Dead Things Don’t Grow

Author’s Note: The debate discussed in this blog post can be seen at the bottom article.

Many who hold the pro-choice position subscribe to a postmodern worldview. They are not arguing that we can kill the unborn because a woman’s right to choose trumps the right to life of the unborn. They are arguing that ambiguity on the question of when life begins supplies adequate justification for abortion on demand. The argument from ambiguity was central to former ACLU president Nadine Strossen’s presentation when I debated her recently on the campus of Oregon State University (OSU).

I was pleased that Nadine’s opening argument relied heavily on the claim that we cannot know when life begins. This played into the strategy I had chosen prior to the onset of the debate. Nadine did two other things I had hoped she would do in her opening statement: 1) Argue that Roe v. Wade was a moderate decision that balanced the competing interests of the individual and the state, and 2) argue that the Roe decision was necessary to stop the deaths of women who were dying as a result of unsafe abortions. In my own opening argument, which followed hers, I tried to establish two things:

1. There is clear consensus in the science of embryology that life begins at conception. Scientifically speaking, the unborn are distinct, living, whole human beings actively involved in the process of developing themselves from within from the very point of conception.

2. There is no difference between the adults we are today and the unborn humans we once were that would justify killing us at an earlier stage of development. In other words, there is no essential difference between a “human” and a “person.” Furthermore, any effort to justify abortion with philosophical distinctions among the living would invite systematic human inequality. At the end of the day, our society must choose between human equality and abortion. We simply cannot have both.

After we presented our opening statements, Nadine had an opportunity to offer a rebuttal. In that rebuttal, she challenged my claim that there was an absolute consensus among embryologists that life begins at conception. She quoted a source saying that the question could not be answered conclusively. This was a good tactic for Nadine to employ. She was obviously prepared. Fortunately, I had fully anticipated her move.

In my rebuttal, which followed hers, I drew on the work of Francis Beckwith. As Beckwith has previously written, Roe v. Wade concedes that the question of the parameters of a woman’s right to abortion is inextricably bound to the question of when life begins. Therefore, if someone is agnostic on the question of when life begins, they are also agnostic on the parameters of a woman’s right to choose. I began my rebuttal by establishing this crucial point.

Rather than conceding that there was a legitimate doubt about when life begins, I decided to reassert the point that the matter was settled. I did this by firing off numerous sources. Among them, I included former Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer. I wanted to establish the fact that many honest pro-choice advocates conceded the point. In fact, they have done so for decades.

Fortunately, OSU Socratic Club debates are structured in such a way as to allow opponents to have an informal half-hour exchange following the opening statements and rebuttals. During that exchange, Nadine came across as cordial and well informed. She also impressed me as sincerely interested in my views on a number of issues related to the debate topic. She was a worthy and articulate opponent.

One downside to Nadine’s choice of questions was that they sometimes gave the appearance of trying to divert the issue from the question of the status of the unborn. When Nadine interjected the phrase “potential life” into our discussion I tried to seize the moment to refocus the debate. I asked her whether by using the phrase “potential life” she meant to deny that the unborn were humans (in a biological sense) or persons (in a philosophical sense). Her answer was “both.”

Having established that the unborn have separate DNA and that there is cell division and metabolism from the point of conception, I replied with the following: “But, Nadine, dead things don’t grow.” In fact, I said it twice during the exchange.

That statement ended up being the takeaway line from the entire debate. In fact, nearly everyone who saw the debate and spoke to me afterwards quoted that one line. It was effective because Nadine and I were in danger of getting into a war of quoting texts no one has ever read. But “dead things don’t grow” was an unmistakable appeal to common sense that I believe solidified my central thesis and allowed the pro-life position to prevail in the overall exchange.

Therefore, I would like to conclude this column by thanking my friend Jay Watts for supplying me with that line, which I saw in a recent episode of “Life is Best” – a series hosted by my friend Scott Klusendorf. That series may be the best thing Scott has ever done for the pro-life movement – and that is really saying something.

