Mission Statement

Mission Statement: This blog is dedicated to both political philosophy and application to current issues based on the ideas of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Additionally, this blog strives to create an atmosphere where intelligent discussions based on the principles of logic, no matter the viewpoints expressed in their conclusions, are not only welcome, but also thrive.

To learn more, feel free to read the introduction and subsequent posts which explain the aforementioned philosophy and purpose of this blog in more detail.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Issues 17: Abortion--Defining Life

          As I discussed in my last post, so-called pro-life and so-called pro-choice believers tend to agree on the final logic step used to reach their widely separated conclusions: that humans, even children, deserve protection under the law and that a person has supreme choice over their own body. As I said before, I believe that the sticking point in the argument is when one defines the beginning of a separate, “individual” human life.
          Government exists to regulate the interaction between individuals involving force. Once you define the beginning of individual human life, it then becomes the responsibility of government to protect that life from uninvited violence (I offer this especially for those who say that pro-life is not a stance a true libertarian can take). I will in this entry propose what I believe to be the most scientifically acceptable definition, and discuss why other definitions lack. A solid definition of human life would have legal implications in the form of the current abortion arguments. My goal in this writing is to use only terms and arguments that are acceptable Constitutional measures with which to legislate. As such, no religious, emotional, or linguistic arguments will be presented. For example, one side says “when a woman is pregnant, we ask about her baby, thus indicating a common understanding of individuality.” The other may use a similar argument, “we call it a fetus or other terms at various stages of development, thus recognizing that it is different from a baby newly born to a mother.” These are both linguistic arguments and, while they have use in shaping a person’s views on the subject, are completely irrelevant to providing a Constitutional basis with which to legislate.
          That said, the most reasonable place to define the beginning of human life is conception. This is the point where there is some change between “sperm and egg” and something else. We must ask the question, what has changed? The answer is that cells that are genetically identical to their parent body, i.e. the man and woman from which they came, have merged into a new cell with a new genetic identity. When this happens, a genetic study could trace the origins of the new organism to its parents, but the DNA would be distinct, in essence, it is genetically an “individual.”
          This is the point where the current pro-choice argument begins to diverge and not be rigorously correct. By saying that a woman has dominion over her body, the term body must be acceptably defined as well. If she were to, for some inexplicable reason, have the finger of another adult inside of her, I doubt anyone would propose that is “her body.” It is genetically unique and part of someone else’s body. By the same argument, even though a new life is growing inside her, sustained by her, it is genetically unique. It is not part of her body, it is a separate body inside of her own being nourished by her body.
          Consider this. If a police forensics team was investigating a crime using DNA evidence, which currently is an acceptable legal standard of human identity, and they tried to match a “sample” of the mother to the thing growing inside her, they would not match. In a court of law, there is no evidence to convict one based on the genetics of the other. They are not the same person, not the same body, under current legal definitions. Since DNA testing is newer than the major court decision on the issue, it is certainly an issue that should be revisited with the new legal and scientific understanding.
          With a lack of agreement that the very thing she would be initiating force against in an abortion is part of her own body, the blanket statement that she has dominion of her body no longer applies to the discussion. With the additional scientific truth that the thing is genetically individual, the principle of one individual not initiating force against another individual begins to apply.
          Some counters to this argument that I have heard recently include that it is religiously based. This discussion has steered clear of every aspect of religion, but will certainly still draw that criticism. By mathematical definition, that is an illogical argument. Consider this proof in support:

p + q (implies) s

r (implies) s

s (implies) T

t is an element of T

p is humanity
q is individuality
r is religion saying a person is a person at conception
s is the libertarian principle “one individual [human] not initiating violence on another individual [human]”
T is the set of government laws protecting individuals
t is government enforcement of anti-abortion (because abortion is force)

          What this proof says is that if something can be shown to fit into the category of one human individual not initiating violence on another human individual, then the government should legislate it to protect the individual who is victim. The “r (implies) s” statement is the religious argument saying that a person becomes such at conception. This method of establishment is not acceptable to government legislation due to the separation of church and state. However, s can be established by other means, namely scientific definition of human (p) and individual (q). Therefore, if something is established to be both human and individual, it follows that it should be protected by government regulation. This proof shows that although a religious argument may establish a certain principle, it cannot be legislated unless it is arrived at secularly.
          By scientific definition of the DNA, chromosomes, and genetics that make up a new cell at conception, it fits the definitions of human and individual. From the above proof to include the fact that abortion is a type of force, it logically follows that abortion should be illegal in the United States, no religion involved or necessary. I have not encountered other serious counters to this argument, but if I do I will address them in the comments or a further post.
          I have, however, heard other proposals for the definition of the beginning of individual human life. I will address these as well. The worst proposed definition of both life and abortion-legality is the idea of “viability.” There are many definitions of the term, one of which is “abortion”-based, saying that it is a point where a child can survive outside the womb. First, the wider meaning of the word is when something can survive independently. Even outside the womb, a child requires years of care before it can venture into the world to survive independently. The term used in the abortion-sense is then contradictory to the term as more generally applied. I will address this whole issue that arises of how long a parent should care for a child at a later time. The other reason this argument falls flat is that it is completely based on technology. Years ago the point of viability would have been much different than it is today. We can presume it will be much different in 200 years as well. By tying the definition of human life to technology a person admits that they are not defining the life itself, merely a current state of technological capability. This makes for a poor definition.
          Another suggestion is that life be defined to begin at birth. This is also a poor definition as it brings up questions of C-sections, partial births, umbilical cord attachment, and others. If birth is the line, what makes a baby born one month premature different from a part of a woman’s body that will be born tomorrow? The latter would be defined as not a human life although it is more fully developed and bears more characteristics of human life than the former that is being afforded protection of the law. The happenstance casing that surrounds that baby once again does not take into account the organism itself in the definition.
          Finally, I have heard suggestions such as when there is a heartbeat or when there is a determinable sex to define human individuality. While these approach a better definition of life since they use the life itself, they still are not as good as the genetically individual definition. The reason is that the genetic code is the final authority on life, since all aspect of life are recorded in that genome. When blood is to be matched to a person in a murder case, DNA is the method. When animals are checked for similar ancestry, the answer is in their genes. In all questions of life, genetics has been the scientifically and legally accepted final answer. By extension of this principle, human individuality begins at conception, implying protection of the law and government criminalization of abortion.


