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Star Tribune opinion editor's note: This article was submitted as part of a thread of articles written in connection with the changing atmosphere surrounding abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. They include "Abortion reconsidered — reading our collective moral compass" (June 24), by Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota in 2022; "It's time for the pro-choice people to come clean" (Aug. 11), by Matt Birk, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2022; "In response to Matt Birk's request that pro-choice people 'come clean' " (Aug. 15), by DFL state senator Erin Maye Quade, and "A friendly letter to pro-life believers" (Aug. 20), by Walter McClure, and "A response to 'A friendly letter to pro-life believers' " (Aug. 24) by the Rev. David Hottinger. Further responses will be considered. Email them to


With keen interest I followed the recent ontological debate at Star Tribune Opinion between the Rev. David Hottinger and Walter McClure. I may lack the wisdom of these men, but as an old man with neither robes nor titles, let me put a commoner's skin into this ancient debate.

My family is living the thought experiment proposed by McClure regarding the hypothetical dilemma of saving from fire a group of 12 embryos vs. an infant if you could save only one or the other. I confess I do not know when consciousness or the soul begins, nor can I define either. However, I do know this with certainty: Old men, and women, robed or otherwise, should stay out of all vital birthing decisions. It is the mother's decision and hers alone.

Our story started 17 years ago on a dreary day as I drove my 15-year-old son Joseph to the sperm bank for his pre-transplant deposit. As you might imagine, it was a quiet and awkward trip that seemed like a Hail Mary pass for the future of my particularly unremarkable strain of DNA. I offered an opinion on the situation and Joe said, "Just shut up, Dad." Good advice.

Joe survived and thrived and has a great zest for life, with many true friends and happy adventures, and he's married to an equally charmed and beautiful wife, Mary, who brings sparkling light and clarity to every occasion. Mary is a devout Catholic, and Joe also now takes the sacraments. She reminds me of my mother who taught in a Catholic elementary school, put herself through college and gave birth to 13 embryos, all of whom contributed as adults and still worship their mom and her memory.

Back to the burning Solomonic thought experiment and how it relates to my family:

McClure, a secular social scientist, thinks you would have to be a monster to save the embryos over the screaming infant. After all, embryos are an insentient cluster of cells that happen to be of human origin but don't possess inalienable rights.

Hottinger, a Catholic priest, never "comes clean" on what he would actually do — save the embryos or the baby. He says, "If human beings have any intrinsic dignity, the human organism must have it at every stage of development. It does not follow that the embryos are less human than the infant." That's great, but who would you save?

Here's how it works in real life:

Joe and Mary fall in love. They want to spread this love with a child of their own so they go to fertility doctors who harvest as many of Mary's eggs as they can and introduce them to Joe's sperm which has been frozen for 17 years. They miraculously create zygotes, fertilized eggs consisting of about 200 cells that can stay frozen indefinitely. In Mary and Joe's case, the doctors deemed five zygotes viable for implantation. In fact, one of those zygotes is 2 years old and sits on my lap. His name is Jesse. He is the most beautiful creation I have ever seen and a glorious testament to the power of love, hope and human DNA. We play with trucks and eat noodles and he resembles me a little. Our unremarkable DNA stock has been on the rise since Mary came along.

There are four zygotes remaining in frozen limbo. They should be entirely under the protection of Mary and Joe, and I can't fathom how any agent of the state or religion could feel they have a place in the decisions this couple makes about these precious cells. Who are any of you to judge Mary if she decides to have just one child, or for that matter five or 13? Should she carry a Down syndrome baby to term? Should she pick a female for her next child? What if she has two painful miscarriages and can't face another pregnancy, what does one do with the remaining zygotes? The new world is already here and this is how it will go.

Where does any human being find the arrogance to make laws for others around these personal decisions? The only job any of us have is to support with the most love we can muster the difficult decisions prospective mothers may face regardless of one's own personal beliefs. Some things in life have no simple answer and can't be legislated or enshrined in a Supreme Court decision. The government has no business in the business of the unborn. Or as my son would say to the wise ones in robes: "Just shut up."

All I can add is that the Rev. Hottinger will not be asked to babysit Jesse near burning labs.

Donald Smith is a writer from Bloomington. He's changed the names of family members mentioned in this article to respect their privacy.