A lot of the “debate” around the issue of Reproductive Health in the Philippines revolves around the notion of the “human” life at stake during various stages of pregnancy from the time of conception. According to Fr Joaquin Bernas in his now famous Inquirer.net column, “The Constitution commands that the life of the unborn be protected ‘from conception.’ For me this means that sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation.” In short, both Philippine Law and the Roman Catholic faith see human life as such — human — at the time a fertilsied egg is formed. For its part, Wikipedia, defines the event human fertilisation as…
[...] the union of a human egg and sperm, usually occurring in the ampulla of the uterine tube. The result of this union is the production of a new individual of the human species (homo sapiens), complete with a unique set of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that genetically specify a human organism, the sperm and the egg each providing 23, for a total of 46 chromosomes.
It is surprising how three iconic sources of information relied upon for debates such as this — a Catholic Priest, the Philippine Constitution, and Wikipedia — all share a clinical definition of what human life is at its earliest stages. And across these sources of information…
…are common words used. Therefore, by transitivity, all three of these wells of human “wisdom” define the coming to existence of a “human individual” as the emergence of an “organism” possessing the complete set of 23 chromosome pairs that contain within them the code of the human genome.
So there we have it. 46 chromosomes in an “organism” composed of one cell gestating within an adult human female is that so-called “human life” around which the most controversial aspect of the “debate” over Philippine Reproductive Health revolves.
So, for me, the critical question to ask is this:
Is a single cell that holds 46 chromosomes within which the human genome is coded, a human being?
Here’s an even more loaded derivative of that question:
The fertilised egg cell may, perhaps, be human. But is it a being?
Amazingly, Old Reliable has this revealing definition of what a “being” is…
[...] it refers to a discrete life form that has properties of mind (i.e. experience and character, cf. sentience), which are deemed to constitute a more complex and evolved state than simple organisms (i.e. that have only “life functions”).
The key words at work here are properties of mind. Thus, we get to the rather amusing thing to note; that whilst the concept of “human” can be described in cold clinical terms (as in the ironic way that the Church and Philippine Constitution do), the concept of a “being” seems to fall outside of the little square within which this big quintessentially Filipino “debate” rages on.
The irony here (which I suppose I should spell out, this being a blog frequented by Filipinos), is how the Church and its “devout” minions who framed the 1987 Constituion in the midst of huffing and puffing about the “sanctity” of “human life” seem to have left out an essential ingredient of the essence of what sets us apart from the rest of “God’s creations,” — that of our being sentient, self-aware, BEINGS.
True to form, the Philippine National “Debate” is now exhibiting the latest specimen of its extensive portfolio of textbook cases that showcase the Filipino’s renowned penchant for losing the plot. Indeed, the only thing that had so far come out of the Reproductive Health Bill “debate” in the Philippines is a grindingly clinical definition of what it means to be “human.” Unfortunately, what it means to be a human being is a notion that continues to elude the stunted mind of the Filipino.