Newcomer said...

Excellent logical analysis! I will be interested to read any opposing arguments that others may offer.

This Guy said...

Sounds all nice and neat. Shall we punish women who lose their babies at 3 months due to "natural causes"? It would be no one but the mother's fault at that point for not providing an adequate environment in which to live.

There's logical fallacy in shunning "viability". In short, the government does not hand out "conception certificates". Otherwise, you'd get a tax break on an unborn child. It's on its face illogical. DNA exists in all living things, and it can break, degrade, combine or even be spliced. That doesn't mean that putting DNA together in a different combination is somehow "life". Life is more than DNA.

A reverse of this fallacy is to say that twins should be counted as one person.

I like your logical attempt, but it doesn't pass the stink test.

Newcomer said...

This Guy,

I don't think anyone is saying that a woman who's unborn child dies due to natural causes would, should, or could be held criminally liable. The term 'natural causes' is generally used to indicate an action that takes place through no fault of anyone.

Yes, DNA can break or mutate but that fact doesn't equate to something or someone having a genetic mutation (such as Down's Syndrome, for example) being considered inanimate or dead.

Not all twins have duplicate DNA, as in the case of fraternal twins. And even twins that share one body (conjoined twins) are considered to be 2 individual people.

I am very interested in hearing arguments such as yours that challenge "Live Free's" DNA argument and I'm glad you took a stab at it. But I don't think these particular arguments negate "Live Free's".

gtg723y said...

This Guy, if a fetus dies of natural causes it resides in the mother until she goes into labor two weeks later. You should also note that first trimester miscarriages are common, in fact many zygotes fail to implant as the egg was fertilized to late in a woman's cycle, and because we have no outward signs of when ovulation occurs that would not be prosecutable. Also we are innocent until proven guilty, as miscarriages are common it would make little sence to investigate every miscarriages.

Also I would have loved to have had a tax break for my pregnancy. One visit for every month until the second to last month when yo go in twice a month. Then there are all the blood tests and sonograms, add to that delivery and all the post pardon checks.....

Youndo make one very good point, rearranging DNA does not constitute life, let us not forgett that a virus is not alive but has both DNA and RNA. That is why I suggested we reflect our definition of death as a means to define life. Please keep in mind that after you are declared dead your organs are still viable and your cells will continue to live for many months, but yet you are dead and you will not be coming back. We currently declare a human as dead not at complete cellular shut down but when the heart is no longer able to beat or be made to start back up. Therefore you are a human being all rights reserved when your heart begins to beat.

gtg723y said...

Liberty, you are aware that if you define life at conception not implantation but conception most forms of birth control will be in violation as many forms of birth control not only prevent the maturation of the ovum but cause the uterus to swell as a side effect, which can intefear with implantation.

Live Free said...

First, thanks for the discussion and thanks for not jumping straight to "your arguments are pro-life, therefore religious, therefore bullshit." There are a lot of good points, and I am not too set in my ways to change my mind based on good info--I have been doing for years. So let discuss some of the points.

Frist, loss of child due to natural causes is to abortion as death of a geriatric due to natural causes is to murder. The analogy doesn't play out in a way that is meaningful to this debate.

Birth certificates fall into that "social norms" argument where just because that is the way we do it does not mean that extending those ideas fits logically into the principles under discussion. I understand your argument, but a birth certificate is just that: saying that a given person was born with certain other data. It records certain information that identifies the person, but I would argue does not inherently define them. As for the taxes, my earlier posts talk about my tax philosophies, namely that it shouldn't be based on income, and if it is, shouldn't have deductions, credits, etc., no matter how many kids you have. Once again though, it is a government norm, not an argument to change the philosophy of life.

Also, my argument about DNA was never that the presence of DNA is life, but rather that the DNA defines individuality. I think it is pretty impossible to say that the organism inside a woman, with separate DNA from her own, is merely a "part of her body." That is an interesting point about twins and conjoined twins--maybe DNA is only the first part of a tiered test.

