First and foremost, I have to admit that tonight’s was the best run debate I can remember seeing – ever. With the prospect of pandemonium breaking out with so many candidates on stage at the same time, and the ‘kids debate’ (for candidates garnering less support in recent polls) happening just prior to this one, it was a pleasant surprise to see that Fox News was actually quite competent in hosting this debate. Each of the candidates got a reasonable time to talk, many were forced to stay on topic by the questioner as well as their fellow debaters on stage, and some of the answers actually sounded thought out rather than just released from a can.
Personally, I thought Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie came of as appearing most ‘presidential’ tonight. I think Huckabee may have benefited the most from the restricted format as he hold some interesting ideas that tend to come out during less guarded moments. Christie came across as a strong man of convictions and was able to voice these while simultaneously taking down Rand Paul. I actually thought Trump came off much better than I expected, but apparently Republican focus groups saw his performance as lacking.
However, one thing stood out for me:
The ‘DNA Schedule.’
Despite by background in biology and teaching science (including genetics) for a number of years, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a DNA schedule. But who doesn’t get tongue tied once in a while and winds up saying something silly? I can forgive that. It’s like me referring to an ‘accounting sheet’ when I mean ‘balance sheet’ or something. But what about the context?
…we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception. The reason we know that it is is because of the DNA schedule that we now have clear scientific evidence on.
Um … what?
I guess I can agree that even single celled zygotes have the same cellular DNA makeup as the adult this will become, but I’m not sure what bearing this has on anything. What does this statement mean?Defining the moment that an embryo ‘becomes human’ is a tricky thing to do. What does it mean to ‘be human’? In my mind, a single zygotic cell is no more human than a cancer cell extracted and cultured outside of a person. They both have that DNA schedule thing – more or less. I suppose I have to admit that cancer cells have such messed up DNA that it is hard to be precise about this – but they are both relatively non-differentiated human cells. One has the potential to develop naturally into a human being if kept in the right environment. One was human, but has departed.
People are always trying to find new ways to describe when life begins in ways that it is most consistent with their beliefs, but it’s a slippery thing. Does life begin at conception? Does it begin when the baby is developed enough to survive outside of the womb? I caution politicians to be careful when treading into this area. It’s a minefield for all sides and we often come up with definitions that are more arbitrary than they are useful.
And … there’s no DNA schedule.