April 21, 2005

Life is Sacred

Kathy and I reluctantly, and with great sorrow in our hearts, sent Annie (a Great Dane dog) to her maker and I buried her beneath an Apple tree in the field where in life she had loved so much to race.

Fred S. Jacobs, 1992

I didn't know what the word "sacred" meant so I looked it up in my Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary. I found the best explanation of the word in the synonym section under the word "holy." It said that "Holy, sacred, consecrated, blessed, and hallowed are applied to things regarded with great reverence in religious worship. Holy is the strongest word, being applied only to things that have the most immediate connection with God. Sacred is applied to that which is inviolate on any account, and thus has less force than holy: Holy scripture, a sacred altar. Things formally dedicated to religious use are consecrated; blessed originally meant the same thing, but now means especially favored by God; we speak of the consecrated ground of a graveyard, or of a consecrated church building, or the blessed life of a saint. Hallowed refers to that which has been made sacred by long continued worship; a hymn hallowed by years of use."

Now you know as much as I do. If you want to know more you will have to ask a clergyman. If you asked a semanticist (one who is concerned with the meaning of words), he might tell you that these words are high level abstractions, meaning that they cannot be seen or felt, and often can mean whatever the user wants them to mean.

The phrase "life is sacred" is a religious one. An object is defined as sacred by a church. Does it have any meaning to a biologist or to a person who is not religious? I don't think so.

Unlike protozoa or bacteria, all plants and animals that consist of many cells are born, live their life span and die, or are killed and eaten. In some cultures and religions, this is accepted as fact. Some religions refuse to accept the fact that everyone dies. They believe that when someone dies the soul continues on in some heaven or hell. Among some people, when an old person dies, all of his relatives and friends have a party and celebrate a life well lived.

In college, I took a psychology course in "Mental Deficiency." Part of the course was a visit to the Sonoma State Home. The most memorable part of that visit was a visit to what was called the "gork ward." It contained rows of beds with people who were, to all intents and purposes, unconscious. I wondered why these "people" were kept alive. They were in a "vegetative state," meaning that they could not think. Medical people sometimes referred to them as "vegetables."

When an animal is completely disabled, veterinarians "euthanatize" them. That word is a fancy one meaning a good death. The procedure is the same as killing the animal, which is usually done with a drug injection. When my cat Fritz was disabled, we had him "euthed." Then my wife and I cried and buried him in the garden. I consider it an act of love to put an animal out of his misery. Some would disagree with me. To them, life in any form is "sacred".

In order for most animals to live, they have to kill some other organism. The cow doesn't kill the grass, but it does eat living cells. A soy bean is capable of creating a new soy bean plant. Making tofu destroys the life of those soy beans. Even vegan vegetarians eat living things. The only people who don't have to kill living things in order to survive are nursing mammals or people who live solely on dairy products.

The Terri Schiavo case posed an interesting question for society. When a person is in a vegetative state, do you "pull the plug" and, if you do, at what point? I do not believe that it is society's decision to make, but the decision of the people involved. I believe the same thing for birth control or abortion. Having society, the law and churches involved only makes difficult decisions even more difficult.

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