I still think that the beginning and end of life are not symetrical enough to be compared. Maybe death is really defined as when "you will not be coming back," as you said. For us right now, that may be when the heart stops beating and cannot be revived, since they do try, at times, CPR or a defibrillator before they declare you dead. So the heart analogy is only about 99%correct anyway. Death could more properly be defined as "when you no longer have the hope of a future heartbear." If you believed in using that to define the start of life (which I still do not just yet), the better definition would be "when you have a chance of a future heartbeat." The critical point then becomes the "you," since potential is generally unlimited, and the you is then defined primarly through DNA, which brings us back to the original point.

Live Free said...

Wow, I should have proof-read that reply before posting. I apologize.

The Heathen Republican said...

I'm fascinated by the timing of your post. I'm currently mired in an abortion discussion over at Anything But Theist. If you aren't familiar with this circle of bloggers, I hesitate to invite you into the lion's den, but I think you could offer something to the comment string.

Now, I'll finish reading the post and share some of my own thoughts...

The Heathen Republican said...

If I understand your argument, and I don't think I'm bright enough to follow the logical proof, I hear you saying that the point of individual humanity is the point that a unique set of DNA exists, therefore conception.

I have a hard time saying that a mass of fertilized cells that are 10 days old are the equivalent of an individual human being. Of course they have the potential, but until the fetus/baby is more fully developed (a brain stem, for example), I don't think it's deserving of legal protections.

This Guy has a valid challenge citing identical twins and their identical DNA. Live Free, you responded that "DNA defines individuality," but in fact, I would argue, it is DNA + a brain stem that defines individuality in the case of identical twins. Therefore life-at-conception does not hold up logically.

I agree completely that viability is no kind of definition. At a minimum, this requires that the definition change over time as our technology improves.

My own position (link) is that personhood is not present at conception but is definitely present before birth, so it occurs at some point during the pregnancy. My admittedly non-scientific judgment says it's around 15 weeks (also when, I think, the brain stem develops). If you look at pictures of fetal development, prior to 15 weeks you see cells, tadpoles, etc. After 15 weeks, you are clearly looking at a young human being.

I don't claim to have the answers, but this is the position I've taken so far, and I'm still able to sleep at night.

Newcomer said...

Heathen Republican,

When you say that you have a hard time saying that a mass of fertilized cells that are 10 days old is the equivalent of a human being, perhaps something to consider is that that "mass of cells" are not stagnant, they are constantly replicating and dividing. I would personally view that as a further indication and definition of life. I think that many scientists would agree.

I personally am pro-life because of religious beliefs but I appreciate that many folks on both sides of the issue do not hold similar beliefs. Therefore, I feel it is extremely important to examine this issue from a secular and scientific point of view. To that end, here are some points to consider. They are sourced from a Catholic pro-life website but these particular points address some of the science of fetal development:

"The widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998, states at page 2 that "The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous .... This cell [the zygote] results from the union of an oocyte [egg] and sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being ...." At page 18 this theme is repeated: "Human development begins at fertilization [emphasis in original] ...."

Judge Michael J. Noonan ruled as follows in a New Jersey case based on a man's efforts to save his unborn child from being aborted: "…based upon the undisputed medical testimony by arguably the foremost authority in genetics in the world, I found that human life begins as conception; and that Roe vs. Wade permits a legal execution of that human being." (MUNICIPAL COURT OF NEW JERSEY LAW DIVISION - MORRIS COUNTY CRIMINAL ACTION DOCKET NO. C1771, ET SEQ. STATE OF NEW JERSEY V. ALEXANDER LOCE, et als. DEFENDANTS APRIL 29, 1991 HONORABLE MICHAEL J. NOONAN)

Dr. Jerome Lejeune, "Father of Modern Genetics" and discoverer of the cause of Down's Syndrome, stated, "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion . . . it is plain experimental evidence."

Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman, Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic, stated, "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception."

Sir William Liley, a key pioneer of fetal therapy, wrote a famous article in 1972, The Foetus as a Personality, in which he shows us why we have moved away from the view of the fetus as an inert, unformed passenger awaiting arrival at the destination of life, and have seen that the fetus is a splendidly functioning human, full of vigor and very much in command of the pregnancy.

Men and women of science might often approve of abortion, but that is a judgment about the value of human life, not about the scientific fact that human life exists."

This Guy said...

By the way, I'm more trying to throw out logical challenges for refinement more than anything else. I don't mean to just jump up and down and say you're wrong, LR.

Hell, yours is the only political blog I comment on...

Anyhow, I think the major problem that your approach takes here is that, in fact, you're looking for some logical ->hereitis<- point in which to say it's no longer ethical to end a prospective human being's "life-force". I'll use life-force because I don't want to confuse life as it's a loaded legal term.

Again, this comes back to ethics. Does it bother you to eliminate a fetus no bigger than a booger, and no more advanced than some cellular mitosis? I would put forth that this is too early to define legal-life because said smudge is still not developed in any meaningful way. Should you wipe out a fetus at 8.99 months? Probably not.