My advice to pro-lifers debaters who wish to compete (and prevail!) in debates on hostile turf is twofold. First, read everything Francis Beckwith writes on the topic of abortion. Second, watch every video, speech, and debate featuring Scott Klusendorf speaking and teaching on the topic of abortion.

The best place to start is right here: http://www.lifeisbest.tv.

 

40 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    ““But, Nadine, dead things don’t grow.” In fact, I said it twice during the exchange.”

    To be fair, I don’t think Nadine ever said that foetuses are ‘dead’. People can say that each human egg or sperm is a ‘potential life’ – and certainly each has individual DNA. That doesn’t mean that eggs or sperm are ‘dead’. And we don’t hold a funeral each time a woman has her time of the month. And we certainly don’t see a man ejaculating as equivalent to a holocaust.

    If human life starts at conception in the way anti-abortionists argue, I wonder what it means for twins, who may come from a single fertilised zygote that didn’t split into two until a few days after conception. Do they only have half a soul each?

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Who cares about those details related to the single fertilised egg dividing and the issues of its soul(s)? That is not your or my problem, since if there is a God, it is Gods problem.
      Since it is possible that life begins at conception, why even chance it by allowing that life to be terminated? We spend so much money in this world trying to keep people alive, but yet we are so quick to abort. I just do not understand the whole pro-abortion movement. If there is even a chance that I would commit murder, why would I take that chance? Roughly 3500 abortions a day in the USA alone, wow.

      Reply
      • toby says:

        Since it is possible that life begins at conception, why even chance it by allowing that life to be terminated?

        Why not let those pregnant decide for themselves what to do with themselves?

        We spend so much money in this world trying to keep people alive, but yet we are so quick to abort. I just do not understand the whole pro-abortion movement.

        I don’t understand the keeping people alive at all costs mindset. As a son who’s father lived an extra day or to because a machine forced air into his lungs I’ve always thought that we shouldn’t immediately side with continued life at all costs. 50 or 75 years earlier and my dad would have died a day or two earlier. The added cost in money and languishing anguish wasn’t worth it and would have been forgone if the medical establishment didn’t enjoy high profits and constantly feared lawsuits.

        If there is even a chance that I would commit murder, why would I take that chance? Roughly 3500 abortions a day in the USA alone, wow.

        I guess that would be your choice then, wouldn’t it?

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          Toby:
          I agree with much of your response, but yes it would be my choice not to take a chance of murdering someone. But simply letting a woman decide to commit murder is not okay. If we are somehow able to prove that life does NOT begin until day 10 or whatever it would be, then so be it. But until that day occurs, just stop chancing it. Roughly 3500 americans a day would be grateful.

          Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Louie, I don’t think life does begin at conception. It’s a single cell organism at that point – not comparable at all to a human being with wants, desires, the ability to feel pain and fear etc. So it’s not a ‘chance I don’t want to take’, it’s not a chance at all.

        Reply
  2. Luke says:

    I thought this was interesting and I have a more general reply, but wanted to quickly address something Louie said.

    We do spend a lot of money to keep people alive.

    We also spend a lot of money on killing people. Whether it’s personal spending on handguns (things designed to hurt and kill people), or government spending on more advanced weapons like long range bombers, we spend billions every year on tools of death.

    You may say that we don’t spend that money to kill, but to protect our lives and our way of life. While that may be the goal, it does not render the deadly means nonexistent. It bring about the question, if you are willing to allow a 4 year old child with thoughts, and hopes, and dreams in Afghanistan to be killed “to protect my way of life”, then why is it such a crime for someone else to kill a fetus who yet has no brain with which to dream to protect their way of life?

    I’m pro life, but I fail to see the logic.

