When does science say Human Life begins?

human life

Pro-lifers are often criticized for their position that a new, human life begins at conception. Many incorrectly think that this belief is based on some blind religious dogma, a scripture passage somewhere, or some stubborn need to tell women what to do with their bodies. All the while, this same opposition likes to pretend that they are the scientific, logical ones – obviously not blinded by religion or some judgmental God.

Of course, this is exactly backwards from reality. The entire basis for a new, human life beginning at conception stems from well documented, universally recognized scientific fact. The only ones who deny this are those blinded by their own religious dogma of so-called “choice” who have a stubborn need to deny scientific fact in order to stay faithful to their own ideology.

If science had proven that human life actually began at implantation or at nine weeks or whenever, then that’s precisely when we (Catholics and any other reasonable belief system) would believe that human life began. Simple. And, logically, it would be from that moment when this human being should be treated with the rights and dignities that come with being a human being.

But that’s not what science has told us. Science has quite clearly and decidedly proven that a new, human life begins at conception (i.e. fertilization. AKA the moment sperm and ovum meet and form an entirely new, self-directing living organism of the human species with its own individual DNA distinct from both mother and father.).

At this point in the debate, some try and introduce a separate distinction and question of “personhood.”  Aside from this usually being a convoluted way to try and create classes of human beings and that it doesn’t hold up to any consistently logical scrutiny, it’s also not at all a scientific argument. It’s a philosophical one.  So it is totally irrelevant to the scientific question of when human life begins.

Recently, Dr. Robert George wrote an article outlining this whole topic in more detail. And if you want to really learn your stuff, pick up his excellent book entitled Embryo (I’m in the middle of reading it right now). In his words:

“That is, in human reproduction, when sperm joins ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism. This organism is a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species. Readers need not take our word for this: They can consult any of the standard human-embryology texts, such as Moore and Persaud’s The Developing Human, Larsen’s Human Embryology, Carlson’s Human Embryology & Developmental Biology, and O’Rahilly and Mueller’s Human Embryology & Teratology.” – Dr. Robert George

“Human embryos, whether they are formed by fertilization (natural or in vitro) or by successful somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT — i.e., cloning), do have the internal resources and active disposition to develop themselves to the mature stage of a human organism, requiring only a suitable environment and nutrition. In fact, scientists distinguish embryos from other cells or clusters of cells precisely by their self-directed, integral functioning — their organismal behavior. Thus, human embryos are what the embryology textbooks say they are, namely, human organisms — living individuals of the human species — at the earliest developmental stage.” – Dr. Robert George

Did we catch that? Human embryos only need a suitable environment and nutrition to become more mature human beings. Hey, that’s kind of like humans at any stage – at least for our biological maturity. Unfortunately, the culture outside of the womb is seemingly a less and less “suitable environment” for bringing about other kinds of maturity. But that’s another issue entirely.

But despite our maturity, biological or otherwise, we are “whole” members of the human species – human beings. And with that comes an inherent dignity and right to life.

One of the great powers of science is that it is able to help clarify moral issues like this for us.  It’s a powerful tool.  Science is clear on this one.  If you are a fan of science, then consider also being a fan of human life – at all of its stages.

339 comments Add comment

Manya July 24, 2009 at 6:09 am

Your writing and reasoning skills continually blow me away.

An excellent piece!
Thank you.

Tim March 17, 2012 at 9:31 pm

It seems obvious that at conception the embrio has potential of becoming a full-blown human being. But so does a stem cell. Does that make stem cells human persons? And if so, as human persons, is it murder to “kill” a stem cell?

Matthew Warner March 24, 2012 at 12:11 am

Tim – you aren’t being precise enough so your analogy doesn’t make sense.

An embryo is a complete human life. It is an individual, unique, self-directing organism. All it needs is food and suitable shelter (just like the rest of us) and it will grow into an adult human being.

I want to be clear though. Technically, some consider a zygote (fertilized human egg) to be a “stem cell” as it’s totipotent (and eventually grows into an adult human).

But the stem cells I assume you are referring to are the embryonic/adult ones used for testing, etc…which are either pluripotent or multipotent – meaning that they can not ever form into their own organism. They are biologically very different and are a kind of cell that comes from the human organism itself. So no, they are not human persons by themselves. And no, it is not murder to “kill” such a stem cell.

Jason April 19, 2012 at 12:32 am

A Cell isnt human. A human Is a fully developed baby that can live outside of the womb. That happens at about 24ish weeks (all babies are different.)

An embryo isn’t human, zygote isn’t human, an egg isn’t human, a cell isn’t human. I cant take any of those things outside of the mother and have it survive. Sorry it is not a “self-directing organism.” Its head doesn’t develop till week 7 so how can its brain function to support self-directing?

Matthew Warner April 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Jason – you should look into the science a bit more. The terms you are make it hard to have a conversation about them when the definitions you are using seem fairly arbitrary and not in agreement with established science and definition. Cells are absolutely of a “kind” ie human or dog or whatever they are made of. They are made of DNA for a specific type of organism. So humans are made of human cells and human DNA. So your sentence there doesn’t make sense.

Being able to “live outside of a womb” is not any part of what makes a particular organism human or not. It has nothing to do with it.

And the brain is not the only “self-directing” thing in a human. Of course, even a single cell directs itself. And early on, the fertilized human egg has all of the information, instructions and self-direction to grow into an adult human. He/she just needs food (nutrition) and proper shelter (womb) – BOTH things that EVERY human needs, regardless of their stage in life.

cesar April 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@Matthew, you may talk about a human zygote as encompassing the potential (DNA, etc) for human life but the issue with abortion concerns another matter, that of the “soul” in the context of Catholicism. While I’m sure you believe in a soul, many do not take that leap of faith. So the choice to terminate a developing zygote is really arbitrary. The “definition” of when human life begins is very much still debatable. But even if you define the start of human life at conception, its a choice left to bring that human to full term; no doubt a difficult choice but one that can be made without repercussion unless you believe that a soul truly embodies that life. Ending human life is not a reproachable act, we do it all the time in war, in self-defense, in mercy – it only becomes a dilemma when you buy in to a religious view that imposes morality around terminating human life.

Bill April 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm


The discussion about abortion need not depend on the existence of the soul at all, or on religious belief. Many atheists are pro-life, and they certainly don’t believe in souls or in religion. The ethical treatment of human beings, including those in the womb, is about respect for life, and in particular about the obligation to protect innocent life.

Scientists agree that a human embryo, even when a zygote, is human. It isn’t a dog or a cow or a fish or an insect, planaria, or sponge. It can only be human, and since it is living, it is a human life.

Your argument is full of apparently unexamined presuppositions — about what life is, about what other people believe, about what is acceptable conduct. I can only hope that you come to understand that.

Jason April 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Its not a person. Every thing that makes you, you, is your brain. How can you even argue that a person is a person before the brain develops? Also people are capable of living outside of the mothers womb. Zygotes and embryos aren’t.

Brain dead people are dead, just because a machine can keep your organs working doesn’t mean you are a person any more.

Tim October 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Cesar, you said : “But even if you define the start of human life at conception, its a choice left to bring that human to full term; no doubt a difficult choice but one that can be made without repercussion unless you believe that a soul truly embodies that life.”

Yes, it is a choice. However, the repercussion does not differ if you believe it or not. The repercussion is the same, despite belief.

If an abortion is made and it does kill a human being, then that child is dead. If an abortion is made and it does not kill a human being, then it does not kill a human being. In both scenarios, it would not matter if one believe that it is a human being or not.

If human life is left to the observance of a soul, and the observance of the soul can not be made, then why risk what could be a human life?

Also, I am curious about another one of your statements. What if you took out the word religious? It would read: “…it only becomes a dilemma when you buy in to a view that imposes morality around terminating a human life.”

Is your point that there should be no morality around terminating a human life!?

Jason April 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Words have meaning and you sir are warping the words to suit your needs.

Directing or guiding oneself, especially as an independent agent.

That’s what the word means, an embryo, zygote, or egg does not fit those things, it doesn’t have a brain capable of thought, and its defiantly NOT independent

independent – free from external control and constraint

a skin cell isn’t a human, a brain cell isn’t a human

An embryo and zygote are both parasites of the mother.

You say it “just needs food” and “proper shelter” and It also need a lot more from the mother, it is incapable of surviving even a few minutes outside of the womb.

The umbilical cord transfers blood that that it needs if you cut the parasitic tie to the mother the organism dies.

Bill April 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Jason, you sound a lot like the folks who argue that it is ok to kill children up to the age of 30 days, or even three years, because they can’t survive on their own. You’re on a very slippery slope.

Jason April 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Is a constant blood transfusion required for a child of 30 days or 3 years? No

Jason April 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Your arguing nonsense, if you read what I said, when a human becomes viable to live outside of the womb, then its to late for the mother to abort. It happens at about 22-24 weeks.

Some people want life to start at the start of the menstrual cycle, so its a “life” before its even fertilized. So I dismiss those nonsense arguments.

Joshua Turner August 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Based on your argument a child born prematurely would not be a human. Your logic is flawed.

Dallin December 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

“Based on your argument a child born prematurely would not be a human. Your logic is flawed.”

That isn’t at all true. He said, “when a human becomes viable to live outside of the womb, then its to late for the mother to abort. It happens at about 22-24 weeks.”

Babies born premature do not survive before that age. So basically, you have just proven his point. Babies can’t survive outside of the womb before then, meaning it wouldn’t be an independent life. Your logic is flawed.

Lesley September 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Excuse me. I didn’t read your whole comment or this whole blog post, but please get your terminology straight. A *parasite* is when a member of a certain species is living off of another member of a different species. Embryos/zygotes that are *human* embryoes/zygotes are not parasites if they are living off *human* mothers.

April February 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Jason, your parameters for defining life are soundly unscientific, and your views on what constitutes personhood are unfortunately akin to the stance a lot of underdeveloped societies take.

On the issue of life, there is only one point in history where non-life turns into life. It is a process called abiogenesis. If you adhere to evolutionary belief, this occurs when that first single cell organism arose. If you believe it God, it is at the creation of man. At no other time in history, in either an evolutionary or religious time line, do we see this process occurring again. It has never been replicated in experiments either. That being said, anything that we see alive nowadays, is alive at its beginning. It is scientifically impossible otherwise.

On the issue of personhood, this discussion is outside the realm of science and falls more into a cultural and ethical category. As we established, life is life. What is to be done with that life varies cross-culturally based on a societal interpretation of what it means to be human. Many traditional native societies don’t name a child until after a year of age because they are not “human” until they have proved they can last that long. Most people who may be pro-choice that I know are pretty against the random killing of babies outside the womb.

To be human and what constitutes life is solidly scientifically established, at any point in development. Anything arguing this isn’t the case is basing its argument on cultural perspectives and values. These are not ubiquitous across the board, and a foundation for fact does not lie in relativity.

April February 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm

*proven. Typo.

Jason February 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I have no idea why you are talking about abiogenesis, it has no place in this discussion.

Life started long before conception if you want to break it down. A sperm and egg are alive, we should stop people from killing those.

You already arbitrarily put a limit on where life begins by saying it begins at conception.

When people talk about human life, most of the time they are talking about the mind. Why can I say this? Because when some one is dead, they are only dead when their brain no longer functions with the capacity to support a mind. So human life cannot begin before the brain develops to the point where it can support a mind.

You are your mind, all of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences are you. The skin and body that you have, can live on without you. So saying you are alive before you have the capacity for a mind, really doesn’t make sense.

April February 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

Jason, I very much disagree with what you are saying. The concept of abiogenesis very much has a place in describing the where start of life is. Simply in the point that it shows quite plainly that we have no testable examples of life starting from non-life, especially intelligent life, so arguing that a developing embryo doesn’t represent life before the development of a mind is scientifically ludicrous. At the point where conception begins, the mind is already in the process of development.

Many people put forth that argument about the sperm and egg, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. A sperm and egg alone can do nothing. If that’s our argument, no one should be “killing” plants. There is no development of life in either the sperm or egg individually. The actions that arise from them joining, and that only, is what leads to the development of something with an intelligent mind. The combination of genetic material instigates the spark for life. One is nothing without the other.

You’re argument surrounding the mind/ death relationship is also flawed. I deal very closely with brain injury, etc. I suggest looking up the incidents of individuals who have been declared brain dead based on medical findings . From what you are saying, brain death means the absence of the mind and thus true death. There are people who have surpassed brain death and woken up. It is also important to remember since you bring up limits that the limits for death that you describe were “arbitrarily” decided upon by the medical community in the same way that life is defined. At the same time, more and more research is coming out about the consciousness of the in utero child. It’s in it’s infancy with much we do not know, and we cannot definitively describe anything there yet.

There is going to be a point on both ends where there is a line drawn. The point is that these lines are drawn on scientific findings supported by what we understand about the beginning of actual human development to its end. The only things arbitrary in this discussion has been your own proposed definition of life/death where you step outside of purely physical boundaries and begin defining things within a philosophical mindset. The definition of who you are because of your mind, thoughts, feelings, experiences, and emotions is a philosophical and spiritual subject. It has no relation to the physical development of life because the joining of egg and sperm is what allows for that to take place to begin with.

Jason April 1, 2013 at 10:07 pm

A baby of 2 months or even 2 years old out of the womb cant survive long without someone taking care of him/her. This is the same concept. And a parasite? Let me tell you in the proper context of what makes a parasite a “parasite.”
There are numerous problems with that argument. For one thing, the fetus is a member of the same species as his or her mother, and therefore can’t be thought of as simplistically as you would a lower order of creature, like a tapeworm, invading your body. For another, fetuses aren’t foreign entities, but the natural result of the human body functioning correctly. Doesn’t the act of creating the “parasite” constitute at least tacit consent for it to take up residence inside you?

But the Sinai study demonstrates that the relationship between mother and unborn child can be more than just “mutually supportive.” Many mothers will discuss the intangible benefits of their pregnancy—joy, purpose, fulfillment, etc.—but if the study is correct, the mother also gets something much more quantifiable out of the deal: babies have the potential to actually heal their mothers, perhaps even save their lives, from within the womb. And that’s not the only known health benefit of pregnancy, either. How long will it be before we discover even more astounding ways that babies’ stem cells help their mothers?

That’s not to deny the difficulties and potential dangers of pregnancy, of course. But let’s give credit where credit is due.

James December 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

What’s meant by “self-directing organsim” is that a zygote’s DNA directs it’s growth and differentiation, not that it makes the conscious decision to grow and become a human. I’m pro-choice, and I agree that this a valid rebuttal to many pro-choice arguments based on science.

Another thing to consider is when sentience is achieved. Maybe that could be a compromise point between Pro-life activists and pro-choice activists.

Krystin December 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm

A babies heart begins to beat in the womb at 5 weeks, anything that has a beating heart is alive. Like he said – if put in a suitable environment, it can grow itself. Saying a baby isn’t a human until 24 weeks because it can’t survive outside of the womb (an unsuitable environment) – is like saying we aren’t considered humans because we could not survive on Mars (an unsuitable environment).

Jason December 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Well following your logic, babies don’t breath. Things that do not breath aren’t alive.

This is the problem with people that hear things from their friends or come up with ideas on their own without putting thought behind it.

Their ideas are to simple for a complex world with complex issues.

It wasn’t like people woke up one day and are like you know we need to let mothers murder their children.

It was more like, we need to let mothers control weather or not they have children, because its their bodies and they should have dominion over their own bodies, not the government, or anyone else.

Pat KH January 19, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Little late getting here. So, let me put it this way for Jason…

When the sperm meets the egg in a union, they are no longer those cells. That much we can all agree upon. However, when those cells become on, a new, distinct human life begins to grow. Notice what I said here… A “NEW” and “DISTINCT” human life. Regardless of the stage of development, life has begun. Now, you want to say that if it is not viable outside the womb or not, isn’t even the issue.”

With that said, when something in the biological world becomes “NEW” and “DISTINCT” and begins to grow, would you not say that it is in fact a new life that is beginning?

Kelly May 7, 2013 at 11:18 am

There are so many ways in this day and age for women to control whether or not they have children. They do have a choice, and that is made when you decide to have unprotected sex.(Unless of course you are raped, which is another debate) It is their body and they should take responsibility for their actions. We are well educated and know how the reproductive systems function. We are taught this from a very early age now, and are informed about prevention. Not to mention the countless resources out there available to the youngest of sexually active females at low or no cost.
Your logic on this is like saying we have a choice whether or not to drive drunk. It’s my choice what I do with my body and my vehicle, right? I am fully informed that it is detrimental and dangerous to drive intoxicated, and have been taught the possible ramifications of those actions. So if someone else gets killed in a car accident because of my carelessness, I should not be held responsible for that loss of life?

Spencer May 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Thanks Kelly! Good point!
Of course, this point assumes that there is harm done through the abortion process. I point to the debate above where we discuss when a fetus actually become a person. You are clearly assuming that all abortions are like car accidents. Early abortions are more destroying your own car when no persons are inside.
Definitely once you show that abortions are wrong, it makes less since to argue that it should be a choice. First show that abortions are wrong.
One step at a time kelly.

Kelly May 7, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Spencer it would have been redundant to reiterate all of the points that the fellow pro-lifers have already made for that argument. They already did such a great job at covering all the points of personhood and when science agrees life begins! And there is no recognition of the fact that putting yourself in that predicament in the first place is the choice, and could easily be avoided.

Spencer May 8, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Good points. But you should have been persuaded that it is not a predicament. You have absolutely no proof that abortion is immoral. The argument need not be reiterated, but, if you are going to continue with your argument, it should at least not rest on a claim that has no proof.
Essentially I’m saying you should not argue against abortion, except in those cases where you have proof of immorality.
I mean I guess if you have to make dogmatic claims, then go ahead. But I don’t see why anyone would continue when their beliefs have been proven to be unsubstantiated.

Spencer May 8, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I mean otherwise this is just one big circle-jerk for pro-lifers seeking to showoff their soundbites, not the philosophical debate this forum pretends to be.

Jason December 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Well following your logic, babies don’t breath. Things that do not breath aren’t alive.

This is the problem with people that hear things from their friends or come up with ideas on their own without putting thought behind it.

Their ideas are to simple for a complex world with complex issues.

It wasn’t like people woke up one day and are like you know we need to let mothers murder their children.

It was more like, we need to let mothers control whether or not they have children, because its their bodies and they should have dominion over their own bodies, not the government, or anyone else.

Pat KH January 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Jason, that is a misconception that babies do not breathe outside the womb. Babies do in fact breathe amniotic fluid.

There are liquid rebreathers that divers use. It is nearly identical to amniotic fluid in the uterus. So, thusly, your conclusion is flawed.

Pat KH January 19, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Correction: misconception that babies do not breathe inside the womb.

Chuck February 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

If you look up the scientific definition of life, respiration is not a requirement.

Vtaulbee January 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm

So, are you trying to tell me that a still born baby is not human? I mean, obviously, if it is still born it can not live outside of the womb, either. Not to mention a baby born pre term that can not live outside the womb because it is too early, yet it has a head and brain function. Maybe you should think on this subject a little more before you offer your opinion again.

TC January 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

According to the statement above “A human is a fully developed baby that can live outside the womb”. Without significant assistance a 24 week fetus cannot live outside the womb. You cannot take a 24 week infant out of the womb and expect it to survive without assistance so would you not consider it alive and human? For that matter you could leave an embryo in the uterus for five years and take it out it would be able to breathe but without assistance it would not be able to sustain life for very long as it would not be able to feed and shelter itself without assistance. Is it not alive and human at that point either? I don’t believe the argument of being able to sustain one’s self is a way to determine when one is considered alive.

James December 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are two different, ut similar things. Both are pluripotent, however adult stem cells are found in adults while embryonic stem cells are found in embryos. In fact, they comprise the entirety of an embryo until that embryo begins to differentiate its cells.

And Matt, every cell (whether it’s a gamete, stem cell, or other somatic cell) is part of a human, and if you isolate any cell, it’s no longer a “person”, so your last point there is a bit off. Using your logic, it would be murder to “kill” an embryonic stem cell, but not an adult stem cell.

Matthew Warner December 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

James, it’s not off at all. If you isolate a zygote it is still a complete, whole, individual and self-directing organism (i.e. an individual human life). That’s why the Zygote and embryo that it grows into should be treated as such. And why we would treat other cells as clearly not individual human lives.

Additionally, the way i understand it, it’s not murder to kill an embryonic stem cell, but in the process of getting such cells to use them for research, the embryo itself is killed. That is the moral objection because the killing of an embryo is the killing of an individual human life.

TIM April 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm

The point I was making is that a stem cell contains the potential for human life, howsoever remotely, given the appropriate and necessary set of circumstances. It carries a unique set of genes that can ultimately be expressed in an adult human, e.g., through cloning. The zigote also contains the potential for human life, but much more approximately, given the appropriate and necessary set of circumstances. But neither the stem cell nor the zigote are yet viably human.

Steve August 28, 2012 at 8:45 am

Tim there is no stem cell without conception. Trying to hard to sound smart Tim.

Timmy June 25, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Yes, he is a good writer. Yet Matt, I would be more careful in your choice of words. Life began only once, billions of years ago (as far as scientists know). To say that life begins at fertilization is thus misleading; rather, we should say it is passed on, or continues, or something like that.

Nevertheless, I believe your point is different (namely, that an individual human being’s life began at fertilization). If this is so, then I would urge you to always say that. Otherwise, you simply discredit your appeal to science by showing a misunderstanding of science.

Matthew Warner June 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

Timmy – thanks for the suggestion! Yes, what I am speaking about here is about the creation of a new human life (not the beginning of life, period). I would also note that your statement of “life began only once” is not necessarily true…as they are unsure as to whether it started once or perhaps many times.

Timmy June 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm

That is true, and I should have mentioned that. Thanks.

James December 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm

“The only ones who deny this are those blinded by their own religious dogma of so-called “choice” who have a stubborn need to deny scientific fact in order to stay faithful to their own ideology.” – M. Werner

Doesn’t this seem a little redundant?

Matthew Warner December 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

Not sure what you mean.

pinko July 24, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hey guys, it’s me again. A little background: I’m liberal (you knew that.) Most of my friends are liberal. I lived in Austin for the last 5 years, I work in the film industry. It doesn’t get a whole lot more liberal than that. I’m also outspoken (you knew that too.) Happy to discuss this stuff with anyone who wants to.

All that said, I have never heard anyone in my entire life argue that a fetus is not alive.

I can let a straw man slide every now and again, but here’s my fear: when either side has convinced themselves that the other side is just flat out crazy or flat out evil or flat out stupid, that’s when a lot of bad stuff starts to happen. See: Israel/Palestine, for example. I’m no alarmist, so I don’t think we’re headed there per se, but it’s quite obvious that we’re all gonna have to figure out how to work together on this one.

At least until we colonize the moon. Then you can just cram all the liberals up there. Please send food.

MatthewF October 29, 2012 at 6:50 am

“…but it’s quite obvious that we’re all gonna have to figure out how to work together on this one.

At least until we colonize the moon. Then you can just cram all the liberals up there. Please send food.”

Can I have irony?

Matthew Warner July 24, 2009 at 8:14 am

Well allow me to point out your straw man then. We all know the argument is NOT “that a fetus is not alive.” So I’m not sure why you mention that as if it is what we’re talking about here. Lots of things are alive – plants, bacteria, ants, Elvis (on the moon), etc.

The argument is whether or not a fetus is a living HUMAN BEING. Science clearly tells us that it is indeed a WHOLE member of the human species and its own unique human being. So there is no question, for example, that abortion ends a human life by its very definition. This is scientific fact – not a liberal or conservative opinion.

As a human being, doesn’t he/she have the natural rights of every other human being? Reasonably, it would seem so.

And the moon is edible – so you’re all set!

moira September 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

What if a fetos was found on the moon, would the scientists and the world say they had found LIFE….My view is that they would say that, the,y have found life on the moon….therefore if they did say that and agreed that a fetos is life then legally all the abortions that have SADLY happened are murders… I wonder if the women who have a bortions, how they would feel, if this was proven to them. As Danna’s song goes( I think from memory) mummy let me live. My saying is please let them live for God’s sake and our world.

Matthew Warner July 24, 2009 at 8:16 am

Also, there were no accusations of “flat out evil” or “crazy” here. Just an appeal to look at the facts and follow them to their logical conclusion in the hopes that we can all “figure out how to work together on this one.”

Matthew Warner July 24, 2009 at 8:53 am

And Manya – thank you for the kind words! Glad you liked it!

Michael July 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

Very well written and powerful.

pinko July 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

First line: “Pro-lifers are often criticized for their position that human life begins at conception”
I’m saying I’ve never heard anyone ever argue that. I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that you were suggesting that pro-choicers often refute that.

The argument, for all I’ve seen, is one of viability. That is to say, until a fetus can reasonably survive outside the womb (with whatever artificial means available to keep it alive), the state has no right to tell a woman to keep it in her womb.

I know you don’t agree with that, so no reason to debate it here. And I didn’t mean to say you thought I was crazy or evil, either. But if you convince yourself or someone else that there are all these people that think a fetus isn’t human life, of course you and all of them are gonna start thinking these people are liars at best, crazy/evil at worst. If I write an article saying like “Pro-choicers are often criticized for thinking women should have the freedom to make their own decisions,” I have a feeling you’d be a little annoyed at the implication that you and all your (non-pinko) pals think that they shouldn’t.

Truthfinder July 24, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Pinko, if this is the first time you hear that pro-lifers are criticized for stating that human life begins at conception, then I’d say you have not been around this debate long enough.

Certainly the “viability” argument is also used, though I think it’s a very week one. But if one determines that human life begins at conception then direct termination of that life is murder, plain and simple.

The issue of viability is just another red-herring pro-choicers use to avoid this fact. Do you deny the scientific facts that human life begins at conception?

April August 31, 2011 at 10:15 am

Well said Truthfinder! I wish I could put my thought that clearly in writing.

Brad November 8, 2011 at 11:06 pm

It should not be surprising that you began with the premise that human life begins at conception, and then proved it by re-stating it as fact.

I once visited a factory that made glass soda bottles from old glass bottles. They took the old glass bottles, ground them up and then melted them down. The liquid glass was poured into molds and then the bottles were cooled in kilns.

A bottle begins with ground glass, but ground glass is not a bottle. Melted glass is required to make a bottle, but it is not a bottle. Even a near-complete bottle just out of the mold would shatter into a million pieces if not cured in a kiln, and would therefore not be a functional “bottle”. Only the product of the complete process is an actual “bottle”.

Properly nurtured and protected a fertilized egg will eventually become a human. That DOES NOT mean as fact that it is a “human” from the moment of conception.

Matthew Warner November 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Brad, so is a bottle a bottle like after a few minutes in the kiln? Or is it when the door opens to the kiln? Or maybe right before they turn the heat down? Or does the bottle have to be completely removed from the kiln before it is actually a bottle? Or perhaps the bottle must be cooled down and actually filled with a cold drink before it’s a bottle?

When exactly does a bottle become a bottle?

Oh, and either way, bottles are not humans. And bottles do not grow all by themselves by simply giving them nutrition and shelter. Or without needing any instructions as to how to become a bottle. Your ground glass or melted glass is not self-directing. You should read the science on human embryology. It’s been studied and thought out a bit more than bottles. So analogies with bottles don’t clarify, they obfuscate. We don’t need to use an analogy when we already know the science of how humans come to be. Additionally, you can ask any credible embryologist as to when a unique, individual and self-directed human life begins…and the answer is fertilization (i.e. conception).

Paul Oakley November 9, 2011 at 12:06 am

Of course the products of human conception are human. They certainly are not inanimate, and they are certainly not of a different sort of life than human. The sperm and egg were alive and human before conception took place too. The question is not when life begins or when humanity begins. Indeed, it is not even when personhood begins or when the soul enters the body. We are in the process of developing our personhood and our souls at least from the day we are born, and it is not at all clear that we are ever really, fully ensouled, and the very essence of our person changes vastly over time.

The question is what gives life value. Is it its God-givenness? That is, is value at the essence of our humanity? of life itself? Is it the way a life is lived? That is, is the murderer’s life worth less than the victim’s? the visitor of prostitutes worth less than the faithful husband? And if human lives are of equal value, then a whole lot of beliefs come into question. And if not, others.

What gives life its value? We don’t begin to share a common answer to this question. And until we do, there is no chance of answering a political question like abortion, that has nothing at all to do with biology and everything to do with values.

Bill November 9, 2011 at 12:17 am

re your assertion about ensoulment, etc., which is totally irrelevant: An excellent thing to read is Archbishop Chaput’s remarks day before yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, especially his quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. See it at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/11/4256

The Bonhoeffer quote: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and remember this is the same Lutheran pastor who helped smuggle Jews out of Germany and gave his life trying to overthrow Hitler—wrote that the ‘destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.’ “

Matthew Warner November 9, 2011 at 12:48 am

The political question has absolutely everything to do with both biology and values. You are right that “ensoulment” has nothing to do with it. But under the law all persons have equal rights (generally speaking). So, politically speaking, biology has everything to do with it because that is what determines personhood in our country.

Our “values” just haven’t caught up to the science. And as more and more people are educated about when a new human life begins and that abortion always ends a human life, those values are changing.

I really like one of Chestertons quotes on the “equality” of Man…

“The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.” – G.K. Chesterton What I Saw In America, 1922

And he’s right. So, to answer your question, any kind of absolute value of human life can only come from a divine origin – it’s “God-givenness” as you put it. This is not only illustrated by Chesterton, but also recognized in the very legal documents that founded our country and our laws.

Paul Oakley November 9, 2011 at 1:41 am

In what way does biology determine personhood in this country? If we make our determination based on biology, what are we going for? The beginning of life? That is not individual but primordial. The beginning of the person? There you get into the circular argument. Biology and personhood are different languages.

Politically speaking, we are talking about an argument about who has priority, a breathing human individual or a non-breathing human entity, which all agree may be a person soon but not all believe is a person yet. We are talking about an argument about who has the authority to determine whether a woman will give birth – a society whose values she may not share or the woman. The political argument is about power. It is not about values. And it is not about biology.

Biology is biology. Ethics is ethics. And politics is politics. Each is its separate issue.

