Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Measure of a Man

On Spike TV, older episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is shown. One episode was entitled “The Measure of a Man.” In the episode, Lieutenant Commander Data is ordered to be part of an experiment conducted by Commander Maddox. The point of the experiment was to disassemble Data in order to study how he was built and try to duplicate his construction. For Captain Picard, there is too much at risk for Data and is unwilling to go ahead and allow Data to be part of the experiment. Maddox forces a transfer order so that he can have full access to Data, but discovers Data wants to resign from Starfleet in order to be independent and free to allude Commander Maddox. The end result is a court hearing, which has Captain Picard and Commander Riker battling each other over the fate of Lieutenant Commander Data.

The key element to the hearing is whether or not Data is a sentient being. Maddox contends there are three criteria in order to be declared sentient: intelligence, self awareness, and consciousness. So let us examine the three elements of sentient beings.

Intelligence-the ability to learn, cope, and deal with new situations.
Self awareness-conscious of your existence and actions, aware of one’s self and ego
Consciousness-as Webster’s Dictionary defines it as the state of being aware especially of
something within oneself.

The whole array of the argument is something which is very unique. Can a machine be sentient? The argument Captain Picard used when dealing with the idea of a race of Data’s was that these androids would become a race and possibly achieve sentient status. If that were to happen, then these new people would be effectively slaves, all in the name of the betterment of humanity. In the end, the judge in the hearing rules that Data has the right to choose and is, in effect, sentient.

Fact of the Matter

The fact of the matter is that when we look at many things in life, what defines a sentient being is something that always comes up for us. Think about all of the issues which seems to come up in the news. There is the issue of abortion and there is the issue of stem cell research. I chose these two particular issues because they both come with very unique situations.

When it comes to abortion, the law protects the unborn children during the second and third trimesters. However, the first trimester is still open for an abortion to occur. This issue, like stem cell, does beg the question as to when life begins for a human being. For those who are in favor of abortion, they seem to forget that there is a human life at stake here. If the woman is
pregnant, she has a responsibility towards that life.

As we all know, stem cell research is something that has hit the news. If you have read my last post on this issue, you can see where my issue with this topic lies. Interestingly enough though, there has been some interesting comments from the left on this that I feel I need to address. Craig Vitter wrote in a post how, whatever your stand on when life begins, using an embryo for the good of mankind is better than destroying it. He also talks about how the use of these embryos would be a sacrifice not made in vain.

The problem with that statement is that the good of humanity is often a term used in science, but can have disastrous effects. For instance, humanity has certainly had a number of benefits regarding aeodynamics and the amount of pressure humans can tolerate when flying thanks to the Nazis and their experimentation on Jews in the concentration camps.

Eugenics programs throughout the world have had people experimented on who might otherwise not be missed or considered worthwhile. So what does this say about embryos? Does this mean we are creating in labs, effectively, human guinea pigs “bred” specifically to be experimented on? We need to kill one life in order to benefit another? What does this say about us as a society if we need to do that?

Now, scientists that I have heard speak on this issue say there have been zero signs of evidence to say any results of stem cells to help cure diseases exist. Instead, other sources of stem cells have shown to produce real results. As such, it makes a difference.

I guess the question in the end is whether or not a person wants to confront the question of when does life begin and what is life itself. While I will not judge a person for the final decision they make, I cannot help but wonder sometimes if the logic of “this is a sacrifice that was not made in vain” and “it will be for the betterment of mankind” was the same things that were said by those who did experiments on people in past.

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