Somewhere in-between this area is where we all probably decide that a human being becomes "unique" in the sense that dna pairing is causing traits that are shared parental characteristics, etc. This seems to be where people start becoming uncomfortable with abortion because they are showing signs of being their own human being.

On the other hand, I hate the idea that "Abortion stops a beating heart." It's bunk. I have family that literally do not have hearts. They have mechanical pumps. They do not need a heart to be alive. My brother is in a minimally-conscious state, and has been for over 5 years. He has a non-functioning brain, but I can assure you he is *legally* alive, albeit in basically a brain-damaged coma.

So let's wipe the niceties away regarding individual organs. In order to reproduce, you need appropriate DNA, a zygote, and an incubator. Of those, usually a sperm and egg go in the oven, and the bun starts baking. It's not human. It has characteristics of humanity, but more in common with any life form at that stage (see: tadpole). We even get a tail, and later we get enough hair to look like a monkey. All of this happens in formative stages. At none of these times are we able to live on our own.

However, even millennia ago, babies could be born 6-8 weeks early. More often they would die, but this would still happen to a minority of kids. That's a definition of viability to me.

The average gestation period in which an otherwise normal fetus would survive without modern medical treatment 10% of the time.

If you were looking for a scientific moment, I bet you could find this. It's based upon an average, and a test, and research, but it is absolutely empirical. This might be 225 days. 230 days. The real problem you're going to face isn't finding that moment. We know in our minds through thought experiment and experience when that is probably going to happen.

But again, no one hands out a certificate for conception. Ask a prostitute what day she got pregnant. How could she know? Right?

So then you have to argue that a medical professional might be 25-40 days off in an estimate, right? So take that 225 and subtract 40. You have 6 months.

Therefore, I would put forth that abortions should not be performed on third-trimester fetuses. You can talk exact biological moments all you want, but the life-force in every animal, especially us, never gives you reason to feel absolute about life. Your definition of "life" differs from mine, and this serves the purpose of discussion; that we find a codified moment to say that we should legally protect a "life". It's not easy to find it, because you're either going to protect a smudge of snot, a newborn, or come to the conclusion that the answer is in-between, and hardly precise, and that lack of precision is why in the 21st century, we still have this debate in America (and not most of the rest of the civilized world).

Newcomer said...


I posted a comment earlier today and thought I saw it posted directly to the blog, but maybe I'm mistaken. Is there any chance it got jammed up in the spam filter? If you are able to locate it, could you please post it for me? Thanks.

The Heathen Republican said...


"A zygote is the beginning of a new human being..."

I don't disagree in the least.

"Men and women of science might often approve of abortion, but that is a judgment about the value of human life, not about the scientific fact that human life exists."

Once again, I agree. It's as though you're trying to convince me that the mass of cells is human life, but I agree and am not arguing that point. I am contributing to what you call the "judgment about the value of life" by trying to determine when that "human life" becomes a "person."

Newcomer said...

Since we're trying to define life and when life begins and we've extended the discussion to include DNA...this just in from Wikipedia:

"DNA replication is a biological process that occurs in all living organisms and copies their DNA. For a cell to divide, it must first replicate its DNA.[8] This process is initiated at particular points in the DNA, known as "origins", which are targeted by proteins that separate the two strands and initiate DNA synthesis."

DNA replication is one of several conditions that should be present in order for an organism to generally be considered as living. I went to Wikipedia looking for a definition of "life" and found the following:

It is still a challenge for scientists and philosophers to define life in unequivocal terms.[11][12][13] Defining life is difficult—in part—because life is a process, not a pure substance.[14] Any definition must be sufficiently broad to encompass all life with which we are familiar, and it should be sufficiently general that, with it, scientists would not miss life that may be fundamentally different from life on Earth.[15]

Biology: Since there is no unequivocal definition of life, the current understanding is descriptive, where life is a characteristic of organisms that exhibit all or most of the following phenomena:[14][16]

1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature.
2. Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.
3. Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
5. Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity as well as the composition of metabolized substances, and external factors present.
6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion, for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism) and by chemotaxis.
7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms.

So, do we accept this definition of life and if so, how does that shape any debate regarding when life begins in conjunction with abortion?

Newcomer said...


I apologize. For some reason, I'm not able to view my post from earlier today that you are quoting so I just went back and offered something else along similar lines as my first. Meanwhile, my most recent post must have crossed with yours sometime in mid-submission.

Yes, I have been working on defining life but not to convince you personally (necessarily). I've been doing so more to respond to the original title of this thread.

If you want to advance the discussion to the next stage, then I can offer you my opinion, which is to say that as soon as an organism meets the definition of being a live human, it has equal value to that of any other human. The stage of development that the human is in, be it zygote, embryo, or fetus, shouldn't matter relative to its status as a human that is in a process of growth, development, and evolution. Once a human is out of its mother's body and is "born", we cease to track its stage of development for purposes of awarding it legal rights and protection. A toddler does not have more or less rights than a teenager, do they? Why then, don't we apply that same standard in utero? As humans, we are constantly in some state of cell division from "birth" to "death" as we generally understand those terms.