Matthew Warner November 9, 2011 at 2:01 am

If we don’t use biology to determine personhood for legal status in this country, what do we use?

And you’re only telling one side of the story. We’re not only talking about who has the authority to determine whether a woman will give birth. We’re also talking about who has the authority to destroy a human life.

In the case of a woman giving birth, this is the natural course of things if no authority is exercised. In other words, it’s left to God’s design and plan. In the case of the intentional destruction of an innocent human life, this is the unnatural course of things.

And political argument is not simply about power…as if to say it’s about “controlling” a woman’s body. Oversimplifications like that miss the depth and profundity of this issue. The political argument is about PROTECTING. Protecting an innocent life. A human life that has wronged nobody and is owed the dignity of not being killed and tossed aside as if it were a piece of garbage or bodily waste.

Paul Oakley November 9, 2011 at 3:23 am

We use bureaucracy, of course. A person is a person once s/he has been (or could be) registered upon birth. Though there are efforts to change that, that is the current legal truth.

To make the statement about who has the authority to determine whether a woman gives birth or not, we are only discussing the reality of the matter. No interpretation is necessary. Either she decides or, through some mechanism or other, society or government decides. But to make the statement about who has the authority to destroy a human life, you have to already have the conclusion to the argument that in our society is far from settled, a conclusion stating that abortion is in fact “taking a human life” – as opposed to destroying living tissue that has the potential of becoming an individual person. I did not leave off half the story, I just did not include the part of it that is not comparable.

As for the natural course of things, all manner of things is natural but regularly avoided because life is more pleasant without it. The very phraseology “the intentional destruction of an innocent human life” assumes the position it attempts to support.

All that said, I am not in the least in favor of abortion. To the extent possible, we should build systems of health and financial support, education, birth control and family planning that do not put so many women in the position of having to make the choice in the first place. (The choice must be made whether legal or not, as the presence of illegal abortions in the days before Roe v. Wade illustrates.) And we should build aspects of society that make it easier for women to avoid what amounts to penalty for choosing other options other than abortion.

And we must recognize that not all pregnancy scenarios are equal. A 13-y/o who has been raped and is pregnant or a 40-y/o whose unborn child has complications that endanger the mother’s life is not at all the same moral or ethical issue as a 22-y/o who doesn’t want stretch marks. They are distinct kinds of situations that cannot be lumped together.

At the very least until that far distant day when we have the kind of society where women are fully supported in their lives, pregnancies, and child rearing, it is not a moral society that makes abortion illegal. If you want to eliminate abortion, reshape society so that the alternatives are more attractive to the real people living in the society.

Matthew Warner November 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

Paul – Yes, a bureaucracy determines personhood based upon whether somebody has been born. And being born, for anyone else who may not be seeing this, is a matter of biological fact. So of course it’s a matter of biology. It’s just a matter of when our legal definition of personhood is going to catch up to the scientific truth on the matter. Look, trying to separate personhood from biology from bureaucracy from whatever other obfuscation you’re going to introduce next are all needless and illogical abstractions.

And what it comes down to is that you’re incorrect about whether or not it’s “settled” that a human life is ended in an abortion. That’s my point. It IS settled. Science has more than settled that a new, unique, individual, self directing human life is created at fertilization. That’s settled. It’s just that people don’t want to accept this truth because of its hard consequences to the lifestyles so many have chosen. And yes, even the hard consequences to some very rare, but real and difficult situations regarding some pregnancies (rape, health of mother, etc.). But that just makes them hard (which life is). It doesn’t make killing innocent innocent human life acceptable or moral.

And better education and resources for pregnant mothers would be great. I’m with you there. I’m not with you on more contraception (as that is one of the contributing factors to the lifestyle that has led to more abortions and to treating abortion as a kind of “birth control” in the first place).

Either way, all of those are just really, really bad excuses to intentionally kill an innocent human life. They are illogical and unethical as well. They just happen to be accepted excuses by many in our culture. And suggesting that it is “not a moral society” that makes abortion illegal when women are not fully supported is completely fallacious nonsense. It implies that it IS a moral society that allows the killing of children in the womb. It is that kind of unsound implication being spread around that has caused so many people to be confused on the ethics of this issue. But as such arguments continue to be exposed as simply irrational, emotional appeals, more and more people are coming around to realizing and respecting the dignity of all life.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Chuck February 14, 2013 at 9:27 am

If you look at the statistics, though, you will see most abortions are performed on the 22-y/o as opposed to the rape victim.

Matthew Warner July 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Pinko – arguing that the zygote/embryo/fetus is just a piece of bodily tissue and NOT a human life is one of THE MOST common arguments to support abortion. Many say it is a “potential” human life but not a human life, and therefore there are no moral issues with killing it.

Recognizing that an actual human being exists from the moment of conception requires an abortion supporter to then justify the direct, intentional killing of an innocent, individual human being – which is by definition murder.

So most of them (that I’ve come across – which is quite a few, believe it or not) simply argue that it is NOT a human being. This post reminds them that such an argument is completely and utterly rejected by science.

Barbara Le Breton July 26, 2009 at 1:02 am

Here’s an all encompassing article that your bloggers might like to read Matt. It appeared in “Developmental Biology” which is the premier peer reviewed scientific journal that developmental biologists submit and have their research published. It indicates that there is still no definitive scientific answer to this question. Science can only provide so much information and then, as usual, arriving at an answer involves more than just science which is why religion and culture enter into the equation and also why there is no one good easy answer. It states that current scientific views of when human life begins range from fertilization to gastrulation to birth and even after. There is an examination of each of the major perspectives with arguments for and against each of the positions. Contemporary scientific literature proposes a variety of answers to the question of when human life begins. You might have to type this in your browser… It’s long but worth the read.

M. Forrest August 29, 2012 at 1:59 am

I think the primary mistake this article makes is a common one – it conflates philosophy and science. From scientific point of view, human life begins at conception.

The “metabolic” view presented in the article is patent nonsense, imo. Any scientist who doesn’t understand the fundamental difference between a sperm or egg in isolation and when the two combine (fertilization) should find a different field. Neither an egg nor a sperm in isolation directs its own development, neither has a complete set of human DNA. When they come together successfully, a new, completely unique member of the species homo sapiens comes into existence. This is just a biological fact.

The “problems” presented regarding the genetic view (that human life begins at fertilization) are more indicative of the writer’s lack of imagination than actual realities. For instance, I think the “twinning problem” is addressed adequately here:


The following argument against life beginning at fertilization is also just another phantom problem, imo: “It is estimated that more than 50% of fertilized eggs abort spontaneously and never become children (Gilbert 2002). ”

So what if 50% of fertilized eggs abort spontaneously? The last I checked 100% of humans eventually die. I think the point is, currently, there is no way of knowing whether that the fertilization process was successful or not – resulting in a living, unique member of the species homo sapiens. And as such, it is immoral to intentionally kill it. If you’re a hunter and see movement in the distance and you’re not sure whether it’s a deer or a human, is it morally permissible to pull the trigger? Of course not.

The article itself does an adequate job debunking the “embryological view.”

The neurological view is arbitrary and problematic – again, based heavily on philosophy, rather than science. In fact, the article itself acknowledges the philosophical nature of the argument.

The “ecological” and “self-consciousness” views are the most heavily philosophical in the article. The subjectivity and arbitrariness of both views are manifest. They are also deeply problematic in the real word – as in the case of the human being who falls into a coma and is no longer sentient. Does such a human being therefore lose his or her identity as a human being at that point? And does he or she suddenly regain it if and when he or she regains consciousness?

Scientists should stick to science – it’s what they’re trained to do. They’re often lousy philosophers.

If you would like to read more quotes from text books and great scientific minds on when human life begins, you can visit these websites:



You might also appreciate the following video from National Geographic:


Some very interesting quotes in the video:

“Once within the egg wall, the sperm’s nucleus is drawn toward the egg’s. The two cells gradually and gracefully become one. This is the moment of conception – when an individual’s unique set of DNA is created – a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated.”

“The mother provides the shelter and the basics – food, water and oxygen. But the real star of the show is the fetus herself – building, dividing, growing according to an intricate set of plans created at the moment of conception.”

“The genes she’s [the girl shown in the womb] inherited already predetermine her looks and much of her character. Whether she’s stubborn or intelligent, a thrill-seeker or good at music and even her vulnerabilities to certain diseases like cancer, schizophrenia and diabetes. The exact course of her life will depend on such things as her friends, family and environment. But at the instant of fertilization, much of her future is predetermined.”

“Where it once seemed that the mental development of a baby began at birth, now it appears that birth could be a relatively insignificant event in developmental terms. She may have to support herself after birth, but as for the process of thinking, learning and remembering, she’s already been hard at it for three months [before birth]. And her brain will continue to grow at the same rate for the next year.”

pinko July 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

I’ve honestly never heard anyone argue that, I still think it’s a bit of a straw man. I just googled for the last 15 minutes, trying to find ANYone who would argue that a fetus isn’t human life. I found a whole lot of pro-lifers arguing that pro-choicers are wrong about this, but no actual pro-choicers arguing that. Finally, on googling “why i think fetus is not human” I found a couple of people, most of them with anime characters as avatars, arguing that. So perhaps indeed I had not been around this debate long enough. But then, as a test, I also googled “why i think black people are not human” and found some people arguing that, as well.

When you say, however, abortion is murder, then by all means I will agree that pro-choicers disagree with you there. For lots of reasons. I don’t need to go into them here. But if you really want to call it murder, why wouldn’t you call the mothers murderers?

(just to make sure i’m crystal clear: I’m not encouraging you to call mothers who seek an abortion murderers, I’m just trying to point out what I personally see as a giant hole in your logic.)

VVL September 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I really wish I’d found this thread earlier. Pinko, I did a search for the terms “poll when does life begin” and the first result is an international survey finding that most human beings do not believe that human life begins at conception: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15062-when-does-human-life-begin.html

Rob July 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Pinko you say pro choicers believe that human life begins at conception and that pro choicers believe aborting this human life is not murder explain how anyone could really believe this

Matthew Warner July 27, 2009 at 9:15 am

Pinko – you probably weren’t googling the right things because the terms are often phrased differently depending on what side you’re on.

Virtually no legitimate pro-choice organization will make an OUTRIGHT claim that an embryo/fetus is not a human life – because they know it will cause them to lose credibility (see my post above).

However, they prey upon a very common ignorance in the public that do believe it is not a human life yet. I would challenge you to also google and find abortion providers that clearly inform patients that a fetus IS a human being (i.e. not in some fine print somewhere). I bet that will be just as tough.

For instance, Planned Parenthood often defines a fetus as an “organism that develops from the embryo at the end of about seven weeks of pregnancy.”

They aren’t lying. THey are just not telling the whole truth. They do this for two main reasons. 1) They make every effort to depersonalize the person in the womb. 2) they are preying on an ignorant patient base that aren’t sure or don’t know that it is an individual human life.

I have also had countless (and by countless I mean too many to recall and count) conversations with people claiming that a fetus is not a human being. So you can call this argument a straw man, but the truth is that it is far from it – at least for all of these people I’ve personally encountered.

Here is a poll that reflects it as well. I know it is unscientific and not precise (it’s the best I could quickly find), but definitely shows that a large percentage of people (similar to what i’ve found in my personal experience) think a human becomes a human at a later stage than it actually does.

Finally, it is also not a straw man at all in terms of our laws in this country. Many laws and state definitions still exclude the “unborn” in their definitions of “individual” due to some apparent uncertainty in the beginning of human life. Such an argument can be found in numerous legal cases, including roe v wade. But we don’t have that uncertainty anymore and need to continue to educate people about that.

Matthew Warner July 27, 2009 at 9:34 am


Thanks for the article. It was interesting. However, respectfully, that article is “scientific” like Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter are “hard news.”

You are incorrect that the answer of when a human life begins can not be answered by science. It is absolutely answered by science for it is entirely a scientific question. There were times in our history (most of it) that we were unable to answer it because of our limited knowledge and technology (as is reflected in that article you posted). But that is no longer the case.

Aside from that article not understanding what it was talking about when it informed us of what the “Catholic Church taught” – it spent most of its time just telling us what various positions people apparently speculatively held prior to science having the ability to answer the question. That may be interesting for some people, but it is not scientific evidence one way or the other.

Further, the fact that it even talks about “ensoulment” as a factor in scientifically determining when human life begins is telling enough of just how “scientific” this article is.

If you want to read a scientific pov I would encourage you to read the article I linked to above by Dr. Robert George and to read his book. And he does address the topics of twinning and spontaneous abortion.

You are confusing the issues – as does that article. Yes, ensoulment is a religious question that can not, as far as we know, be answered scientifically. But I’m talking about when science says a human life begins. And there is no question science tells us it begins at conception (fertilization). Science defines what a human being (homosapien) is and what constitutes an “individual life.” Read any credible embryology book.

And one last thought, if any publication or journal or scientist ever claims or suggests as credible that a human life begins “after birth” – I would seriously question their credibility.

Dean Soto July 27, 2009 at 1:04 pm

This is a good discussion. Of course – since I am Catholic – I agree with Matt about the scientific validity of human life beginning at conception. Nearly all reputable scientists agree with that.

I think that the issue itself is changing, and pinko’s ignorance (not meant in a bad way) of the criticism of pro-lifers believing that life begins at conception is indicative of this change. The argument is no longer in the scientific realm because the pro-choice battle is already lost on that field. This battlefront is now in the realm of the philosophical, particularly with regard to viability, the individualism and inherent rights of the fetus, and the so-called reproductive rights of the mother. Philosophers like Peter Singer are at the forefront of this debate, and even suggest that infanticide is morally alright up until the age of two.

All of that being said, I love your post, but I think that the vast majority of people on the other side won’t be swayed by it unless they are honest. The majority of pro-choicers – I feel – are that way because of rhetorical persuasion and bad philosophy rather than by science.

Barbara Le Breton July 27, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I don’t think the article was disputing when human life begins but more when does a human life become a human being. And Dean is right, the differences are more philosophical and not just about science. Most things human are not just about science, if they were, everything would be less complicated. How could people believe in god without the science? They can believe precisely because there are other considerations than science.

Manya July 27, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Human beings have made this issue more complicated than it needs to be simply so that they could find a way to do as they please…a way to rationalize doing what’s wrong. And that’s exactly what has taken place.

If a human being begins at conception (and we seem to be in agreement on that point), then human rights also begin at conception. It’s as simple as that. Or, at least, it should be as simple as that.

pinko July 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Matt: Yeah, maybe you’re right. I still contend though that anyone who has any idea what they’re talking about agree that a fetus is human life. If someone doesn’t think that, there are a few more issues we need to deal with with them before we even get to this topic. I guess it’s the same way I shouldn’t have to argue that pro-lifers shouldn’t murder anyone to make their point. Like if I wrote an article about that, I think you’d probably argue that it’s not really a rational line of thought, no?

Rob, it’s like this: if a mother pays someone to kill her 5 year old son, that’s murder, I agree. If that same 5 year old son is on life support and the doctor says you make the call, and the mother decides to pull the plug – that’s not murder. You may disagree entirely with her decision, but it’s something different. That’s something I’ve never been able to rectify with your side, you are all adamant it’s murder, but you’ve decided to blame the ‘industry’ instead of the people who pay for the actual murders.

One last thing: Matt, Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winning economist, in the same breath as Anne Coulter? Really?

Matthew Warner July 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Pinko – I’ve never met ONE person that thought it was ok to murder anyone to make their point. However, as I’ve said a few times, I’ve met countless people who don’t believe embryos/fetuses are human lives. I also don’t think you can find a poll where 42% of people think it’s ok to “murder someone to prove a point.” So, no, i don’t think the issues are comparable. But I understand the point you’re trying to make.

And Paul Krugman is one of many questionable Nobel Prize winners. Either way, I wasn’t comparing the two. Just saying that both of them are not at all hard news reporters.

Manya – you are right on. The semantic confusion is often an attempt to muddy the issue – not clarify it.

Barbara, your statement “when does a human life become a human being” is a good example of this. There is no distinction between a human life and a human being. But your statement infers that there is some kind of separation here. It’s just not true. It’s very simple in terms of our definitions.

Dictionary: Human Being –
1. any individual of the genus Homo, esp. a member of the species Homo sapiens.
2. a person, esp. as distinguished from other animals or as representing the human species

I think what you mean to suggest is that certain human beings have rights and others don’t? That’s really the question here, right? At least, that’s where a lot of pro-choicers who recognize the science find themselves. Pinko, is this your position?

pinko July 28, 2009 at 8:40 am

Well, I can link to a thread on a prominent Catholic blog where several people aren’t flat-out calling for more murders, but certainly aren’t ready to say murdering a doctor who performs abortions is entirely wrong, either. In this thread, they’ll repeatedly compare Tiller to Hitler. In fact, on this same blog I’ve seen people compare Obama to Hitler. I’m pretty sure if you gave me a week to make an internet poll where anyone can respond and there’s no accounting for the answers, the people who respond, or the accounting itself, I can get you a poll that says 42% of people think murder of an abortion doctor is okay.

As for the above question: no, I think that in certain cases, it is a parent’s burden to make decisions for their child. If they decide that their kid is better off coming off of life support, I a) trust that they are in a better place to make that decision than I, b) don’t think you or the government are in a better place to make that decision for them, and c) don’t think calling the parent in that case a murderer would solve one single problem in the world.

P.S. I was just messing with you on Krugman. I mean, not really, but I knew what you were going for. I would have even let Michael Moore slide. But Krugman, come on!

Matthew Warner July 30, 2009 at 9:55 am

And if you could do that, Pinko, then you would be justified in writing a blog post to those 42% trying to convince them otherwise. And your argument would not be a straw man.

And I wasn’t talking about life support. Catholic moral theology does not expect or require one to keep people on extraordinary means of life support – so I’m not sure why it’s even coming up. Unless by life support you mean feeding somebody or giving them shelter. Then yes, it is immoral not to do that when you can.

I was talking more specifically about a human person in the womb. Do you believe that a human being in the womb has less of a right to live than you or I or anyone else? And why?

Bill August 3, 2009 at 9:24 am

(Staying out of the crossfire, I hope.)

It seems to me the actual issue is the question of “At what point does a human being obtain full legal rights and status as a person?” I say, and I believe most pro-life advocates would agree, that conception is the point at which a human being obtains full legal rights and status as a person.

Did you know that there are people in the United States (doctors, lawyers, legislators, and lay people) who advocate not granting a human being full legal rights and status as a person until three to five days after birth? Their justification for this is that there are some birth defects and “quality of life” issues that do not become apparent until a baby is between 3 and 5 days old. Denying these infants rights and status as persons would make it legal to simply kill them as “defective.”

If we don’t establish the point at which a human being has legal rights and status as a person as being at the moment of conception, it’s just a slippery slope from there.

There are truly some nasty, wicked, and evil things afoot in our legislatures. We need to be aware of what is going on and fight them. I heard a member of the President’s cabinet this weekend say that if we don’t pass the Obama healthcare reforms RIGHT NOW, it will be decades before we get healthcare reform in this country. I say, if we let them rush us into agreeing with the really egregious provisions of the current bill, it will take us decades to win back what we should never have lost in the first place: the unrestricted right to life. Here’s an analysis of what’s in the Obama administration’s current healthcare package (it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck): http://immaculataconceptio.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/from-an-email-from-a-fellow-father-of-mercy-citing-line-by-line-the-obama-hellth-care-plan-what-a-fright/

Pinko, take a close look at what you are supporting. Turn the rock over. You won’t like what you see.

Bill August 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Sorry, left out an important word: “full” The fourth paragraph should read:
“If we don’t establish the point at which a human being has full legal rights and status as a person as being at the moment of conception, it’s just a slippery slope from there.”

JT August 14, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I think everyone can agree that a fertilized ovum is not only life, but human life. It is also the beginning of a unique, human individual, the DNA is different than each parents’. Science has settled that issue and to argue otherwise flies in the face of facts.

Bill states the Church’s current position: “..I believe most pro-life advocates would agree, that conception is the point at which a human being obtains full legal rights and status as a person.” This, of course, is not a scientific statement of fact, it is a religious or philosophical claim. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive, it can never tell us what “ought” to be done in terms of morality or rights.

No society on earth has ever granted “full legal rights” to a newborn. In our country, you can not vote, drive, own property, sign legal contracts nor do a myriad of others things that become our “rights” until we gain experience and age. Without question, all of these subsidiary rights depend on one fundamental–the right to live, to exist.

Does a just-fertilized ovum possess that primary right? Not in our country nor any other Western nation. Realistically, such a law will never be adopted because it would entail banning even ordinary birth control pills, which act in some instances as abortifacients–not preventing conception, but implantation in the uterus.

While most Americans support bans on late-term abortions, and even restrictions on abortions after the first trimester (as there are in some states), there will never be a consensus to outlaw contraception nor early-term abortions, that is a simple political reality.

Statistically, Catholics use standard forms of birth control and avail themselves of legal abortions at the same rate as the general population. Despite their most fervent efforts, pro-life advocates will never convince most people that preventing the implantation of a blastocyst or an early-term abortion is “murder.” While it is certainly human life, it is not protected as “a human person with full legal rights and status.”

When does a fetus attain a status that merits legal protections? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. Even influential figures within the Church (Such as its two greatest theologians, Augustine and Aquinas) have held views which markedly differ from present teaching, nor has current doctrine ever been proclaimed as “infallible” by any pope. The debate continues.

Matthew Warner August 15, 2009 at 8:53 am

Thanks for the well articulated thoughts, JT! A few thoughts from what you said…

Does a just-fertilized ovum possess that primary right? Not in our country nor any other Western nation.

That is incorrect. All natural rights, including the right to life, are inherent to every human. So yes, every human, from the point of conception, “possesses” every natural right that you or I have. It is just that our current laws violate those rights. Hence, the need to fight for justice (regardless of whether you think “most people will ever agree” – which I believe they will).

When does a fetus attain a status that merits legal protections?

It merits them at the moment it became a distinct, new human…which was at the moment of conception.

Even influential figures within the Church (Such as its two greatest theologians, Augustine and Aquinas) have held views which markedly differ from present teaching, nor has current doctrine ever been proclaimed as “infallible” by any pope.

Just because something has not been proclaimed extraordinarily by a pope as infallible does not mean it is not an infallible teaching of the Church. In fact, most infallible teachings of the Church are not proclaimed as such. It’s misleading to suggest that just because a pope hasn’t proclaimed it explcitly that it is still questionable or up for debate. That’s entirely untrue.

The Church has always held that every human has an inherent right to life. This is a part of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church – which is also infallible. That teaching has always been very clear.

Any ambiguity or uncertainty on the part of Augustine or Aquinas was not about whether a human life has this right. They just didn’t have the technology yet to be certain about WHEN that human life came into being. Now we have that certainty. So the debate on that point is over…for Catholics anyway.

And even if some theologian in the past had disagreed, it ultimately doesn’t matter because the magisterial teaching authority of the Church is what Christ gave us and what constitutes the official teaching of the Church.

I’d be curious though, do you have any quotes from Augustine or Aquinas that would lead anyone to believe that they thought a human life at any stage would not be entitled to the natural rights of every other human being? I’d appreciate the reference!

But anyone that suggests (like Pelosi and other politicians have) that because a theologian 1600 years ago was uncertain about scientifically when a human life began that therefore we as Catholics can still believe whatever we want is being outright deceitful.

The Church is very clear on the natural rights and dignity of EVERY human life. Now science is clear on when that human life begins. There is no ambiguity in Church teaching on this subject anymore. That is what has enabled the popes in recent decades to speak so confidently and specifically on these issues. You can not be a Catholic and also believe (direct) abortion is OK under ANY circumstance. That would be a total contradiction.

Bill August 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

JT, if you are going to quote me and then lecture me, how about doing me the courtesy of at least not distorting what I said. I said it was my view. It happens to agree with what the Church teaches, but it is my view. A view held as well by many non-Catholics and even by some atheists.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that I mentioned science. Did I? Show me where. My statement addresses legal and political issues. Currently there are politicians and legislators who wish to deny living human beings full legal status as persons. That’s not right, any more than it was right to deny Africans full legal status as persons in the days of slavery.

Bill August 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

Father Z has posted a couple of very powerful articles on his weblog. In my opinion, they are well worth reading.


There is just no room for compromise on the right to life.

Artie Catalano August 16, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Very well stated Bill! I am pretty sure Aquinas and Augustine would be faithful to sacred tradition, sacred scripture, and magesterium teaching.

JT August 16, 2009 at 6:56 pm


You do a very good job of presenting the Church’s current position on abortion. However, you absolutely confuse two critical issues. Science does demonstrate that human life begins at conception. Then again, science demonstrates that human life begins when a human cell of any type duplicates itself. A human brain cell that replicates itself is human life, but obviously not a human person. A fertilized egg is human life and replicates itself, but science does NOT tell us that it is a human person. The second claim does not follow from the first.

Aquinas followed Aristotle’s definition of Man as “rational animal.” His views on the matter would be confirmed by modern embryology, not contradicted by it. Aquinas viewed the soul as the “form” of the body and integral with it. Aquinas was aware of the developmental nature of the fetus and understood that it passes through stages. While all living things have souls, they are divided into vegetable, animal and rational. A rational soul can only subsist in a body that is appropriate to it, since intellect is immaterial and can ONLY function when a brain and sense organs are present. “There is nothing in the mind which is not first in the senses.”

For Aquinas, human ensoulment can only take place when the body was capable of receiving a rational soul in full union. To claim that a human soul is infused into a zygote would be absurd, because it could not be a true unity and would lead to radical dualism–that the human soul is separate from the body and inhabits it like some kind of ghost or internal puppeteer. That is the critical error Descartes made which has led to a host of absurdities in modern philosophy.

Artie Catalano August 16, 2009 at 7:35 pm

You do a very good job of presenting the Church’s current position on abortion.

Are you suggesting the Church had a previous position in regards to the sanctity of human life?

I don’t know if you have read the Didache of the 2nd century but it is quite clear that human life must be protected at every stage in its course, ‘including the beginning’, despite different opinions regarding when the precise time when the soul is infused. I can assure you that Aquinas and numerous doctors of the Church echo the Church’s teaching that abortion is a grave sin, despite their position when the human soul is infused. This teaching has been consistent throughout Church history and has been forcefully proclaimed by the Magesterium, especially in our day like you mention.

Then again, science demonstrates that human life begins when a human cell of any type duplicates itself.

In regards to a unique distinct human life? Are you really want to justify abortion by claiming it is just a group of human cells and thus cannot have a soul? You or I cannot answer that question, I am not bold enough to say God I know better than you, no soul exists at conception, we simply do not know the answer to that question. I will say it is more than just a group of human cells, we are talking about a distinct beginning of human life an individual person, possibly 2, 3 (twins/triplets)! We do not know, but to suggest that well since it is a group of human cells and these cells haven’t fully developed it is quite ok to stop the growth of this unique human life that is growing. Don’t you think you are playing God at that point? At conception a distinct human person(s) is in its initial stages of development, these group of human cells don’t create just mere skin, but something very unique.

Matthew Warner August 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

JT –

Science does demonstrate that human life begins at conception. Then again, science demonstrates that human life begins when a human cell of any type duplicates itself. A human brain cell that replicates itself is human life, but obviously not a human person. A fertilized egg is human life and replicates itself, but science does NOT tell us that it is a human person. The second claim does not follow from the first.

I would urge you to dig into this a bit further scientifically.

First, here you are saying that science “does NOT” tell us that a fertilized egg is a human “person”…which to many people is a non-scientific distinction in the first place – that of personhood. I would suggest, however, that any human being is also a human “person” and people that suggest otherwise are simply playing semantic games to confuse the matter. But that’s another conversation really irrelevant to this conversation and the fact that science indeed reveals that a new, unique, distinct member of the species Homosapien is created at the moment of fertilization (conception).

Second, because a new, unique and distinct member of the species Homosapien is created at the moment of fertilization, this is ENTIRELY different than a skin or brain cell replicating itself. Claims like this are all addressed in the book I mention in the post by Dr. George. I highly recommend reading it if you like the details of this stuff.

For example, the zygote is entirely new, distinct DNA from that of the mother and father (so very different from a duplicate brain cell). The zygote also functions as a whole organism itself…self-directed and complete with all it needs organizationally to continue developing into an adult human being. These are among a number of unique distinctions that reveal that a fertilized egg is a complete, individual human life as opposed to simply “life” (a living cell or something) that happens to be human (and a small part of the larger organism).

So you are right that simply because a fertilized egg is human and replicates itself does not necessarily make it its own human life. However, many other scientific distinctions indeed make it so.

While all living things have souls, they are divided into vegetable, animal and rational. A rational soul can only subsist in a body that is appropriate to it, since intellect is immaterial and can ONLY function when a brain and sense organs are present.

In regard to this, can you give the source of where Aquinas says this? I’d be interested in reading the context.

To me it seems this distinction could be fine when made in the context of KIND of being (comparing what kind of souls exist in plants vs. animals, vs human beings) not in the context of phases of development or immediate capacity to reason. Not unless you are treating the designation of “rational” soul as a separate designation than that of a “human” soul. You don’t make that clear. But it still doesn’t matter, because you are coming to a scientific conclusion using logic based on an assumed non-scientific premise. It seems you’re suggesting that Aquinas held that rational souls can only be unified with rational bodies, and if a being has no rational soul, then it can’t be a human soul (????), and therefore a zygote with no reasoning capacity has no human soul and is therefore not a human?).

Either way, you’re now getting into the issue of ensoulment which is not the topic of this post, is outside the realm of science, and irrelevant to the scientific facts that clearly show that a new, distinct, individual human life is created at the moment of fertilization (conception)

And it seems a bit strange to suggest that a zygote is a vegetable or animal before it becomes human. First, this would be a bit foreign to modern science…making distinctions like this (and it becomes largely a metaphysical argument anyway once talking about intellect). Second, it would follow that somebody in a coma or who is brain damaged (people without the immediate capacity to reason) would also be without a rational soul. Which I think the Church would disagree with. But even still, even if one wanted to say that a brain damaged person, for example, no longer had a “rational” soul, they would certainly still have a human soul.

Additionally, a zygote – who is scientifically and biologically its own unique, distinct, individual human life – would certainly have a “human” soul (since all living things have souls according to your quotes). It wouldn’t make sense for a human body to have the soul of a vegetable or an animal. Talk about a radical dualism!

