Abortion and human personhood

I strongly oppose abortion on the basis that it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human life. However, I have recently had the difficulty of not being sure whether an embryo or foetus, at least in the early stages, is really a person.

It is indisputable that an embryo is biologically human from conception (just as the sperm and the egg are both biologically human), but that does not necessarily mean that he or she is a human being or person, with the same rights as any other. I think that when people ask, “When does life begin?” it is a misnomer; genetically a fertilised egg is just as human as a human adult, but then the same could be said of a human cheek cell. They mean “When does an embryo become a person?”

How do you define a person or human being, and how do you show that an unborn infant is a person and therefore has the same right to life as everyone else?

Jon, I don’t really have an answer to your question but I would like to follow along to see what answers you get for definitions of “human being” and “person”.

One comment I do have - a human cheek cell is certainly different than a fertilized egg. Without having concrete definitions of “human being” and “person” I can’t really explain why but I think that if someone thinks a cheek cell and a fertilized egg are different, that person is either completely ignorant of biology or is being intellectually dishonest. A cheek cell by itself is not a human being - it is a human cell but itself is not a human being. A fertilized egg is itself a whole human being. Obviously it is not a fully developed human being but is one nonetheless. The only question in this instance should be if it is a person.

I’m actually struggling with why it matters whether or not it is a “person” - shouldn’t the fact that it is an actual human being be reason enough to not kill it? Then I suppose this is where the definition of “human being” will come in handy.

Did you know that an embryo at the fifth week of pregnancy - that is only three weeks after conception - has already a beating heart, a circulatory system and a formed spine? That means that when 90% of women still don’t know that they are pregnant they have an embryo with a beating heart. Don’t you think that having a beating heart is a pretty good indication that we have a human being.

The problem here is that the legal definition of personhood does not always equate human being. Legally a human being may not be a person. For many years women, children and blacks were not considered “persons” by the law despite being human being. Also Jews in the nazi Germany were not considered persons. Does that mean that Jews are not human beings? Personhood is basically a legal construct define by legislature with the object of giving categories of humans right. Ideally all persons would be human being but that has never been the case or it has rarely been the case. Starting in ancient Rome where the concept of person was first developed only male roman citizens were persons. The test of human being were disposable things with no rights. While over time the idea has expanded to include more categories still is not ideal.

It is very unfortunate that laws historically have left entire groups of human beings outside the category of persons but the fact that something is legal it doesn’t mean that is correct. The fact that a Jew had been taken their person hood away and declared not worthy to live doesn’t mean that was right. Despite not being persons they were human beings that deserve respect and catholics should stand for that. Same happens with abortion. The fact that they are not recognized legally as person (and still this is due batable because laws in the US are very contradictory in the sense that under convenience a fetus will be considered a person) does not mean that they are not human beings. They are and all you need is an embriology book to see it.

Professor Peter Singer is a proponent of “person” to define a rational human fit for life.
However, if rationality were the definition that determines the right to life, many we would save would not pass the first hurdle. The mentally retarded; the drunk; the drugged… the list whimsically might include me before my morning coffee.
However, before getting caught up in the philosophical pilpul of personhood; it may be wiser to consider the demands of action around moral absolutes.
If one is to determine when a non-genetic change occurs within a growing child, as exampled in such a dangling epi-phenomena as person-hood defined loosely as rationality, or whatever its definition, there is need of at least a scientific proof that that change can be measured objectively before it can be used in any presumption of the right to kill. This would be the first of many hurdles.
Demand this of the abortionist and they may have difficulty given our present knowledge of the brain and its function.

As a Christian, don’t get me started.

at the moment of conception, a complete human person does exist. Nothing needs to be added. This new human being has a body, mind and soul, having their own complete dna. During the nurturing phase of it’s young life, this person has symbiosis with his or her mother and is nurtured to a maturity level and becomes separated at birth. The interruption of this new young person’s life by premature displacement from the mother’s womb causes a death of a human being. We can try to invent ways to justify killing a human being in the mother’s womb, but God called this person into being and we have no right to kill another human being. Splitting hairs with God just doesn’t fly.:slight_smile:

Sherry is right. It certainly is a human being, for heaven’s sake. It is the very beginnings of a human, a person, just like you and I, every one of us, once were and started out to be. It’s ridiculous that it even has to be an issue. It just angers me so. It is the very, very, very beginning of a life that God created, and, as Sherry said, we have no right to kill him or her. This “not human” “just a clump of cells” irritates me as much as the “my body” whine does. They say “a woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body.” Okay, so then it isn’t your body that’s being mutilated, but the child’s, and your own child’s, for that matter, which, to me, is barbaric and unnatural. At least have the decency and logic to say “a woman has a right to do what she wants with her own child’s body.” Which, of course, sounds awful, but at least it isn’t an illogical lie.

I vote for “personhood” with implantation. The little ball of cells that could eventually be a person can’t get the nutrients and energy it needs to continue growing without latching on to the mother. If it doesn’t latch on, it just gets flushed out of the system like any other little bit of tissue.

There should not be “personhood” as part of the definition of human life at all.
It is not objectively measureable.

But to answer the cheek cell questions. . .
A cheek cell is not unique. It is only part of a human.
The fertilized egg is unique. And is wholly human.
A cheek cell will not grow into anything else but a cheek cell.
But the egg grows to be a baby. . .then a child. . .then an adult.

Unique individual with unique DNA.

A person is a unique unity of body and rational soul. A person has being, a person does not need to qualify for it. “I am”, just like God is.

If personhood is based on viability, we should all run for our lives, because none of us is really fully viable.

In any event, if there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind, which side will you err on, considering the stakes at hand?

Just a question Jon. What will that fetus become when fully mature, unless God has other plans for it before birth ?

God Bless

See uffl.org/vol12/pruss12.pdf

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