Dead Meat

The continuing attacks and investigations launched against Planned Parenthood (PP) have concentrated primarily on their donations of fetal tissue to medical research labs. The anti-abortion forces are outraged, asserting that PP is profiting from sales of it. They even launched a propaganda film based on highly-edited out-of-context quotes of PP employees that were illegally recorded.

It is part of the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) national campaign that is attacking PP and other abortion clinics. But the outrage over the use of fetal tissue raises a question: What is wrong with that? Even if PP were profiting from sales (they are not) why is this so terrible?

Is fetal tissue “sacred?” Many religious believers assert that human life is sacred, but after a fetus is removed from the uterus, it is no longer living. How is it different from any other dead organism, including human corpses? Some religionists claim that from the time a human egg is fertilized, it is a human being with a soul, but even if that were true, the soul departs from the body at death, so the “remains,” whether it is zygote, a month-old fetus or an adult human being, it is just dead meat that must be disposed of quickly before it starts to smell bad.

Now, when adults die, the remains can be disposed of in many different ways. The traditional way in a funeral home involves a semi-religions service with an appropriately dressed congregation, organ music, prayers, invocations and eulogies. The corpse, elegantly dressed and coiffed, with rouged cheeks and colored lips, lies in a very expensive polished metal or wood casket, elaborately cushioned and padded for the comfort of its occupant who will spending quite a bit of time there. After the ceremony, the casket is closed and deposited underground, usually in a concrete vault, in a cemetery. This is highly profitable for the undertaker, and otherwise benign, except for the permanent occupation of land that might otherwise be used for productive purposes.

“Green burials” add an environmental twist to this, using no casket, only a minimal biodegradable box or shroud, thus implementing Genesis 3:19 – “Out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” While still occupying land area, this need not be as permanent as it is with concrete vaults and solid caskets. Crops could even be planted over such burial grounds. I doubt if the occupants would object, and their remains would contribute to health of the plants above them.

Cremation has become more popular in recent years. It eliminates the waste of arable land, at the cost of some air pollution and fossil fuel consumption. The ashes are typically scattered over land or dumped in the ocean with an accompanying ceremony. Some people save a small quantity of the ashes in an urn which they typically place on a fireplace mantel, so that they can converse with the departed and ask for advice when it’s needed. That tradition seems to fly in the face of both religious and nonreligious belief. The individual is gone…either obliterated by death or absent in a departed soul that is either reclining on a cloud strumming a harp, toasting in a warm place, or possibly waiting for service in purgatory.

Some individuals decide before death to donate their remains to medical science, presumably to be carved up by medical students so that they can learn to carve on living patients. In the case of a fetus, who should make that decision? It would seem reasonable that the “owner” should make it. The fetus was a part of her body. It is no different from having a diseased kidney removed and donating it to medical science. In all of the other cases described above, the remains are not accorded any sacred status. So why are the remains of a fetus any different? It’s just dead meat, and Planned Parenthood is merely implementing the disposal directions of the owner.

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