But I would appreciate those references of where Aquinas says those things so I can learn a bit more about the context from which he says them. Thanks, JT!

JT August 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm


I did stray off-topic, I admit, but there was a reason for it which I will explain, and I sent my post in before I had completed it.

Science can not define the “moment of conception.” Dr. George states: “That is, in human reproduction, when sperm joins ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism.” Two essences disappear, a new one takes their place. Fertilization takes about twenty four hours and is a process, not a moment. There is not an embryologist in the world who can take two pictures of an ovum being fertilized five minutes apart and tell us why the earlier one is not a person, while the later one is fully a human being.

Leaving that problem aside, let’s move ahead to the zygote. It is a single-celled organism which Dr. George then claims is “…a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species.” Well, except when it isn’t. A human zygote has the potential to become a number of things, some of which are not “a unique individual of the human species.” The most obvious of these are twins, triplets, quadruplets and in at least one case where all survived, quintuplets. Only the first of these zygotes comes into existence through fertilization, the others result from cell division, there is never a “moment of conception.” So now we have multiple zygotes produced by two separate means of reproduction, and the new zygotes are only unique in their individual existences, not in their DNA. On the horizon, and already performed with other mammals is another form of reproduction, cloning, but we will put that aside.

Zygotes can also become hydatidiform moles. Complete moles have no fetal structure, merely random placental material. They result from the union of a sperm with an egg which contains no nucleus. Partial moles derive from an egg which is fertilized by two sperm cells producing an abnormal fetus with 69 chromosomes and no viability. These moles can also develop into Choriocarcinoma, a form of cancer.

Two zygotes, (or blastomeres after first cleavage) which would normally be the start of fraternal twins can fuse and produce what is popularly known as a “human chimera”–This organism now has DNA from four gametes (two eggs and two sperm) but can develop in a relatively normal fashion, though it can wreak havoc on DNA tests. Additionally, it can produce hermaphroditism when the sexes differ. Thus we have one individual from what were previously two–without the death of either.

Even after implantation, splitting can occur in the embryo, which can result in conjoined twins. Finally, one embryo can engulf another, without cellular fusion, producing a “parasitic twin,” which is almost always severely deformed and without a heart or brain.

By far the most common outcome of fertilization is spontaneous abortion. The latest studies indicate that only about 40% of zygotes are capable of implantation. Another 15% of embryos are lost before 20 weeks after clinical diagnosis of pregnancy, and that figure is considered low because many women lose embryos without being diagnosed or realizing they are pregnant.

Artie, you are correct, the Church has always opposed abortion after conception, but never on the basis that a zygote or an early-term fetus is a human being. For the Church, the central element is the human soul–without it, there is no human person, no “Imago Dei.”

Matthew, one of Aquinas’ passages on this crucial matter is found in the Summa, First Part, question 118, Article 2 which reads in part: “Consequently it must be said that the soul is in the embryo; the nutritive soul from the beginning, then the sensitive, lastly the intellectual soul.” Question 76 “The Union of Body and Soul” also deals with this subject at length. Following Aristotle, Aquinas claimed that human ensoulment could not occur before 40 days (80 for women–Aristotle’s prejudices!).

Why is this so crucial? Because Thomism provides the very theological and philosophical foundations for all papal encyclicals and teachings of the Magisterium (and catechisms) since that time. Of course the Church doesn’t consider Aquinas to have been infallible, yet his synthesis of faith and reason is utilized in every aspect of the Church’s teachings.

Your posting on the Church and evolution provides a perfect example. John Paul II gave his endorsement to the theory, with one provision: While the human form might have come about through evolution, humans, properly speaking, only came into existence with the infusion of the immortal soul. To simplify matters, let’s consider Adam and Eve in a literal rather than allegorical sense. Their parents, genetically members of the species “homo sapiens”–were NOT human persons.

In the very same manner, a human zygote or embryo, if there is no intellective soul present, is not a human person. Yes, the Church vigorously condemns all abortions from the time of conception. Yet it has never proclaimed that a zygote, or an early fetus is a human being with an immortal human soul. To do so would entail repudiating central elements of Aquinas’ philosophy. Jacques Maritain, one of the leading Thomistic theologians of the 20th century bluntly stated: “To admit that the human fetus receives the intellectual soul from the moment of its conception,when matter is in no way ready for it, sounds to me like a philosophical absurdity. It is as absurd as to call a fertilized ovum a baby.”

Of course the Church is not going to make any statement that the human zygote or embryo is not a fully human person, that would certainly be seen as encouraging abortion. However, it carefully circumscribes the issue, as seen in the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion: “It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault.” They further add: “Moreover, it is not up to biological sciences to make a definitive judgment on questions which are properly philosophical and moral such as the moment when a human person is constituted or the legitimacy of abortion.” Most telling of all is a footnote to the document: “This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant, for others it could not at least precede nidation (implantation). It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (i) supposing a later animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed; (2) on the other hand it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.” John Paul II himself reiterated this view in his expansive “Evengelium Vitae.”

I have gone on far too long, I apologize, and I’ll end with a couple of thoughts. 1) Science does not establish that a full human person with all attendant rights comes into existence at conception, that is outside its provence. 2) The Church does not proclaim that a zygote or embryo or early-term fetus is a human person in the fullest sense, though it leaves the question open and DOES proclaim that is SHOULD be treated as though it has full human status.

For Pro-Life Catholics, it is self-defeating (not to mention inaccurate) to go around telling others that very early-term abortions or the use RU-486, or IUDs or using any contraceptives that prevent implantation is “murder.” Acting on their conscience and the Church’s teachings, Pro-Life advocates can certainly work to convince others that abortion is morally unacceptable from the time of conception. Their efforts, in terms of trying to get legislation enacted, would be better focused on banning late-term abortions as well as restrictions on second trimester abortions, where even the ruling in Roe v. Wade clearly enunciated that the State has a compelling interest in the life of the fetus.

Matthew Warner August 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

JT – thank you for the very thorough response! I appreciate all of the insights and challenges you’re expressing in regard to ensoulment. But, as you admit, these are philosophical and theological arguments…not scientific ones.

And many of your other points, while they demonstrate some aspects of this question that we do not yet understand, they do not at all contradict or disprove the scientific evidence that a new, individual human life is created at fertilization (conception).

“Fertilization takes about twenty four hours and is a process, not a moment.”

This does not change at all the fact that a new, individual human life is created during this “process.” Just because scientists may not yet agree on the exact moment within the process of fertilization that a new human is created, does not take anything away from the fact that when fertilization is over…we know for sure there is a new human life.

And just because an additional new life may be created later on (twinning) or the original life may end before becoming an adult (miscarriage, absorption, whatever) does not at all change the scientific evidence that it was an individual, distinct human life that did so.

Dr. George addresses each of the issues you mention and many others in depth in his book as well.

But I guess I’m not getting your precise objection to the scientific definition that a new, distinct, individual human life is created at fertilization?

I understand that the philosophical and theological challenges involved with ensoulment leave some ambiguity in some areas in regard to Church teaching on the human “person.” And I never want to overstate the Church’s case because I know that does harm. So I’m sorry if I did that somewhere. But the Church is very clear that, regardless of the exact moment a soul is infused, we are to recognize the personhood and natural rights of that human from the moment of conception.

EV even raises the question of if it is even possible for a human individual (a human life) to not also be a human person?

Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: How could a human individual not be a human person? (EV 60)

The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. (EV 60)

But again, you are talking mostly about ensoulment which is not the subject of this post. Although I do appreciate all of your follow up (largely asked for by me). It’s something I’m personally interested in learning more about, so thanks! And as I said, I always want to be really careful about overstating any case.

But still, scientifically, the evidence shows that a unique, individual human life is created at fertilization. So it is simply a contradiction of reason to not recognize a distinct, individual human life as existing from the moment of fertilization (conception).

And there are no scientific or civil grounds (at the very least) that these human lives do not have the same right to live as every other human life (adult or otherwise).

Additionally, it is neither necessarily self-defeating nor necessarily inaccurate to label the killing of an embryonic human life as “murder.” Just because the magisterium has not expressly confirmed it as “murder” in those precise words does not mean it isn’t true. And such a position certainly does not contradict any Catholic teaching on the matter.

Either way, the Church has expressly confirmed it as gravely immoral – which is as morally bad as it gets. So we can assign whatever terms we’d like. It is what it is. And it is a human life.

I appreciate your attention to the nuances here, JT. They are very important…and getting into areas of which I have limited knowledge. But I also don’t want those nuances to be misinterpreted or abused by people who want to suggest there is moral wiggle room when it comes to respecting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

Great discussion everyone!

JT August 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm


You have made me think more deeply about this issue than I have in a long time. I’ll have more to add, but I need to spend some time considering what everyone has said as well as looking for more insight from other sources.

The great thing is that everyone has been able to discuss this critical matter without becoming overly emotional or combative, and I appreciate that. Thanks for your input.

Randy August 24, 2009 at 9:00 pm
Matthew Warner August 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Randy, thanks for sharing. No offense, but those scripture interpretations are pretty (really) cooky – at least the few I had time to read were. By what authority did the website author make such interpretations?

Reader beware.

JT – I really appreciate your contributions. I learned a lot and you definitely challenged me to think about the issue more deeply as well. I agree – it’s really awesome to have a rigorous and respectful discussion on such an important topic. Thank you all!

Kimi September 12, 2009 at 11:05 pm


I admire your creativity. I suspect that you would make an excellent science fiction writer if you are not one already.

Not only does science have no standard for when life begins, there’s no standard definition of what life is:


Please don’t diminish the beautiful Catholic faith by distorting reality. Science and faith pertain to different but related areas of truth. When you try to distort science to justify your faith, you make faith look weak and desperate. True faith is stronger than that and doesn’t require redefinition of reality to suit its needs.

Kip Hartman September 17, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Kimi, since when does Colorado Arts and Science magazine speak for the entire scientific community on issues such as when life begins? Cleland is a professor of philosophy. What makes her individual opinions more accurate than what we know to be true? That is, that upon fertilization there is a new, unique human DNA where none existed before… She lists mules and amino acids and fire and sterile people as examples that disprove various theories of what life is. She jumps from planets to viruses, and to suggest what? That something…someone…with a unique DNA, which is growing, which becomes not a virus or a mule or a planet, but someone who started just like me… and just like you… is not alive? This makes as much sense as the people who tried to explain why black people were only 3/5 of a human being. It didn’t hold water then (even though plenty of people were duped into believing it) and it doesn’t hold water now. And one day – soon, I pray – people will see efforts to explain why unborn children are not human beings who should be afforded the most precious of human rights…the right to life.

Kip Hartman September 17, 2009 at 10:44 pm

…oops, hit the wrong button! Sorry :) Let me finish –

And one day – soon, I pray – people will see efforts to explain why unborn children are not human beings who should be afforded the most precious of human rights…the right to life…and reject those arguments as just another unsupportable philosophy.

There. Whew!

Charles October 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Kimi, please don’t diminish the beautiful Catholic faith by distorting reality.

Are you life?

Paul Oakley October 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I view both so-called Pro-Life and so-called Pro-Choice positions as over-simplified and naive approaches to an extremely complex, extremely fraught set of human problems. More accurately phrased, they are Absolutist Anti-Abortion and Absolutist Anti-Control positions, respectively. There are many Life issues not addressed by Pro-Life groups and frequently addressed in an anti-life manner by Pro-Life individuals. Similarly, Pro-Choice groups are willing to overlook many sound legal and moral principles in favor of a single individual in extremis (or not) making an irreversible decision on a moment’s notice and without the input of any other person – not even the father of the unborn and not even the parents of the girl, in the case of underage pregnancy. The real and sensible world requires a helluva lot more nuance than either side in this fight is willing to consider.

Now, the “When does life begin?” question…

Simply put, that is the wrong question to ask. Or else we have to completely rethink very many life-related issues that are unrelated to the abortion fight.

Life does not begin. Period. It began (past tense) a very long time ago. Young-Earth Creationists would say that human life began some modest number of thousands of years ago while people who believe in evolution, whether God-directed or not, would say that life began aeons ago in the primordial soup of our planet. But either way, it BEGAN. It does not begin. Rather, life is passed from individual to individual according to the biological reality of each species – through asexual reproduction for some species and sexual reproduction for others, including humans.

When sperm and egg come together, each is already fully alive. And that life goes back to the beginning of all life. New individuals emerge from the reproduction process. But new life does not. The individual is, as it were, inhabited by the common life rather than owner of a unique life. A unique instance of the shared life.

Whatever else that means theologically, philosophically, morally, ethically, socially and politically, it means that when life begins in a meaningless question in the abortion argument.

What we need to consider is a set of questions that are moral and ethical and completely unscientific, among them:

– Under what circumstances do we determine that an individual life must be preserved?

– Under what circumstances do we determine that an individual life may be preserved?

– Under what circumstances do we determine that an individual life may be taken?

– Under what circumstances do we determine that an individual life must be taken?

– According to what criteria and on what authority do we determine the relative value of individual lives?

-What obligation does the human community have to individuals once they have been formed?

– Under what circumstances may the human community abandon such responsibility to the individuals?

To keep this temporarily and comparatively simple, let’s restrict the questions to concerns about human life. But to be anywhere near reasonable and consistent in this inquiry, we can’t just consider life before birth. We must consider individual life at all its stages and in all its circumstances. The very conversation requires attention to a huge number of details, a broad range of ethical and moral principles, and is, in the end, not really about the single issue of abortion and its legal status. It is far larger.

And far more important.

Which should in no way be taken to imply that I think abortion is an unimportant issue. Rather, it is a subset of a much larger issue, and the smaller issue cannot be solved without attention to the larger issue.

juan o'callahan November 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

Yes, a truly lucid piece, beautifully reasoned.
It seems to me there may be three ‘periods’ of an infants gestation (the 3 ‘trimesters’ mean little other than an arithmetic approximation of ‘stages’ for medical purposes).
The three ‘periods’ might be 1. Conception…Life and Ensoulment given. 2. Movement…around the 15th week-plus, it’s felt. 3. Survivability…21-weeks’ gestation lmp, it’s proven.
On the latter, the chances of survival increase from less than 1% at 21 weeks; up to 21 % at 22 weeks (with ventilator); to 26%/37% at 23 weeks (without & with mechanical ventilation) – even though claims are made that an infant’s lungs cannot function until 24 weeks or later. At 25 weeks, 76%! And at 26 weeks, virtually-assured survival.
Destroying infants through abortion up to 20 weeks is killing.
Shredding viable infants in the womb through Dismemberment D&E at 21 weeks and beyond is infanticide.
For further detailed research, cccf.wordpress.com by Juan O’C assembles it.

dick c November 9, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Can you give me your definition of what a human life is?

Isabelle February 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I agree with Pinko, and i believe a woman should be able to choose what happens to her body no matter what the case. And I would just like to point out that as humans, we celebrate the day of birth and not the day of conception.

James January 15, 2011 at 5:55 am

Isabelle: “as humans, we celebrate the day of birth and not the day of conception.”

– speak for yourself, Isabelle. I celebrate my conception every day! And plenty of other humans do too. 25th March…

Thumpalumpacus March 7, 2010 at 1:20 am

So if there were a fire at a fertility clinic, and you saw an infant, sure to die, next to a rack of vials containing fertilized eggs, which would you rescue? Why?

James January 15, 2011 at 6:07 am

Thumpalumpacus – If there was a fire anywhere, and you saw anyone, sure to die, next to anyone else, which would you rescue? Why? There could be ten “people” and you can only choose one. Which one? Why? Does your choice mean the others are not living human individuals? They could all be robots for all you know, or they could all be genuine human-beings, or whatever. Just because you purposefully or circumstantially end up rescuing one and not another doesn’t define their person-hood. The question you raise, therefore, is surely more about the rescuer and not the endangered.

Abdula March 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I will admit I did not read all of the arguments as the entire scientific debate is not relevant to the real question.

Is Abortion wrong?

This is NOT a scientific question, thus the assumption that science proves anything here is irrelevant. Murder is a legal, not a scientific concept. I believe that Abortion on demand is wrong, but I am pro-choice. Why, because my definition of right and wrong is not societies definition of right and wrong and I am not God. Thus this is a religious issue because religions have definitions of right and wrong built into them as God gave these definitions. This is also a political issue because to answer the question we have to make a political decision. We have to decide are we a religious or secular state? If religious then abortion is wrong, if secular then society defines what is right and wrong. So long as society defines abortion as acceptable then abortions will take place. If you want to change this use the appropriate argument, abortion is wrong because the majority of Canadians are people of faith and they believe that abortion is wrong. All this nonsense about science proves this or that is irrelevant. Right and wrong are defined by us, we need to make the choice, science won’t make it for us. If we choose to accept the idea of a God that says abortion is wrong then it is wrong, but if don’t then we have to choose to define abortion right or wrong by the harm it does. There are logical arguments against abortion from the harm it does to family structure to mothers to the future etc.. but these are social not scientific arguments. So the right or wrongness of abortion is either a religious, social or even an economics question not a scientific one. Let us leave science out of the debate.

Matthew April 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Yes. Science shows that there is life when a sperm meets an egg. Did you also know that science clearly and logically shows that the earth is older than 6000 years and that species evolved over billions of years to what they are today? Science is awesome.

Catholic debating pro-life April 28, 2010 at 12:11 am

The Church doesn’t deny that.

Joshua September 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

I agree that science shows that the earth is more than 6000 years old, and in truth, nothing in the bible contradicts that unless you are misinterpreting the word “day” in genesis to mean 1 day as we think of a day. The word in the original text does not accurately translate to “day”, but actually is more accurately translated as an indeterminate length of time. One “day” could be a million years or more. Where I disagree is that science shows evolution to be true. On the contrary, science conflicts with the theory of evolution unless God is involved in the process. By scientific fact, a species cannot gain in genetic information through successive generations. Yet to evolve from a simple organism to a complex organism additional genetic information is required. This is why evolution is scientific theory, not fact, and does absolutely nothing to disprove the existence of God.

Jason September 20, 2012 at 3:53 am

Evolution is a fact, sir.

You have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a scientific theory is to say something as ignorant as that.

Evolution is a fact.

The theory of evolution explains how it happens.

Gravity is a fact.

The theory of gravity explains how it works.

Atoms are a fact.

Atomic theory explains how they work.

Joshua September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am

Jason, a scientific fact would have no opposing questions that could not be answered. You failed to address the points I made that make evolution without God impossible by scientific fact. Just because idiots constantly spout out that something is true does not make it so. A theory by definition is something that explains how something happens, but can not be proven nor disproven. If it is proven it would become fact. If it was to be disproven then it would no longer be a valid theory. As evolution has never been proven, it is not fact, and remains a theory.

Jason September 21, 2012 at 10:09 am

You are trying to blend the colloquial use of theory, that actually should be named hypothesis, with the way a scientific theory works.

Ill try and break it down.

Facts and theories are different things, they aren’t rungs in a ladder of increasing certainty. Facts are the worlds data. A theory is a structure of ideas that explains and interprets facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.

Theories should be expected to change when the data warrants it. Science is driven by discovery, which require old theories to be modified or replaced.

The theory of evolution is a simple interpretation of a few simple facts. Ill break it down into the basics but it is obviously far more complex than this:

– When organisms reproduce there are random variations.
– Thanks to these variations some organisms will have more offspring than others.
– Variations that are more advantageous will become more numerous in the next generation.

Theory: given enough time, this process of random cumulative change, has lead from single celled organisms to the complexity and verity of species that we see today.

Darwin first published this theory in 1865, since then a lot of new evidence has been collected and analyzed, this includes data from geology, molecular genetics, comparative anatomy, and many others.

Some aspects of the theory are tightened up and corrected as new data comes in but the underlying mechanism is still there.

Evolution by natural selection is the non-random survival of randomly varying individuals. It is only the cumulative nature of these changes that give the illusion of design. We can put as much confidence in the Theory of Evolution, as we do the Theory of gravity. TY R.A.

If you want to argue what was said above, I cant help you, because, you cant argue facts, if you need more help understanding, I can do that.

Catholic debating pro-life April 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Hi Matthew. I’m new.

Someone made to me recentlya really superb pro-choice arguement. The people who made this arguement were not evil, illogical, or stupid. They came off as wholly justifiable, and it took me quite a bit of soul-searching, prayer, and thought to come up with a good counterarguement.

Have you ever heard of the book My Sister’s Keeper? I have never read it but the pro-choicers described it to me. It is about a girl who’s body is, as they described it to me, “perfectly suited to support the body of her sister”. As in, she had to live with her sister or she’d die. The girl sued that she was being forced to live with her sister and won-rightly so. That is a question of personal morals and sacrifice that you shouldn’t be forced to make. You should have the right to refuse being someone’s slave, more or less, to keep them alive.

So the obvious parallel is that a mother should not be FORCED, under law, to have to carry the child; yes, the child would die, but on the other hand, this arguement says, the mother should not be forced to keep the child alive if she doesn’t want to, right?

After much inner turmoil and questioning of whether or not the pro-lifers were correct, I came up with the appropriate answer:

The situation is similar to the one presented. But there are several key differences. First of all, the Mother chose to have sex. She has to accept the consequences. It would be horribly irresponsible to kill a child for your actions, correct?

But this does not take into account (very rare, BTW) cases of rape. Which is still a fair point. So, I’ll make my own analogy: abortion to infanticide.

A child must live with the mother to stay alive. This is both legally AND morally true. The Mother is forced to sacrifice money, food, and shelter to the child so that said child could stay alive. This is considered just by any reasonable society.

“Ah”, the pro-choicers argue, “But what about adoption!”

Fair enough. Pregnant mothers do not have that option. My counter: What if Mothers with born children did not have that option? As in, what if there was no adoption? You would still consider it murder if the child is abandoned, right? I certainly hope so.

So, if we agree that a born child who is not provided basic requirements of life by a legal guardian is in fact murder (and both moral and legal laws agree to this) how can we, in fact, agree that an unborn, yet still fully human, child that is denied the basic requirements of life by its mother is not murder? Remember, we’re working under the assumption that the child is fully human from conception. If we do that, abortion fails the test of human reason.

BTW, about the debate about when a zygote/fetus is human…there is a debate. This is undeniable. I have seen and read reliable links about when the zygote/fetus is considered human. HOWEVER, by the very fact that the zygote MIGHT be human, then causing the zygote’s death is at minimum manslaughter…which is also illegal. Now matter how you look at it, abortion is a grave evil and must be stopped.

Thank you for reading my long post. I just found your blog maybe a half hour ago and am incredibly impressed-you’re smart. I hope you respond to my comment-I’m interested to see your thoughts.

I actually came here to ask a completely different question, but it has nothing to do with this thread.

God bless you!

Matthew Warner April 21, 2010 at 9:05 am

Good thoughts – thank you for sharing! And welcome to the blog!

First, there is not really a debate about if a zygote/embryo is “human.” Every credible embryologist’s position on this recognizes that a zygote is “human.” If you have sources that suggest otherwise with supported evidence, I would certainly be interested in reading. But if it’s not human, I’m not sure what else it would be!

As far as the example you give (my sister’s keeper)…it’s an interesting one. And I think you are on the right track with your answer. My thoughts…

First, it’s a good thing that this “pro-choice” argument at least seems to recognize that the unborn baby is another person (one that they can be a slave to). They are just trying to find ways to justify killing this other person. That’s a step in the right direction anyway.

Second, when somebody likens the relationship of mother->child to one of slave->master it is a huge red flag that they are missing the boat somewhere. There is just no way this should compute. But I suppose it’s a legit hypothetical (a very desperate one though).

Third, the fact that a baby can only depend directly on the mother for the first 9 months of life is just part of life. The baby is not forcing the mother like a master forces a slave to take care of him. When they are saying the mother shouldn’t be “forced” to take care of this baby…who is doing the forcing? Nature – not the baby or the government. The rest of us are just saying there should be consequences that help protect the baby and give that human life in the womb the respect and dignity it deserves. As you noted, we do the same for post-birth babies.

I can no more complain that I shouldn’t be “forced” to feel pain when I step on glass. Or “forced” to feel sad when somebody hurts my feelings. Or “forced” to breathe air. Or “forced” to have two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. This is just how life works. When new human life is conceived, it just so happens that it occurs inside a mothers womb and needs to live there for 9 months.

Fourth, there is a moral difference between opting out of something and then actively killing them. Abortion is the latter. It is not just “choosing” not to participate. It is intentionally going into a mother’s womb and directly ending the life inside of her. Often stabbing, tearing the baby limb from limb, scraping to death, or burning the baby to death.

Fifth, i think your argument is pretty right on. We have a moral obligation to take care of those that depend on us. We do not have a moral right to directly abandon a baby (born or unborn) with full knowledge that such an action is killing the baby.

If somebody wants to say that means they are “forced” to take care of the baby at that moment, that’s fine. That’s life. Arguments like that try to base their reasoning on false objective truths – false premises. But our society “forces” us not to do things all the time. We have laws we can’t break. Taxes we must pay. People we can’t murder. Nature “forces” us to do things too. Like feel pain. Feel emotion. To keep our brain inside our skull. To not know precisely when we’re going to die. That’s just life.

And ultimately, nobody is really forced to do any of these things. We are free to use our free will to do whatever we like. But there are consequences to those free choices. There can be legal consequences. There are moral consequences. There are eternal consequences.

The real argument here is not that a mother is being “forced” to carry a baby. She isn’t. She can choose to do what she likes. But the consequences are the issue. Nobody can avoid the moral consequences. Those are not determined by us. But the rest of us do have to decide the legal consequences (and also whether or not we want to encourage that behavior, pay for it, promote it etc. like the government and administration currently does). It seems to me that if any of us need such protection that these innocent, defenseless humans deserve to be protected and loved…indeed we have a moral obligation to do so.

James January 15, 2011 at 6:12 am

Nicely put.

Catholic debating pro-life April 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Okay, I just wrote a nice post about the whole “personhood” debate, with links from both (meaning, those who don’t think a zygote’s a person) sides of the debate, as well as the pro-life side, then concluded taht by the mere possibility that the zygote MIGHT be a person, its manslaughter…then I hit submit and it disappeared for some reason, so now I’m posting this. At any rate, rest assured that I did find evidence that a zygote MIGHT, keyword MIGHT, not be a person, which makes no difference because it becomes manslaughter…slightly less bad but still something that should be a sufficient deterrent against abortion.

At any rate, God bless you.

Cesar May 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

Matt- i think you are too quick to accept the explaination of conception as the beginnings of “life” as that of “human life” or far that matter as having “human value”. First, your argument that science has provided this answer is false, for science cannot provide this. Science can only make observations and postulate the laws or theories that support the data; no where is it within the realm of science to qualify an observation such as defining the beginnings of life. Secondly, one must consider scemantics when taking the term “life” into consideration in this subject of embryonic development. A zygote or embryo as a potential or active blueprint for human development is just that, you or science may ascribe the tag “life” or “human life” to that biological entity, but it does not define the enity as having the quality of life. Indeed it is in this realm that we enter into a philophical discussion or perhaps a theological one at that. It is not my purpose here to proceed with such a discussion, instead I simply want to make the point that the claim that the queston to when human life begins is clearly answered by science is a false one. Science will never answer this question, nor can it by the very limitations of scientific methodology!

Matthew Warner May 13, 2010 at 8:58 am

Cesar, I respectfully and totally disagree. The terms “human” and “life” are scientifically defined. By your standard, it sounds like science could define nothing and everything would be a “philosophical or theological” question. That doesn’t make any sense.

When we get into the realm of “what is a person” and when does a human life deserve to be protected or begin to retain a “right to life”….these are philosophical and theological questions outside the realm of science. But whether or not something is “alive” is indeed (at least) a scientific distinction and so is the distinction of species (i.e. if it’s human or not). So I’m not sure what you’re basing your thoughts on.

Cesar May 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Matt- Yes it is true that science must us a certain process of characterization and ordering to define the very subject matter it studies, eg biology defines life as the condition which distinguishes active organisms from inorganic matter and further having the characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes. Defining “human” is easy based on the organism cellular genetic makeup. Indeed the argument can be made that at the moment of conception (ie fertilization), the process is in place for the actualization of a human being (human embryogenesis). And in the process of embryonic development, there is a series of cell divisions and complex interactions that science again categories and nicely places into stages of the prenatal development. This is the role of science.

You are missing the more subtle issue here because your analysis of this topic is overly-simplistic… and likewise so are those of the experts and “drs” who propose defining life at conception “with a purpose”. Nowhere does science state that the value of a human being begins at conception, nor does science unequivocally answer the question of the beginnings in a human organism of the “self” (ie the cognitive and affective representation of one’s identity). Your argument or the drs argument that life begins at conception really proves nothing but a scientific classification (or definition if you will) to an reproductive phenomena.

Again I contest that the answers to the questions that science does not answer, eg value of human life, the “self”, or for those with a religious conviction you may even throw in “a soul”, are the domain of philosophical and theological analysis. Please do not confuse your public that the pure sciences can ever come to a universal conclusion to questions that are likely domed to a relativistic interpretation at best.

Matthew Warner May 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Cesar, I’m beginning to think you didn’t read the post? Or the last comment I wrote to you even? You are basically repeating back to me what I’ve already said.

Yes, “self”, personhood, ensoulment, “being” – however you would like to put it. These are not scientific questions. I’ve repeatedly said that. And I have never claimed otherwise.

And you just agreed with me that science says human life begins at fertilization.

Cesar May 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I read it and am well aware of the point you are trying so hard to make. In fact you stated:
“If science had proven that human life actually began at implantation or at nine weeks or whenever, then that’s precisely when we (Catholics and any other reasonable belief system) would believe that human life began. Simple. And, logically, it would be from that moment when this human being should be treated with the rights and dignities that come with being a human being.”

This statement is eg of what my point is (that which I am unfortunately not making a conceiving argument)… “human being” is a vague term and the scientific definition of the term is simple a classification. However in your statement (which I quoted here) you impart a more profound meaning the term “human being” because you are associating other components of “being” (self) as you put it in your last reply. You are not imparting this component explicitly and perhaps not knowingly either, but I should point out to you that implicitly you are indeed putting a bigger meaning to the term “human being”. It is a common mistake or misunderstanding made by pro-life advocates and understandably so because its enticing to read and adopt a scientific explanation when it supports a point of interest.

