of them matured to the point of person-growing capability. Over the course of the man’s life, he produced 3 trillion special cells, all of them capable of growing a person.
All of their special cells died.
Through their celibacy, the man and woman prevented their special cells from ever coming into contact.
I asked the man in black if the celibate people were mass murderers, but he said it only counts as murder if they put their special body parts together. I don’t know why.
A lady with a book seemed to disagree with the man in black. Her book said to be fruitful and multiply. I didn’t know what that had to do with anything, but the lady said it was every person’s duty to make as many new people as possible.
I heard that the number of people in the world increased from one billion in 1804, to two billion 123 years later in 1927, to three billion 33 years later in 1960, to four billion 14 years later in 1974, to five billion 13 years later in 1987, to six billion 12 years later in 1999, to approximately seven billion 13 years later in 2012. It is expected to reach eight billion by 2024 and nine billion by 2042. Since the world has a limited amount of space and resources, the lady’s book may have given her bad advice.
But, wait; there’s more.
A fellow who ate plants told me that animal lives are special, too. He said that we should treat animals with the same respect we treat people. He said we ought not to eat animals. The plant-eating fellow then opened a can, scooped out the moist, stinking remains of a dead animal, and fed it to a dog, which he owned as a piece of property. The dog ate the dead animal meat.
I wondered why it was acceptable for the dog to eat the dead animal meat, but not for me. Maybe it was because the dog didn’t know any better, and it was therefore permissible for the fellow, who did know better, to supply the dead animal meat to the dog. Or perhaps it was because the dog was unable to survive without dead animal meat. I wondered, therefore, if the answer to the ethical question would change were my body unable to receive nourishment from anything but the carcass of a dead cow. What would be the ethical implications if my body could only receive nourishment from the meat of another human?
The plant-eating fellow was unable to answer my questions.
A fisher told me that it was OK to eat fish, because they didn’t have any feelings.
I asked a fish about the matter, but she disagreed. She didn’t answer me with her mouth, or even with her eyes, but the message still came across as the fisher peeled back her flesh, scooped out her innards, and extracted every bone from her body.
Yesterday, I swatted a fly. The fly was not hurting me. It posed no threat. It was just annoying. Now, it is dead. I killed it.
I wonder what gives me the right to decide that a living creature deserves to die just because I don’t like it. I’m uncomfortable with the implications.
I mourn the fly.
They tell me about the sanctity of life. I wonder what kinds of life this sanctity applies to.
If it is unacceptable to take the life of a cow or a bundle of human cells, I wonder why it would be acceptable to take the life of an apple. Is it simply because we like to think the apple has no consciousness and can feel no pain? I wonder if the plant-eating fellow would make an exception for a brain-dead chicken with no pain receptors.
A botanist told me that plants can perceive and react to moisture, light, gravity, touch, temperature, infections, parasites, chemicals, and the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air. I wonder what we really know about a plant’s ability to experience other things.
Do we show arrogance and hubris by presuming to know what another living thing does or does not feel on the grounds that it fails to show a reaction comparable to the type of reaction we might have? Because the apple lacks a central nervous system, we deign to say that it has no capacity to experience pain or hold any opinion at all on its potential demise.
Having never been an apple, perhaps I lack the perspective to make such claims.
I saw a pair of lovers. There was also a flower, which could serve no purpose to either of the two. It could provide them no sustenance. Its existence in its present location had no negative consequences for the couple. But, still, the man plucked the flower from the ground, severing the stem through which it received nutrients absorbed by its roots, and handed it to the woman. The woman described this action as romantic.
The flower died.
A doctor told me that I had foreign life forms in my body. They were called bacteria, and they made me feel bad. He gave me medicine to help my body murder the life forms.
I thought about the sanctity of life, but I still don’t know what that means.
I took the medicine, and the life forms died.
It occurred to me that my life cannot continue to exist without causing the death of other life forms, whether they be animals, plants or bacteria. Almost all forms of life rely on the death of other life forms in order to continue their own existence.
Somebody tried to explain to me about the sanctity of life, but they were wearing a coat made from the hide of a dead cow.
I heard that viruses possess some, but not all, of the properties of life. I wonder how much sanctity that’s worth. I also wonder who gets to decide what properties a potential life form has to have before it counts.
I thought about the woman outside the clinic, the man in black, the doctor, the celibate couple, the lady with the book, the fellow who ate plants, the dog, the fisher, the fish, the fly, the apple, the botanist, the lovers, the bacteria, the viruses, and myself, and I tried to find the special line that separated the acceptable forms of death from the unacceptable.
I’m still looking.
I knew a man. His mother’s special cell combined with his father’s special cell, and the resulting mass of cells grew into a person. He took the lives of many plants and animals, his body killed many bacteria and viruses, and he overcame many odds to live a healthy and happy life into extreme old age.
Then, he died, anyway.
I heard that life is sacred, but I don’t know what that word means.