Newcomer said...

I should clarify that by "legal rights and protection" I am referring to the right to live. Obviously, there are other rights that a teen would have and a toddler would not, such as the right to drive if able to meet and maintain the state standards to do so. Same for an 18 year old having the right to vote while a toddler does not...

Live Free said...

Guys, thanks for the continued comments and I do not take disagreement as a bad thing, especially in the outstanding ways it has been presented. I haven't digested all of this fully yet, but a couple initial thoughts:

Heathen - "This Guy has a valid challenge citing identical twins and their identical DNA. Live Free, you responded that "DNA defines individuality," but in fact, I would argue, it is DNA + a brain stem that defines individuality in the case of identical twins."

Perhaps I should state it a little differently. If two things have separate DNA (the mother and the "thing" growing inside her, for isntance), they are absolutely individual. If two things have the same DNA, then they may still be individual under certain circumstances. As it pertains to this argument, the thing growing inside the mother is without doubt (in my mind) individual from her, therefore she should not be able to intiate force against it without its express consent.

This Guy -- " I would put forth that this is too early to define legal-life because said smudge is still not developed in any meaningful way"

That is part of the problem. What is a meaningful way? I think that is tied up to our definition of life. You talk about people being uncomfortable with abortion when they start developing human characteristics, and also mention times during development when we don't even look human. 30 years ago I think these may have been legitimate arguments to make. However, these days the developing human characteristics that make people realize it is going to be a person after all are known to be coded into its genetic material. When it looks like a tadpole or monkey, all of the genetic evidence still exists that it is definably (if that is even a word) human. Perhaps Roe v. Wade timeframe the decisions were right. Now we have more advanced understanding that should bring the question back with new focus.

That wiki article on life is what made me start thinking that this is the whole problem with the argument. Even in their "definition" it only has to have "all or most" of the characteristics. What is most? Is a two-celled future-human organized, metabolizing, growing, adapting, and responding to stimuli? I don't know enough of the specifics, but I know enough to see that the character of an unborn baby is in doubt in society.

Once you define the point of life, most of us would agree it should be protected. There are still some who would say otherwise as long as it is in the mother, and I am happy that this audience is pretty focused on the single question at hand. Maybe we can dive into the other parts of the question sometime soon :)

This guy said...

OK, let me put it this way... a zygote is the first moment for the start of a human life. I would agree to this. But I would also say that the instant a zygote begins is not the moment we should legally protect zygotes. They're just microscopic, and we kill microscopic beings every single day. You take showers, right?

Now, you have to decide when life is worth protecting. Me too. I've made that decision in my mind to be at the third trimester, for reasons stated above.

But the other side of this is why would you want to protect a 2, or 4 celled thing that will eventually become human? Biologically, it has not gone through the checks and double-checks a woman's body will put this through. In other words, gestation is itself a test as to whether you can go from zygote to baby. Many pregnancies don't happen because of those "natural causes". But the beauty of life is that we do a check to make sure we don't die off as a species. It is how we evolved, and the strongest survived.

Now without getting to Darwinistic, it's worth saying that if you protected every zygote, you'd be defining protection for many cells that will never develop. That's not even practical. And how does one "protect" the little blobs? As I see it, they are on their own, unless they can survive in a mother's womb for 7+ months. If mom doesn't want that anymore, so be it.

It also opens a wider question about the Earth's population if you want to go there, too, but for the narrow discussion here it's worth stating again - there's nothing worth protecting early on.

As it stands today, once a baby has made it out of mom, it has full legal protections. Why is this a bad definition, exactly? Why are you trying to move it back? It meets your stated goal of when "life" as defined by law begins... it's in short working as is. Why does this need to change exactly?

So I put the burden back on you -- what's wrong with birth being the legal definition? How does that fail?

Newcomer said...

This guy,

If you define life as beginning at conception and that life does not survive to develop into a baby (ie. the mother has a miscarriage) it was no less of a life, but at least it had an opportunity to become grow and develop. Its development was not terminated by external and artificial forces preying upon it.

Darwin didn't live in a world with ultrasound technology. His theories were based on what he could observe with his naked eye. Today in the 21st Century, we know that an embryo that is only between 6-7 weeks gestation already has an audible, beating heartbeat. And keep in mind that 6 weeks' gestation is 2 weeks older than the embryo's actual developmental age based on how doctor's estimate gestational age. So a woman that is considered to be 6 weeks pregnant is carrying an embryo that has been developing for 4 weeks with 2 weeks added in order to date the pregnancy back to the estimated time of conception. Conception is generally considered to be 2 weeks before the woman's LMP (last missed period).

Why does any of that matter? Because you are only talking about a zygote that is a couple of cells big if the woman discovers she is pregnant within days of conception. Conception generally occurs before the woman misses her first period so she has to have E.S.P. to know she has conceived. There is presently no reliable technology publicly available to detect conception the moment it occurs or within days of its occurence. So the zygote aspect of your argument is probably more applicable to a debate about whether something like the "morning after" pill is moral, or should be federally funded, or however you want to frame such a debate.