However you are still not making the connection correctly, simply put you are comparing apples to oranges in your analysis of human being and human life as a SCIENTIFIC DEFINTION as having the components necessary to consider the moral and ethical treatment of that that entity. That is not a legit interpretation of the scientific data, sorry, science can explain much but not the philosophical; and for your information, even pure science has its set of paradox to what in fact it is defining at an “a priori” level (big arguments that rock the very foundations of what science can really know). But that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Matthew Warner May 13, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Cesar, The premise for the post is when does science say that “human life” begins. Science answers that question clearly. From the very beginning of your comments you have both denied this and accepted it. So pardon my confusion.

Yes, I did make one statement in the post that took it a step further saying that I believe that every human life should be treated as a human being. I believe this to be a logical position (not a scientific one) – if only because on a practical level there is no other point in time when we can definitively say that a particular human life is or is not a “being.” And we should certainly err on the side of “being.” And either way, whether you want to argue the personhood/being of a human life…it is still a human life. I’m not comparing apples to oranges. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never once made a “scientific” connection or assertion between a “human life” and a “human being.”

It’s simplistic because it’s simple. You are the one purposely obfuscating it with an entirely different argument based on things I never said.

Cesar May 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm

You say:
“Yes, I did make one statement in the post that took it a step further saying that I believe that every human life should be treated as a human being. I believe this to be a logical position (not a scientific one) – if only because on a practical level there is no other point in time when we can definitively say that a particular human life is or is not a “being.””

That’s getting to the point, science cannot definitively say when “being” comes into existence; “human life” per se is not important or relevant to the discussion of constitutes a human or person and thus what can be assigned value of human life.

Yes a zygote for example is a human life by a pure scientific definition but more importantly that is not equivalent to say that this zygote is a human being in the sense of assigning human value to that life. It just does not make sense from a scientific perspective. You may make the argument using a religious proposition, but cannot ascribe any logical deduction to this conclusion. You stated that “I believe this to be a logical position (not a scientific one)…” you are correct there, you are entitled to believe what you want, but no science will substantiate this.

You also stated:
” Science has quite clearly and decidedly proven that human life begins at conception”
In fact, this is not a proof at all. Biology has simply identified and classified that at the fertilization the process for life (ie embryonic development of an organism) has begun. It is a very obvious classification to make based on the biological and cellular processes that take place during fertilization. But again I’m trying to make you understand that there is where the science stops! The science does not prove anything new about human beings or implications to the value of life. That’s what I mean about apples and oranges. There is no comparison or connection that should be made here between science and religion/philosophy, so please keep the two clearly separated (at least when you speak propose and proclaim that science has shed some light on this subject).

Statements like this:
“But despite our maturity, biological or otherwise, we are “whole” members of the human species – human beings. And with that comes an inherent dignity and right to life.”
Are huge leaps… of faith perhaps and have not real basis on science. “Inherent dignity”, “right of life” are all interesting concepts but ones that again are not appropriate to mix with the pure scientific facts of fertilization and embryonic development. The two subject areas do not mix!

Perhaps I’m still not making my point clear, I think it helps to remove yourself from you innate convictions. Sometimes when you want to really believe in something, that is a difficult endeavor.

Kimi May 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm


I think you may be assuming that Matthew wants to understand your point. You do make excellent points, however.

Matthew Warner May 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Cesar – you keep agreeing with me and act like you are “getting to the point.” I never claimed science tells us when a human being has value or a right to life. I simply state that science demonstrates when a unique, individual, self-directed human life begins…at fertilization (conception).

You are speaking very unclearly. Science does not give one truth and philosophy another. It is all the same truth. Different approaches help us understand different aspects of the same truth.

A human life is present at conception. Therefore it has the value of a human life. That’s plain, simple logic. I am fully aware of the consequential discussion that follows regarding just what that “value” is. But that is not the point of this post really. Yes, what that value is is not entirely, if at all, a scientific question. I have not claimed it as such, nor have I tried to pretend so. The point here is to show that we know exactly when a human life begins. At conception. Many people don’t know that.

Once everyone is aware of this fact, then we can have the next discussion over what the value of that human life is. It’s a necessary and good discussion. But the scientific evidence of when human life begins is entirely relevant to that discussion. It informs it. It is not entirely separate. It all builds together to make the truth more clear for us.

There is the question of when human life begins. The answer is fertilization (conception) – science confirms this. With that knowledge we can then take what we believe are the inherent, natural human rights of every human, and now we can apply it to these small humans in the womb. It’s a very logical process. We can disagree on what those “human rights” are. You can even argue that some humans don’t have some of these human rights (if you believe some humans are of greater value than others – personally I don’t believe that). But the answer to whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a human life has been answered.

I don’t know how to make my position any more clear for you.

Kimi May 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm


Please stop fabricating. First of all, science doesn’t actually say anything.It’s not a human being. It doesn’t speak. Scientists say things. People who aren’t scientists use evidence from scientific findings to support opinions. People interpret science. You can’t logically say that “science” says something. (To try to personify or even deify science itself seems weak.)

Second, the majority of scientists say that life has one beginning – back at the point when life first appeared on earth. It’s gone on in a never-ending continuum since then. Sperm and eggs are alive before conception (unless they are dead of course).

Third, as always, when you present your opinions as if they are undebatable facts, you lose a tremendous amount of credibility. If you share an actual fact, only the most gullible will believe you since you are seem unwilling to identify your opinions for what they are. Presenting your opinions as fact seems desperate. It makes you an untrustworthy source.

Fourth, definitions don’t prove anything. They are a way to label reasoning. When you use a definition to replace reasoning itself and pretend that a definition represents incontrovertible fact, it seems like something is causing you to avoid engaging in reason. Why, Matthew? Why not use God’s gift of reason? You can do better.

Matthew Warner May 14, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Thanks for the encouragement.

Kimi May 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I take it that means you are going to make an effort to move away from fabrication in order to pay attention to the world as God created it, not as Matthew imagined it?

Catholic Pro-lifer June 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm

If you think Matthew is wrong, prove it.

Kimi May 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Can someone tell me why the so-called pro-lifers care so much about zygotes and so little about the high infant mortality rate in the US? Can someone tell me why so-called pro-lifers don’t seem to care that anti-choice laws don’t correlate with lower abortion rates but do correlate with higher maternal death rates? How is that thinking in any way pro-life?

Matthew Warner May 14, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Kimi – you obviously aren’t very familiar with very many “pro-lifers.” Even still, morality is not based solely on the ends (results).

Kimi May 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm


I’m wondering what makes God’s awesome and beautiful real world scare you to the point of constant fabrication of an alternative reality. Your other world can never compete with God’s so why hide there?

Your “obvious” conclusion is wrong, which is not a surprise since you made no effort to research the facts. I know a lot of “pro-lifers” personally and I’ve reached out to many more over the internet. Why not ask me about the people I know? Seeking truth is so much more rewarding and righteous than making up your own false witness.

Matthew, I like to know more about how you define morality. If the consequences of actions aren’t first and foremost, how can the basis for any moral judgment actually lead to moral decisions?

Matthew Warner May 17, 2010 at 1:50 am

Kimi, absolutely! It’s straight out of Catholicism 101…

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1755-1756):
“A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself.

The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

Kimi May 18, 2010 at 2:08 am

Matthew, you’re getting circular again to the point of getting perfectly backwards.

Your quote boils down to: Don’t do evil so that good may result from it.

In direct contrast, the issue I discussed regarding “pro-lifers” was that they attempt to do good, but evil (increased death) results from the ill-advised legislation they promote.

Here’s a map:

My point = Don’t do A if it leads to B.
Your evidence = Don’t do B to try to get to A.

What was that?

What self-absorbed “pro-lifers” do is murderous: They cause an increase in deaths because they live out an unproven self-gratifying theory in willful ignorance of the evil, murderous consequences of their actions.

They also choose to remain uneducated about alternative approaches. Ego protection appears to reign above all else.

Matthew Warner May 18, 2010 at 2:34 am

Oh Kimi – I addressed the exact question you asked: You said, “If the consequences of actions aren’t first and foremost, how can the basis for any moral judgment actually lead to moral decisions?”

You also said this:
“Can someone tell me why the so-called pro-lifers care so much about zygotes and so little about the high infant mortality rate in the US? Can someone tell me why so-called pro-lifers don’t seem to care that anti-choice laws don’t correlate with lower abortion rates but do correlate with higher maternal death rates? How is that thinking in any way pro-life?”

Your obvious implication here is that a person can not be pro-life if they support something which has consequences (infant mortality rate, lower abortion rates, maternal death rates) that are not also good.

And aside from your “facts” not being very true, the direct quote from the catechism I cited clearly explains why it is not Catholic at all to base our morality on these types of consequences when the actions/objects to attain them are themselves immoral. And it speaks directly against the idea that somebody can support abortion (or a choice for it) because some of the consequences may be positive. Which was your obvious implication.

You said you wanted to know more about how I “defined my morality”…so I told you. :-)

I’m sorry if you’re having trouble following.

kat April 11, 2011 at 11:44 am

Dr. George is considered America’s “most influential conservative Christian thinker.” so his annalogy doesn’t give credence to the evidence that an embyo is a human being

Matthew Warner April 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

I’m fairly sure that’s a non sequitur. And also wrong.

Kimi May 18, 2010 at 2:52 am


Although you seem to frequently misconstrue comments you read here, I’m guessing that reading comprehension is not the core issue.

More likely, you are someone with high ideals who cares and wants to do right — someone who delves deeply into ideas. You want to be accurate and objective. But sometimes in delving deeply, we forget to observe emotions and in doing so, we can lose crucial data. It becomes hard to see how emotions shift our thinking if we are not objectively paying attention to them.

If you truly want to be right, you have to be willing to be objective in looking at your opinions and your reactions to people around you. Stepping back may be hard, but is ignoring all approaches other than your own really the best way to reduce abortion rates? Who does it help when you cling to ideas that don’t work in the real world the way you’d hope they would? It doesn’t help the human beings who wind up dead while you ignore reality.

Are you aware that abortion rates are higher in red states and in areas that preach so-called “family values.” That approach doesn’t work because the preachiness breaks down family relationships rather than builds them.

Are you aware of any of the educational approaches that do work to reduce abortion rates? I recall that in the past you seemed to make an assumption that alternatives to preventing abortion are only about birth control and that’s it. That made me sad because it meant that you didn’t care enough about this issue to be informed.

Learn, Matthew. It’s not okay to bury mistakes with denial. Be willing to learn and make each day better. If God did not mean for us to develop and learn, then we would be born fully competent. We aren’t. We’re made to learn.

Please do the right thing. Slow down. Observe. Pay attention to the truth that God’s world puts in front of you. Learn to build more effective approaches. There is so much you can do to help build solutions if you are just willing to look at the options.

May God bless you, Matthew.

Kimi May 18, 2010 at 3:44 am

I’ll use simpler language:

“Pro-lifers” support legislation that actually increases the total number of deaths. That is not pro-life.

If you believe you advocate life, but instead cause an increase in total number of abortions and other deaths, you are not pro-life.

If you have to pretend that you are saving lives, when the evidence says you are doing the opposite, that is not a pro-life attitude.

If your hope that you are right is more important than the actual outcomes of your actions, you are not pro-life.

If you ignore proven life-affirming ways to reduce the number of abortions. That is not pro-life.

If you are given opportunities to learn about approaches that reduce abortions and save the lives of infants and mothers — and you are not eager to at least explore that, you are not pro-life.

If telling other people what to do causes more abortions and you continue to do it anyway because you want to feel good about your preaching regardless of its murderous results, you are not pro-life.

You see Matthew, “pro-life” means in favor of life, supportive of life. People who cause an increase in deaths, people who are not even slightly interested in learning ways to simultaneously reduce abortions, maternal death, and infant mortality can not, in any interpretation of the English language, be pro-life.

There’s no trade off in reducing those big three causes of preventable death, Matthew. Basic educational strategies reduce infant mortality, maternal death, and abortion rates all at the same time. I’m not talking about birth control either. I know that’s off the table for you.

May God rain love and life upon you.

Matthew Warner May 18, 2010 at 8:49 am

Kimi – this is getting silly. Thank you for the sermon and the dogmatic, infallible proclamation of what Kimi thinks it means to be pro-life. Thanks for the advice…I beg you to take some of your own advice as well. For the record, I disagree with most all of the assumptions you make, but this is not the place to discuss them.

Your conclusions as to the cause of various statistics (such as “That approach doesn’t work because the preachiness breaks down family relationships rather than builds them”) are not based in fact at all – and it’s irrelevant to the question/topic at hand anyway. I’m well aware of the statistics. But when did I say that birth control was the only way to prevent abortion? This is where it gets impossible to take you seriously, Kimi. Seriously? It’s like you just said you had breakfast with the statue of liberty this morning…I just don’t know how to respond. Your accusations are outlandish, fictional and that’s an unfortunate pattern of yours on this blog. It feels like you are more interested in taking every opportune tangent to personally attack some fictional character you’ve created in your head as me rather than wanting to be a part of an honest discussion. And then in a most impressive display of irony you preach about how I’m too preachy, use fiction to complain that I live in a fictional world, closed-mindedly accuse me of being closed-minded, use unsupported personal opinion to criticize my use of facts, and then insist you are Catholic while denying Catholic teaching. Your comments are also getting way off the topic of this post.

Let’s just agree to disagree if that works for you.

Paul Oakley May 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

SHEESH! Enough already!

Kimi and Matthew, you both are talking past each other in ways that appear sometimes willful, sometimes ignorant. You have each said what you believe to be true regarding abortion and being pro-life. Neither of you is getting through to the other. It seems more and more to be about nothing more than winning an argument rather than having a discussion and trying to come either to a subset of the discussion on which you can agree or coming to a fuller understanding of the other’s beliefs and positions and holding firm in your own positions while coming to a certain enhanced respect for those with whom you continue to disagree.

Kimi, it’s not your blog. You had your say. Back off.

Matthew, it might be time to close comments on this post or to delete future responses to this post by Kimi rather than continuing this embarrassing tit-for-tat.

And, of course, it is your blog, Matthew. Feel free to delete this comment too. Just know that, as a visitor, I’m finding this particular exchange increasingly embarrassing.

Catholic Pro-lifer June 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Okay, Matthew. I’m discussing abortion with a couple of other Catholics. We’re all finding it very hard to accept the Church’s teaching that abortion is not justified even when it is the only way to save the Mother.

What I’m talking about is a scenario when both the Mother AND baby would certainly die anyway, but the Mother could be saved if the baby was aborted.

The situations DO occur. I’ll give you a written example from a friend I’ll call Sally:

“I am one of those who would NOT be here had the pregnancy I was carrying not been terminated. My blood loss was so severe because I had tried to keep the pregnancy going past 5 months which at the time was not viable. I have been told by more than one Priest that I did nothing wrong – neither the fetus or I would have lived. There are some on here who will say that the Priests were wrong – and honestly, I’m going with what my Priest told me. I really wish that child was here, living right now, but it just was not to be and my death would not have made any difference regarding that life.

I have no doubt I will hear that “maybe if you waited, God would have performed a miracle” or “the church says terminating a pregnancy for any reason is wrong – you should have just allowed God to take you both…” or some comment that is similar. My husband is glad I’m here as is my Priest and my family. I have been asked “how are you going to tell your other children how you killed their brother or sister?” – I will tell them exactly what happened when they are of a proper age. I want them to know that they have a little brother (actually more than one) up in Heaven who they can ask to pray for them. And the question I put down I have been asked – I did not “kill” the fetus -the doctor saved my life. And honestly, if in the same situation, I would expect my doctor and my husband to make the same decision. I am Catholic but I have yet to have a Priest tell me to my face that if a woman is in a similar situation to mine or is pregnant and neither she nor the fetus have a possibility of living if the pregnancy is continued that she is supposed to let herself be killed along with the fetus. And I will not feel guilty. I am sad I could not carry that fetus longer, but my family is glad that I’m still here. I’m glad the technology is here that allows a woman to live (in a similar situation) and I really do hope that doctors will find a way to save both mother and fetus/child when similar situations occur.”

…and there is of course also the recent case of Sister McBride.

I know the Church’s infallible teaching is that abortion is completely forbidden in ALL circumstances, including the extremely difficult one I have described, but the question is, how does this make sense?

You are an excellent apologist and I am interested to hear your thoughts on this very thorny issue, Matthew.

God bless.

Bill July 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I am not Matthew. I think I can give a good answer to your question, although you have not provided enough information.

I am not judging “Sally.” I am very sorry for her loss. My mother lost my youngest brother many years ago (he was stillborn — if there had been ultrasound in 1951, the problem that killed him would have been detected early, he probably would have been delivered by c-section, and he would have lived). She grieved over that loss for nearly 60 years.

I am not assuming or saying that medically this was simple — I am not a doctor, and even if I were, you have not related enough facts to make it possible to answer your question.

The question you have not answered is, why was Sally bleeding so badly? The way you’ve set this up makes it seem that you hope to create an emotional state in the reader that will make it appear that “there was absolutely no choice but to have an abortion.” Doctors have said many times, under oath in testimony and in medical literature, that this is very rarely or never the case.

The natural law and the law of the Church require that the doctor do everything possible to save both mother and child. The principle of double effect probably applies in the case you relate, depending on what was actually going on with Sally. So, for example, if a woman who is pregnant is shot in the abdomen, the doctor will have to try to save both mother and child, and if in the process, the child dies, no grave moral violation has taken place (as long as the doctor did not perform an abortion). Saving mom might, for example, require the doctor to remove her uterus in order to stop the bleeding. The doctor foresees the death of the child, but neither the doctor nor the mother intend that the child die. The doctor does nothing to directly take the child’s life. In fact there are cases in which women who were in their 24th or 25th week of pregnancy were shot in the abdomen, and the doctor was able to save the mother’s life AND the baby’s life, even though the procedure involved removing the uterus; we have come a long way with what is possible and almost routine in medicine, to the point that these results would have been called “miraculous” twenty years ago. The same principle applies in the case of an ectopic pregnancy — the baby is implanted in the wrong place, outside the womb. The surgical process that is required to save mom will result in the death of the child, but the process is not an abortion, and it is not intended to cause the death of the child (who in this case will almost certainly be too young to survive, even with the best that any doctor could do). The main requirement is that the doctor may not do anything that is directly intended to cause the death of the baby. The direct taking of innocent life is always and under all circumstances forbidden.

You can read about the principle of double effect on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_double_effect

There is another Web site with medical examples, one involving a pregnant woman with a cancerous womb: http://www.trosch.org/phi/dbl-efft.htm

And that is how “this makes sense.” I hope this helps you understand. I hope that you will not pass this along to Sally — there is no point in increasing the pain and grief she already feels. If she is Catholic, I am sure she has already received absolution in confession, and in any case, God’s mercy and justice will prevail. My answer, as I said, is for you, and for anyone else who reads this.

Bill July 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Oh, about Sister McBride — we don’t have any facts whatsoever about the condition of the mother for whom she approved an abortion. Because of HIPPA, we will never have those facts, so bringing up Sister McBride is simply throwing in the proverbial red herring in this discussion. However, the Church law is firm, and allows no exceptions. What Sister did in approving the abortion was wrong. Period. My own suspicion about the case is covered by what I said above: Doctors have said many times, under oath in testimony and in medical literature, that it is very rarely or never the case that an abortion is required in order to save the life of the mother.

St. Gianna Beretta Mola, pray for all mothers, especially those faced with these difficulties and tragedies.

Catholic pro-lifer July 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Good issues, but then, here’s the situation: “Sally’s” situation, I learned later, was one where, in other situations, it would be possible to not abort the baby and still save the Mother (c-section). But the Doctors’ messed up, and by this time in Sally’s pregnancy, it was too late t give a c-section and save Sally for whatever reason (as Sally told it to us), and an abortion was necessary.

Doctors will always mess up. Must we let Sally die here?

Bill July 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

Readers who get this far down the comments might find this interesting:

This is an article by the Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson, titled “Good Catholics cannot be pro-choice; The Fifth Commandment demands respect for life as God’s most precious gift” — he pretty much tells it like it is. If you disagree, please write the Archbishop, not me.

Bill July 13, 2010 at 8:11 pm

My friend, something is not right about that story. It is never too late to do a c-section, for one thing. There are some other problems with it, too. The condition you described sounds like placenta previa, for which abortion is not the appropriate procedure in any case, and it would be totally useless for stopping the bleeding.

It’s pointless to go on with this discussion. There’s too much in what you relate that makes no sense.

Bill July 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Left this out of my previous reply:

Either you misunderstood what Sally told you, or Sally misunderstood what the doctor said. There is no way to answer the (now hypothetical, since we aren’t dealing with facts) question “must we let Sally die?” The answer to the (perhaps unasked) question, “Is abortion still wrong and a grave sin?” is still “Yes” — and it always will be.

Catholic pro-lifer July 25, 2010 at 8:31 pm


James January 15, 2011 at 6:17 am

Mr Warner, thank you so much for your beautiful, peaceful and enlightening arguments. You are always spot-on, in my opinion. You have a real gift from God; you are a real gift from God.

Jordan February 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Good post, good read.

I like the idea of a scientific approach built on core definitions. It seems very logical, like the way you might prove that 1+0=1. You can argue all day about the philosophical ramifications of that statement to no avail, what the meaning of 1 or 0 is, et cetera, or you can take the easy route and prove it mathematically using basic axioms that are universally accepted, or defined.

I have to admit that after reading a good portion of the comments it was difficult not to post replies to some of the people. It’s difficult when someone completely ignores the point of another’s comments (i.e. a scientific approach to defining the beginning of a human life) and make only slightly-related, argument-inducing comments of their own. It’s even more difficult when you disagree with them! :-)

That being said, your post only adds another layer of cement to my already firm view that life begins at conception. I wish all could share this view, which, based on my nearly 5 years of university study in mathematics and computer science, feels like a logically sound argument. However, I think people hear what they want to hear and ignore the rest.

Thank you,

Falstaff February 21, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Very good and well written, but be aware: the scientific argument isn’t enough.(It’s not enough to know “what is” in order to get to what “ought to be”).

We kill all sorts of unquestionably human beings everyday (executions, war, etc.) so the argument about “personhood” what it means and what rights and dignity attaches to it is still essential. Which is one of the reasons I became a Catholic: what the church has to say about the dignity of human personhood is wise and important.

April August 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

Matt, Thank you for writing this. I enjoyed reading it & will share it. I get so passionate about the issue of abortion & sometimes cannot clearly state my beliefs without sounding life a blinded by my Catholic faith nut case. I now have something to turn to.
There are so many things that are protected but not yet “alive” & when I ask why a sea turtle egg or bald eagle egg are protected when a human embryo are not I am told because we are not “endangered”. I say if we keep abortion legal one day we humans may too become “endangered.” Watch the movie Children of Men. I don’t think people stop having babies in the movie because of abortion (I could be wrong), but I fear this will be our future if we don’t end the senseless murder of our most forgotten humans, the unborn.
Again, thank you for writing this great article.

Rob August 31, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I’m a Democrat and an atheist.

And I hate abortion and think it’s absurd to believe that human life begins at any other time than when sperm meets egg.

AndiB September 6, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I know I am totally late in the game here, but I was troubled by the argument about the boy of five being taken off life support by his mother and why is that acceptable but not aborting a life form that is completely dependent on a mother for it’s ability to live.
First off I don’t support taking people off life support, feeding tubes, or what have you anyway, but beyond that, if you are really fairly comparing the two scenarios, the mother of the five year old would more likely be told you can take your son off life support, but he has a 80-90% chance of living a full happy healthy life if you wait 9 months. Now I think, and I may be wrong, but you would probably be very hard pessed to find any mother in their right mind who would take that child off life support, and if they did I am sure there would be a whole lot of outrage at that decision. Just my very late two cents worth.

Tessa September 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I often struggle with this issue myself. I know that an embryo is technically a full human, and has the genetic material of a complete human being. It makes me uncomfortable with abortion. What I struggle with is this: what about the mother? We are so concerned about the rights of this human being, but it doesn’t seem that we are at all concerned with the rights of the mother. How do we rectify that? I think we should add that to our consideration to complete the whole picture, because without this issue being discussed we are only talking about half of the problem and won’t solve anything.

So far, I have been leaning towards the conclusion that a human embryo should not be given rights until it is viable outside of the mother (though I am by no means completely sure in this). Before then, it essentially acts as a parasite, living off of the mother and completely depending on her body and energy. If it isn’t implanted into the uterine lining, it will flush out and cease existing. Could we really say that is the death of a human being? It is estimated that about half of all pregnancies (both discovered and undiscovered) end with either being flushed out of the uterus before implantation or in spontaneous miscarriage by no fault of anyone, many times without the mother even knowing it was inside of her. So you could say that implantation is the point of human-beingness, but then again, it cannot possibly survive outside of the mother (even with medical assistance) until later on in the pregnancy. It is so much more complicated than simply saying “it is a human at conception and therefore deserves full rights.” :(

Tessa September 20, 2011 at 5:56 pm

And please correct me if I got any of my facts wrong! I don’t want to be spouting out falsities, that would be very embarrassing.

Psajmon October 18, 2011 at 2:36 am

Bull… Life begins after 3rd week of fetus development… Otherwise everything that contains DNA is a human starting with sperm (forget about hout showers), nails and skin. What I’m trying to say You should bury your nails every time you clip them cuz your nails are human cells… same as blastula or whatever…

Linda October 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm

I wanted to thank all who logically, non aggressively and respectively shared their views in this post. It is so refreshing to respect each other even if we agree to disagree. I believe 100% that a human being is created and exist completely human from the moment of conception. again, my thanks

Tessa November 9, 2011 at 1:12 pm

The comment hasn’t showed up yet, but I received a notification for it so I’ll respond. It was this:
“And better education and resources for pregnant mothers would be great. I’m with you there. I’m not with you on more contraception (as that is one of the contributing factors to the lifestyle that has led to more abortions and to treating abortion as a kind of “birth control” in the first place).”

Actually, more contraception is not the contributing factor to why more abortions are taking place. Contraception prevents pregnancy if used properly (especially if two or more methods are used at once, which is recommended). Dangerous pregnancies are unrelated to contraception usage. And many women who get abortions are young teenagers who don’t use contraception (or don’t use it properly) because they are only taught abstinence. It has been proven that areas in the US that teach abstinence only or have inadequate sex education courses have higher rates of teen pregnancy. If contraception was more available and used correctly, the market for abortions would decrease dramatically. The only way that could happen without contraception knowledge and usage is if people didn’t have sex at all. To say that more contraception is not the answer, and then say that abortions should be illegal, is putting women in a very bad place indeed.

It’s also a little offensive to say that people today think of abortion as a form of birth control (I’m assuming you mean women, since they’re the ones getting the procedure). You are not a woman; I am. I do not know any woman (or person), for or against abortion, who thinks of it as a form of birth control. And if someone does, it is not the availability of actual contraception that causes this view. Abortion is a serious and horrible procedure that is not to be taken lightly. How could anyone view ending a pregnancy as no big deal? Many women agonize over it. And that is why it is so important to make real birth control more available.

Matthew Warner November 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Tessa – the reply was up higher in the thread as it was a reply to somebody else’s comment. That’s why you dont’ see it at the bottom here.

Thanks for your thoughts. And actually, it’s yes, a contraceptive culture has most certainly contributed to more abortions. The correlation is astounding. The more and more common the use of contraceptives has become, the more and more abortions that have occurred.

I never said contraception didn’t help prevent pregnancy if used properly. And I never said or implied that dangerous pregnancies had anything to do with contraception use. Not sure why you mentioned those.

Putting women in a bad place? That is ridiculous and COMPLETELY insulting to women. Women are completely capable of controlling themselves if they are taught to and, if they do make a mistake, giving birth to the innocent baby inside of them…their own child.

The problem with POVs like yours is that you start with a (false) given that…women are going to have sex. As if they have no control over what they do. It’s not just the abstinence education that failed some people, it’s the entire education system and most of all their families and the culture in general that implies the same (false) given that you are – that they are just going to have sex, “everyone is gonna do it.” So, of course, they do. Duh.

And of COURSE people use abortion as birth control. Anytime you have sex, even if you use multiple forms of birth control, there is a chance at pregnancy. Period. So if you’re going to have “responsible” sex, then you had better be ready to accept a child. Otherwise, you have no place at all rolling the dice with pregnancy, conceiving a child and then killing them because you decided it was okay to roll the dice on getting pregnant because you used contraception and, whoops, it failed. That’s completely irresponsible. And anyone who gets an abortion because their “birth control failed” is most certainly using abortion as a form of birth control. Their “conception control” failed (contraception) so they “control” the birth another way (by killing the baby). A huge portion of abortions occur because “my birth control failed.” That is abortion as birth control, plain and simple.

You are missing the point of how contraception contributes to abortions. It’s a matter of the cultural value of sex and its consequences. Contraception and its widespread use has enabled (and encouraged) this idea that there is such a thing as “responsible” or “safe” sex that doesn’t involve the potential consequences of a new human life being created. That’s a lie. The ONLY place that safe and responsible sex can occur is within a life-long marriage which is open to the children that may result from their sexual activity. The child deserves that and needs that.

Additionally, a contraceptive culture and a false sense that there is such a thing as “safe” sex has had a risk compensation effect. That is, because people perceive sex as completely safe and that there are no real consequences to it, they engage in more and riskier sex than they would have otherwise. That’s what scientific research found with the “condom” distribution approach to stopping AIDS in Africa (more on that here).

Tessa November 10, 2011 at 1:36 am

Hello Matthew,

I do see your point on the contraceptive issues, and why it might be seen as birth control by some. I just wanted to point out that not all see it as that. I certainly do not. For example, if I had sex and were to get pregnant, I would have the child and give it up for adoption. I just don’t see abortion as an option for myself. But I am so thankful that I have contraceptives that I can use that significantly reduce my odds of getting pregnant to almost zero. And I never said that sex wasn’t risky. That is my point: the problem is that people aren’t adequately taught about sex. We should not teach people that sex is completely safe, but how to have sex responsibly and know what the very real risks are. It is silly to assume that anything you do doesn’t have risks. Taking medication has risks. Skydiving has risks. Eating new foods has risks. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do those things; enjoy them, as long as you are prepared for it and do it responsibly. Perhaps if people were actually taught how to use contraceptives properly, and they were informed of the success rates and told to use more than one method at a time, then the abortion rate would in fact decrease rather than increase. Just giving people contraceptives and telling them to go for it is never the answer.

