LETTER : The human `whole' begins at fertilisation

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The Independent Online
From Dr Helen Watt

Sir: Dr John Habgood is mistaken in believing ("The meaning of life - and death", 20 April) that respect for human embryos - or for persistent vegetative state patients - is scientifically misplaced.

A human being is a human "whole" or organism, not some purely spiritual entity. Indeed, the human soul has traditionally been identified not as something added to the living human organism, but as its "principle of life". The human "whole" begins at fertilisation, except for the rare case of twinning by asexual reproduction. A PVS patient is a human being - a living, self-organising whole - although a human being who has been badly damaged in his or her mental capacities. In the same way, an anencephalic newborn - also kept alive by virtue of the brain stem - is a very sick baby, not simply a source of organs for other patients.

The living human being is always either present or absent. Some human beings are very young, unfamiliar in appearance, or profoundly mentally handicapped. Where there is any doubt as to whether a living human being is present (or still present) the Pope is quite correct in stating that a reasonable margin must be left for error.

Yours sincerely,

HELEN WATT

Research Fellow

The Linacre Centre

London, NW8

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