If you're talking about your "tadpole" description of the pregnancy, that stage would be taking place right about the time that the woman misses her first period (generally 2 weeks after conception has taken place). But how many women run down to planned parenthood on the first day of their missed period? Some women don't even realize that they're late and have missed a period, especially younger women like teens or athletic women. It's common and frequent for this group of women to have late and/or irregular periods anyway. Same for women with medical conditions such as diabetes and a host of others that can cause frequently irregular cycles.

Who cares about all of that? Well, all of that means that for many (if not most) women, even early first trimester abortions are being performed on a human with a beating heart, regardless of whether that human is the size of a pea or a dime. I wonder how many women are made aware of that during their pre-abortion "counseling" down at the clinic? That information might affect the decision for some women considering abortion as an option. It's easier for a woman to tell herself she's aborting a few cells that haven't developed into anything yet than it is to picture a little human with a tiny beating heart being destroyed inside of her.

You may be comfortable with destroying a tiny human with a beating heart, but not everyone is. Therefore, the debate continues....

The Heathen Republican said...

So Live Free, you seem unable to come off your definition of life at conception. Since your purpose here is a non-religious pro-life argument, let's go a different direction.

I don't know if you're an atheist or just creating this argument to show that you can... If you're an atheist, you probably don't believe in the soul. That would mean that you believe the self, the individual, the unique person, comes from the mind. If you are an atheist and believe in the soul, you would also believe the soul is the mind.

You keep defining life and human, but you ignore the point of being a person... Or a mind. We are nothing without the mind. We have no will, no desires, no plans, no emotions, no feelings... Without the mind.

Arguing that a mass of growing cells, even with a beating heart, is only a definition of life. So I return to when the bain stem develops, when the child has the capacity for mind, for self, for a soul. Until that point, there was no person.

Are you open to changing your mind, or have we made you dig in and defend yours?

This Guy said...

@newcomer - a heartbeat is not a life. Humans require it, but it is not the only requirement for living. A heart is no different than a liver; it's simply the bloodpump. We romanticize the heart in culture because it's the thing we feel and hear, but it's no more or less important than your kidneys.

A zygote is the formative stages of life, but even if a blood-pumping organ showed up the next day, it's immaterial. That pump is not enough to be a life. You may as well get on a soapbox and yell "Abortion stops a working bladder."

@heathen, I think you're right. He's digging in to some sort of moment that's definitive, but there are only three points on this timeline:

conception -> pregnancy -> birth

The outer two are points in time, and pregnancy is a loose timeframe. If we talk just about birth or conception, you can pick one or the other as your "start of life". This is a defined moment, and if this whole argument is the absolute need for a defined moment. If you require one, birth > conception. The real answer is that "life" that's worth protecting *usually* is socially accepted to be during the pregnancy, but some would back it up to conception, such as LR.

I don't feel it's appropriate. If you want a moment in time, birth is much more reasonable than zygote. If LR wants to "dig in", I'd find that rather indefensible. That's what this comes down to, in my mind. A soul is in the mind, and it is the reason we protect humans and kill cows, protect dogs and kill spiders. It's gray. It will forever be gray. However, I'm pretty sure that when the "framers" tossed up the words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", they were NOT trying to extend the definition to encompass a debate such as this, or end-of-life rights.

Once again, while I'd be willing to stipulate that it's unethical to have a third-trimester abortion, no one has cogently argued why conception should be protected more than birth. Any takers?

The Heathen Republican said...

Sorry, I directed my comment to Live Free, when it was Newcomer. I'm still curious how you'd respond, LF, but that's my error.

Newcomer said...


No, you have not 'made' me dig in. I am digging in anyway; not as some stubborn reaction for the sake of making a point. I am digging in because I believe that conception should be the definition of when human life begins.

As to your example about the brain stem being the defining point, the problem with the example that you gave is that a newborn baby doesn't have "will", "desires", or "plans" either. A newborn does have "feelings" but they are rather primal such as feeling hungry, thirsty, wet, tired. There have been some studies to suggest that newborns do feel lonely without human touch and care but this list of criteria you have given doesn't just require a brain, but they also require human experience. A newborn has quite limited human experience at birth so your definition would not seem to fit either. Newborns with fully functioning brains don't have a fully developed nervous system at birth. That's why circumcisions are done on newborn boys. There is less chance that it will be as painful for a newborn as it would be for an older child or an adult. If you've ever known a grown man who opted to have it done, from what I hear, it's quite painful in adulthood. To take it a stage further, vision is controlled by the brain too and newborns don't have fully formed vision. They see shadows at birth.

So, you can argue that having a brain stem means that a fetus will acquire all of these attributes sometime after birth during the course of its existence, but then that would seem to nullify your defining criteria. Also, what do you do about defining babies born full term with underdeveloped brains? Would they not still be defined as a living being?

