Testimony In Support of the Maryland Personhood Amendment

Dianne N. Irving
March 12, 2009
Reproduced with Permission

TO: Maryland State Legislators Lowe House Building, Room 240
Annapolis, Maryland
March 13, 2009

FROM: Dr. Dianne Nutwell Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816

RE: Maryland Personhood Amendment, House Bill 925
Sponsored by Delegate Don Dwyer

Dear Maryland Legislators:

As a long time resident of the State of Maryland, and as a former bench research biochemist/biologist at NIH and Professor of Philosophy at numerous universities, I appreciate the opportunity to briefly address the Maryland Personhood Amendment proposed by Delegate Don Dwyer, and thank the members for their consideration of my comments below.

I perhaps have a unique perspective on this issue, as both a scientist and a philosopher, since my 400-page doctoral dissertation (Georgetown University 1991) was specifically on a Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo. Since that time I have authored over 190 complex articles on issues relating to the early human embryo. The signature characteristic of most "debates" concerning the human embryo was identified early on in that doctoral dissertation - that is, in all 23 bioethics arguments for "delayed personhood", the scientific "starting points" for all 23 arguments used text book erroneous "human embryology". Therefore, one must necessarily conclude that their philosophical conclusions for "delayed personhood" are automatically invalid.

The issue of when a human being begins to exist is strictly a scientific one, and has been known scientifically internationally for over 125 years (Wilhelm His 1883-5). The scientific details of human embryonic development have been internationally systematized for almost 70 years now, as consistently and continuously documented in the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development (see all 23 stages itemized at: http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/hdac/anatomy.htm). The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Development are the basis for the Nomina Embryologica which was part of the larger Nomina Anatomica for decades until 1989. In 1999 the name was changed by the International Associations of Anatomists to Terminologia Embryologica and Terminologia Anatomica, which was published in 1999 by the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA). This international committee consists of over 20 Ph.D. experts in human embryology from around the world. I don't think you can get more objective than that.

In short, there is no question or confusion or mystery about when a new human being begins to exist, and any Maryland legislator can find the accurate scientific facts simply by going online to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. These facts are not subjective personal opinions or religious "beliefs", but rather are long-documented and internationally agreed upon objective scientific facts.

The issue of "personhood" is not a scientific question, but rather a philosophical one. Again, in the 25 years that I have been addressing these "debates", literally every quasi-philosophical premise used to argue for "delayed personhood" is quite easily refuted academically, as I was required to do with the 23 bioethics arguments analyzed in my doctoral dissertation.

The result is that any "delayed personhood" argument cannot be either scientifically or philosophically maintained. Instead, the issue has been totally politicized. I would caution that, although perhaps some legislators do not have concerns about politicizing issues dealing with the beginning of life, they might be interested to know that those very same "arguments" have been, and continue to be, transferred to the end of life "debates".

The perfect example involves the false claim that until 14-days (or whatever marker one likes) there may be a human being there but there is no human person there. This is the classic argument for the infamous "pre-embryo" - a term which has been formally rejected by the international nomenclature committee in human embryology for many years now as unscientific and erroneous. Unfortunately, the same "theoretical construct" has been applied to end of life conditions, so that it is now argued that the comatose or the mentally ill patient is only a "vegetable" (and thus has no legal rights or protections as a person).

Probably the best and easiest way to address the purely philosophical question of "personhood" is to use simple everyday common sense. If it is true that "persons" are defined only in terms of the active exercising of human faculties - e.g., "rational attributes" (knowing, willing, relating to the world around one, etc.) or "sentience" (being able to feel pain and pleasure) -- then the following list of adult human beings are also not human persons - and therefore have no legal rights and protections as persons: the comatose, the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, drug addicts, alcoholics, (perhaps teenagers?), the frail elderly, stroke victims, patients with nerve disorders, paraplegics, the paralyzed - even us when we sleep! The point is that defining "persons" only in terms of active faculties, rather than in terms of the natural capacity that is already there from the beginning, is to endanger most of us mere humans.

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no question whatsoever as to when human beings begin to exist, and that arguments for "delayed personhood" can neither be scientifically nor philosophically defended successfully. To legally deny the youngest of new living innocent human beings their inherent right to life is unquestionably an obvious and odious violation of their civil rights, and it is about time that all involved in these debates be held to accountability. This is why I support the Maryland Personhood Amendment that would protect every human being "irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of their biological development", and why I hope that Maryland legislators will step up to the challenge - for all of us. Thank you.




By: Delegates Dwyer, Aumann, Bartlett, Bates, Beitzel, Boteler, Burns, Costa, Elliott, Elmore, Frank, George, Haddaway, Impallaria, King, Kipke, Krebs, McComas, McConkey, McDonough, Myers, Norman, O'Donnell, Schuh, Serafini, Shank, Shewell, Smigiel, Sossi, Stifler, Stocksdale, Stull, Walkup, and Wood

Introduced and read first time: February 12, 2009
Assigned to: Health and Government Operations

AN ACT concerning
Maryland Personhood Amendment

FOR the purpose of proposing an amendment to the Maryland Declaration of Rights to establish that the right not to be deprived of life is vested in all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of their biological development; making technical changes; and submitting this amendment to the qualified voters of the State of Maryland for their adoption or rejection.

BY proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution

Declaration of Rights
Article 24
SECTION 1. BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF MARYLAND, (Three-fifths of all the members elected to each of the two Houses concurring), That it be proposed that the Maryland Constitution read as follows:

Declaration of Rights
Article 24.
(A) That no [man] PERSON ought to be taken or imprisoned or disseized of [his] THE PERSON'S freehold, liberties or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or, in any manner, destroyed, or deprived of [his] life, liberty or property, but by the judgment of [his] THE PERSON'S peers, or by the Law of the land.


SECTION 2. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the General Assembly determines that the amendment to the Maryland Constitution proposed by this Act affects multiple jurisdictions and that the provisions of Article XIV, § 1 of the Maryland Constitution concerning local approval of constitutional amendments do not apply.

SECTION 3. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the aforegoing section proposed as an amendment to the Maryland Constitution shall be submitted to the legal and qualified voters of this State at the next general election to be held in November, 2010 for their adoption or rejection pursuant to Article XIV of the Maryland Constitution. At that general election, the vote on this proposed amendment to the Constitution shall be by ballot, and upon each ballot there shall be printed the words "For the Constitutional Amendment" and "Against the Constitutional Amendment," as now provided by law. Immediately after the election, all returns shall be made to the Governor of the vote for and against the proposed amendment, as directed by Article XIV of the Maryland Constitution, and further proceedings had in accordance with Article XIV.