So I was having an online discussion with my younger brother a little more than a week ago about abortion. Being a devout and pro-life Catholic he held the opinion that life starts at conception, that it a fertilized egg is human and should be treated as human because it is a unique life different than the host parent. I have also been reading bio-ethics and many different places on the debate and they all seem to revolve around trying to justify scientifically what I can best describe as trying to answer the question, "when is an embryo tantamount to a human being?" 

     Of course, that one question gave way to the larger question, "What makes us human?" Where do we define the limits of humanity? Is it strictly in a biological sense as in form, shape, and structure? Is it in potential in the case of infants? Is it in behavior; could someone act in a way that they are no longer considered, if even for a moment, a human? Is it in ability whether physical or mental? Is humanity a transitive property; in other words, is it a label that can be taken away or does it last regardless once it has been gained? Are their varying degrees of humanity where a person could be considered "more human" than someone else?

I am very curious to hear all of your thoughts and ideas!

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I don't think that the question of moral standing of the embryo revolves around whether it is human or not, but rather, does it have the capacity to suffer? I think we are ethically obliged to avoid unnecessary suffering regardless of the species. We do not after all have a special place in the universe or god-given dominion over the other species. We are all animals. So, at the point that the fetus is so developed that it can feel pain and suffer, we must give serious consideration to the moral worth of that being. I think this is about 20 weeks.

Very reminiscent of Christian theology, our ethics and morals draw a sharp and artificial line between humans and other animals. To me this is completely arbitrary and similar to treating other human beings differently because of skin colour, sex etc. It is of course self serving and that is why it is done.  We treat humans of different shapes, sizes, sexes and colours equally not becuse they are all equal. Clearly they are not. We draw the line at the species boundary and this is deeply un-evolutionary.

There are no sharp boundaries between the species, just a steady progression from one to the next. What links us, and to my mind provides us with moral standing, is our ability to suffer and feel pain, to be happy and enjoy life.

Are we entitled to treat chimpanzees as property and do to them what we will? The answer to my mind is no. Not becuse of some capacity they may have, advanced intelligence for example. If we selected this as our defining criteria for moral worth how would we treat babies, the insane, the chronically senile? We should consider the interests of the chimpanzess because they can feel pain and suffer.

Richard Dawkins grapples with this issue of what it is to be human nicely in this article. The possibilities he discusses really help focus on where we sit in the history of evolution and for me underscores the ridiculous position adopted by the sancity of life pressure groups or indeed anyone that clings to membership of a particular species as a basis for discrimination of the worst kind.

First of all, I don't like the expression "Pro life". It's suggests that everyone else is "anti life", so it's a dishonest term. Besides that, it seems most "pro lifers" are pretty much "anti life" when it comes to execution.

But I digress...

I used to think abortion was just one of those things. As long as it happened early on in the pregnancy, it seemed like one of those regrettably difficult things that happens.

Having watched the documentary "Lake of Fire" I've changed my opinion. I could never join the "pro lifers" who seem to think human life begins at conception. This is nonsense, since no brain nor organs have developed, and the fetus is nothing more than a few cells.

But when it's taking shape, and the fetus has a discernible heart beat, and looks like a baby, it's a different question.

So I think that as long as abortions happen very early on in a pregnancy, I see nothing wrong.

But watch the film. That's all I can say. Watch the film.

We can argue about whether a life begins at conception. That is open to definition, and what we have is warring definitions today. Life begins at conception (which is my position) or it begins at birth. You might also argue, as long as we're in a definition war, that life begins when one leaves home and supports oneself. I think a good argument could be made for that at well. That'd be great because then I could kill insolent teenagers arguing that their life actually hadn't started yet.

What I think is less subject to definition, is that a unique HUMAN BEING begins at conception. I think arguments against this assertion will be patently specious and silly.

However, my position on abortion is and always shall be that what a woman does with her fetus is her business and hers alone.

I see no reason to agree that only complete development makes one a human being, especially since many people are born without complete development and life that way (missing body parts, etc.).

I meant "...LIVE that way (missing body parts, etc.)."

Semantics. A clump of cells in a uterus is biologically a "human being", sure, but it's not yet a "person" deserving of human rights. You can keep insisting it's a human being and you will continue to be correct, but you will also continue to be missing the pertinent issue.

I think it might be fair to say that he owns about a cell's worth of the fetus.

Shouldn't he own 50% of the DNA?

Information-wise yes.

But material-wise, the mother provides all the cellular material that comes after the sperm, even the materials to build copies of the sperm's DNA.

This is and continues to be the medico-legal and ethical position that is taught and discussed in most Canadian medical circles (with some controversy of course).  The individual right of the women and her body ethically outweighs any right the fetus has to her body.

The lines get blurry of course nearer the third trimester where the fetus can survive on its own without the need of the mother's body any further.  That is why most practising therapeutic abortion physicians do not offer abortions after 24 weeks.

If you got drunk and woke up surgically attached to another person who needed your organs to survive and you consented to the activity in your drunken state would you own up to the consequences of your actions?  Does the new "parasite" person have a right to your body now?

@hawk. It is the DNA of course that makes us human.  We can share it and procreate it via mating with other humans.  When enough change occurs to the human DNA we will of course evolve into something less human than our current form.  That process takes thousands and thousands of years and will take even longer now that we have the technological and lifestyle advances over our ancestors.  When that future pedigree changes such that even if they got in a time machine they could not mate and reproduce with humans of the present they will cease to be human by our current definitions.

I agree on the scientific standpoint that DNA forms the basis for determining any species, but I'm more concerned with the more subjective aspects. If we could hypothetically travel in time to might the future of our species, then would they recognize themselves as still being human or us as still being human? Could we look so alike still that based strictly on appearance they judge us as still being one of them or vice versa? Eventually, yes, if our species manages to survive long enough we won't recognize each other as a like species, but there are transitional individuals in that lineage that may be seen as belonging to both groups. The "why" of that reasoning is what I'm curious to get at.

I'm also of the opinion that within a few hundred years we'll have such complete knowledge of our genetic code that we will be able to tweak it at will. After that we may see quite a number of various sub species of humanity, but of course, we have to get to that point first.

That's an interesting hypothetical, but totally irrelevant to us today.

If we would no longer recognize ourselves, I doubt if we'd still be called Homo sapiens.


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