These examples of defining life as beginning somewhere in the middle of pregnancy when a brain stem develops, or somewhere near the end, such as at birth, all boil down to trying to agree upon and pick a point that is after the initial point of conception. But these middle points don't make sense either. The whole debate boils down to pro-choice advocates looking for a point where abortion would be most palatable to the general population for the sake of allowing abortions to persist without pro-lifers getting up in arms about it. But this article began by asking for a logical and reasoned discussion about when human life should be defined as beginning. There is only one beginning and it isn't somewhere in the middle. I believe that life begins at conception. I'm open to hearing everyone else's ideas and theories to the contrary. I find each of them interesting but I haven't heard one yet that seems to be more logical, nor more scientifically accurate than conception.

This Guy said...

LR, let's take away wiggle room. That's what you seem bothered by.

Let's decide between exactly two choices. Shall we protect at conception, or at birth? Here's the debate.

A baby born is usually a viable life. It can:

Breathe air, not liquid
Doesn't need a placenta
Survive with care even if not by the mother

A zygote is:

0.14mm in size
indistinguishable from many types of cells
requires incubation by a mother
has no organs

If you compare these two states, you have to come to the conclusion that what a zygote is doing is hardly "life". It's simply a structure from which a human will form, but not human in any aspect other than combined genetic material and raw material and proteins needed to form.

So, from here, which will you defend? Baby or zygote?

Newcomer said...

This Guy,

I notice you directed your question to L.F. and although I'm not L.F., I've been jumping into this lately so if you won't mind, I'll do so again.

Just to re-state the obvious, a zygote is pretty literally the moment of conception because once the zygote divides and continues to do so, it is classified as an embryo. We know the technology does not currently exist to detect a pregnancy at conception, (ie. at the zygote stage) and it's kind of hard to abort something that is undetectable. But who knows? Maybe that technology will exist in the future and for that reason, I'll answer your question as you posed it - with only 2 options.

If my only two choices are the very beginning (zygote) or the very end (birth) of the developmental spectrum, I'll take the beginning. I vote for zygote. Why? Because if we don't protect a zygote then there's no justification to protect the baby at all (even a baby that the mother wants to keep) up until it's born. Think of the consequences of what a legal definition of "birth" as the beginning of life would do. Every insurance company would line up to drop prenatal care from their policies and it would be legal. Why should they protect a woman who is carrying a life that doesn't legally exist? We'd then be having this same discussion in reverse, trying to determine what stage of pregnancy demands medical care for the mother's body regardless of the child's.

Why does a person have to be viable in order to be valuable?

This Guy said...

@newcomer I respect this.

I will disagree with your logic in that when you say "why does a person..." - you've already decided that non-viable fetuses deserve people-protection. Ask the reverse; how is an unviable life valuable enough to deserve legal protection as a life anyways?

I still submit there is no absolute conception or birth point that would satisfy. But if we're framing this debate through the need to define one exact moment, and that there are only two exact moments to select from, it's easier to debate.

I don't think every insurance company would act in this way. In fact, I know they wouldn't. Today, this is the definition in place, and they are not acting that way now. Not to mention, insurance companies and ethics are rarely worth associating. I wouldn't use them as a platform for behavior.

Live Free said...

Ok, let me make a few arguments here. It is very difficult to get back into the swing of a debate after weeks of not being able to follow it. I apologize.

This Guy, on an earlier post, you talked about two things that I wish to discuss before tackling the birth or conception question head-on. The first is darwinism and miscarriages. I agree with you completely as to the natural function of these, and when I talk about protecting, I do not use it in the liberal-progressive sense of ensuring survival, but rather in the libertarian sense of keeping free from violence from others. Nature can take its course as it pleases. The second is the idea of killing microscopic things regularly--the delineation is that they are not human. The why humans are to be protected while other organisms are not is a terribly interesting question, but I think irrelevent to the current debate.

As for your birth or conception question, it really comes down to my defining principles of libertarianism--to protect one individual human from unconsenting violence from another. I think that, biologically, the definition of any species is largely understood to be a genetic definition these days rather than a sum of capabilities or visible physical traits. This is just the way science has gone, and our understanding of "human" should evolve along with our understanding of other species and their relationships. Unfortunately, I think this issue has been largely unexplored.

The main point is that there are standards that exist that define both human and life (sort of). A single-cell amoeba is considered to be alive. A single-cell, amoeba-like life that has human genetics is considered to be human. To anyone who agrees with the above-stated principle, legal protection against violence should begin at conception. That is the point I am trying to make. Now, there are people who do not agree with the principle in the first place, and that would require a different discussion. However, I have not seen anyone agree with the principle and still be able to provide a meaningful reason to not begin legal protection at conception.

As to your birth argument, I cannot be on board with it because of the nature of viability the argument seems to revolve around being able to survive on its own--which babies cannot do even after they are born. If you refine it to be survive without the mother, then you run into the idea of increasing technology pushing that point further back the development process until it, theoretically, will reach conception one day anyway. The only thing about a person that birth actually changes is its physical location--the moment before and the moment after bear similar capabilities. I find it difficult to make that physical location more important than accepted methods of deriving individuality and humanity.

Live Free said...

Heathen Republican, I also wanted to comment on your issue of the mind. There are many forms of simple life that are still classified as life but without a mind. As a species they have a "desire" to live, which keeps them surviving as a group. Even those organisms without a mind can respond to stimuli and such, showing a rudimentary nature of "feelings" and "desire."