I completely respect that you feel sex should only be within marriage for those who want children, but I do not agree that your ideal should be imposed on everyone in America. That is extremely unfair. Not everyone shares your personal and/or religious beliefs, and it is perfectly ok for them to not agree with you and act how they see fit. I, for example, do not see sex the same way that you see sex. I would ask that you respect my freedom to have sex and use contraceptives, though you may not agree with how I live my life. Again, I respect that you want to live your life that way, but you can’t force others to do the same. I understand wanting abortion to be illegal on the grounds of unjustly ending a life, but people should both be educated about contraceptives/sex and have access to contraceptives, because not everyone believes the way you do.

Matthew Warner November 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

Tessa, I never suggested that my ideals about marriage or contraceptive use should be “imposed.” What I AM suggesting is that one woman’s “choice” to kill their baby should not be “imposed” on anyone else – most especially her baby.

And while giving your unwanted baby up for adoption is certainly VASTLY more “responsible” than aborting (killing) him/her. It still is not very responsible. Which is my point.

Sex being only appropriate within a life-long marriage is not only a “religious belief.” It’s a matter of justice for the baby involved. It’s based upon natural law – no need for religious beliefs to come into play at all. Your unwanted baby is owed his/her biological mother and father. And not separately, but within a secure and safe relationship that is exclusive and life-long (this is the definition of a marriage). That is what is best for the child. That is what they are owed by you, her mother. For you to engage in sex knowing that you risk getting pregnant while not intending to take responsibility for your own child, the human being you brought into the world, is not responsible at all. Sorry.

Adoption is a beautiful choice for people who are victims of irresponsible behavior (their own or others) and who could not otherwise provide for their child. It is not a “responsible” option for people who want to have sex without consequences and then to shirk their duty to the baby they bring into the world as a result of it. Giving up all responsibility for their own son or daughter who, by no fault of their own, was brought into the world by their mother’s desire for sex – but not for them.

It has absolutely nothing to do with what I believe. It has to do with what is just and right for each and every human life that comes into being.

Tessa November 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hello Matthew,

I’m sorry, but I get the feeling that you’re not a huge fan of women liking sex. You seem to think that it is all the woman’s fault if a baby is born. I’m not sure if that is actually what you believe, but that is how you’re presenting yourself. It takes two to get pregnant, and men tend to get the better end of the deal since they don’t actually birth the child. And actually, it would be a responsible choice for me to give up any hypothetical child I birthed because I do not think I would be a fit mother for a child. Just because I am a woman does not automatically make me a good mother; I have my strengths, and nurturing children is definitely not one of them. Any child of mine would be much better off with parents who use their resources to adopt a child than it would be with me. And just because I do not want children does not mean that I should not have sex. Sex is a wonderful, pleasureable thing that brings couples together, and there are many ways to have sex that won’t result in pregnancy (meaning no penetration is involved, and as a bit of TMI, that constitutes most of the sex that I have). And even if penetration is involved, modern contraceptives (when used correctly and in conjunction with one another) make that chance nearly zero.

And I actually plan on getting sterilized as soon as I can so that I can fully enjoy sex in all forms, which is a whole other issue, since apparently as a woman most American doctors won’t sterilize me unless I have one or two children already and/or are thirty years of age. You tell me whether it’s fair or not if I happen to (on the 99.9% off chance) get pregnant because a doctor wouldn’t sterilize me for these reasons when I wanted to be sterilized. Why do so many people care only about the child living, and living with the biological mother, when they never consider the mother herself or how the child will be taken care of with the mother? It rather thoughtless, and it feels like it’s all about control. I am trying to understand other people’s views, am willing to reconsider my own, and want to find a solution that benefits everyone involved, but I can’t find others who are willing to look at all of the factors with me. There is more than just one factor involved, and it feels like most sides in these sort of debate choose to only focus on one factor. Things aren’t black and white, no matter how hard one may try to make them so.

Whether or not you feel my choice to give a hypothetical child up for adoption is responsible or not, that is for me the most responsible choice I could make, and you have no right to judge my choice as responsible or irresponsible without knowing my situation. I’m not perfect; I’m sure you’re not either. Maybe you don’t agree that I should be having (responsible, protected) sex if I don’t want children, or that I should give up any hypothetical child I would have at this time for adoption; to that I say that my situation is an extremely complicated one that I would not be able to share here, and we will have to agree to disagree. And I have a feeling you won’t agree with anything that that think or choose to do, so I am not going to argue further.

Matthew Warner December 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Tessa – it really gets back to something more fundamental. We have to consider what we were made for. Our bodies were clearly made with a purpose. Our creator made humans with certain capabilities – i.e. being able to create new human life. The process by which that happens is coital sex (since we’re getting all technical now). The fact that sex also happens to be pleasurable doesn’t mean it no longer also has the function of procreation. Anyone who engages in sex where there is the possibility of a new human life being created (and yes, that involves contracepted sex) has the responsibility to care for that child if they are created. This is a natural, moral law. Not my opinion or some religious dogma. It applies to both men and women (not sure where you are getting that I’m somehow treating one sex differently than the other or letting men off the hook).

Your child deserves to have YOU as their mother and to be raise and cared for and loved by YOU (and the father of course). In situations where that is not possible, obviously, adoption (and other options) is a wonderful and beautiful secondary alternative. But that doesn’t negate the obligation in the first place of the biological mother. And in the case of adoption what it most often means (with few exceptions) is that the man and woman putting the child up for adoption probably should not have been engaging in sex in the first place. Our actions obligate us to certain moral responsibilities. If we aren’t ready to accept those then we aren’t ready to have sex.

Sterilizing yourself intentionally is not a good alternative either, as it is an abuse of your body. You are destroying a perfectly healthy and good function of how your body was designed to work. And all so that you can enjoy some pleasure it was designed for without the natural and good consequences of the act.

Tessa – life is about much more than maximizing our pleasure. That is a road that ends in despair. The pursuit of such pleasure while disregarding what we were made to be will not lead to the peace and joy you are searching for. That peace is only found in recognizing who you are and what you were made to be and then living in accordance with it.

I wish you the best! God bless you.

M. Forrest August 29, 2012 at 2:27 am

I’ve long found this quote particularly interesting. Guess which Pope wrote it:

“”The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure an an aim independent of it.”

Trick question: it was penned by that well-known Catholic prude, Sigmund Freud. ;-)

(Source: Christopher West, Good News About Sex & Marriage, Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching (Ann Arbor, MI: Charis Servant Publications, 2000), p.119)

Bill November 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm


It seems to me that you came to this particular discussion on this particular blog for a reason. Maybe, in your heart of hearts, you are looking for truth.

Someone who believes that everything isn’t black and white, that is, one who believes that there is no truth, or that truth is relative, has a problem — or so it seems to me. To believe that there is no absolute right and wrong means that the person has to accept that nothing he or she says is reliable, that in fact everything he or she says or believes is meaningless.

Apparently, from what you have said in this thread, you believe that you have the absolute right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want, as often as you want, however you want. Do you not see the contradiction?

The only way to make sense of the world and of life is to understand that there is right and wrong. Right is not always pleasant or convenient, and wrong never comes without consequences. Matt’s take on things is right. You may find that unpleasant or inconvenient, but that doesn’t make you right.

I hope you will consider that as you look for truth. I pray that you don’t stop looking for truth until you find it, and that you find the fulness of truth and have the courage to accept it.

Peace and all good to you.

Will March 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm

This is to the moderators – just delete my comment from March 12, 2012 at 1:46 AM. I’ve grown tired of the debate. Additionally, I’ve developed a surprising admiration for the the teachings of the Catholic Church. I was simply bored and saw in Matt a possibly interesting sparing partner. I’m being capricious, but I simply do not want to engage in the debate any longer. I’ve no real opinion on the matter and have developed a genuine respect for Matt and the other contributors.
Thanks, Will

sarah May 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm

damn, this is good. but according to a west chester institute white paper, “The debate in our society and others is not over when human life begins but is over at what point and for what reasons do we have an obligation to respect and protect that life.” the paper goes on to agree that life begins at conception. but it also mentions that this is simply a launching pad for the abortion debate. the rest is over morality and human needs.

Matthew Warner June 26, 2012 at 11:48 am

Sarah – that’s most certainly the case. But for many people, they are still unaware of when a new human life begins. And they are under the (fase) impression that it is some kind of inexact guess that is debatable by serious thinkers. It’s not. And once people understand that the science is clear about when a new human life begins, it forms a good foundation for then understanding and making the case for how we should treat that human life.

Jason June 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm

So should we start arresting mothers that through negligence kill a fertilized egg even if they didn’t know they were pregnant till after? Should we start charging people have an accident in a car with a pregnant woman and the fetus dies with manslaughter? Even if the woman doesn’t know shes pregnant?

What about miscarriages should we investigate every one of those as if they are a murder case or manslaughter case?

“Oh you lost your baby? That’s not traumatic enough we have to investigate why you lost that baby, and possibly charge you with a crime.”

If its a human right at the moment of the sperm and egg merging why don’t we do that?

The end of a human life must be investigated and possibly have criminal action attracted to it, correct under our current laws? are you really arguing that a fertilized egg is the same as a fully grown adult person? An investigation must be done to determine cause of death.

I mean she had sex she should have made sure that she was extra careful until she found out she wasn’t pregnant.

Do we really want to go down that road?

Scott Tonk June 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Somehow missing in this discussion is the matter of genetics.

When the egg (ovum) and sperm join into a new organism, that organism is genetically human. Not a duck. Not a dog. Not a cat. Genetically human from the very beginning.

Of COURSE a zygote or an embryo or (up to a certain point) a fetus (baby) cannot live outside the mother’s womb. But they CAN live in a suitably supportive environment – just as a preemie requires special equipment in a neonatological ward in a hospital or just as a mountaineer or an astronaut cannot survive except in a life-supportive, often artifically manufactured, environment such as oxygen apparatus and space suits.

My final comment is that of course the pro-life position is religiously based. Why? Because without God all things are moral and excusable, but WITH God – and ONLY with God – is there moral accountability.

Jackson July 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

This paragraph in the article, “Of course, this is exactly backwards from reality. The entire basis for a new, human life beginning at conception stems from well documented, universally recognized scientific fact. The only ones who deny this are those blinded by their own religious dogma of so-called “choice” who have a stubborn need to deny scientific fact in order to stay faithful to their own ideology,” …is proven to be fact in the comments section of the article. :)

Jason January 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

That only holds true if you define human life as a single living cell.

Most people define human life as when it is able to be a separate entity from the mother. That point is where it can be removed from the mother and survive.

Until that point the mother has dominion over her body, and can chose to do with it whatever she likes, after that point it is her moral obligation to carry the child to term because she has made the choice to carry the child.

Religious people view women as vessels for children. Reasonable people actually allow a mother to chose if she wants to have a child or not because she has dominion over her body.

To force women to carry a child, is one of the most egregious oversteps of government action that it can take.

Most Pro-life people are republicans and say they want “Small government” but they LOVE when big government steps in to women’s personal lives to dictate to them what they have to do.

cesar July 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

You state “Science has quite clearly and decidedly proven that a new, human life begins at conception (i.e. fertilization…)” What are your scientific sources for this claim? I read the arguments in the sources linked on your website; they do not support the claim. Biological sciences cannot “prove” this point Matt and it never will. This is not what science does and its beyond the realm of what science can prove.

Some background: Fusion of chromosomal DNA material from sperm and ovum to make the first cell (zygote) of a new human organism is NOT proof of the “beginning” of human life. Rather it is the initial stage of embryonic human development — note this is not “scientifically proven” but is simply a fact of the entire biological mammalian development process. At no moment does science employ the scientific method to make a proof or conclusion on the matter of “human life”. Science speaks of a human organism and NOT a life. This is an important distinction Matt that you should consult and investigate further; perhaps in areas of theology vs science.

You are obviously attempting to make a point with this claim – using science to define human life – perhaps to further support your religious belief in human right of life. You certainly have the right to your religious beliefs. However you are making a mistake when you fabricate a scientific argument (or supports other’s faulty fabrications) to support your position. I know there will be scientists with strong religious beliefs who will make that leap; ie using science to support a religious position (its been done in physics and biology) but this is a very dangerous path to take and to broadcast to the layperson as they will not possess the critical thinking to find fault in the argument.

Matthew Warner July 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Cesar – you said “Science speaks of a human organism and NOT a life.”

A “life” is just something that is alive…and specifically in this case, an individual, self-directing organism that is alive. i.e. it’s an individual life. And this life happens to be human. So therefore it’s an individual human life. This is just simple logic (not an improper mixing of science and theology.) Science relies on such logic to come to ANY conclusion about anything. And it is through the scientific evidence (that is presented in any standard human-embryology text book) that we can come to this conclusion about when an individual human life begins.

Not that hard.

cesar July 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Matt, you state “through scientific evidence… we can come to this conclusion about when an individual human life begins” Not at all true Matt. You keep using the words “conclusion” and “proof” as if science has verified (or can substantiate) some new finding about when (ie moment in time) a living organism begins.

My analysis is that Dr. George is making an argument for his position by quoting scientific facts (from embryology text books) to support his claim that human life begins at conception. However his argument is based on a set of questionable (faulty) and subjective suppositions and not entirely on scientific fact or the scientific method. Therefore the conclusions reached in Dr. George’s book is purely subjective and his opinion; ie you cannot claim that science sheds any new light to this subject matter.

Some of Dr. George’s faulty assumptions include the following:
* That the sum/collection of the parts are equivalence to the whole… Counter-point: is a collection of building materials and a blueprint really equivalent to a house?
* Self-containment embryonic program after conception… Counter-point: maternal factors direct embryonic development (eg preparation and coordination inside the womb takes place ahead of any embryonic implantation).
* Individual at conception… Counter-point: Twinned zygote paradox: if the zygote is already a unique individual (begins here), then how does a unique individual become two unique individuals (monozygotic twins)?
* Only a Egg+Sperm can produce a living organism… Counter-point: reproductive plasticity (unfertilized ovum undergoes embryonic development without conception with sperm cell) debunks Dr. George’s claim.

Lastly, a text book in human embryology will only state that human conception is a “process” and that the genetic material at this stage (zygote) sufficient to begin development of an human embryo. Good science does not pass judgment on or make futile attempts to prove any subjective claim regarding when animal life begins or when some entity becomes a human life. In the scientific community, this is a preposterous endeavor best left to the theologians and philosophers to argue based on ethical and moral grounds rather than scientific ones.

Jason July 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Look, cell is alive, does that make it human? no, what makes a human is every thing a fully developed human has, those cells may have the potential to be a human, but they aren’t a human yet. Once it gets to the point that it is a fully functional human being capable of sustaining life outside of its parasitic relationship that it has with the mother. Once it is capable of living without that umbilical cord attached, it is a human. Not before.

It may be a human cell, it may be a human embryo, it may be a human zygote, but none of those things can live without that parasitic relationship.

I agree that it is alive, and it is a life form, but if you remove that life form from the womb and umbilical cord, and it dies because of that, its not a human “life”. Your definition of “life” is skewed also. Blood cells are alive and live inside of human beings does that make them human? No, it doesn’t.

It is not a separate life form from the mother until it is able to live without that umbilical cord.

Its that simple. That’s the line.

Bill July 14, 2012 at 10:05 am

Jason, a human zygote is human. It can’t be anything else. It and the embryo are a child inside the womb. They can’t be anything else – not a puppy or a kitten or a guppy or any other living thing. They are living humans from the moment of conception until the moment of death.

Referring to a child before birth as a “parasite” is about the most revolting thing you’ve said in this whole long thread. I think you need to go look up what a “parasite” is. I’ll save you the trouble, though; according to the dictionary, a parasite is “an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species.” Go engage your mental faculties on that for a while. A child is not a disease, a cancer, a virus, or a parasite, although there are apparently some deluded people who would have it so.

Elsewhere you compare an unborn child to a pile of lumber and a blueprint and ask if the latter is really a house. An unborn child is not a pile of lumber and a blueprint. An unborn child has organization, structure, senses, feeling, and a mind and a purpose. I am sure you will disagree with all of that, but that assertion is supported by science, by reason, and by philosophy. You ought to look it up.

Jason July 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm

It seems like you have a misunderstanding in terms, I was referring to the parasitic relationship that the child has with its mother. That is a fact.

A parasitic relationship is one in which one organism, the parasite, lives off of another organism, the host. The parasite lives on or in the body of the host. How does it not meet that definition?

Its a human zygote, it isn’t a human yet. How is that hard to understand? That was a complete strawman of my position and you know it.

How does something that hasn’t developed organs or a brain for that matter have “senses, feeling, and a mind and a purpose.”? How does a single cell or a group of cells have that? Once it has all of those things then yes you can make the argument. A single cell has organization and structure.

That’s why I draw the line at it being an individual human or human life, or what ever term you want to stick on it, at its ability to live without the umbilical cord. That’s the point where it is a sustainable human life.

Bill July 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I think it is you who have misunderstood the terms. Dictionary time again. “Parasitic: Of, relating to, or characteristic of a parasite.”

Read what I said: “A human zygote is human.” If we’re only talking about one human zygote, then it is a human.

Individual cells react to changes in their environment. They have senses sufficient to do that. Mind and purpose are not functions of the nervous system or of organs.

The umbilical cord is a fact of mammalian biology. It is not what determines whether the unborn child is a human life or not.

Twenty years ago, survival of infants born earlier than 28 weeks gestational age was unheard of. Today, we see infants born at 25 weeks surviving. Yet abortion can be done at any point, legally, until seconds before the full-term child exits the mother’s body. The abortion industry doesn’t really care when human life begins, but it is happy to terminate human life any time it can, for any reason or even for no particular reason at all. Some argue, well, we don’t know when human life begins. In that case, the ethical thing to do would be to do no abortions.

A human life begins at conception. Not at implantation, not at birth, it begins at conception. You can try to get around that all you want (and you have been trying, for months), but the fact remains: at conception.

sage August 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm

In all his comments Matthew is simply speaking the laws of the RC church and not only does he believe every female should bring every pregnancy to term, he also believes women should not use birth control and that all women should follow the church laws about when, how, in what circumstances and with whom they experience intimacy! He thinks he knows what his God wants of everyone, he even thinks he knows why we were created! He does not know why we were created or even if there was a reason for our creation. He only thinks he knows all this because this is what he has been taught by his church which bases its laws on the opinions of men (and only men) who lived over 2,000 years ago.
Obviously, I am not catholic. I do not believe abortion is a beautiful thing. It would be wonderful if we had a 100% effective birth control method (of course the RC church would say it’s wrong to use that method).
I do not believe a zygote or a foetus is more important than a living woman and her freedom to determine her life. If women do not control their own bodies then they are slaves to whatever keeps them from having that control. And because men will never experience that kind of slavery, they are not qualified to instill any laws on it.
Take responsibility for your actions! You accuse women of murder because they have reasons you don’t understand and choose abortion and this has repercussions. You talk so much about women being responsible, how about your responsibility in inflaming crazy people who bomb abortion clinics and shoot doctors? Do you take responsibility for that? I think not!

Bill August 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Sage, it is a wonderful thing that you do not support abortion. At the same time, I challenge you to show me any place where Matthew has said he wants to accuse women who abort of murder, or where he has inflamed anyone, crazy or not, to bomb or to kill. In fact, I challenge you to show me any place where any person in authority in the Catholic Church has done these things. The Church is totally opposed to such acts, and says so. There is a great deal more violence, day to day, inflicted on people peacefully praying outside abortion clinics than is inflicted on anyone associated with or using those clinics. Do you take responsibility for that? What about James Pouillon who was shot and killed in Michigan in 2009 while exercising his freedom of speech to oppose abortion? Do you take responsibility for that?

Since you are not Catholic, you don’t know that there are many women who are included among the Doctors of the Church, not to mention other women saints, and who have had a great deal to do with what the Church teaches on these matters. I’m guessing that you would discount the overwhelming majority of women who are opposed to abortion, who believe that the unborn child has the non-negotiable right to life, and the large number of women who do not, as a matter of principle and belief, use birth control.

Unlike you, I am not a mindreader, so I won’t tell everyone what you think — I don’t know what you think, although to go by what you posted, you believe you know what Matthew (and anyone else you disagree with) thinks.

James August 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Well said, Bill. Peace.

Joshua Turner August 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Wonderful. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

M. Forrest August 29, 2012 at 2:36 am

For anyone interested in other websites with excellent information along these lines:



This National Geographic video of a baby developing in the womb is also fascinating. I doubt anyone would accuse NG of being a shill for the Catholic Church.


Four statements seem particularly interesting, but the entire video is worth watching:

“Once within the egg wall, the sperm’s nucleus is drawn toward the egg’s. The two cells gradually and gracefully become one. This is the moment of conception – when an individual’s unique set of DNA is created – a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated.”

“The mother provides the shelter and the basics – food, water and oxygen. But the real star of the show is the fetus herself – building, dividing, growing according to an intricate set of plans created at the moment of conception.”

“The genes she’s [the girl shown in the womb] inherited already predetermine her looks and much of her character. Whether she’s stubborn or intelligent, a thrill-seeker or good at music and even her vulnerabilities to certain diseases like cancer, schizophrenia and diabetes. The exact course of her life will depend on such things as her friends, family and environment. But at the instant of fertilization, much of her future is predetermined.”

“Where it once seemed that the mental development of a baby began at birth, now it appears that birth could be a relatively insignificant event in developmental terms. She may have to support herself after birth, but as for the process of thinking, learning and remembering, she’s already been hard at it for three months [before birth]. And her brain will continue to grow at the same rate for the next year.”

Jason September 5, 2012 at 12:19 am

Its pretty simple, can the child be born at that moment and survive without the mothers womb and umbilical cord?

If the answer is yes, then it is a new human life form.

If the answer is no, its part of the mothers body.

Rowe V Wade solved this issue, they gave a time of 24 weeks, now you can push that back as medical science becomes better and better, but to say its life starts at conception is insane.

If some one is brain dead, they are dead, I don’t see how you can call something without a brain a human life. I don’t see how you can call something without cognitive function a human life. I don’t see how you can call something requires the umbilical cord in order to live at all, an independent human life.

Yes a cell is alive but its not a human life, just like some one that is brain dead isn’t a human life their life ended, just like a fetus’s life hasn’t started.

Bill September 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

Jason, doesn’t the fact that you have to work sooooooo haaarrrrrd to avoid saying that the unborn child is a human being tell you something? “A human life form” — ??? What ??? Sticking the word “form” onto “A human life” is only a way to try to weasel out of admitting the truth, by marginalizing the unborn child. It sounds like the stilted language that science fiction writers use — “an alien life form”. An unborn child is not an alien, Jason, nor is an unborn child a parasite as you previously implied in an earlier post. An unborn child is a human being. We human beings change continually throughout our lives, from conception to death, and we are human beings throughout the entire process. We don’t go from being “not human” to being “human” at some arbitrary point depending on the state of the medical art or the whims of governments. (Roe v. Wade did not claim to establish a criterion for the beginning of life, by the way — the Justices sidestepped away from dealing with the moral and ethical issues. Read the actual case. The decision turns on a legal fiction.)

Jason September 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm

It is in a parasitic relationship with the mother, to deny that is nonsense, just because you don’t like the word doesn’t make it any less true. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it requires the umbilical cord to deliver the blood and everything else the unborn needs, taking it from the mother.

Fine I wont use the word form… as if it really matters…

Would you consider a human born without a brain and could only be kept alive by machines a human life? I wouldn’t because it’s not.

Brain dead people are dead, a machine keeping their organs alive doesn’t change the fact that the person is dead.

I don’t consider, and nether should any one else, a group of cells or organs a human life. In order for it to be a human being, it needs to be able to have brain function, be able to survive outside of a womb, and without an umbilical cord.

I don’t see how you can consider something that dies instantly or near instantly under the best doctors care, when you remove it from the mothers womb a human life.

If it can be born at that moment and have the possibility of survival even if its .01% its a human life, before that no. Beyond that point, the mother is responsible for that child in my eyes. I also have ethical questions about quality of life, but that’s a separate matter.

I just don’t see how you can say something 0% chance of survival is a human life.

You are your brain, if it is destroyed, removed or damaged to where you just have a brain stem functioning, you are no longer a human life, you are done at that point, you aren’t a person.

If you could conduct a brain transplant, the person, would be the brain, it wouldn’t matter who the body belonged to after that.

So given that I don’t see how you could consider a group of cells or a brain that just keeps organs going a human life. Let alone its lack of ability to survive even a few seconds outside of the womb.

Matthew Warner September 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Jason – your conditions are arbitrary. Scientifically, there is absolutely no question that a new, unique and individual human life is created as fertilization.

What you are debating here is not whether or not it’s an individual, a human or alive (all of these are settled science). What are trying to determine is when a human life should be respected or recognized as having rights or as having any kind of value.

What you seem to be saying is that what gives a human life value is its ability to live independently (i.e. not depend on others for survival) and to have some certain level of brain function. I hope you recognize these as not only fairly arbitrary (i.e. it’s not a sound argument to just say, “how can you think something without brain function” could have value, etc.) but that they are also a dangerous slope to go down.

What level of brain activity gives a human life human rights? a little bit? Or does it have to have a certain level of intelligence? If so, how intelligent does it need to be before it has value and a right to live in your eyes? And, for that matter, why do YOU get to decide any of this?

What level of dependence causes us to lose our value and right to live? While a newborn does not directly get food through an umbilical cord from the mother anymore, they are ENTIRELY dependent on others to survive. Somebody has to feed them or they will die. Does that mean a newborn has no value and no right to live? What about a disabled person who also depends on others to function? Are they a parasite? Do they have value? Do they have a right to live?

These are just some of the moral problems with your approach on top of a complete lack of sound logic to support them in the first place.

A human life has value simply because it is a human life. We are not the authors of human life. We have no right to destroy it or to make determinations on which have value and which do not. Humans have inherent value and rights simply because they are a human life. And that must be respected at every level. All of your other distinctions are, in the end, arbitrary and based upon subjective circumstances, not upon the objective facts of the premise.

Jason September 19, 2012 at 3:18 am

You are clearly strawmaning my position.

I already said, what my position is on new born children, I said Quote: “I don’t see how you can consider something that dies instantly or near instantly under the best doctors care, when you remove it from the mothers womb a human life.”

You are also saying I am calling a child a parasite, as if it is some sort of bad thing, to muddy the water. When it is an absolute fact that the umbilical cord causes a parasitic relationship with the mother. You cant argue that, the fact that you are trying to add on the dependency after birth is nonsense, because it isn’t the same. Maybe you are saying “science this and science that” and you have no idea what a parasitic relationship is. Maybe you are using the most broad definition on the planet to straw man what I am saying again.

My whole point was if it has a 0% chance of survival no matter what any one does, it isn’t a life. Even if there is a .01% chance of it living, I can see how you can make the argument, but if it is 0% I don’t see how you can make the argument.

Missing a brain, or not having brain function isn’t a dangerous slope to go down, if it doesn’t have a brain at all, requires, machines to keep the organs going due to being brain dead, or is missing all higher brain function, I’m not talking damage or mental retardation, I’m talking ALL higher brain function. It may as well not even be alive that’s why brain dead people dead. They are no longer considered living and that’s why its OK to “pull the plug” Many doctors think that “brain dead” should be removed from medical language because the person is indeed dead.

These aren’t difficult concepts to grasp.

Matthew Warner September 19, 2012 at 9:40 am

Jason – the absurdity of your position can be summed up with your own statement:

“if it has a 0% chance of survival no matter what any one does, it isn’t a life.”

If it isn’t a “life” (i.e. “alive”) then what is it “surviving”? The mere fact that you are speaking about the chances of “survival” necessitates that it is alive in the first place (i.e. it’s a life). It’s also a scientific fact that it is a a unique, individual human. Therefore it is a unique, individual human life. It’s not that complicated.

Further, your logic could be applied to endless other situations that would clearly end up (wrongly) defining human lives as “not a life.” A terminal cancer patient has a 0% chance of survival no matter what anyone does. Does that mean they are not a human life? A person falling into a hot lava pit has a 0% chance of survival. Does that mean they are no longer classified as a human life during the fall and prior to being melted? In fact, all of us have a 0% chance of survival from this life. Does that mean we are not alive right now? I’m not sure how else to demonstrate how absurd (and dangerous) your logic is here.

Jason September 20, 2012 at 3:14 am

Yet another straw man. Why do I have to keep going over positions that I have answered? You keep ignoring major parts of what I am saying.

You cherry pick a quote, ignore every thing I said to qualify that quote and then build an argument to knock down the cherry picked quote.

Here’s the massive hole in your analogy, the cancer patient still has brain function and doesn’t require the blood of their mother carry oxygen, nutrients and dispose of the cellular waste and carbon dioxide their bodies produce.

Here’s the fundamental difference between you and me, I view the unborn that as still part of the mother, because it requires the umbilical cord to survive. Once you can remove the umbilical cord, and it can be cared for as if it is a new born baby, it is an individual at that point.

There is no getting around this problem it isn’t an “individual” as you keep saying because it REQUIRES the blood and O2 from the mother. Then you run into the brain question, if it doesn’t have a brain to be an individual, or the higher brain function hasn’t developed it is any where between a group of cells and small sack of organs.

I’m going to assume that you think its OK for a mother to give up a child to adoption, now since you keep saying that the unborn is an individual from the time of conception, the mother should be allowed to induce labor and have that child at any time she wants right? Since birth is natural, she should be able to just have labor induced and have the baby.

Then you run into the problem of the fact that it isn’t an individual yet, it would instantly die, because its part of the mothers body.

Once that baby is beyond the point where it can live outside of the womb, I draw the line. The mother must care for that child as if it is a baby, that includes bringing it to term naturally. Unless it directly threatens the life of the mother. Then obviously I would choose the mother over the baby.