    (On a side note, many religious among us like to proclaim that there are no atheists in foxholes. Yet many, if not a huge majority of, Christians in America sure don’t seem to actually believe in G-d or heaven. If a terrorist kills a believer today, all that will happen is you will go to heaven sooner. Yet many believers would spend billions and kill innocent children to make sure that doesn’t happen? The actions are much more consistent with someone who believes that this life is all we have. $600,000,000 is a lot of money to spend in a year to make sure that we don’t go to heaven just yet.)

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      I agree about all the money spent to save or kill, it is a sad world we live in. Lets talke about this hypothetical 4 year old… was the 4 year old killed on purpose? Was the child cut to pieces while trying to fend off a blade? The poor kid should have just been aborted a few years prior, then it would have been fine. All that aside, none of what you said lessens the atrocity of 3500 possible murders that take place every day in the USA if life is found to begin at conception. If life begins at conception and there is a God in heaven and you make it there some day, you can offer your spiel above to them and see if they agree with you. Perhaps they were fine with it, since it was a one way ticket to heaven.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “Perhaps they were fine with it, since it was a one way ticket to heaven.”

        Sounds like a win-win either way then Louie. Perhaps when you get to heaven the pro-choice people will be thanked by millions of blastocysts and single cell humans who got straight to heaven.

        10-15% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. Could God prevent that? I’m guessing if he’s all-powerful then he could, right? I can’t imagine that he chooses not to due to free will, as whose free will would be compromised? Do all those ‘naturally’ aborted babies go to heaven? If so, then there would be far more of them than the ones aborted by doctors.

        “Roughly 3500 americans a day would be grateful”

        How do you know? What would they be grateful with when they don’t even have brain function? That’s like saying you should get someone pregnant today (and tomorrow etc) because eventually a person will be born as a result who will be grateful you did.

        “I just do not understand the whole pro-abortion movement.”

        It’s pro-choice, not pro-abortion. I can be in favour of people having the choice without being in favour OF that choice. I support people’s right to vote for Donald Trump – that doesn’t mean I’m ‘pro-Trump’.

        Likewise, the whole title of the debate linked to above offers a false dichotomy: “Legal right or moral wrong”. Who says it’s one or the other? We don’t outlaw everything we believe to be immoral. There are plenty of things it’s immoral to say, but that doesn’t mean we do away with freedom of speech in order to forbid them being said.

        Reply
        • toby says:

          Let’s not pretend that this has anything to do with science or embryology. The reason the no-choicers are against abortion is largely due to believing that there is a soul. It’s purely a matter of faith as the soul cannot be demonstrated to exist. Life begins when a couple or woman decides she wants to get pregnant or finds out she is a decides she wants to stay that way.

          Reply
        • Louie says:

          Of course its pro-choice, it sounds better that pro-death or pro-abortion. But in the end, that is what the choice refers to. Yes, they may well be grateful to be in heaven, I’ll ask them if I get that chance. And Yes, I should have replaced “would” with “may” as far as being grateful. The bottom line is that a Christian believes God is the creater of all life. Since he is, he can take it as he sees fit. When we step in and make those decisions for him, we are out of line. So, as I’ve said before, I do not chance it, since I do not know when life specifically begins.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “But in the end, that is what the choice refers to.”

            So if you believe in freedom of speech that means you’re ‘pro-swearing’?
            If you believe people should be able to vote for Hillary Clinton, that means you are ‘pro-Hillary’?

            Do you really believe that, Louie?

            “Yes, they may well be grateful to be in heaven, I’ll ask them if I get that chance”

            Louie, given that you admit it is possible they would be grateful, using your own argument, can you ‘take the risk’ that they wouldn’t be grateful? You lot are making the argument that the pro-choice people are taking a risk that life begins at conception (which I don’t see as a risk at all), but you admit that you are taking a risk yourself in denying children a ticket straight to heaven by opposing freedom of choice on abortion.