But I also am not completely comfortable with the implications of your definition. If a person is brain-dead, it would then be legal to treat them as you would a tree--cutting, killing, displaying, etc. them without their consent or that of the executor of their living will. On that end of the spectrum we still consider the organism both a life and a person. I have disavowed using end-of-life to define beginning-of-life before, but I think that the analogy holds at least some water in this case.

Finally, I just want to reiterate my operating from a principle of protecting human life from unconsented-to violence. It does not involve personhood in any way. However, should the principle change? What is the definition of a person? I think that is much more difficult to discuss as it is more rooted in philosophy than biology. The nature of the philosophy you follow then becomes paramount. I am not saying that it is not possible or even preferable, as it may be. It is, though, one huge issue that I am not convinced we as a society are in a position to solve.

The Heathen Republican said...

"There are many forms of simple life that are still classified as life but without a mind."
Yes, but we don't protect everything that is defined as life. Weeds come to mind. It is the mind that makes human beings different, therefore worthy of protection.

" If a person is brain-dead, it would then be legal to treat them as you would a tree--cutting, killing, displaying, etc."
Not at all. One who is brain-dead has or had a mind and a self. There is a difference between a fetus that has not developed a brain stem, a mind, and a self, and a person who developed all of those but lost them as a result of an accident or tragedy. Yours is a false dichotomy.

Live Free said...

HR, as to your first point, we also do not protect lots of things that have minds--cattle, chickens, deer, etc. It is the humanity of the mind that makes it different, if indeed it is not the humanity alone.

As for the second, I do not think that you can properly define something by what it was or what it will be, but rather what it is. If a baby is born brain-dead, never having had the chance to develop the mind, does that change the situation?

I like this discussion philosophically, even though I am not comfortable with using the mind to define humanity. There just seem to be too many questions still.

Anonymous said...

I think there is something wrong with saying, at this point we have a human, and and this point we don't. That's why I think conception is the best place to have that "arbitrary line."

I have to look at the example of children to adulthood, and while I understand that in your mind this would be an obviously different scenario, I think it points out that there is some level of presumptuousness in your argument that a "vast blob of cells" cannot be individual or worthy of legal rights.

Do we not consider children to be human and deserving of full legal protections? Yes we do. Children are an incompletely developed version of a full adult, and we consider them both to be deserving of rights. Why then, do we continually hear the argument that an incompletely developed version of a child does not have any right to the protection of life. Were it to be left to nature, the vast majority of these "blobs of cells" would be allowed to fully develop, and become a fully functioning adult and then somehow earn their value in the legal system by simply surviving into a certain stage of development.

I think this is wrongheaded when we arbitrarily decide when something is human, because in the end, every fetus conceived has the potential to be one, and it isn't for men, (or women) to decide whether or not that fetus has the right to its future (life), Liberty (Legal protections and freedom), and the Pursuit of Happiness (To pursue its own goals as it develops).

-Andrew Eisenberger

Liberty's Rest Blog said...

"I think there is something wrong with saying, at this point we have a human, and and this point we don't."

I liked the way you phrased this whole post, but this line made me think about the way I am presenting my argument and I would like to restate something in light of this. From parent to child to octogenarian, from generation to generation, the humanity is constant. As humanity is defined currently by geneticists, it is a rather easy scientific point to say that at no point are the cells or lives inhuman. They are clearly always human. The turning point then becomes when is there individuality, which is unarguably "at" conception. I put that in quotes because I am sure there are moments after the sperm and egg first meet where it is still trying to swim into the egg, the chromosomes haven't matched up yet, etc. The point is, though, that humanity always exists, individuality exists at conception, and so should legal protection.

The problem with the discussion is that since the most landmark decisions, and since the time when our parents and grandparents were forming their views on the issue, science has advanced quite a bit. The discussion of the issue has not kept up with the facts of life, indeed it has not even been ongoing in context of evolved understanding in any meaningful way.

Newcomer said...

Liberty and Anonymous,

You both were able to articulate my position better than I was able to. Well stated. I think that for those who are pro-choice, their position stems from a viewpoint of relativistic thinking that is currently so prevalent in our culture. It's the often heard statement that "I am personally opposed to abortion but I do not have the right to impose my beliefs on someone else. What's right for me is right for me, and what's right for someone else is right for them". What the pro-choice movement in general fails to recognize is that they aren't translating their so-called concept of choice into policy. A woman who becomes pregnant under less than ideal circumstances does not presently have many choices to consider. She has two: carry the pregnancy to term or obtain an abortion. If the pro-choice advocates sincerely feel that a woman needs to have more than one "choice" why haven't they constructed policies or mechanisms to offer more choices? We have Planned Parenthood federally supported by tax dollars but not homes for unwed mothers, a clearcut and easily accessible legal pathway for adoption, or programs that allow a woman to work/attend education and have access to daycare once she has had her child. I would argue that none of these programs should be federally funded but that isn't the present model. As it stands now, federal funding of "choice" is lopsided. We only fund one choice - abortion. Either fund them all, or don't fund any of them and get out of the way of private and/or faith-based organizations who want to expand their programs to serve more women.