Matthew Warner September 20, 2012 at 8:52 am

Jason, I’m not ignoring your other points. I just think they don’t make sense.

Your distinctions are ultimately arbitrary. Just because one life depends on another life does not mean that one of them MUST not be an individual human life. That is arbitrary and nonsensical. It just means that there are two lives and that one depends on the other. That’s the most obvious, simple and immediate conclusion.

We live in a world where we spend the beginning of our lives dependent upon and growing inside of our mother. That doesn’t mean we are not human or not alive or not an individual.

Bill September 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm


“I just don’t see how you can say something 0% chance of survival is a human life.”

You *do* realize, don’t you, what a ridiculous criterion that is? Every human being has a 100% probability of dying, and so a 0% chance of surviving. Is yours a human life?

Jason September 19, 2012 at 3:23 am

That is a complete and utter strawman of my position.

I was referring to living beyond the birth. If the child is born at that very moment would it survive the birth? Would it survive the birth to at least have a chance of living beyond the immediate medical care that it would require at that point. If the answer is there is a 0% chance, then my statement applies.

Joshua September 19, 2012 at 9:09 am

So your definition of human life is someone who can’t die? I think you are a bit confused.

Jason September 20, 2012 at 3:18 am

That is a strawman of what I said, and its obvious that’s not what I am saying. You are being deliberately obtuse.

Joshua September 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

No, that is exactly what you said. You are basing your view on the fact that it would die if it is taken out of the environment that is supporting it’s life. If you were to be removed from the environment supporting your life (oxygen, for example) you would die as well, so by your logic you are not a living human being. At the fetal stage of development every human needs their mother’s body to support their life, that is the way it works. You yourself were at that stage of development at one point. Since a fetus is an undeniable human life, why do you think that it deserves no protection of life just because it is at an early stage of development?

Joshua September 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

A parasite is defined as : an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment. Since an unborn baby is of the same species as it’s mother, it is not a parasite, it is the mother’s offspring. In addition to that, the unborn child does not rob nutrients from the mother. The woman’s body absorbs what it needs first, and as long as she is not starving, there are plenty of extra nutrients to pass on to the child with no harm to the mother. A parasite does not take only extra nutrients, it feeds on the host regardless of whether or not the host is taking in adequate nutrition.

Jason September 20, 2012 at 3:41 am

It has every single characteristic of a parasitic relationship, but because they are the same species you are going to say “NO!!!!!!!!!!!”

That’s the only difference, literally. There are different types of parasitic relationships, and a fetus fits within the definition of a parasitic relationship except for the different species part. The part that matters the least in the discussion we are having.

Joshua September 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

You are completely wrong, Jason. Yes, the simple fact that they are of the same species eliminates it from being a parasitic relationship, but I already explained that that is not the only difference. A parasite will ROB it’s host of nutrients or feed directly off the host’s body. A baby does not do that. The baby receives nutrients only after the mother has taken in enough to support her own life. In a parasitic relationship the host is not designed to care for the parasite, and the parasite causes harm to the host. In a pregnancy the mother’s body is designed to carry and nourish her baby and no harm is done to the mother. Not at all the same thing.

Jason September 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

It does rob the woman of nutrients.

“The baby receives nutrients only after the mother has taken in enough to support her own life.”

You said it right there. It takes any extra that is left over. Forcing her to use more resources more, or not have reserves for later times. There is harm done to the mother, although it isn’t a huge amount or even a relatively dangerous amount of harm, there still is harm. Not only that there are a host of other things that cause pregnant to be inconvenient IE; Cramps, morning sickness, swelling chemical imbalances, swollen extremities, there are tons of others, some not so nice ether.

I would say you are wrong, or your understanding of pregnant is little more than “mommy’s belly is growing”

Bill September 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Checking out of this thread. After three years, I think I’ve offered what should be convincing evidence that human life begins at conception, and that evidence is based both in science and in reason. What I get back is non-sensical arguments that are based neither on science nor on reason, but on the need to somehow justify the destruction of an innocent life. It’s like arguing with people who think the moon landings were faked — they don’t want to be confused by facts or contradicted by reason. At some point, faced with invincible ignorance from the other party to a conversation, the thread becomes a huge waste of time.

Jason September 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

I feel the same way.

I think the major issue is that people are using “life”, “individual”, and a few other key words, to mean different things.

Using things like “a cell is a life that leads to a human” to mean “a cell is a human?

You would say human life begins at that cell, I would say no, human life doesn’t begin till much later in the development, when it has fully functional organs, it has brain function that would be recognized as human, and has the ability to survive outside the womb.

Then there are the traps if I say it isn’t a life, you would say something along the lines of “a cell is a life”

The opposite would happen you would say a cell is a human life, I would then ask if it should have the same rights and privileged as a human, such as if the mother didn’t know she was pregnant then had a miscarriage do to negligent act. Should she be charged with manslaughter?

I feel those are the major hang ups we are on.

Matthew Warner September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

Jason, the part you’re missing, though, is that the distinctions I’ve made in terms of what constitutes a human life are based on precise, scientific facts. Your parameters are based upon arbitrary opinion. I’m not saying that to belittle your perspective, just to point out that there is a qualitative distinction between the two approaches.

I’m speaking from explicitly scientific facts here (the subject of the post). A living cell is alive. This is clear. If the cell is human, then it is at least “part of” (if not entirely) a human life.

Now, not all human cells are individual human lives, of course! We have all kinds of cells that make up our body, skin cells, etc.

A skin cell, for example, is designed to be a “part” of a greater whole. It is not self directing, nor is it considered an entire organism all itself. Functionally, it requires other cells to make up the whole organism. A zygote is an entire organism in itself, unique and self directing…just very small. It is an entire human. All it needs is nutrients and proper shelter and it becomes an adult human (the same as any human life at any stage).

It’s clearly human. It’s clearly alive. And it is clearly its own, unique, individual, self-directing organism. It is a unique human life. This is scientific fact.

Now if you want to argue that certain human lives should have different rights than others, you can go right ahead. But when speaking of a pregnant mother, we are clearly dealing with two, distinct and separate human lives.

And the trouble with trying to determine that one human life has more or less natural rights than another is that you have no right to do that. Who are you to say that one should live and one should die?

Jason October 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm

This is why we have a breakdown in communication you use these broad definitions to describe specific things.

You keep using “self-directing”

Self direction implies brain function, self awareness, and the ability to act and do things on your own. You cant do that without a brain, even still how can you do that without higher brain function? Possibly other words “having a mind”

Its almost like you are trying to say that self replicating proteins have self-direction also.

You could say a machine that is programmed to make copies of itself has self direction under your definition.

Its “self-directing” well what does that mean, in my mind it means, directed or guided by oneself, especially as an independent agent, in control of what it does.

When it clearly isn’t able to do that, its just DNA doing what it does, under your definition, every cell in your body is “self-directing”

Matthew Warner October 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Jason – self-directing is a scientific and specific characteristic. I recommend reading the book “Embryo” by Dr. George.

But by self-directing, I don’t mean a mind like you are saying. I mean much more closely to how you defined it in your second to last paragraph there.

An embryo is completely self-directing in just the ways you describe. It is in control of what and how it multiplies and grows into an adult human being.

But you are missing the complete picture. In a way, I guess we could say, yes, a copy machine is self-directed at being a copy machine. And that’s ONE of the things that allow us to say that is a total and complete copy machine. So I’m not sure what the confusion is.

Being self-directing alone clearly doesn’t make something human and alive. But, it just so happens that an embryo is also human and alive, as well as self-directing. It’s also a WHOLE organism in itself.

So, sure, every cell in your body could be considered self-directing. But all the other cells in your body are not WHOLE organisms. They make up part of a bigger single organism.

So all of these characteristics come together to clearly demonstrate that at the moment of conception/fertilization a new, individual, total (whole), self-directing, human life is present.

Jason October 25, 2012 at 12:06 am

Even if you are going to continue to use ambiguous terms.

I still don’t see how something that requires a blood transfusion from the mother 100% of the time is considered separate from the mother. The mothers blood is literally sustaining its life cut it off and it has no chance of survival.

I also don’t see how something that has no brain function is anything beyond cells.

I literally cannot fathom how a bundle of cells can be considered a full complete human being. Unless its capable of life outside of the womb, your reasons are beyond me.

Unless you come at it from an incorrect religious standpoint. Even god did, ordered, or condoned abortions in the bible. Ether inducing a miscarriage (that is by definition abortion) or killing pregnant women.

Hosea 9:11-16
Numbers 31:17
Hosea 13:16
2 Kings 15:16

I also don’t see how you can allow us to go back to the time before roe v wade, where women were doing it in back alleys using unsafe means.

Matthew Warner October 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

Jason – that’s because you continue to not think logically or scientifically about it.

And as for “going back”, this is also an illogical and unsound argument. Arguing that because mothers might be frightened into killing their own babies unsafely we should therefore provide a “safe” way of doing so is ridiculous. We could also say, since rapists are going to rape women anyway, let’s make rape legal, but make sure rapists are doing it “safely.” Or that because men are going to beat women to death anyway, let’s put a law in place that allows them to beat the woman to death more humanely and not hurt himself in the process. That’s basically what you are saying. It’s a ridiculous argument.

Women don’t need a way to “safely” kill their babies (which isn’t actually safe anyway). They need love and support. They need people there to help them through tough situations. They need resources to educate them that killing their baby is not going to solve their problems and it will be a regret they’ll keep for the rest of their lives. They need to learn of the best ways to handle the difficult situations they find themselves in – for whatever reason – and to know there is hope. And that none of the right answers involve killing your baby. It’s a tragedy that there are so many people out there continuing to tell the lie that abortion is ever the best/right/good option for their life. Women deserve better than that, especially from men.

Jason October 25, 2012 at 11:14 pm

really? with that clownish rape analogy?

Why is it morally acceptable to force women to have a child that they do not want?

Your position is if a woman doesn’t want to have a child, that’s to bad, you are a vessel for having children.

I know you are 14 and it will destroy the rest of your life, but you are going to have to have that child.

I know you were raped, but you will have to have that child.

Here’s a fun one, you were raped but since you “murdered the child” with the morning after pill, you are going to jail for murder.

I know you were drunk and had your judgement impaired when you agreed to sex and probably wouldn’t have if you were sober but you got to have that child now even if you and your partner aren’t financially stable enough to have a child.

I mean seriously, having a child isn’t that hard, unless you have a medical condition, and every egg is a potential “life” I guess we should outlaw menstrual cycles also.

Children aren’t magic, god didn’t implant a child into the woman, its completely natural, and should be the woman’s choice if she has it or not.

A woman should be able to say NO I do not want a child right now, up to a certain point in the pregnancy and that’s that, done deal.

Here is the position you should take:
If its a human being, it should have all the rights every other human has, if the mother is negligent has a car accident and the child is killed, charged with manslaughter. If she is pushed down some stairs by someone and it causes brain damage but the child lives, charge them with attempted murder.

If its a miscarriage full murder investigation to find out why it happened, and charge her with the findings.

I mean seriously that’s the road you should go down, because you keep calling it “murder” why beat around the bush? Just go full tilt with it.

If you aren’t willing to go that far with it, you obviously don’t think its a full human yet and you are arguing that it is a full human It doesn’t make any sense.

Its murder if a doctor does it, but its not manslaughter if the mother has a miscarriage due to negligence? We don’t even do a full murder investigation? She could have planned it out, she should be locked up!

What gives you the right to attempt to control women like this? Who are you to dictate what is best for a woman?

Matthew Warner October 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Jason – it’s like you haven’t been a part of this conversation to this point. You aren’t making any sense. Talking about menstrual cycles and potential life? It’s like you pretend you are interested in a logical, scientific discussion on the facts and then repeatedly devolve back to your own emotional rants that ignore the facts.

I’m not forcing a pregnant woman to have a child. I’m just looking at the FACTS and having the guts to acknowledge that she *already has a child.* And I’m suggesting that she shouldn’t kill her child. And, yes, that we have a moral obligation to keep her from killing her child rather than encouraging or helping her to kill her child. This is not forcing her to do anything. It’s protecting the life of the innocent child inside of her and protecting her from making a regretful mistake she will have to live with her entire life.

The fact that difficult situations will arise regarding how you legislate or punish people killing their babies doesn’t mean we should just make (keep) it legal. That’s as absurd as your last comment. You can call it clownish if you like.

Unfortunate things happen to people all the time, sometimes it’s their fault, sometimes it’s not. That doesn’t mean there aren’t natural consequences to things. It’s not the little baby’s fault and we have no right to intentionally kill the baby because we don’t like the consequences, however fair or unfair the circumstances were that got us there in the first place. We deal with those. Killing our baby is not going to help, despite as simple as you make it sound.

Tim October 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm

The fact that a soul need be present to determine to know, without doubt, that a human life exists is important because it is the will that defines a human life. I describe this in my blog post http://timindelaware.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/abortion-conscience-and-soul-in-one-blog-im-going-to-bed/

But even without the acknowledgment and appreciation of reason and faith in this philosophical theory, the reason and faith in the scientific method clearly states, as Matthew has pointed out, that the living being within the body of the mother is not a part of the mother.

Important abortion laws in the United States, as well as arguments from pro-choice advocates, pivot on the argument that a woman has the privacy to do what she wants with her body. But scientific evidence suggests that it is not her body, whether it be a person or not. Any piece of a woman’s body would share her exact DNA and genetic makeup. This living being, after fertilization, does not.

amber October 16, 2012 at 1:29 am

Reading this article, and reading all of the responses is putting me in a weird/worse place than i was had i not googled upon your blog. That said, based on your information, I now realize life does start at the time of conception. I terminated two pregnancies, four years ago, due to being too young, a very toxic relationship and seeing no other way out. But here i am four years later, super depressed about the decisions I made, and having difficulty coping with the mistakes i have made. I wish had I only knew then what i know now, I would not be feeling the way I am today. You make certain decisions in life, and do what everyone tells you to do, without regards to how you will feel about them in the future, not even thinking about the fact that you can in no way possible, take them back. Sorry I am rambling off topic, i just wanted to say thank you for all the insight. I wish there was a way for women to be more educated on the matter, and to know that what they are doing is murder. Murder against our own children. Something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Matthew Warner October 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

Bless you Amber. Thank you for your courage to share that. Know that there is infinite forgiveness and healing offered to you from a completely understanding God. You just have to ask for it and I would recommend seeking out a group in your area that deals with post-abortive healing. Many women find just what they need there. One great one is called Rachel’s Vinyard (here’s their website).

But please know there is hope and that all you have to do is ask God with sincerity for forgiveness and it’s all yours. And He can take this difficult tragedy in your life and use it for GOOD if you’ll let Him. Keep the faith.

Carlie October 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

which article did Robert George state his quote

Jason October 27, 2012 at 2:32 am

I cant grasp the concept of a bundle of cells being an individual.

is cell is alive? yes
does it have human DNA? yes
will it eventually turn into a complete human? yes
Is it an individual? no

You are your brain, that’s a scientific fact, your body is full of individual life forms called cells.

Your experiences that you store in your brain, make you, you. That makes you an individual. Your body works to keep, you, the information stored in your brain alive.

If you don’t have the cognitive function or any experiences, I don’t see how you can justify calling it murder.

Its like you don’t care about brain function or individuality at all. When every thing we know about death involves your brain ceasing to function. So how is life even considered before the brain is active? Even if your whole body shuts down, you are not declared dead till the brain activity stops.

You see a group of cells and consider that a human life to be granted full rights.

It makes no logical sense. It dives me nuts that you use “life” to describe an individual cell as a human, but if you are brain dead, you can have living cells still working, yet you are dead. How are you alive and dead at the same time? Answer: You cant be, you are dead.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say you use words like “life” with different meanings when you are talking about specific things.

Matthew Warner October 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Jason – it still seems you aren’t really looking into this from a scientific standpoint, nor are you listening to my entire point (which I’ve made various ways numerous times). You insist on implying that I’ve determined an individual life is present because I “see a group of cells.” I clearly have not suggested such a thing even once. I’m not going to continue to explain it. Just read the convo again if you’re really interested in understanding this from a scientific perspective.

You are caught up on brain function. The brain is clearly an important part of the body and is what gives us our intellect and physical self-awareness. But it is part of the whole organism of the human. And actually, the brain begins development and function within the first few weeks from conception. It’s alive and functioning, telling the heart to beat, etc. And even prior to the full brain as you know it, even in a single cell, the nucleus of the cell acts like the “brain” you are looking for – self-directing the entire organism (i.e. individual human life).

Now, if you are going to start using the level of brain activity or capability of such brain as a measure of a human life, you are not only being completely arbitrary from a logical and scientific perspective, but you’re on a very, VERY slippery slope that won’t hold long. How active does a brain need to be for you to deem it worthy of being a human? You have no right to answer that.

And even self-awareness as a criteria is quickly found insufficient, for an unconscious person is completely NOT self-aware. But they are clearly a human person and clearly alive.

I’m just asking you to think through your criteria here and try to support them logically and to avoid appeals to pure emotion or otherwise arbitrary characteristics for determining a human life is a life.

Jason October 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I do have a scientific answer for it brain activity.

If it can be measured on an EEG(Electroencephalography) scan, then I can determine if the brain is functioning.

If a person has zero brain activity they are dead and no longer exist. How can “person”, “individual” “human life” what every word you want to stick in there because you use them interchangeably, without a brain be considered one?

Every argument you present for determining if the cell is a [insert word you choose to represent a person] can be applied to every cell in the human body. Just look at how they do cloning of adult animals, they take the nucleus of a somatic cell and replace the nucleus of the egg,(somatic cells make up all the internal organs, skin, bones, blood, and connective tissue)

You aren’t going beyond the fact that science shows that there is a cell at the moment of conception that is alive and can become a human eventually. EVERY ONE KNOWS THAT, even children know that when they are taught about reproduction.

The problem is that’s where you stop, and you conclude that life begins at conception and that is that. You use this argument that the cell is alive therefor it is murder to kill it.

That’s not the issue at hand though, the issue at hand is it ethical and moral to force a woman to carry that to term and at what point does it become unethical and moral to terminate. I would argue that it is at the point where it can survive outside of the womb(even if it is an extremely remote chance) At that point the mother should carry that child to term to ensure that it has the best chance of survival. Obviously some exceptions would apply due to the baby or mothers health.

You just present an argument “science shows that a cell is alive and will become a human if left alone” dust off your hands and proclaim, my work here is done!

No, you reconfirmed something we knew a very long time ago. You completely miss the core of the issue.

Matthew Warner October 30, 2012 at 12:51 am

Duuuuude – numerous times I’ve gone much further than you continue to claim. Beyond the simple points that a human zygote is both alive and human. I also noted that a zygote (the single-celled human formed at fertilization/conception) is also self-directing and, itself, a unitary and whole organism. The same can not be said for a bone cell or a skin cell. So please stop pretending they are the same.

The human zygote, embryo, and fetus are self-directing, self-programmed, self-affecting, self-actuating beings who require only the proper nutrition/environment to develop and live. Just like all of us.

“They direct their own development; we all know that every single cell has a full component of the DNA that is required to direct all of the development and growth of a human organism. They are self-affecting; all processes or transformations that take place are put into play by the organism him or herself. They are self-actuating; any process is started by the human organism not from some trigger from the outside. At each stage of life, the human person looks and develops just as he or she should.”

Here is an excellent article that addresses much more specifically and much better than I could the issues you have raised. Even specifically the differences between a zygote and other somatic cells AND your argument for brain development and “brain death.” I hope you find it helpful in understanding where I’m coming from.

Embryo Ethics: On the Biological and Moral Status of Nascent Human Life

Thanks for the convo, sir. Take care!

Jason October 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm

In his Personhood and the Brain section. He states:

Unlike a corpse—the remains of what was once a human organism but is now dead, even if particular systems may be artificially sustained—a human organism in the embryonic stage of development is a complete, unified, self-integrating human individual. It is not dead, but very much alive, even though its self-integration and organic functioning are not brain directed at this stage. Its future lies ahead of it, unless it is cut off or not permitted to develop its inherent capacities.

The telling part is “unless it is cut off” I didn’t put this in before but It had crossed my mind, the woman is artificially sustaining the life of that child. If you remove the embryo from the mother and try and take care of it outside of the body, the cells will die.

You make all these claims about how its all on its own and can just live a life, here is the massive barrier you still haven’t crossed. If you remove the cells from the woman, do the cells have the possibility of living?

When a child is born a woman can give that child up for adoption, if abortion was outlawed, why would she be forced to carry a child she doesn’t want for the entire pregnancy?

Like I have said many times before, once the child reaches the point that it even has a remote possibility to survive outside of the womb, the mother would be morally and legally obligated to carry it to term. 20ish weeks prior to that point is more than enough time to come to that conclusion. You can make the argument after that that if she had an abortion it would be murder, I can see that argument, since it had a chance of survival.

As for the rest of the paper, I mean scientists artificially make embryos all the time. They take a harvested egg and harvested sperm, put them together in a petri dish then kill the cells at a later time, are they all guilty of murder?

Bringing a child into the world should be the mothers choice, no one should be allowed to force her to have that child. You can make the argument about the father having a say, but as a whole the mother should want to have the child, it isn’t some miracle, or some obscure thing that happens. Every egg in the woman’s body has the potential to become a human, you just introduce sperm to it.

If you disagree with abortion, don’t do it, yet again, who are you to dictate to a woman what she can do with her body? Where do you think the mass you know, the material that makes up the unborn comes from? The woman she is giving up part of her for it.

Matthew Warner November 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

The mother is not “artificially sustaining the life of her child.” Not any more than I’m artificially sustaining the life of my newborn when I feed her and give her shelter. There is nothing artificial about it. It’s completely natural. And the fact that a newborn or an unborn baby need food and shelter does not mean they are not individuals or people.

And this reasoning you have where just because the mother happens to be the only one who can feed and shelter her unborn baby means that therefore the unborn baby is not an individual human life is completely nonsensical. Makes no rational sense at all.

The fact that she is the only person who can sustain the life of the living and individual human life inside of her does not negate her moral obligation to care for the baby. It INCREASES it. This is clear.

Again, nobody is trying to force her to do anything with her body. We are just saying that she shouldn’t end the life of her child (harming her child’s body) inside of her. And that WE have a moral obligation to not only protect the child of course, but to keep her from making a mistake that no mother should have to live with (having intentionally ended the life of her own child in her womb…what should be the safest place in the world for her child).

Jason November 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm

It takes so long to respond to your arguments due to the problems with them…

First I wasn’t saying “the mother happens to be the only one who can feed and shelter her unborn baby means that therefore the unborn baby is not an individual human life”

I was saying that it cannot live on its own, for any amount of time, outside of the body. you see, babies have this thing called skin, it protects the cells in their bodies from air.

“Not any more than I’m artificially sustaining the life of my newborn when I feed her and give her shelter.”

Really? So an embryo can digest food on its own? you can just give it a bottle right? wait… you cant? That doesn’t make any sense, you said its a a human, humans have the ability to digest their own food.

You keep saying it needs shelter. OK, can I remove it from the shelter and take it places like a new born as a father? nope. Humans, can be moved from place to place, and survive contact with air, because they have skin to protect them from the air and they can breath with their lungs…

So if I cant remove it from its shelter, with out it nearly instantly dying, and I cant even attempt to feed it like a normal human, because it doesn’t even have a stomach yet… I am see massive holes in your argument.

The morality piece, OK you say: “nobody is trying to force her to do anything with her body.”

Except that’s exactly what you are doing

“keep her from making a mistake that no mother should have to live with”

Who are you to make that decision? Seriously, don’t avoid this,who or what gives you the authority to make that call?

Secondly,why does the fetuses right to be in the body of the mother outweighs the right of the woman to control her fertility and her life?

I had a whole piece on the acorn argument, but I deleted it due to how long it is.

Joel November 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm

When a demolition crew blows up an old building a building they first make sure there is no one inside. If there is any doubt whatsoever that the building is empty they will not detonate the explosives until they are absolutely sure that there is no human life inside that could be destroyed. Since have spent the last decades argueing about when life begins but still have not come to a common conclusion would it not be wise to say that since we are still unsure about whether a fetus at any stage of pregnancy is an individual person or not we should not take the risk of killing a human being and choose not to abort? In fact, should we not write laws prohibitting such a reckless practice?

Spencer November 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm

No. If address this with the Horton hears a Hoo argument. At any given time, you have no idea what life you are destroying. You could be walking through millions of tiny universes with life on it. Should we create laws designed to prohibit walking then? because we just dont know.
You have to create laws understanding the likelihood of knowledge. What kind of life is valuable? You tear down trees for your house and that is life. You likely eat animals and that is life? Why is a fetus which at a certain stage of development has no thoughts or feelings more valuable life than the cow you eat?
You also neglect the mother which really is life. We know that the mother is valuable life and, probably speaking, fetuses are not valuable life until a certain stage of development. It would be as if someone were trying to stop you from demolishing a building that had a tree in it because the tree might have a soul, even though keeping the house would stop you from attaining your worldly dreams and aspirations. Keeping the house might even kill you and the tree, or just make the tree grow up without a house keeper.

Spencer November 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

We create classes of life that are deemed fit for death. Serial killers ought to die. Someone in the act of killing a human being can be killed. We have never recognized life as such to be the qualifier for the worth of a thing. Indeed if we had, there is no legitimate reason for valuing human life over non-human life. The death of a cow would be as despicable as the death of a human being. But this is not the case. Rather the personhood distinction is a true distinction that has been consistently applied throughout history. Traditionally the quickening, the time at which a fetus moves on its own, indicating brain involvement and consequently potential for personhood, has been the limiting factor for abortions. So personhood is not the nonsequitor you claim it to be. Life is the nonsequitor that was fabricated in order to rationalize the belief instilled by the church that abortion was wrong absolutely with the scientific fact that until brain development no person can exist. In other words, there is no soul before brain development.

Matthew Warner November 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Spencer – first of all, the brain starts developing very, very early. Like within the first few weeks as it starts to control the beating of the heart, etc. Second, how do you know that there is no soul before brain development?

Jason November 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm


You speak of science, then talk about a soul? Whats up with that?

Then you confuse the developing brain and the ability to have higher brain function. *eye roll*

Spencer November 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm

sorry, im beginning to leave details out of my analysis in order not to bore the readers. i presumed that you would understand that it’s the higher level brain functioning that i would deem consistent with having a soul, especially since i was rationalizing killing of animals like cows with the belief that one should not kill humans. you can kill cows because they are incapable of higher level thinking. in that respect fetuses are more like cows. i do not know that there is no soul prior to brain development. but why do you know that there is one before? how do you know that cows don’t have a soul? my argument presumes that the thing we ordinarily presume indicate a soul should be the indicators of the soul. your argument says that we should not need indicators in order to have irrational beliefs. generally we require evidence and not the inability to refute the nonexistence of a thing before restraining action. imagine horton hears a hoo but in real life. now you cant walk around because potentially you could be destroying whole universes.

Matthew Warner November 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

Spencer and Jason – I think you’re talking past each other and misunderstanding each other or confusing each other for me or something. :-)

Anyway, I’m not speaking of ensoulment in this conversation. I’m saying that individual, distinct, human lives should be protected and have a right to life. You are saying that some human life should be protected with full rights, while other human life should be treated like a cow or an animal or something. More dangerously, you seem to be doing so based on a level of capability…a world view that treats humans as only valued by how highly they function. What a dangerous and inhumane way to treat people…if you follow your logic to its end.

You are saying that a human life that has higher brain function is worth more than a human life with lower brain function. I completely disagree. I believe that, for example, my daughter who has Down Syndrome is every bit as valuable as a child with a genius IQ. And I believe both lives should be equally cherished and protected under the law. Just as I believe ALL human life (as science has clearly shown begins at fertilization as a distinct individual) should be as well.

Matthew Warner November 13, 2012 at 10:13 am

Jason – Spencer is the one who brought up the soul.

Spencer November 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

My apologies. I don’t even agree to all the propositions of the arguments I’m using. For instance, i think if i have a soul, cows probably also have souls. And i certainly dont believe your daughter has no soul or a lesser soul than a cow.
to be more accurate, it’s the “mechanical” animals that we assume have no worth. and it’s an empirical question whether an animal is indeed mechanical.
imagine a person that’s lived a long life yet has lost the functioning of the brain beyond say the brain stem that simply regulate the bodily function as opposed to so called “mind substances” caused by the “more developed” rest of the brain. no rational individual would say that the semi-brain dead body housed a “person”. as the religious would say (and im not religious) there is no soul (i say there is no personality or something like that). the soul is the test of value, not life. and bad souls, like serial killers arent even valuable.
But at a certain stage of development, fetuses cannot possess the capacity to feel the emotions which make life worthy of respect. Emotions are the things which make life valuable. Prior to about the 20th week of development, the fetus is not conscious and acts only mechanically like the lower level animals and the brain dead body. There is no person with feelings house in the body which looks human.
Your daughter feels joy, experiences pain, has dreams and aspirations for herself. She is a person that experiences all the emotions of life that make life valuable and worth fighting for. She is not at all like the fetus prior to brain development. And my sincere apologies if my poor choice of words created the illusion of an analogy.

Matthew Warner November 16, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Spencer – forgive me, but you’re all over the map. Now you’re saying that the ability to have emotions gives somebody their value or personhood or soul or whatever. So if a person is a sociopath and has no emotions? Or has some other disability that makes them basically emotionless, they have no value? Using emotion as the determining factor is completely arbitrary as well and totally unscientific as a way to distinguish a human life from a non-human life.

Spencer November 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

Well no, I’m not. First self consciousness is necessary to be a person. But then it is not simply personhood that gives life value. There would be nothing wrong with a killing a person who correctly wanted to die: for instance if they had unbearable terminable cancer or something. Similarly there would be nothing wrong with killing a person who didn’t care, but then I dont know why you would want to kill them. My computer might be a person, but it has no emotion (I think), so when I shut it down I don’t have to feel bad.
It doesn’t matter. You wont care either way if my argument is consistent. It is, but you’ve already chosen what side you are on, and your side is consistent as long as you take the seemingly untenable position that just life itself is valuable. But even so you shouldnt characterize the other side as being incoherent. You should just man up and say you simply dont agree with the other side even though you cannot logically arrive at the correct conclusion.

