Part 2 on Personhood

By Thomas A. Glessner, Attorney at Law

(Note: This is the second of a series of commentaries that discusses the concept of “personhood” and Constitutional protection for all “persons.”)

Dr. Suess, the beloved children’s author, wrote a delightful children’s story titled Horton Hears A Who. This is a story about a creature named Horton who discovers a tiny microscopic land named ‘Whoville.” Inhabiting this tiny world are creatures named “Whos” that are too tiny for the naked eye to see. However, Horton in making his discovery emphatically states on numerous occasions “a person’s a person no matter how small.”

President Obama clearly lacked the wisdom of Horton this week when he issued an executive order allowing for the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells are primal cells found in all multi-cellular organisms. They retain the ability to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and can differentiate into a diverse range of specialized cell types. The three broad categories of stem cells are: 1) embryonic stem cells, which are derived from the inner cell mass of a human embryo and have the potential to develop into nearly all of the tissues in the body; 2) adult stem cells, which are unspecialized cells found in adult tissue that can renew themselves and become specialized to yield all of the cell types of the tissue from which they originate; and 3) cord blood stem cells, which are found in the umbilical cord.

Some in the medical community believe that embryonic stem cell research could lead to therapies to effectively treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Due to human reproductive technology there are now many “excess” embryos that have not been implanted inside the wombs of women desiring to bear children. Thus, proponents of this research proclaim that such embryos provide an abundant resource to use. However, such research creates obvious controversy. The end result of removing stem cells from an embryo is the killing of this tiny human being.

President Obama ignored this reality. His executive order not only frees up federal funds for this research but also opens wide the door for the funding of research into the cloning of human stem cells thereby unleashing the probability that the cloning of human beings is around the corner.

Such steps of “scientific advancement” clearly place America down the slippery slope to a brave new world. And such steps have happened because society has since the issuance of the Roe v. Wade decision accepted the idea that not all human beings are persons. Thus, because the Constitution only protects the lives of persons such human beings that fail to qualify as persons (i.e. the unborn) can be killed for the perceived overall good of society. Under this viewpoint if society can benefit from the killing of human embryos because the stem cells of such tiny humans may serve a useful purpose in curing disease then such research should not only be allowed but should be funded by federal tax dollars.

Unborn life and embryonic life are seen in our culture as meaningless lives — non-persons — that can be manipulated and killed for the perceived betterment of American society. However, scripture does not place higher value on human life already born. To the contrary personhood and therefore value on unborn life is clearly seen throughout history.

Psalm 139 remarkably tells us that all human beings are “knit together” by God while in our mothers’ wombs. The Psalmist says: “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was no hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

This passage clearly states that God’s love and concern for the unborn exists at the earliest point of human development. The Hebrew word golem, meaning fetus or embryo, is used here and translated as “unformed body.” Clearly in the eyes of our Creator unborn live has value and thus, personhood, as He is intimately involved from the beginning of a pregnancy in the development of every human life.

Another powerful scriptural passage that provides insight into the biblical acknowledgement of the personhood of the unborn can be found in the gospel of Luke chapter 1. This passage describes the prenatal meeting of John the Baptist who is six months inside the womb and Jesus who has just been conceived.

Remember that Luke’s was a physician and as such he probably had delivered many babies. Dr. Luke describes this remarkable meeting of the two preborn infants this way:


At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! Luke 1:39-45


Luke, a man of science and medicine, calls John the Baptist inside the womb a baby. The Greek word used is brephos, which can be translated unborn child, baby or infant. It is the same Greek word Luke uses in chapter 2:12, when the angel says to the shepherds, “This shall be a sign to you. You will find a baby (brephos) wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” In other words the good doctor employs the same word to describe John in the womb as he does to describe Jesus already born. The both are babies.

Does an unborn child have value to God? Does Scripture grant personhood to the unborn? The answer is an impassioned yes! If not, why would God choose an unborn baby, John the Baptist, to be the first person to whom the presence of Jesus the Messiah was revealed?

Scripture is clear on the personhood and thus, value of unborn life. In the words of Horton, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” It is a misfortune that our newly elected president does not understand this. And it is a serious tragedy that in his refusal to accept this truth he has now opened the doors to scientific research that manipulates and kills embryonic human beings for a misconceived notion that the destruction of such lives will bring about great good in society.

Any nation and culture will ultimately be judged not by its military might or economic power. Rather, a nation will be judged by history in how it treated its most vulnerable members. In America today the most vulnerable members of our society are the unborn subject to abortion and now subject to killing for purposes of scientific research.

The doors are now open wide for further manipulation of humanity by science and the emergence of a brave new world where humanity is redefined, manipulated and killed for the perceived betterment of society as a whole.

May God have mercy on the soul of this once great nation.