[incentives to reply to the following: If you have a particularly good argument under (b) I'll name a character for you and have him/her use your arguments at court. All those who make a contribution will be eligible for a draw for free web hosting for a year.]
I have a plot credibility and moral/legal question to pose about a possible upcoming arc in one of my story cycles. I'd like to try it on you for your opinions before attempting to write it.
As readers know, my Hibernians live 200+ years post nuclear/biological warfare. Making human genetic modifications is right up there with employing projectile weapons and practicing law for money as capital crimes. They have been known to riot in the streets when they find out about people doing such things. (More strait-laced in their way even than a stiff starchy Baptist like me.)
A research group has found a way to dedifferentiate cells to the stem state specifically to modify them to:
- increase chest cavity size
- add gill tissue to enlarged lungs
(Well, it's also to tie up a plot loose end from an earlier book. Recall the battle of Glenfinnan? I will work on the engineering problems later.)
People who undergo these modifications can breathe the dissolved oxygen in water for an hour or two at a time, but are dependent on a modified wet suit to maintain body temperature, especially in colder waters. They cannot make these themselves, but purchase them on the open market as Royal Army surplus. They can also breathe air, of course, and indeed could pass on the street without anyone paying attention. Not only that, cells in other parts of their body are unmodified, and their children of course are fully human, lack the acquired characteristics, and have to undergo the same treatments if they are to breathe water. But they've kept all this a deep secret--not hard on a remote island.
Now the Mer want to break out of their isolation into the mainstream. One of their number has applied to join the Royal Hibernian Army as an officer cadet, passed all the tests, including the physical, but at the last a full body scan turned up the modifications. The school commander rejects the applicant as not fully human, therefore not a citizen, not eligible. The App appeals to Tara. [Plot details to this point may vary slightly.]
Because of the importance of the case, it is tried by three Brehons, a Senchus, and the full court at Tara. (Five equal votes; same routine as Cath's trial in The General.) Here is a brief precis of the arguments:
1. By Lord High Advocate Duchaine (a Brehon whose task it is to protect minorities)
"Because the Mer genotype is unaltered the modifications are in the same category as the common practices of regrowing severed limbs or adding internal electronic communications circuitry to the body. Mers are fully human and entitled to all rights of citizens."
2. By Michael Malone a prominent MacCarthy lord (many of this clan's leaders are ultra Celtic nationalists who believe lesser races should be exterminated).
"Because some cells have been altered and the phenotype changes are a result of this, the Mer are not human, entitled to no legal rights, and should be isolated without access to this technology until all the altered humans die off. The perpetrators of this outrage should be hung, the technique banned under the Covenant of the Living (1801)."
3. By charming, debonair and influential Lord Thomas Monde, Science and Technology Domain Lord (whom my readers already know is a very nasty and ambitious control freak, some of whose own work has been banned in the past)
"Why not compromise? When they live on land and breathe air as the rest of us, the Mers could have full rights as citizens, but whenever they are live in the sea, breathe water, and are dependent on Tara's technology, they would not be legal humans. Those who made this discovery have committed no capital crime but should be allowed to further research and deploy this technology only under strict court supervision."
Church lords who stand at court (Hibernia does not believe in separation of church and state, but in matters like citizenship the church can only advise) are mixed. Three bishops agree with the Advocate, one with Monde, but the fifth, who is the titular head of the church at Tara and also MacCarthy Mor, sides with his family. Of the military lords present six (including all four women) side with the Advocate, four with the MacCarthys, two with Monde, and two express no opinion. Per the custom, there have been two domain lords speak for each position, but they need not vote as they have argued.
You are one of the regional domain high lords or ladies who stands at court and hears these arguments (or, one of the judging Brehons if you wish). Besides the merits of the opinions, you must also consider the reaction of your people back home and on Tara's streets, who if they get really upset with your vote will replace you (usually done with extreme prejudice).
a. How would you vote? Fully human, only human while on land, not at all, or other.
b. Are there better/different arguments to support your view than those above?
c. Is it credible to suppose the general population would accept your answer peacefully?
I have a few other ideas too, but this should suffice to get the discussion going.
Thanks for your help.