Matthew Warner November 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Spencer, the reason I call your argument incoherent is because you are all over the map here…now saying things like “self-consciousness is necessary to be a person.” This is arbitrary and nonsensical. If we followed that definition of person, then for you an unconscious person would not be a person.

So forgive me if I think incoherent an argument that thinks I am no longer a person if I get knocked unconscious. It has nothing to do with manning up. It has to do with having a more thoroughly thought out approach to this issue. I understand where you are coming from with each of your points (and why/how they ultimately fail) because I’ve thought through all of them for years and years and read many, many books and articles representing both sides of the issue and I’ve come to the conclusions you find here. It’s not for a lack of manliness. And I won’t call you unmanly or tell you that you need to man up simply because you disagree. That would be very unmanly of me.

Sarah November 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm


Jean-Sartre November 9, 2012 at 11:28 am

I am always mildly amused when people – usually the Pro-Life cabal – use the term INNOCENT in an argument/discussion regarding human life…and the absolute sanctity of that life. A zygote is an innocent human life and needs to be protected and nurtured. A man on death row who has been found GUILTY of murder has no such right.

Therefore, we think it is logical to call all human life something sacred, in general, but we may use an adjective [Innocent or Guilty] to decide whether it is worthy of continued existence…

Yes, I do think I understand this idiocy now.

Matthew Warner November 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm


Actually, I don’t think it’s right to kill somebody on death row either with our modern day means and capacity to detain such a person in order to keep others safe from danger.

The term “innocent” is usually used in this kind of discussion because there are scenarios where the morality is more complex when the life involved is not “innocent.” Just to give one example, if somebody is presently endangering my life (or that of my family or any other innocent human), using lethal force to stop such a thing may be morally justified. In other words, that person is guilty (in that moment) of endangering others, therefore, I may be morally justified in using lethal force if necessary and if my intention is not primarily to kill the person, but to stop that person from endangering others. As a result, that person my be killed in the process, but the act may be morally justifiable. That’s why it’s more clear and accurate to say that it is never justified to intentionally kill “innocent” human life.

Hope that helps!

Jason November 13, 2012 at 10:12 am


Of course they are innocent, Original sin takes place when… wait I remember something about that…

Catholics believe everyone is born with Original Sin, which is passed down through the human race from Adam and Eve, and their disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden.

Psalm 51:5
American Standard Version (ASV)
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me.

Pick any version you want, they all say you were conceived with sin.

So, if you are born with sin and you had sin when you were conceived, how are you innocent?

You cant be innocent and sinful. because that’s how Christians justify the “innocent” to suffer, because no one is really “innocent”

Christian apologetics at its finest.

Matthew Warner November 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

Jason – “personal sin” is different than “original sin.” When we speak of personal guilt and innocence (of which a person would be individually culpable) we are speaking of personal sin.

The “stain” of original sin is something theologically unique and represents (and caused) the fallen state of Man, death, concupiscence, etc. They are not interchangeable.

Jason November 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

So there is a different level of sin?

Thought all sin was equal and we are all guilty in the eyes of god.

This is why I love talking to Christians. They have 2 ideas that obviously directly contradict themselves but they have to come up with something to make them not contradict, in doing so they almost always contradict something else. So they create this entire network of excuses that don’t make any sense when looked at as a whole by an outsider, but they are absolutely convinced it is correct.

The mental gymnastics is awesome. No wonder there are so many branches of Christianity and none of them agree.

Matthew Warner November 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Jason – or perhaps you just don’t understand it and clearly haven’t even made an honest attempt at understanding it legitimately before concluding that it must not make sense and making snarky comments about how you “love” talking to Christians.

I will, however, cut you some slack that Christians as a whole are all over the map and I’m sure contributes to your confusion. But that’s one strong reason why I choose to be Catholic as it’s structure is uniquely different than any other Christian denomination and uniquely traces its authority directly back to the Apostles and Jesus themselves. And you’ll find that within Catholicism, there is a lengthy intellectual tradition that makes a lot of sense if you’re willing to be open to listening to it and you are genuinely seeking the truth.

Jason November 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Interesting projection.

Look I have read the bible and parts of it multiple times, I understand the words on the pages, they aren’t that hard to read.

I don’t need magic “revelation” or some authority figure to tell me what the words mean. It annoys me when Christians tell me that, when most of them don’t even take the time to study and examine their bible.

CatherineKS November 13, 2012 at 8:23 am

I find it very difficult to agree with your statement that you are using scientific facts to prove that life beings at conception. Your scientific “facts” wreak of bias. But the part of this discussion I really feel is lacking is you never address miscarriages.
If you believe that life begins at conception, then you have to believe that a spontaneous abortion is a human life ended.
Here is some undisputed science:
Anywhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4 known pregnancies (and even more unknown pregnancies) end in spontaneous abortion. The most common cause of a spontaneous abortion is chromosomal abnormality. As in the embryos that have gone through the process of “conception” don’t even have the potential to become a human life because their egg or sperm are damaged.
Many things in this world are alive from a biological standpoint, but they are not human life. You’re quoting a source that is clearly biased in it’s belief that life begins at conception. That source takes a biological definition which applies to embryos but also to the bacteria in your kitchen sponge- that is not at all the Scientific Method.
And, you are ignoring a real scientific fact that at least 10%, but possibly up to 75% of conceptions, have no potential to become human life ever. You can not say that science proves that life begins at conception, if anything it makes a case that it doesn’t.
People are allowed to believe that life begins at conception. But to claim that those of us who do not hold that belief are ignoring scientific fact?! That is not OK.
Source: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/miscarriage.html

Matthew Warner November 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Catherine – your logic doesn’t add up. Yes, I’m willing to say that a spontaneous abortion is a human life ended. Why wouldn’t I? The scientific facts clearly show that an individual human life was ended in a spontaneous abortion. There is no bias there.

The fact that lots of miscarriages occur has absolutely no logical weight in determining whether a human life is involved or not. That’s absurd logic in the true sense of the word. People die form accidents or nature all the time. Nobody is guilty of those and it certainly doesn’t mean they weren’t a human life simply because they dies from a natural accident.

Having a chromosomal abnormality doesn’t mean that the human life is no longer a human life either. The fact that such abnormalities may cause a person to not be able to live outside of the womb doesn’t make them any less human. You are completely illogical. They are not “potential human life.” They ARE a human life. They just may not have the potential to become an adult human life or 10-day old human life or whatever.

The science clearly shows a new human life is created at fertilization. You can ignore that fact if you want. But it doesn’t change it.

Spencer November 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

It depends on what you mean by life. If you mean a cell that has the ability to build a human body, then everyone will agree that fertilization is the time at which there is human life. It’s obviously not dog life or alien life. You require no scientific facts to learn that life begins at conception.
But no one cares about two cells or four cells. I dont even think most catholics would care about the morning after pill aside from the sex outside marriage or for purposes other than procreation because they probably recognize that a bunch of cells dont make a human. It’s the structuring of the cells that count.
The biggest factor prolifers have is the emotional appeal. This fetus looks human and the things that look human generally have human thoughts and minds, so this thing probably similarly does. But science has shown that is incorrect until a certain point in gestation. The only argument you cling to after that is that the soul might exist without the physical phenomena traditionally associated with human thought. But then you are simply saying, well I don’t have evidence but you cant prove the nonexistence of an invisible thing that no one can have evidence for so I can keep on believing what I was indoctrinated into.
Let’s say fetuses have souls. If they are aborted, then they will either be in heaven or they will be placed back into another body. Proof. God is all good and all powerful. If God made aborted souls go to hell, he would be a douche bag or not all powerful. Cant be a douche bag because he is all good. I don’t know why is power would be limited to not being able to save innocent fetuses. Therefore, nothing bad happens to the fetus when aborted.

Joanne November 22, 2012 at 12:47 am

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the scientific evidence of the existence of human life before birth. These are irrefutable facts, about which there is no dispute in the scientific community.

At the moment when a human sperm penetrates a human ovum, or egg, generally in the upper portion of the Fallopian Tube, a new entity comes into existence. “Zygote” is the name of the first cell formed at conception, the earliest developmental stage of the human embryo, followed by the “Morula” and “Blastocyst” stages.

Is it human? Is it alive? Is it just a cell or is it an actual organism, a “being?” These are logical questions.

The zygote is composed of human DNA and other human molecules, so its nature is undeniably human and not some other species.

The new human zygote has a genetic composition that is absolutely unique to itself, different from any other human that has ever existed, including that of its mother (thus disproving the claim that what is involved in abortion is merely “a woman and her body”).

This DNA includes a complete “design,” guiding not only early development but even hereditary attributes that will appear in childhood and adulthood, from hair and eye color to personality traits.

It is also quite clear that the earliest human embryo is biologically alive. It fulfills the four criteria needed to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.

Finally, is the human zygote merely a new kind of cell or is it a human organism; that is, a human being? Scientists define an organism as a complex structure of interdependent elements constituted to carry on the activities of life by separately-functioning but mutually dependant organs. The human zygote meets this definition with ease. Once formed, it initiates a complex sequence of events to ready it for continued development and growth:

The zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism.

By contrast, while a mere collection of human cells may carry on the activities of cellular life, it will not exhibit coordinated interactions directed towards a higher level of organization.

Thus, the scientific evidence is quite plain: at the moment of fusion of human sperm and egg, a new entity comes into existence which is distinctly human, alive, and an individual organism – a living, and fully human, being.

Human beings develop at an astonishingly rapid pace.
• The cardiovascular system is the first major system to function. At about 22 days after conception the child’s heart begins to circulate his own blood, unique to that of his mother’s, and his heartbeat can be detected on ultrasound.
• At just six weeks, the child’s eyes and eye lids, nose, mouth, and tongue have formed.
• Electrical brain activity can be detected at six or seven weeks, and by the end of the eighth week, the child, now known scientifically as a “fetus,” has developed all of his organs and bodily structures.
• By ten weeks after conception the child can make bodily movements.

Today, parents can see the development of their children with their own eyes. The obstetric ultra-sound done typically at 20 weeks gestation provides not only pictures but a real-time video of the active life of the child in the womb: clasping his hands, sucking his thumb, yawning, stretching, getting the hiccups, covering his ears to a loud sound nearby — even smiling.

Dallin December 5, 2012 at 8:09 am

That isn’t true. Being dependent on your mother as an infant and being dependent on your mother’s body as a fetus are two completely different things.

John Hargis January 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

It is a simple understanding that we were designed to pro-create, it is our prime purpose in life, to evolve by generations into the image God made US. A woman’s body is her own until she shares it with another human being, and the fact that an embryo has an innate destiny to become human, and then any interruption of growth from conception is against all that we are, what we can be and it stalls our evolution every time a life is interrupted. I also consider conception and beyond as officially an American citizen, if conceived within our nation and territories, and thus protected under our Constitution.

John Hargis January 20, 2013 at 6:36 am

slow moderators:-/=

Jason February 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

April, the reason you disagree with what I am saying is you dont know what you are talking about.

There is no abiogenesis event when the sperm and egg combine, that complete nonsense.

No one has ever come back from brain death, “legally dead” and brain death are different things.

You seem to be using religious/”spiritual” nonsense to justify your position, there isn’t a soul, an after life, or even a “before life”.

Please spare me your nonsense, if you believe abortion is wrong due to religious reasons, then keep your position and do not participate in it,don’t come to me under the guise of science and try and push your religious junk and don’t try and influence others decisions based on your personal religious teachings.

April February 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Jason, you have misunderstood what I wrote. I never once said that it was abiogenesis occurring. I was using it as an example to show how scientifically there is never a recorded, observed event of life coming from non-life. Specifically, a growing organism (like a plant, etc.) suddenly becoming alive in the quality we ascribe human beings.

You are wrong on the account of people not coming back from declared brain death. This has happened. I am not talking in terms of legal death, which I am unfortunately too well acquainted with.

Also, I never once argued any validity to a soul or spiritual concept. I said that the points you described in your portion about the mind were more appropriately handled in a discussion outside of pure science because what you said delves into more philosophical and spiritual opinion, not scientific.

Now that all being said, my degree is in anthropology, certainly not religious or spiritual subjects. You have misinterpreted what I said in pointing out how you were sounding to be what I believed.

So, spare me the nonsense. You haven’t presented one well-rounded or collected thought to this matter. I understand there is a lot of religious debate on this board, but not all of it is purely so, and you shouldn’t be so involved in attacking a viewpoint that you neglect to adequately read without misinterpretation what is presented to you. As a person who has spent years studying science, I was pointing out in specifically scientific terminology why some people are unreligiously against abortion. It is because science, through well-rounded theory and perspective, demonstrates quite clearly where life begins.

Attributing things like mind, experience, etc. falls into social and cultural structures, not hard science. Defining a human by those standards varies from culture to culture, as I pointed out. The hard science gives a definitive description, whether or not it is misinterpreted.

Jason February 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm

You are wrong, no one has ever come back from brain death. That would require a resurrection event. You are mistaken or lying hoping I don’t catch you on it.

Brain death is the irreversible end of all brain activity due to total necrosis of the cerebral neurons following loss of brain oxygenation.

Neuroscience is hard science because you aren’t up to date on it doesn’t mean you can just make things up and/or dismiss it as “not hard science”

Life begins LONG before conception, sperm and eggs are living cells, so to say “life begins at conception” is total nonsense, the only way you can have a rational discussion is when it actually becomes a person verses just another cell, that point is where it develops the capacity to have a mind. Before that, the person doesn’t exist. Just like after a person is brain dead, the person no longer exists. The body exists, before that point as well as after that point. When people talk about “human life” they are talking about the experiences in between.

If you are talking about the mind not being the person, you are in the realm of pseudoscience and religion.

People are sentient beings, if it doesn’t have the capacity for being sentient, it isn’t a person.

Its pretty simple, I am my mind, the body I am in, isn’t me, it is a biological machine that keeps my mind going. Each individual cell in my body is a separate life. If you remove a cell from my body, it is still alive and be kept alive apart from me.

The body doesn’t matter, the mind is what matters when we are talking about human life. The body can live without the mind, so the body isn’t the “human life”

Matthew Warner February 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm

April – don’t waste your time. Jason continues to miss the point that we’re not talking about the beginning of “life”, we’re talking about the beginning of an individual human life. This is the only question here. When does an individual, human life begin. The answer, based on science is unquestionably at conception. The Zygote is a complete, unique, whole, living, human organism – i.e. totally different than a sperm or other cells that are parts of larger organisms.

Jason has chosen brain activity as the determining factor of whether or not we can kill somebody. I don’t think he has the right to do that. I think we should respect each individual human life and have no right to take it. My specific life started before my brain became active. That’s a scientific fact. And I don’t think anyone had the right to kill me just because my brain hadn’t fully developed yet.

Jason – I think you’ve made your point. It’s getting really, really repetitive now. Smart people can read the discussion and decide for themselves.

Thanks to all for contributing!

April February 22, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Matt, I firmly agree with what you said. Thanks for the article.

Jason February 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Ok, if I made my point you missed a massive part of it.

If there isn’t brain activity, they aren’t alive, someone that has had brain death, is no longer alive. You cant kill someone that is already dead. That is an undeniable medical and scientific fact that, brain death is actual death. If that is the the determining factor for death why is the determining factor for life different?

Personal preference? Religious reasons? Emotional reasons? All are bad reasons to make decisions.

No one disputes the fact that the cells in the body are still alive and still divide, after brain death, cells are alive and divide before the brain develops.

April February 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Jason, I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, but I highly suggest you do some further research. I’m not lying to you, and I would have no reason to do so. It is not common, but there are people diagnosed with brain death, a diagnosis not taken lightly and that has to meet very specific criteria, who have recovered from the diagnosis. The reasons I’m arguing are none of the above suggested.

There’s nothing more to be said to you. The information has been put out there, and is easily verified in terms of theory and definition. Applied science is where the dispute in this conversation is, and from extensive research and experience, I believe you are firmly off the mark. I’m not going to take the time to annotate things for you, but I hope that anyone reading this would be able to see that your definitions and explanations rest well outside the realm science and in fact are themselves delving into pseudoscience and spirituality. Good luck to you in the future.

TIM April 2, 2013 at 12:12 am

The life of the zigot is human in its potential to develop into a fully viable human state, not simply because it has within itself the DNA instructions to do so. Yes, as such, it has a high value, but its value is relative to the lives of more highly developed human organisms. For example, the mother has the right to “kill” the zigot if the zigot presents a real threat to her own health.

Matthew Warner April 2, 2013 at 9:53 am

Tim – this is logically unsound, unless you also believe that an adult has more inherent value than a child (because it is more “highly developed”). It is clear that we can’t base value or recognize rights based on what organism is more highly developed. That breaks down very quickly in so many circumstances.

A zygote is different than just a stem cell in that a zygote is a complete organism. It is whole. All it needs is food and shelter and it develops into an adult. It’s not simply a matter of having human DNA, but of being a whole, self-directing organism in itself. From the moment of conception there is a complete and individual human life. And nobody has the right to end that life intentionally. And it is not up to us to assign value or rights to people based upon their abilities (i.e. how “highly developed” they are…as you put it).

TIM April 6, 2013 at 11:34 am

The fertilized egg is not really a complete human life. It is a zigote with the DNA instructions to become a complete human life. As such, its life is of lesser value than that of the complete human life. Some rights are always relative in weight to other rights. For example, the right to life of a geranium is of lesser weight than the right to life of a pig. Even the right to the life of one human adult may be seen at times to be of greater or at least equal weight to the right to life of another human being, as when the latter threatens the life of the former (self-defense).

April April 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Tim, there is no evidence at all for human cells developing into anything but human, plant cells developing into anything but a plant, etc. It is what it is, purely and simply. Non-living substances do not suddenly develop into a living, hence my previous discussion of abiogenesis. This article asked where science states that life begins. The values you are trying to attribute to life and the difference qualities possessed at the different stages of development are philosophical and ethical in nature. They do not address an explanation of what science defines.

Jason April 2, 2013 at 2:20 pm

April your comment is filled with nothing but nonsense.

No one on the planet is making the claim that a fertilized human egg would develop into anything other than a human. Maybe you have a gross misunderstanding of how biology and evolution works. Maybe you have made the “dog could give birth to a cat” creationist argument. IDK but your statements are on that level of ignorance.

No one cares about “life” in the terms you are putting them in, because if we cared about the “life” in the way you describe we would consider an egg or sperm to be human life. Because those are both alive.

When people talk about life they talk about personhood. Everyone knows thats exactly what we are talking about, yet the ignorant “life begins at conception” people want to keep saying that “a zygote is alive therefore I win” Its not dead, we already know that no one has ever made the argument that it wasn’t alive.

The question is, when should we give the developing life, the same rights as someone that is born.

You will say at conception, because thats when “life begins” ignoring the fact that life in the sense you are talking began before the moment of conception.

Matt comes up with these nonsense “the womb is shelter” arguments, that ignore the fact that if you take an baby outside of its shelter after its born, it doesn’t INSTANTLY DIE. Where as a zygote, if you remove it from the mother, practically instantly dies.

We can debate on exactly when the point is during the development as to where the line is because each development cycle is slightly different, but you cant convince me that if it dies practically instantly as soon as it is removed from the mother, that it is a human life deserving the same rights as every other human being that has been born.

A mother shouldn’t be forced to carry anything inside against her will, she should have the option to reject that, however once she accepts the responsibility through extended time developing or personal choice, she is then responsible for the child she wants to have.

April April 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Jason, you continue to take what I say and force different attributes onto it. You are, once again, spouting the same creation nonsense. Where did I ever use creation as an argument in what I was saying? I didn’t. Not once. Go back and read. It’s right there in front of your face. You’re pulling this out of nowhere and basing your argument on incorrect assumptions.

Go back to the original question. The question was not when should we start giving a developing human the same rights. The question was when does science say life begins? You constantly attack what I’m saying as unscientific, while you yourself talk about everything within an ethical or philosophical sense. Take a moment to do a little research in medical and science journals. Nothing I have said is without scientific validation and from that aspect alone. You are once again confusing hard science with applying it within a cultural mindset through philosophical influence. But we have had this discussion before.

I don’t expect you to start getting it now. But before you start criticizing people for their lack of scientific understanding, I’d spend a little more time researching the field yourself. You are not offering any solid scientific information in regard to the start of life. Science addresses a start to life. How we choose to define rights, etc. is outside of the realm of what scientific testing and experimentation can tell us. My argument has only ever been that testing and experimentation demonstrate quite clearly that biological life begins at conception. Again, I doubt you’ll take the time to recognize what I actually say here vs. what you want to attribute to it or that you’ll take the time to look into things further at all.

But you are commenting absolute nonsense, and have demonstrated an incapability to simply read and address what I’ve actually said. I would love to continue talking with you. But I can’t do that if you’re not going to recognize what I actually write without putting words in my mouth.

TIM April 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm

April, you are right about the article’s question, i.e., when does human life begin. But the question is vague. It does not define the terms “human life.” Matthew’s definition seems to be that human life refers to the life of a fertilized human egg that is genetically complete. But this definition is essentially arbitrary. Just as easily, one might postulate that human life means the life of a viably developed human person. These definitions indeed are not strictly scientific, though they rely on scientific information for their validity.

TIM April 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

Well said!!!

TIM April 6, 2013 at 11:49 am

Well said, Jason!! You pointed out the relevant issues exactly. Yes, science has revealed important information about how human life derives. But it is also important in illustrating how it develops. It is this issue of development that is critical to understanding when human personhood is achieved, when the zygote reaches full human status biologically.

cesar February 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Speaking about brain activity, consider this: as we all know, the brain forms the physical structure that allows or generates the “mind” (ie object of all cognitive faculties that enables a host of characteristics such as thought, consciousness, etc specific to humans as well as other life forms).

So when a human brain stops (ie in medical terms brain dead), there is no more mind and thus the human organism is defined as dead or no longer living. As we know, organs and even the heart can be kept functioning even in the absence of brain activity. But this does not constitute “living” state. Of all vertebrates, our brain and thus our mind is what defines us as human. And thus brain activity is a valid criteria to determine a “living” state of human organism.

I’m not sure if Jason is arguing this point, but one might be inclined to make this conclusion: a cessation of brain activity = no more mind = not a human life. This of course should be seen as a faulty deduction. The final conclusion should be no human living state. That brain dead person is still a human, just a non-living one (ie dead).

For a zygote, the brain has not yet formed so of course there is no presence of a mind. But its too simplistic to conclude that a zygote is not in a living state just because it lacks those cognitive faculties associated by presence of a mind and developed brain. Its really a matter of comparing apples to oranges. That is the criteria for living human organism (ie a mind) as applied to organisms that possess such a brain cannot be applied the same way to the stages of embryonic development. You see this criteria has to apply to a condition in which the mind actually exists. A zygote is not such a condition. Thus the argument cannot be made that absence of mind in a zygote equates it to a non-living state.

My long standing disagreement with Matthew on his use of science to conclude that a zygote (ie conception) is a “human life” (specifically he beginning of an individual human life) is based on a different argument. The premise the science can make a determination on the criteria for ”human life” is preposterous. Why? Any basic biology text will lay down the definition of what constitutes a living organism. By that definition/criteria, at conception you have a zygote which becomes a living organism. OK so far so good. And then if we are discussing homo sapiens, we are talking about a living human organism. But is that human zygote a “human life”? Lets be very clear; science does NOT answer this question for us! Biology has made a give us a method of classification for what is life or a living organism. But never has science made a conclusion or presented proof that a zygote is a “human life”. Furthermore science has never provided any evidence or recommendation as to a zygote being deserving of rights as a person.

Biology may define a zygote, from a human conception, as constituting a human living organism, however the distinction must be made that this is a purely scientific classification. A human living organism does NOT equate to a “human life”. A human life in the way Matthew wants us to consider the term is something better denoted as a person with intrinsic rights (on of which is life). I know many will attack my logic here as “arguing semantics” however that cannot be further from a true understanding of how Matthew is arguing and defending the claim that science tells us when a “human life” begins.

Matthew equates an individual “human life” as that of “person”. Therefore the question of when someone becomes a person and thus be given their human rights under the respective societal and moral construct, is not simply determined by a biological question and answer (ie zygote being the start of life).

The reality here is this: the question of when “human life” begins and those intrinsic rights assigned to such life, lies in an answer that is quite arbitrary. That is to say, defining or classifying “human life” or “person” is left to societal and moral law, not science! Science will never provide an answer to when “human life” begins. For the morally conscious or pro-life community to attempt to utilize principles and concepts from science texts to support their own belief is a cheap and demeaning disregard of the fundamentals of science. Eg to make this argument: a zygote with its genetic DNA and thus potential development into human being is equivalent to say this is already a “human life” with innate human rights just because science classifies the zygote having all the DNA material for that human organism…. Well that’s the problem here — science never mentions an individual “human life” ie a person.

April February 23, 2013 at 12:48 am

Cesar, you say that science does not define for us when human life begins and never will and classify any attempt for science to be used this way as demeaning the fundamentals of science.

The fundamentals of science exist so that we may extrapolate new knowledge with their guidance. Discovery is made through these fundamentals. Science not defining something specifically also does not constitute the absence of facts. Even if science at any point doesn’t offer an explanation, we are not at the pinnacle of knowledge in this current day and age. A failure to have yet discovered something does not mean that something is false. It means that science has not yet explained something that already exists.

Matt is arguing that these fundamentals point in the direction of life beginning at fertilization. I agree with him. If we’re going to categorize life only having meaning in human terms with neurological status, let’s look again at the fetus. Neurological development is put into play from day one, persists through the embryonic stage, and the development happens more rapidly than most give credit. The mind, so to say, is being formed. Jason was speaking of a period around 22-24 weeks (forgive me if I got the exact mentioned weeks wrong) as when life should be considered valid, but when we look information from medical journals on brain death criteria and not the Wikipedia definition that Jason gave us, you see reflexes described that babies earlier than 22-24 weeks have in utero. According to the medical descriptions of determining whether or not someone is alive, these fetuses are medically and scientifically alive. Reflexes are first seen around the time that women are just discovering they are pregnant. And nothing about the “mind” is mentioned in the least when it comes to describing life vs. non-life.

That all being said, it is in purely scientific terms and by science’s standards and definitions that the fetus is considered alive. It’s not an abuse of fundamentals in the least. It is recognizing and applying the information out there and using science the way it was intended—to draw educated conclusions.

cesar February 23, 2013 at 2:07 am

April –
You state “fundamentals of science exist so that we may extrapolate new knowledge with their guidance”. First of all this is one opinion. The “purpose of science” I suppose could be argued over and over without much agreement. However you should know that those branches of pure science (ie theoretical disciplines) would not agree with conclusions arrived at in the manner in which Matthew has here.

Consider this… It would similar to claiming: a cosmological theory can provide some evidence of the existence of god. It may be the case that some people would read the theory and ascertain though their own reason that a cosmological law or principle has logically lead them to knowledge or proof of existence of god. But that does not make their deduction valid or true. They have all the right to arrive to their own truth, but what is the reality of this truth I ask you?

You state “A failure to have yet discovered something does not mean that something is false”. From a scientific perspective, yes it does mean that. Something cannot be shown to be true unless some proof exists it is so. If its not true then its false by definition. I will agree that perhaps at a later point in time something may be found to be true, but the methodology of science tells us that any theory is wrong (or incomplete) if it does not make correct real world predictions.

The most fitting example here may again be existence of god. Science has not yet discovered god, therefore he cannot exist by science’s definition (ie “god exists” is a false statement in the eyes of pure science). Note that does not rule out that science may someday discover some proof of god.

My wish is Matthew would consider taking the position that per the biological classification for criteria of living organisms, therefore a human zygote constitutes a living human organism. We’re all in agreement so far. The next step would be to remove all moral and societal predispositions and consider this biological entity (zygote) within the construct of purely biological terms. In one sense, consider this is an act of abstraction. So now what truths regarding “human life” does one determine from this exercise? Answer: None what so ever! A living human organism is just that and I’m in agreement it will grow into a full term human, etc etc. But what value can we put on this life really? Non what so ever, not if we are looking at this zygote and this embryonic development process as a scientific process removed from all other precepts.

To understand this biological human living organism as a “human life” aka “person with innate rights” requires leaving the realm of pure science and applying morality or ethics to its consideration. Lets not hide behind science and use biological arguments to defend ideals that are in fact non-scientific but rather lie in our own predispositions, Matthew.

This is a hard reality that most cannot face… in fact many will evade and replace with a different reality.

April February 23, 2013 at 2:34 am

Cesar, your response seems to be discounting scientific laws and such. They are there as a standard and for a reason. We have discovered them first and foremost through observation and then tested them to further understand how things have already been functioning before we put words to the explanation. The testing process does nothing to affect the real-time facts in these matters. It exposes them. The testing process in no way scientifically constitutes truth. It simply provides a confirmation or falsification of a proposed hypothesis. It exposes the world as it already is and gives us further understanding of what is around us, etc. Discovering truth is a capability that lies outside of the scientific method. Truth only comes into the equation when people try to put some qualification to things outside of experimentation. Science is a way of explaining the world, not creating it. That’s not an opinion. That’s what science is. People here seem to be confusing social and cultural structures and the ways these explain life and our understanding of such, which are often viewed in relative terms, with physical law. The two are not the same. And I have yet to work with a scientist or doctor who dealt in truth. Science is suppose to be purely based on observable and testable facts to maintain an unbiased view.

TIM April 1, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Science is important in clarifying the philosophical issue of right to life. It is science that helps us understand what is biologically involved in the development of the zigot into a fully viable human being. Only the fully developed human has an “innate right” to life. The zigot shares in this right only to the extent that it biological approximates the fully developed human.

April April 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm

This is the whole point, Tim, and again, you are defining life through a philosophical perspective only and not looking purely at what science says. Science does show clearly where life begins. Take out the philosophical and ethical parts of the discussion and look purely at the physical information at hand. This isn’t saying that philosophy isn’t a part of human understanding, but when we are looking for information to back up those explanations, we find discussions that are blatantly trying to get around what we know to be scientifically true based on it’s own theoretical principles and tests. They are ignoring the foundation presented to them. The science has to be looked at and understood first before we can try and put certain qualities to the information. Otherwise, there isn’t a point to science to begin with. It is there to be an unbiased (suppose to be at least) source from which we gain our understanding. If people want to discuss how we should view and apply the information we know through science in our own cultural perspectives, fine. But it should not be confused with what the science actually says.

