It is important for those on either side of the abortion debate to be informed. One part of that is to realize there are some really, really bad arguments out there. The argument that the unborn is merely a “blob of cells” or “human tissue” is one such argument. Simply put, if one makes this argument they are not on the side of scientific facts.
From the Scientists
A survey of textbooks on embryology by medical professionals shows that regardless of what the person on the street says, science tells us that from conception there is a new human being. I will now demonstrate through the citation of many such sources.
Zygote: this cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). Human development begins at fertilization… This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. [Moore, K. and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.), (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), pp 2-18.]*
“Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus.”
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146]**
In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. Larsen, W.J. 1998. Essentials of Human Embryology, Churchill Livingstone, New York, pp. 1-17.*
Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed… O’Rahilly, R. and F. Muller. 1996. Human Embryology & Teratology, Wiley-Liss, New York, pp. 5-55.*
The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote. [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]**
The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.
[Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]**
Furthermore, a number of medical professionals testified under oath to a U.S. Senate committee.
“I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception.”- Dr. Alfred Bongioanni (University of Pennsylvania)*
“[A]fter fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.”- Dr. Jerome LeJeune (University of Descartes)*
“It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception”- Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard University Medical School)*
Quotes like these could be multiplied almost beyond measure. Scientifically speaking, those who say that the unborn is not a human being are, to put it bluntly, ignorant.
Science, back with a vengeance
1) The zygote has distinct DNA from the mother (and is therefore not part of the mother).
2) About 50% of the time, the unborn has a different gender than the mother (and is therefore not part of the mother).
3) From conception, the zygote grows and organizes itself (and is therefore a unique individual).
4) As long as there is an environment in which the resources required for life continue to be provided, the zygote will continue to mature and, well, live (much like a baby, or a 20 year old).
5) The zygote is alive and continues to grow.
Therefore, from conception we have an individual with unique DNA and sometimes even a different gender; we have an individual which grows and organizes itself; we have an individual which, as long as no one destroys it, will continue to grow and mature into an adult.
There is a reason the literature sounds so confident that human life begins at conception: those who deny this would have to say that 50% of the time, males with distinct DNA from their “bodies,” who organize themselves towards growth, are reducible to their female mothers. That is what the pro-choice advocate would have to say: “Yes, that male ‘clump of cells’ inside the mother with its self-organization and different DNA is actually part of the mother.” This despite the fact that any DNA test would not show this to be the case. Of course, the female’s DNA would be different as well, so again, the absurdity would have to follow.
The Philosophical Side
Let’s suppose for a moment the science were unconvincing, or at least left open the possibility of denial. What about philosophical arguments that the unborn is not a human being?
Some argue that viability is the point at which we can decide when an embryo goes from a ‘clump of cells’ to a human being. However, viability continues to be pushed to earlier and earlier stages of development for the embryo. Does that mean that human life continues to be extended earlier and earlier?
This argument is fairly ridiculous because it entails that what was not a human being 100 years ago is now suddenly, miraculously a human being due to new technologies to sustain life. In other words, it reduces humanity to a sliding scale. Imagine a nuclear fallout happened and our technology was pushed back into the 1700s era. Suddenly, viability would be much later than it currently is. Does that mean that those who were humans/persons before suddenly lost that privilege based upon our technology level?
No Brain/No Pain
Some argue that the ‘clump of cells’ is not a human being until it has a brain or can feel pain. There are a number of problems with this argument.
1) it assumes physicalism–it assumes that human beings are somehow identical with their brains. This is a huge area of exploration and I won’t delve into it here.
2) It is unclear how the growth of a body part somehow transforms something from a clump of cells into a human being.
3) It is a completely arbitrary cut-off. Why pick the brain as the arbitrary cutoff? Note that it has to be arbitrary unless someone has an intrinsic value to place all of the qualities of humanity in the brain.
4) If feeling pain is necessary for human life, then someone who is in a coma and can recover is not a human being. Likewise with someone who has passed or gone into shock.
