by Leland Pike

If you go to PersonhoodUSA.com and click on the map of the United States, you’ll see there are now thirty-one states where they are working on putting a Personhood Amendment on the ballot. (Thank you, Kristi Burton!) You can also look at the top of the page and see links to sites where you can find the language of a few of the states’ Personhood Amendments, including the California Human Rights Amendment.

Language is critical when writing a law (for the sake of making it as difficult as possible for opponents of the law to misrepresent what the law would do if passed, as well as to make the law too legally robust for a court to overturn or for a bureaucrat to interpret in ways not intended by those who made the law) and while I am definitely no lawyer,  in my humble layman’s opinion the authors of California’s Human Rights Amendment have written the best Personhood Amendment of any I’ve seen so far.

The language of the California Human Rights Amendment is as follows:

“The term “person” applies to all living human organisms from the beginning of their biological development, regardless of the means by which they were procreated, method of reproduction, age, race, sex, gender, physical well-being, function, or condition of physical or mental dependency and/or disability.”

That phrase “living human organism” describes exactly what we should concern ourselves with when it comes to determining just who is entitled to full protection under the law and all the “unalienable Rights” enumerated in our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

With such language, it will be impossible for opponents to get away with claiming that the amendment would give full human rights to entities that are obviously not human beings, such as human gametes (sperm or the unfertilized human ovum) human organs or human tissue. (Planned Parenthood very successfully spread such disinformation about Colorado’s Amendment 48. It was in large part do to such tactics that the nation’s first Personhood Amendment was overwhelmingly defeated in 2008.)

But a “living human organism” is not merely human parts, a human organ, nor the mere precursor to a human life. But rather, an “organism” qualifies as a distinct and fully integrated life form – a human life, in this case. And while the biological definition of life is not utterly unequivocal, the list of phenomena associated with a living organism has been very well established by the scientific community for more than a century.

You can find that list under “Definitions” in wikipedia.com’s article on life:

Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state.

Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.

Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components and decomposing organic matter.

Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.

Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment.

Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms.

Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms.

And by the way, if you possess those capacities now, then you possessed all the attributes listed above (whether fully developed or not) from the moment you were conceived in your mother’s womb (in fact, all of us did).

Did everyone notice that nothing discussed so far has anything to do with any religious viewpoint? These are scientific standards that are completely relevant to the most hardcore atheist, the most spiritually fervent believer, and everyone in between. We all have a stake in the point at which a human being is recognized as worthy of being accorded human rights.

Petitions to put the California Human Rights Amendment on the ballot are circulating now. (Go to www.californiahumanrights.com and download a petition if you want to help.) And in the mean time…

Shouldn’t those of us who support the amendment be memorizing the attributes of a living organism right now? If we want to be able to explain why this amendment is justifiable and needed to protect the unborn (as well as anyone else unable to fend for himself or herself) then we should make the attributes of a distinct and fully integrated organism our mantra:

Homeostasis… Organization… Metabolism… Growth… Adaptation… Response to stimuli… Reproduction…

And if you oppose the California Human Rights Amendment, don’t you think you have an obligation to explain why any “living human organism” should not be accorded all the rights do to a person?

This is probably the most profound issue of public policy you will face in your life. (Yes, maybe even more profound than the same-sex ‘marriage’ issue…) Do we all not have an obligation to engage in a thorough (and thoroughly civil and sincere) debate on this issue? And to bring our best, most thoughtfully arrived at arguments to the public discourse as well?

Now if you all will excuse me, I think I have some homework to do…

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1 Response » to “The Language of the California Human Rights Amendment”

  1. Good share, great article, very usefull for us…thanks!