TIM April 1, 2013 at 11:57 pm

To know when human life begins is important if we posit that there is a right to human life. Science helps us to understand the biological factors involved in the developmental process, from the time of conception to delivery of the viable infant. It shows how development begins with a single cell and evolves into a highly complex biological system composed of system of million of cells over a period of roughly nine months until birth. But it does not address the philosophical questions about the right to life per se. Human life apparently possesses a relative value in our society. The State, for example, takes away a life by legislative concensus when it executes a person for capital crimes. It exonerates a person who kills another deemed a threat to the killer’s own life. It sends soldiers off to war to destroy the lives of others deemed enemies of the State. But life also possesses relative value developmentally in its evolution from a zigot to a fully viable baby. The more complex and recognizably human the organism becomes, the more valuable its life. The life of the mother thus might be said to have a greater value than the life of the zigot.

April April 2, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Jason, you continue to take what I say and force different attributes onto it. You are, once again, spouting the same creation nonsense. Where did I ever use creation as an argument in what I was saying? I didn’t. Not once. Go back and read. It’s right there in front of your face. You’re pulling this out of nowhere and basing your argument on incorrect assumptions.

Go back to the original question. The question was not when should we start giving a developing human the same rights. The question was when does science say life begins? You constantly attack what I’m saying as unscientific, while you yourself talk about everything within an ethical or philosophical sense. Take a moment to do a little research in medical and science journals. Nothing I have said is without scientific validation and from that aspect alone. You are once again confusing hard science with applying it within a cultural mindset through philosophical influence. But we have had this discussion before.

I don’t expect you to start getting it now. But before you start criticizing people for their lack of scientific understanding, I’d spend a little more time researching the field yourself. You are not offering any solid scientific information in regard to the start of life. Science addresses a start to life. How we choose to define rights, etc. is outside of the realm of what scientific testing and experimentation can tell us. My argument has only ever been that testing and experimentation demonstrate quite clearly that biological life begins at conception. Again, I doubt you’ll take the time to recognize what I actually say here vs. what you want to attribute to it or that you’ll take the time to look into things further at all.

But you are commenting absolute nonsense, and have demonstrated an incapability to simply read and address what I’ve actually said. I would love to continue talking with you. But I can’t do that if you’re not going to recognize what I actually write without putting words in my mouth.

Jason April 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

So it doesn’t matter if it has the same rights in your eyes? So abortion is ok? Then the conversation is over.

Its as simple as that, if we aren’t talking about the rights of the unborn, then this conversation is pointless.

I don’t know of a single person on earth that would describe a fertilized egg as non-living material. The thing is obviously alive.

You would rather do the typical dodge of the actual reason the conversation is happening that’s fine, dodge away. Keep being ambiguous about the word “life” like every other person that has been backed into a corner on this topic.

April April 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Jason, you are once again inferring things I didn’t imply. I didn’t think it would be so hard to a person so simply read. I’ve not been ambiguous. I’ve given a biologically backed up starting point for life, pure and simple. Pick up a beginning bio text. Your comments are unorganized and you are pulling things out of my comments I never said, and you are still refusing to address this fact. I have blatantly been arguing that a fertilized egg IS alive. I’ve also not dodged any questions. I can’t help that you are reading into things your own agenda.

Let’s see if this sums it up for you, and then I’m done conversing with you:

*Scientific evidence demonstrates clearly that biological life begins at conception, the joining of gametes.

*Abortion at any stage is ending the biological life of a human, as the fertilized egg can produce nothing other than a human, no matter the stage of development that human is in.

If indeed, people want to debate a qualification for life (not a quantification), then it needs to be realized that people are debating when it is appropriate and acceptable to end a human life. The debate regarding that dilemma is not about whether or not they are ending a biological life. It is scientifically impossible for it to be anything else.

Your entire debate has been ethical in nature. Yes, ethical decisions are a part of the abortion debate, but the ethical qualifications as to when things are appropriately ended do not define when life biologically begins—-where science shows us life begins. There is no other way around it. There seems to be a huge issue on this board with people being unable to separate unadulterated scientific evidence with how they want to apply it. Scientific evidence gives us grounds to applying things to real life circumstances, but what we extrapolate from it in applied settings goes beyond what science purely says. It is no longer unbiased.

In case there is any confusion on my stance, I do not agree that abortion is appropriate at any point in time. You and I will disagree about the metaphysical implications about the beginning of life, and that’s fine. We don’t have to agree. But your allegations during this discourse have been tainted by an inability to separate science from it’s application to life and resulted in a misrepresentation of nearly everything I said to you. Looking at the rest of this board, I see that is a common theme with you.

If you want to discuss why you think it is appropriate for abortion to take place under certain circumstances, then fine. It’s a valid topic of conversation, but the nature of that conversation lies outside of the original question, when does science say life begins?

Have a nice day. I will not be taking the time to respond any further to your unorganized nonsense.

Cesar April 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

@TIM – to postulate means to make an assumption/suggest that something is true or exists. It’s not correct to discern the discussion of topic as postulating, in fact that would be missing the entire point of the logical argument.

You stated: “Just as easily, one might postulate that human life means the life of a viably developed human person”. You may also have thought that Mathew postulated or assumed that human life is that of a fertilized egg (ie zygote). Not so! Let me explain why.

The “when life begins” argument being made is a deductive one (in contrast to an assumption). The construction of said argument goes as follows. Life as defined in biological terms is that set of characteristics (I won’t list them here, they are well documented in any biology text) which distinguishes objects from non-living. A living organism is said to have life (ie those characteristics); thus living organism and life are equivalent for purpose of our argument. The “human” element (eg human life) is really irrelevant to the argument of “when life begins” as we can argue “human life” or “dog life”, etc in the same manner. So going forward I will only consider the idea of “life” or living organism (it is immaterial be it human, dog, etc).

A cell is the basic unit of a living organism however by itself a cell is not a “life”. Thus a sperm or an ovum (both specialized sex cells called gametes) is not a life and also not a living organism per se. So at conception (fertilization) when sperm and ovum come together to form a zygote, what is this new cell ie the zygote: a life or not a life? We already said that a cell is not a life nor a living organism, so does it not follow that a zygote is also not a life nor a living organism? Let me show/prove that in fact the zygote is a living organism and thus a life.

A zygote differs from all other types of cells in biology in that 1) it is the first cell that unites the genetic DNA from two different parent organisms and 2) it possess specialized function and instruction for embryonic development. It is this characteristic and specialization of the zygote that allows one to differentiate a zygote from all other cells (which already established is not a life) and form the argument in support of life begins at conception (with the zygote). The zygote possesses all the necessary attributes and is the first step in the generation of a living organism. It happens that in the life cycle of a living organism (again not exclusive to humans), there is a series of development stages and that very first moment of the cycle begins with the zygote and conception. Therefore the zygote must logically be seen as the beginning of living organism and thus the moment when life begins. QED.

To reiterate I wanted to clarify that the questions of human life and when life begins is not postulate. There is no need to make assumptions. These questions are reasonably answered thru logically deduction. I also want to be clear that I am not a pro-life supported, I am pro-choice; however as a scientist and person of reason I am bound to this reality.

April April 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Cesar, I think this has been the best explanation about the mechanics behind what happens with fertilization. Well said.

TIM April 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Cesar. Thanks for your response. When using the word postulate, it was in reference to the definition of the words “human life.” I grant that the life of the fertilized egg begins at conception. But at conception the fertilized cell has only the basic DNA instructions to become a full human person. It is only through the subsequent development over time as dictated by its genetic instructions and as formed by relevant experiences in the mother’s womb to develop into a full human person. This process of development is a critical. And until it occurs, one might be remiss to call its intentional destruction murder.

cesar April 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Tim, You state ” I grant that the life of the fertilized egg begins at conception.” If I am to take your statement literally, it is not entirely correct. The point is: that “life” of the ORGANISM (again be it human, monkey, etc) begins at conception via the (process) fertilization of egg cell with sperm cell. That is to say that an organism is “living” at the zygote stage because at a cellular level it is already in its life cycle particularly in an early (pre-embryonic) development stage.

Your following statement deserves further scrutiny: “… to develop into a full human person. This process of development is critical.” Are you aware that you are making the presumption that a state actually exists in which one is a “full human person”? One has to wonder what you mean by full human person and when an organism actually reaches this state; it sounds rather arbitrary to me at first impression. Moreover you assert “this process of development is critical”, but why is it so critical? An organism’s life cycle has many processes (stages) so why are you calling out one as more critical than any other? That too seems very arbitrary to me.

I think if one examines this logically, you see that the organism has a lifecycle and not science nor reason assigns a “value” to any one stage or process; rather every point/stage from time of conception is necessary and server different functions and purposes to that living organism. Thus they are all equivalent and there is no logical basis to call anyone more “critical” from the other.

Your last point of intention destruction and implications to murder is honestly not a concern or germane to this discussion. Those topics are moral and philosophical ones that really merit a completely different set of perspectives which I believe would be subjective in nature. In our current discussion, I endeavor to argue the topic of beginning of life on purely logical and objective terms.

TIM April 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Actually, Cesar, the discussion of value is an important part of the discussion here. It is one of the drivers of our scientific research. It helps us decide which issues are important for scientific research. It helps us to develop more precise ways of describing our discoveries. And it typically informs the conclusions we make about the scientific discoveries made. Accordingly, we value life, especially human life. And so we become intent in our efforts to know more about it through scientific inquiry.

The question posed in this blog is about the origins of human life and what can science tell us about it. As Matthew rightly points out, science tells us that human life begins at conception, when the mother’s egg is fertilized. At that time, the zygote has all the DNA material from both the sperm and the egg necessary for self-directed biological development. But my point has to do with what science tells us about the development of that life over time. Scientific understanding of this development is important in making distinctions between a living human zygote, for example, and a living human fetus.

Spencer Milton April 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm

You have determined life starts in purely logical and objective terms. But you haven’t explained why life is valuable. Science can’t do that. Science can say when life begins. But it can’t say whether any life is valuable.
So again, the liberal position is that life begins at conception, but that life is valuable until personhood. When you say that we are making arbitrary distinctions, you are undermining your own argument. For any categorization of valuable life, even to say all life is valuable, is an unscientific assertion.

TIM April 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Spencer. Thanks for your comments. You rightly point out that it is primarily philosophical to assert that life, human or otherwise, has value. That biological science does not determine this value per se. But social science may do so. The latter reveals that as humans, we tend to assign value differently for different things, generally in accord with the principle of survival of the species, but also in accord with our unique personal, religious, and cultural needs. But in the case of human life, biological science may play a role in helping us to assign relativity to value to things. For example, we can say that the value of the life of the zygote, while fully informed with its DNA, is not equal to that of the fully developed person.

April April 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Tim, anything that defines parameters of value on a subject lies outside of what biological science teaches. In social science, values are a relative subject and are not limited to testable circumstances. Many cultures do not have an understanding of the biological sciences, yet they still attribute particular definitions to when one can be considered fully human. What science says and however a certain society defines things, whether or not they have an understanding of biology, are two completely different things. Biological science can provide nothing more than facts. Whatever the relative values accepted are and for whatever reason, biological testing only shows what the facts are. Anything that approaches defining value to a subject lies outside of the limits set through scientific methodology precisely because science is not subject to this relativity.

TIM April 15, 2013 at 3:54 pm

April. Thanks for your reply. When you speak of the scientific method, you do not want to limit yourself to biological science. All sciences employ the scientific method. My point here was that studies providing information about human behavior and evolution cast some light on how values may be derived and applied. For example, life is seen by people as having value generally primarily because of the need for the human species to survive. But individual societies may value life differently in that struggle for survival. For example, the Spartans were said to destroy children who were born invalid because they could not promote the wellbeing of the warrior culture. These babies were seen as an unsupportable burden, placing the Spartan society at risk.

April April 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Tim, thanks for you response. I think I see what you’re saying. All fields of science rely on some form of scientific methodology, although the procedures may be different to meet the particular criteria of the field. I was referring mainly to hard sciences. However, scientific methodology, in whatever field, is a way for the observer to gain unbiased understanding about what they are studying. Itself, it does not lend humans reasoning for their decisions on the merit of certain qualifications. We may use the knowledge we have gained scientifically to help us make decisions, which I think is what you were pointing out, but that does not mean that what we glean from the results of the information is qualified as being what science says. Science speaks clearly through the results of experimentation. What we take from it and apply to life is a “science says ‘this’ so we deduce ‘this’.” A deduction may be made from a scientific standpoint, but it itself isn’t science (though we can use science as a source to back up our reasoning) because we have now placed a relative qualification to the results of the scientific testing.

As you showed in your example, different societies do value life differently and for reasons that are specific to their individual cultures. But this goes back to life being a relative subject. If the start of life remains relative based on cultural perspective, it becomes impossible to determine a testable point where life begins, hence the reason for the focus on biology. There are certain, unarguable principles that quantify a start to life. There is no ubiquitous answer without a biologically testable starting point and the reason we ask the question: “Where does science say life begins?”

As Cesar expressed, science is clear on a starting point for the biological start to life. The greater debate seems to be about how we can qualify said biological life. But as I stated before and as you showed with your example, life obtains different definitions depending on who is doing the defining. We can use the scientific evidence to help us make qualifications about subject matter such as this, but those qualifications lie outside of what the science actually says.

My degree and training is in anthropology. We get a pretty good mixture of both the hard and social aspects of scientific methodology in this field. Following protocol for scientifically observing certain cultures and their beliefs, I can scientifically deduce through observation that a particular society performs certain behaviors because they believe it brings about certain biological results.

For example, in Sambian culture, the belief is that boys are incapable of naturally producing semen and the only stores they will have as an adult are dependent on how much they ingest by performing fellatio on other men as they grow older. I can prove through anthropological methodology that this is what they believe to be true and part of how a person achieves sexual maturation in this society, but this doesn’t change the fact that we scientifically know this to be false because we can reliably test otherwise.

It’s the same thing in regard to when life starts. Science clearly gives us a testable starting point. What we choose to believe as a society or as individuals does not change what we know to be a fact. Those qualifications lie outside of what science says.

Sarah May 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Hey, this was a great blog. Could I use a quote in a paper i’m doing? If so how should I make a bibliography for your page?

Joanne May 14, 2013 at 7:07 am

Mother Teresa, Roman Catholic nun
“It’s the greatest poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Joanne May 14, 2013 at 7:08 am

Mother Teresa, Roman Catholic nun
“It’s the greatest poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

For the mother to kill her baby is not pro-choice – it is anti-choice. She is depriving her child of his right to choose whether or not he will live. It is a terrible thing to decide that another person’s life is not worth living, merely because of your own prejudices, your own lack of resolve, your own fears, and your own unwillingness to cope. Would you want some outsider making such a judgment about your life? Deciding, without consulting you, whether your life is really worth living, whether it is simply easier for everyone concerned to pull the plug? It is wrong to play God by robbing a baby of his life. It is not pro-choice. It is the act of a tyrant. It is not just a life that has been stolen: It is a lifetime of choices and decisions that have been stolen. A lifetime of potential, hopes, and aspirations just flushed down the drain, without so much as a funeral or a proper burial. Everyone should be pro-choice – let the child decide his or her own fate. It is the only fair and decent thing to do.

Trevor May 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm


Your obvious bias and lack of scientific integrity is mind blowing.

Egypt Steve May 17, 2013 at 11:46 am

Observation: a fertilized egg is a human being because it has DNA distinct from the egg and sperm that produced it.
Observation: It is possible for a fertilized egg to spontaneously clone itself into two genetically-identical zygotes.
Observation: These two zygotes are now two independent human beings.
Inference: An artificial clone of a human being will be an independent human being.

Observation: It is possible to artificially fertilize an egg cell and a sperm cell outside of a human body.
Observation: The zygote so created cannot survive without technical assistance.
Observation: This was tried several times before success was achieved.
Inference: The zygotes so created were human beings even though the technology did not yet exist to bring them fully to term.
Conclusion: The non-existence of the technology necessary to bring a zygote to term has no relevance to the human status of that zygote.

Rule: a clone is a human being distinct from the individual from whom it was cloned.
Proposition: At some point, it will be technically possible to clone a human being from any somatic cell.
Inference: When that point comes about, there will be no meaningful difference between an artificially-created zygote and any cell.
Rule: the non-existence of the technology needed to bring an artificially-created zygote to term is irrelevant to the human status of that zygote.
Conclusion: All human cells are potential human beings, and are therefore by definition individual human beings already.
Conclusion: Tonsillectomy must be banned because it results in the murder of millions of human beings.

spencer milton May 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

this was a very interesting argument. im pro choice by the way. but i think the argument is flawed.

these people are arguing that the fertilized zygote is an independent life. If we were to let nature take its course, it would become an independent human being.

Cells that can be cloned have not been cloned. Cells that can be cloned are more akin to the sperm and ovum prior to fertilization than the sperm and ovum after.

Matthew Warner May 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Egypt Steve – I gotta agree with Spencer. A potential whole/individual human life is different than an actual whole/individual human life. In the case of if somebody ever cloned a human life from a somatic cell, the whole/individual human life would be present after the cloning takes place. That is when the moral implications of ending that life of a whole/individual human life would come into play.


Fugazi May 30, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I have a question related, but not directly to this issue.

I consider myself pro-gradualism in the debate on abortion.

I don’t disagree with you on the scientific evidence to show that “a” life starts at conception.
I have also seen the numerous arguments against the personhood relationship to brain development . .so I’d like to establish one thing prior to my question;

1. Pro-life is based on “a” life starts at conception and as such, given the right circumstances, should be accorded all the rights of a born person.

My question is as follows;

Chimera twins are the result of a twin pregnancy where one twin is absorbed by the other, however the absorbed twin can sometimes be only partial absorbed leaving complete organs intact, with it’s unique DNA, within the dominant twin or in more extreme cases, like Deepak Kumar Paswaan, body parts growing from them. These parts started ‘life’ separate and whole from the other. If as you believe that conception starts “a” life and the development of the brain has no bearing on when a fetus etc becomes a “person’ then these organs and/or body parts are also “a person” and as such have equal rights to anyone else .. remember you have already disallowed the cannot live without the life support of the provider, the no brain no person and consciousness arguments .. so please explain why these semi-absorbed are no classified as “persons” even by pro-life people.

Matthew Warner June 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Fugazi – the reason why is because they are not whole and self-directing. An individual human life is not determined simply by the fact there there is unique DNA, it’s also that, in the case of an embryo – for example, it is a whole, self-directing organism. The body parts and organs of what used to be another person, even if kept “alive” does not qualify. Just like a single sperm doesn’t qualify, or a skin cell doesn’t qualify.

I hope that helps!

Fugazi June 8, 2013 at 5:38 am

Thank you for your answer .. to move onto the next step based off your “whole and self-directing” description, does this mean that people born without limbs and major mental disabilities are not persons, they do not meet your criteria of “whole and self-directing”, also by adding in conditions like whole and self-directing then you are deciding, just as pro-choice people do, what constitutes a person and when it becomes one. Either there is a “person” at conception or there is not.
The analogy of sperm isn’t a good one, a sperm only contains half the required number of chromosomes and as such could never be described as a person.
The problem with the “life/person at conception” ideology is that under some circumstances arbitrary conditions are applied to the statement, which is little different to what pro-choicers do.

Spencer Milton June 8, 2013 at 9:50 am

Interesting. This thought experiment seems similar to the one Descartes made when he imagined himself without a body but concluded that he still existed. I think therefore I am. If one accepts this line of reasoning, perhaps one would agree that thought, not the ability to become a whole person, is the important factor in determining whether “one” exists for moral purposes.

cesar June 12, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Spencer – Descartes’ cogito ergo sum argument does nothing more than to prove one’s own existence. In fact the argument makes very clear that I cannot know that anything is real, ie true knowledge of all things is unattainable. Therefore if I arrived at these conclusions, then necessarily I must exist.

To your point, “thought” vs “ability to become whole person” in determining whether one exists for moral purpose… has no relation to the cogito (philosophical) argument.

1) When arguing when a human life begins, the argument is not one of “existence”, rather the contention is at what moment does the entity become its own person aka a human life. Existence (at least within the context of the cogito) is a state of awareness within a certain reality (ontologically).
2) Your inclusion of a “moral purpose” also outside the scope of this topic. Arguments made (at least on this website blog) on when human life begins are based on scientific fact and devoid of any moral or ethical considerations.

Spencer June 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Well the problem is I assume that personhood is the standard and you assume life is the standard. the only objective reason for our assuming is that the assumption supports both of our conclusions lol. you cant refute my position and i cant refute your position.
The other problem is that a person, a thinking thing, does not begin to exist until it actually does thing. Thinking and feeling are valuable because feeling is the origination of value for a naturalist. But I don’t know why you care about a thing that is merely alive but does not care whether it lives or dies because it has no mind.

cesar June 12, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Spencer – your interpretation of “existence” is highly flawed. Eg “a thinking thing does not begin to exist until it actually does think”. So if that statement were correct to show someone exists, then if that person is put into a unconscious state or even goes to sleep, they are no longer thinking, therefore they cease to exist. Descartes’ cogito (I think therefore I exist) argument has nothing to do with a personhood and their existence as a thinking thing; the philosophical treatment of the notion of existence is in a complete different context (having to do with metaphysics and ontology). I respectfully advise you to stop making an argument when you have no understanding of the grounds you are making it on. For the record I’m not a pro-lifer; my interest here is discussions in whether science can really prove when a life begins.

Spencer June 12, 2013 at 11:41 pm

lol sorry i have no understanding. i totally believe you have a greater understanding then i rather it being more believable that we both have our own prejudices and we can’t epistemologically or morally overcome them. i mean it’s much more persausive for one to simply right that the other has no understanding… yada yada yada… use the word ontological; therefore im right.

cesar June 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I suggest you read the Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy by Descarte so you understand what he meant by existence. Otherwise you look pretty foolish applying the cogito concept to discussions of beginnings of human life and personhood.

Matthew Warner June 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Fugazi – actually, that’s not true. I’m not deciding what constitutes a person at all. These are scientific distinctions as to what makes up an independent organism.

Your analogy is wrong. A person without an arm can still fully function as a healthy adult human. In that sense they are still “whole.” An embryo without a brain is functioning as a healthy human embryo. It’s not supposed to have a brain yet. It is acting exactly as it is supposed to be acting. It is doing exactly what a human life does at that stage in his/her development. There is nothing wrong. It is full and complete for the stage it is in.

Fugazi June 13, 2013 at 4:04 am

Ergo, a chimera twin is doing exactly as it is supposed to for that point in it’s development, regardless that there is no brain etc. and as such should have the same rights as “other” twin .. both were individual “persons” at conception .. unless you are placing arbitrary values akin to what pro-choice people do.

A chimera that has extra limbs growing from the body has nothing wrong, it is full and complete for the stage of its life. In most cases there is no threat to life for the dominant twin. It has two distinct sets of DNA therefore under the “person at conception” idea of some pro-lifers, there are two “persons”.

Matthew Warner June 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

First, I never said a chimera twin was not a person. However, not knowing much at all about this medical anomaly, it sounds as if it could be argued that the chimera twin, at the point of being absorbed by its sibling, could be seen as no longer whole (itself) and has died. With perhaps some of its organs or parts being independently kept alive by its twin.

Further, I think it’s fair to say that clearly this is not supposed to happen. It’s a phenomena that is not in accordance with the way a human is designed to work. Something went “wrong.” So that must be taken into consideration.

Either way, your argument in no way affects the determination of when a new human life begins. It simply presents a complex situation later in life that is perhaps difficult to clearly define. The fact that difficulties exist in these anomalous situations later in life does not make it more difficult to assess its beginning.

Your point that there is potential for this to pose a conflict of position for some pro-lifers is noted.

It’s an interesting question to be sure.


Fugazi June 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

However this does not adhere to the “person at conception” ideal held by some pro-lifers, when rights are granted to a person those rights cannot be removed purely for arbitrary reasons .. self-defence is not an issue as in most of these cases there is no threat to life, quality of life cannot be used as a reason otherwise pro-choicers can use the same analogy, development cannot be used as a reason .. be it physical or mental.
All of these points have been dismissed by some pro-lifers as not being relevant, therefore the only conclusion one can come to in chimera twins cases is that whatever part of the submissive twin remains would constitute as person under the “person at conception” premise.

As far as I am aware I have never met or discussed with a pro-choice person where it has been questioned when a new human life begins, science tells us it is at conception .. however being a human life is not the same as being a human person.

Stephanie May 31, 2013 at 9:18 am

I know I am incredibly late to this Matthew, so my apologies for that. I have had an extremely difficult time finding recent articles on this subject written in a professional manner. I am still trying to decide my stance on this and have been looking for people on both ends of the argument to discuss what I’ve learned.

In my still-forming opinion, if you are trying to determine when someone becomes alive, you must look at when they cease to be alive. Medical science has agreed that death occurs when the brain is no longer sending EEG signals, so it is fair to extract from this idea that it is EEG waves that define us as living human beings as opposed to organic machines.

While the brain begins functioning within two weeks, these EEG patterns do not begin until between 20 and 30 weeks into gestation, depending on which scientific publication you read. This is the point that the fetus begins dreaming and actively responding to outside stimulus such as lights and movement.

Though the fetus may be “alive” much sooner than this EEG development, they appear to be “alive” in the same way a person in a permanent vegetative state is alive; their organic machinery still functions, but only with outside intervention as the life form is unable to to perform the most basic survival tasks such as eating. Without the feeding tubes, waste disposal lines, and IV nutrient drip they cannot survive, which is exactly the case for developing babies as well.

What, specifically, makes this viewpoint incorrect?

Matthew Warner May 31, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Good thoughts, but it’s incorrect in that you are making a false assumption that the conditions which determine the beginning of life rest upon when we determine the end of life. That’s illogical and problematic.

First, this would lead to a circular argument in that we could have the same argument about the end of life. Additionally, due to the differences in the phases of life, it’s easy to conceive that the determination of “life” may be slightly different for an adult vs an embryo. For example, a dying adult has/had a fully functioning brain that has now gone “dead” with no currently known way to reverse the process. Such a loss is certainly different than an embryo which is in the active, normal and healthy process of building a perfectly good brain. An adult needs an active and healthy brain to function properly. When an adults brain stops functioning, something is clearly wrong. An embryo (and developing fetus in its early stages), on the other hand, does not. Such an early human life is functioning exactly as he/she is designed to function prior to the brain being fully functional. Everything is 100% healthy for the embryo, nothing is “wrong.”

So, again, I think it doesn’t follow that what we would use to determine end of life is necessarily the same as beginning of life…particularly when the life in question naturally goes through significant good and healthy changes along the way.

TERRI June 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Matthew…I loved your article. I am staunchly prolife, and live in a very liberal area where I am so tired of being in the minority. I am also tired of being a woman listening to other women aggressively and disgustedly argue this issue as a “choice” for “women’s health” when it is clearly murder…pure and simple. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of young girls having abortions are being misled…and are not aware they are committing murder…and I don’t blame them…some day they will understand and feel horrible, and this is a travesty. Life begins at conception…pure and simple…and for all those trying to engage you in these ridiculous arguments…if life does not begin at conception…when does it? At what moment does it NOT become ok to dismember that little baby inside that mother’s womb? As a society, we go to great lengths to preserve our water supply, our precious trees, the baby harp seals, the bald eagles, the whales, to stop global warming because we care about the environment…we recycle everything now for the same reason…but TO HELL WITH THE HUMAN BABIES growing inside of a woman’s body…to hell with those precious creatures. Why is that, Matthew? Why is that, Matthew’s antagonists??? I would just love to know why the human unborn babies are far less important than the bald eagle. Thanks…

Matthew Warner December 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Dependency and individuality are two entirely separate thing. The use of dependency (…on the mother, and therefore viability outside of the womb) as a determining factor for individuality or a right to life is completely arbitrary.

Dallin December 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

That isn’t true. Being dependent on your mother as an infant and being dependent on your mother’s body as a fetus are two completely different things.

Dallin December 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

Once the baby is born, it can be adopted. The mother can be “changed” because it is an independent life. A baby just needs a mother figure. A fetus uses the mother’s body more as a resource. They don’t need a mother to take care of them, they need the mother’s body to survive. Take the mother away from a baby, the baby lives. Take the mother away from a fetus, there is no baby.

Matthew Warner December 5, 2012 at 10:57 am

I didn’t say there weren’t different levels of dependency. I just said that dependency and individuality are separate things. The fact that a baby (including a fetus) depends on somebody else (whether that somebody else could be replaced or not) does not mean the baby still isn’t a whole, individual human life. Your argument is simply not logical.

Dallin December 5, 2012 at 11:19 am

You are blinding yourself. You are right about one thing, dependency and individuality are separate things. Individuality is the quality or character of a person or thing that distinguishes them from others of the same kind. That doesn’t have anything to do with the fetus being alive or not. Independent is the word you are looking for. Independent means free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority. Since a fetus completely relies on that “outside control” and can’t survive without it, that makes it dependent. Not dependent on having a mother, but dependent on having the mother’s BODY to survive. Without it, there is no chance of survival. Individuality has nothing to do with life, especially since this can also apply to non living things. My argument has plenty of logic, you just won’t allow yourself to see that.

TIM April 1, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Dependency vs. individuality is not the point. The question has to do with the right to life by embrios. The “right” derives from a philosophical doctrine asseerting that the fully developed human being has a life that should not be destroyed arbitrarily by other individual humans. Developing embrios do not fully possess this same right in that they are not yet fully developed human beings. Rather they share in this right only to the degree that they biologically approximate viable humans.

TC April 8, 2013 at 7:13 am

But come hell or high water we will protect the embryo of the Piping Plover…… I guess their rights are above those of human embryo’s.

TIM April 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

TC. It would appear that all rights are relative to other rights, even the right to life. The right to life might seem to be preeminent, but Florida’s shoot first law casts doubt about that. It seems to propound that the right to life of another is subject to the shooter’s mere fear of losing his life due to a vaguely perceived threat. So why would it be surprising that the right of the embrionic Piping Plover could in some people’s eyes (Piping Plover investors) be “above those of the human embrio’s.”

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