Via Wesley J. Smith come two depressing items. I do not write about them merely to depress but to draw a parallel between them which may be instructive.
The first item is this story about a woman in her 80's who starved and dehydrated herself to death over a period of sixteen days with the help of her friends. Why did she do it? Because, though she had no diagnosed illness, she was increasingly troubled by fatigue and was sad about not being able to continue traveling the world. What was it all about? Control. The news story says it without blinking:
Loss of control was something Conlon feared and sought to circumvent.
If you think that isn't a sufficiently good reason to dehydrate yourself to death, you're right. If you, upon reading the story, think this attitude led Dorothy Conlon to be controlling and selfish in relation to others, inducing her friends to sign promises not to call 911 and to act as a cheering team to take her through to death, putting her friends through a hell of qualms of conscience and horror as they watched her slowly die, you are onto something.
Dorothy's religion appears to have been the hatred of limits. When we absolutely refuse to accept limits for ourselves, there is no limit to the evil we accept into our own hearts and are willing to impose on others.
Which leads me to the second item:
Scientists say they have succeeded in cloning mice, using a Dolly-type technique, by destroying embryos. Here's how it works. You take a two-cell-stage mammal embryo, separate the cells, enucleate them, and replace the nuclei with nuclei from somatic cells, then proceed with cloning signals as in ordinary SCNT. Of course, this destroys the original two-celled embryo. Why do that instead of using eggs? Because eggs are much harder to come by than "extra" embryos. Wesley J. Smith has pointed out that human eggs are probably ounce for ounce the most valuable material on the planet right now, given the drive for reproductive experimentation and embryo experimentation. Even paying young women to risk their later fertility by hyper-ovulation is not satisfying the insatiable demand for eggs from IVF labs and researchers. Hence the desire to find another way to clone. The individual cells of the two-celled embryo evidently retain enough cytoplasm from the original egg to be able to reprogram the somatic nucleus in a cloning technique. (Notice how well this fits with the discussion here in which I summarized Maureen Condic. Egg cytoplasm is essential to embryonic development, which is why only the cells of the extremely early mammalian embryo are able to develop separately as embryos.)
These scientists hope that this technique will advance cloning research in humans by making it easier to make many clones and hone their technique.
UCLA's Byrne said that obtaining human oocytes has always been difficult for practical, legal and ethical reasons. Therefore the ability to use two-celled fertilized embryos would open up large research possibilities.
"There are huge amounts of material available, in the way there wasn't available with oocytes," Byrne said.
Notice the coldblooded reference to human embryos as "huge amounts of material."
End-of-life issues and beginning-of-life issues are connected. These items are in some ways disparate but what they share is the insistence that there shall be no limits on what we are permitted to do. We shall be as gods. Whether we destroy lives--our own lives or the early lives of embryos--or create lives via technology, we are in control, and no one is going to tell us, "Stop!" Both items, as well, show what happens when we abandon what Smith calls human exceptionalism: Death and destruction. Either every human life is valuable merely in virtue of being human, and both what Conlon did and what researchers will do if they apply this technique to humans are wrong, or not. If not, then what limits are there? Consent? What consent do human embryos give to be destroyed? Consent of those who are mentally competent and able to speak up for themselves? How comforting. Better hope you are never deemed not mentally competent and never unable to speak for yourself. And don't count on even that protection. (Just ask Marjorie Nighbert.)
The cheerful assumption, evident in Dorothy Conlon, that I am (must be, shall be, under all circumstances) the master of my fate and the captain of my soul, is ultimately murderous. It may be murderous only of oneself, but very likely it will also be murderous of others. It certainly results in murdering others when it becomes a slogan in society at large.
No doubt when I encounter limits on my own ability to do the things I like, I will be incredulous, frustrated, difficult, and immature. I make no claim to being a sage or saint, ready to accept age, debility, and limitation with dignity, either for myself or for others. But to speak as to fellow Christians: God calls us to accept limitations when they are placed upon us by the circumstances He providentially allows. And to speak as to fellow humans: Only the acceptance of limitations can keep us truly humane.