Tuesday, February 20

Rights of the undead

I spent a portion of my weekend watching this thread on abortion unfold over at Nashville is Talking, where it started out being about Stacey Campfield's kooky death-certificates-for-aborted-fetuses legislation that has gotten him craploads of press lately and ended up being yet another battle between the Lord's Army and us wretched Babykillers. (Twisty takes on the Campfield hooplah here.)

If you read the thread (and I'm daring you to; it's 207 comments of pure flamewar goodness, with solid arguments thrown in every now and again to keep it going), you'll notice a pro-life position emerge that basically alleges that anything containing human DNA can itself be considered human and is therefore sacred. (Specifically kicked off by a comment by Nate that reads: "A reasonable person cannot conclude that an object containing human DNA is not human.") Now, while many of us recognize that this DNA criterion makes skin flakes and certain body juices into humans with rights, some people apparently see in black and white yet they can't make these obvious distinctions.

So I got to thinking about the criteria set forth to recognize something as alive and human and deserving of human rights, and the wider implications of those assumptions. If you can extend human rights to the unborn, why not the undead?

Case in point, these people:

Wikipedia says we can define life using several criteria that scientists still don't agree unequivocally on:

1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, sweating to reduce temperature.

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

3. Metabolism: Consumption of energy by converting nonliving material into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.

4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of synthesis than catalysis. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter. The particular species begins to multiply and expand as the evolution continues to flourish.

5. Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity as well as the composition of metabolized substances, and external factors present.

6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism when touched to complex reactions involving all the senses of higher animals. A response is often expressed by motion, for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun or an animal chasing its prey.

7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new organisms. Reproduction can be the division of one cell to form two new cells. Usually the term is applied to the production of a new individual (either asexually, from a single parent organism, or sexually, from at least two differing parent organisms), although strictly speaking it also describes the production of new cells in the process of growth.

Because zombies are so rare these days and, as far as I know, have not been tested extensively, the applicability of some of these criteria is up in the air. We can say without question (maybe ... unless you raise some questions) that most zombies are composed of cells, just like their living counterparts, and that they metabolize in some form or fashion (why else have an insatiable hunger for brains?), that they adapt, that they respond to stimuli, and that they reproduce, though their method of reproduction doesn't technically involve creation of new cells, so that one might be iffy.

What we don't know is whether zombies have the capacity to grow; theoretically they are not living and not dead but undead, and what do undead cells do? Are they frozen in a perpetual limbo, unable to decompose or regenerate? Extensive testing will need to be done to answer these questions.

But what if we find out, years from now, that our current violent attitude toward our bloodthirsty, lurching brothers and sisters was completely misguided? Who will protect the rights of the undead?

The only reason I bring this up is because the local rumor mill has been talking about zombies a lot lately and, well, you just never know what kind of crazy shit can happen in this town and what types of philosophical questions might need to be answered on the spot.

[photo by Psychofish]

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Blogger nashgirl said...

Oh, Lindsey, you know that I had to comment on zombies. On the issue of growth, you could look at the sentence about how the species multiplies. Certainly zombies as a species grow because they turn other people into zombies, a synthesis. However, as individuals, no movie I've ever seen shows a zombie growing in all parts. Most movies do show them decomposing, losing flesh and other body parts as they age. So there's a difference. But the best movie that deals with whether zombies are actually human is Day of the Dead when a scientist trains a zombie to use a gun. Good stuff. Good topic, too.

Tue Feb 20, 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

I believe that my dead skin cells have rights, too. When I run for Congress, legislation will be passed. Mark my words.

Tue Feb 20, 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Hee hee, Kristin, I knew you'd chime in on this one.

The growth issue is definitely something I've been mulling over. I mean, could you posit that if an organism has the capacity to adapt, that it must also have the capacity to grow? I guess I'm thinking of "growth" in an extremely loose and open way. Psychological growth, even.


Fritz, when you are smokin' a big fatty atop the capitol building, be sure to give me a call.

Wed Feb 21, 01:03:00 AM  
Blogger phallicpen said...

My zits have rights.

Wed Feb 21, 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger fearlessvk said...

perhaps we could view zombies as a sort of collective lifeform, since they "grow" as a species. like the borg (oh my god, i just made a star trek reference. where is my Official Nerd Card??) or the buggers in ender's game. (NERD CARD PLEASE!!!!!) maybe somewhere in this world, as yet undiscovered, there is a sentient Zombie Queen controlling the zombie masses.


(cue twilight zone music)

Wed Feb 21, 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger theogeo said...

PP: Of course they do, you zitkiller!!

FVK: I do declare you might have made the first Star Trek reference ever on this blog. Cue the sirens!!

And I think you're onto something with the collective life form. Er, unlife form.

And a zombie queen in Memphis? I hope this has something to do with Voodoo Village. :)

Wed Feb 21, 11:33:00 AM  

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