Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When *does* human life begin?

In discussing the issue of fetal rights, I don't see a lot of pro-aborts trying to defend any one concept of when human life begins.

Or whether all human beings are equal.

I realize that it's not about that, for them. For feminists, the woman owns the uterus, it's her body, she gets to say, period.

However, I have always found that line of reasoning somewhat disingenuous, if not dangerous.

If at no time between conception and birth a ZEF (zygote/embryo/fetus) is not a human being, then their argument is tenable.

However, if at some point during gestation, a ZEF is or does become a human being, then the question becomes: are all human beings ontologically and morally equal, and do they have the right to legal protection from the law?

Most people acknowledge that at some point in the pregnancy, the fetus is a human being. At the very least, they are willing to concede that the fetus is a member of our species.

If a fetus is a human being, and all human beings are equal, then why shouldn't they have rights?

Some might answer: there is no consensus and never will be a consensus, therefore it's pointless to answer that question.

But does the person who puts forward that answer believe that the fetus is an equal human being? And if he does, isn't he sacrificing that fetus' rights in order to preserve to so-called right to abortion?

And if he doesn't believe that the fetus isn't a human being, why doesn't he just say: the fetus is not a human being? How can he accept that others might consider the fetus a human being and be willing to sacrifice the right to life? Is that an acceptable position?

I don't believe philosophical relativism on the issue of the moral status of the fetus is intellectually acceptable. Either the fetus is an equal human being with the right to life, or he is not. It is not morally acceptable to sacrifice the right to life for any other life. And if that position is accepted in our society, that sets a very dangerous precedent: that some human beings can have their right to life sacrificed for the benefit of another.

I have never seen the pro-abort lobby satisfactorily address that point.

But before we can even have that discussion, the issue of the beginning of human life must be settled.

Pro-aborts like to play fast and loose with the definition of "human life". They generally define the phrase in terms of their own definition of "personhood"; or they stretch human life to include such things as skin cells and gametes.

Those are semantic games. The question put to them is: when can an individual member of our species (homo sapiens) be said to exist?

This is even aside from the issue of "personhood".

I find it hard to believe that science has "not answered" this question. We know that things can be classified into "living/non-living". There are criteria a thing must meet in order to be considered living.

Among living things, we can classify things according to what kind of living things they are. Again, this is not very difficult to do.

We can recognize when an organism is said to exist, and we can classify these organisms according to some easily applicable rules.

So why is it so difficult to determine when a human being can be said to exist?

Pro-lifers believe than an individual human life begins at conception. Once a zygote begins dividing, this is a new member of our species. The zygote is living, he's an organism and he's a member of our species. I have read of other "starting points"-- but then that begs the question-- what is the ZEF before that particular starting point? For instance, some people will say that human life begins two weeks after conception when twinning is no longer possible. The question then becomes: what is the nature of the embryo before that mark? What is that "thing"? Does it qualify as an organism? Yes. Is it a member of our species? Yes. So obviously, it's a human being, in plain English.

Settling the question of when human life begins doesn't settle the abortion debate, but it would sure be nice if we could at least get the science down pat.

So the question I'm raising is: if an individual human life does not begin at conception, when does it begin? When can we say that a human organism exists?

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