5) The fact is that the unborn can feel pain at somewhere around 7-8 weeks into term. Those who deny that evidence simply must concede that evidence of pain at about 20 weeks. What does that mean? Unfortunately, abhorrently, it means that those unborn who are aborted in extremely gruesome ways [see here: warning: graphic descriptions–and I picked the least graphic one I could find] and that they feel the pain. This is an unfortunate, disturbing, fact. People who deny this fact are either blissfully unaware of the scientific literature or, to be frank, lying. So what to do with this evidence? If the reason for allowing abortion really is that the baby can’t feel pain (and I very much doubt that it is–this is just a rationalization for the real reason behind it), then any abortions over 20 weeks should be illegal.
But really, what is the rationale driving this argument? Why should we care if a “lump of cells” feels pain? After all, according to pro-choice advocates, until the unborn is somehow transformed into a baby by passing from inside to outside of the mother, the unborn is just a “ball of cells.” So really, who cares if it feels pain? Again, that’s because this reason is just a red herring. The real issue is personhood.
Some argue that because the unborn has to rely upon the mother to survive it is not a human. But of course so does a newborn infant. If it is asserted that the difference is because the unborn is inside the mother than one can’t help but wonder how going from inside to outside the mother suddenly transforms something from a ‘clump of cells’ into a human being.
For a number of other philosophical arguments see my posts on my pro-life page.
The argument that the unborn is merely a clump of cells is scientifically untenable. Those who make this claim are ignorant of the scientific data that states the exact opposite is the case. If they maintain their assertions in the face of the scientific evidence, then it can only be through blind faith or willful deception.
The philosophical arguments fair no better.
From conception, a human.
*Found quoted at “When Does Human Life Begin”
**Found quoted at Life Begins at Fertilization with the Embryo’s Conception
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
If the unborn is not a person, then abortion is morally permissible, and it doesn’t matter what you do with the unborn.
If the unborn is a person, then abortion is morally impermissible, and the unborn must be protected.
Note that these statements are conditional, marked by the word, “If.”
Why would I make these statements? Simply because I want to clarify the issue that is at the heart of the abortion debate. Namely, the status of the unborn.
Consider the following arguments in favor of the pro-choice position:
We shouldn’t bring unwanted fetuses into the world. It’s better to abort fetuses than force a woman to have an unwanted child.
If a mother can’t afford to have a child, she shouldn’t be forced to continue her pregnancy.
Women’s rights are at stake: it is a woman’s body we’re talking about!
Now, let’s contextualize them. Rather than debating the viability of these arguments, suppose we plug in the case in which we all agree there is a “person” involved. Suppose in place of the “unborn” or “fetus” we put “toddler” into the argument. In that case, the arguments would be:
We should kill unwanted toddlers. It’s better to kill them than to have them live in homes where they are unwanted.
If a woman can’t afford to feed her toddler, we should kill it.
Women’s rights are at stake! Think of the drain toddlers place upon their mothers!
These arguments are clearly absurd. Why? Because we all know that we can’t just go around killing children because their families don’t want them. We can’t kill toddlers because their families can’t afford to feed them. But that’s exactly the question these types of arguments beg: what is the unborn?
And so we return to the statements at the beginning of this post. Suppose the unborn is, in fact, just a cluster of cells, no different from a wart or growth. In that case, I would agree it is perfectly permissible to discard of the unborn whenever a woman desires.
But then, what if the unborn is, in fact, a “person”? What if the unborn is a baby after all? Well, in that case, it is certainly not permissible to discard of the baby.
The fact is, many arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are made from a position where one simply assumes that the fetus is no more than a clump of cells. But that’s exactly what the debate is supposed to be about! If the fetus is no more then a clump of cells, the debate is over. But if the fetus is indeed a person, then the arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are just as shoddy as those arguments with “toddler” substituted in for “unborn” or “fetus.”
Thus, arguments like this must always be contextualized. The heart of the abortion debate is the status of the unborn. Once that question is answered, the answer to the question: “Is abortion permissible?” becomes crystal clear.
Scott Klusendorf does a simply phenomenal job of centralizing this issue and pointing out how most of the issues which cloud the debate can simply be dropped in favor of debating the status of the unborn. The arguments presented here are based upon his tactic “trot out the toddler” which one can find in his book, The Case for Life or in his lectures in Ethics at the Edge of Life (found in the links here).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.