Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is a human embryo a human being? (Continued)

I wanted to write another post on this topic as the conversation is on-going.

To re-cap: I had written that abortion would never be de-stigmatized because abortion kills a human being.

In the ensuing discussion, I’d written that a zygote is a human being. After numerous objections, I refined my statement to say that a zygote is a homo sapiens, and that a homo sapiens is a human being.

After more discussion, Audrey agrees that an embryo is a human organism. BUT--

She says that biologists do not agree that a human organism is *a* homo sapiens. The adjective “human” applies, not the noun “human being” (or even homo sapiens)

I had asked her what name do we call the human organism. She responded:

I’ve answered this already: a human embryo. That's the term that biologists use (when appropriate) and why they don't use "human being".

They use “human embryo” (to avoid the uncomfortable implications of the abortion debate) but conceptually speaking, what I said is correct.

She challenged me several times to name a biologist who agreed with my views.

The biologist Scott F. Gilbert of the famous website and editor of a widely used biology textbook had a very interesting quote about taxonomy and animals:

“Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”
So a dog is a dog from the moment of fertilization.

We can infer then that a homo sapiens is a homo sapiens from the moment of fertilization.

(Quoted from Developmental Biology, Sixth Edition (2000), in the chapter “Life cycles and the evolution of developmental patterns”. Also saw it in French translation of the seventh edition (2003))

Now the last part of my proof is showing that homo sapiens is a human being.

I use the term “homo sapiens” because I know that “human being” is a morally loaded word.

And I wasn’t trying to push any particular view of human beings when I said that “abortion kills a human being”.

In plain English, a homo sapiens is a human being. So when I write that abortion kills a human being, that is the empirical truth.

Whether this human being is viewed as a person or not is immaterial. The fact that abortion kills a human being will the be the source of its stigmatization, because even though large numbers of people do not accord the status of personhood to the embryo, they do not view the embryo as morally worthless.