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A DIALOGUE AND A MONOLOGUE ON THE MANUFACTURE OF SOULS ERWIN CHARGAFF* Two scientists, an old and a young one, are having a talk. The name of the old scientist is Earnestly Cautious (EC), that of the young one Excessively Eager (EE). EC: You know, sometimes it pays to look up how concepts and ideas are expressed in other languages. I, at any rate, am often surprised. For instance, I discovered that in Russian a quite common word for "murderer " is dushegub. That word is formed from dusha, the soul, and gubit', to destroy. When we speak of "cutthroat," they say "kill-soul." EE: I must say, I don't quite see what the soul has to do with our topic. Weren't we talking about the new marvelous ways of bringing about the conception and production of babies—what is now called reproductive technology? EC: Precisely. I have not strayed from our topic. It was while discussing the industrial production of babies that the word dushegub, the destroyer of souls, came into my mind. EE: Don't tell me that you, of all people, have joined the antiabortionists . EC: That is entirely beside the point. We were not speaking about abortion, a problem that must have beset humanity from its very inception . We might leave that for another day, although I must admit that I do not believe I have the intellectual strength, nor am I morally sufficiently rectilinear or monochromatic, to dojustice to so overwhelming a dilemma. It is encrusted with so much wretchedness and hypocrisy, out of myriads of cases there are so few that are similar that I hesitate to enter that maze of misery. EE: I must say, I fail to see why the two instances cannot be compared on the same plane. In the one case, the woman has a child she does not want; in the other case, the woman wants a child she cannot have. In our ?Address: 350 Central Park West, Apt. 13G, New York, New York 10025.© 1987 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3101-0563$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31,1 · Autumn 1987 \ 81 society, money changes hands in both cases, and in both the recipient is mostly the same, the obstetrician. EC: You want to say, kill-soul is also make-soul. But that is not quite true. Abortion is a problem touching uncounted millions of people, and there the spokesmen of the church, at any rate the Catholic church, believe they know what stand to take. But reproductive technology is considered to be a scientific problem, and before science the churches are reverendy tongue-tied. The bogus issue of Galilei sits in their bones. If books are burned now they are probably the account books of the Banco del Paradiso. EE: I'm afraid I no longer understand what you're driving at. Granted that physicians are involved in both instances: but, in the one, the doctor helps in creating life; in the other, he destroys it. EC: The Holy Writ ignored science. To lick around the outer crust of nature was not an activity commensurate with so tremendous a revelation . Otherwise, there might have been an eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not create life wantonly. EE: You used the word "wanton," which is also a synonym for "unasked ." But the scientific production of children, which we were talking about, deals with those that are fervently called for. One could almost claim that only with babies manufactured with the help of reproductive technology is the element of chance nearly excluded. EC: In speaking of chance you have, in fact, indicated one of the centers of my complaint. The other day, reading in the excellent aphorisms of Chamfort, I came across one in which he said that he was undecided whether Providence was the Christian name of Chance or Chance the nickname of Providence. Regardless of whether we accept that or not, you will agree that both designations have one thing in common: they deal with huge, uncountable numbers, with generations, with populations , with the entire history of our human world, and, beyond that, with the whole of nature. EE: You...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 81-93
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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