          • Louie says:

            Nice job changing to arguement to be about every choice. We are talking about “pro-choice”, and every discussion I’ve been in regarding the “pro-choice” phrase was about abortion. If we are discussiong electing and not electing hillary, and I have only 2 choices, to vote or not vote for her, and I choose to vote for her, then sure, being pro choice means I am pro hillary. Anyway…

            I was humoring you. If Christianity is true, and God is who he says he is, the aborted are grateful to be in paradise. Before you start talking about how we should kill all them to send them straight to heaven, remember that as a Christian, God commands us not to kill. Only He is allowed to take the life He creates, which is why I choose to not risk commiting murder.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            ” If we are discussiong electing and not electing hillary, and I have only 2 choices, to vote or not vote for her, and I choose to vote for her, then sure, being pro choice means I am pro hillary”

            Louie, I really don’t think you read very carefully. I’m not having an abortion myself, but I am pro people having the choice. In the analogy, you are not being asked to vote for her or not, you are being asked whether people should have the RIGHT to vote for her. Now, I think we both agree that people should be able to vote for her or Trump or whoever – they should have freedom of choice. That doesn’t mean we are Pro-Hillary and pro-Trump. I am neither of those things. But I am pro people having the choice to vote for them.

            Likewise, it’s inaccurate to say I am pro abortion. I am pro people having the choice to have or not have one. Hence pro-choice.

            I really don’t see how it can be explained any clearer, or how someone can not understand that unless they’re deliberately not reading too carefully.

          • Louie says:

            Andy: I get it, but in the Christian realm, if I condone an action, then its as bad as doing it myself. So, I do not have the luxury of backing away from it like you describe, and need to place myself in the issue. Its tough, but now perhaps you see why I have to choose to not take the chance of commiting murder, and I cannot condone others taking that chance either. As always, its been interesting…

  3. Luke says:

    Louie,

    You asked: “Lets talk about this hypothetical 4 year old… was the 4 year old killed on purpose? Was the child cut to pieces while trying to fend off a blade?”

    First of all, I asked you some questions in my post. You didn’t answer them. Why ask me questions, if you don’t respect me enough to answer mine?

    Now, to talk about the 4 year old… killed on purpose? I dont know the best way to classify it. honestly. There are certainly many, many examples where the answer would be yes. Hiroshima, Dresden… I mentioned Afghanistan though, where (I pray) that answer is not so clear. Let me give an analogy. A man gets drunk at the local public house and drives home. He knew the risks, but it was important for him to have himself and his truck home, so he decided to drive anyway. On the way he struck and killed a 4 year old. Did he kill the child on purpose? I don’t know. I mean, he wasn’t targeting this very child, but he certainly bears responsibility, both moral and legal. He made a choice that he very well knew could lead to the death of a child, but decided to proceed anyway. I’m not sure if “on purpose” is the best word, but he bears responsibility. Likewise, when our country bombs a village in Afghanistan, we know it may lead to the death of a child, but we decide to proceed anyway. Why should we escape moral responsibility for this choice?

    You asked if the four year old is cut to pieces while trying to fend off the blade. First of all, abortions up to 50 days pregnancy are often done without surgery (are done by use of chemical agents — drugs). A vast majority of surgical abortions are done by means of a vacuum and involve no blade, nor do they involve a victim advanced enough to be aware of anything, let alone be advanced enough to attempt a fending off. I will, however, answer to the rare circumstance you mentioned. No, the four year old we’re speaking of was not killed in this specific way. Do you imagine, though, that dying at the explosive end of a bomb is not a terrible fate? One’s skin burning off, perhaps being crushed in rubble, losing limbs and bleeding out. All while having a brain developed enough to feel and comprehend all this pain. A self awareness of one’s life being extinguished. An ability to feel raw fear and an awareness of never seeing one’s mother again. It’s not a fate I’d wish on any innocent, that’s certain.

    You went on to say:“All that aside, none of what you said lessens the atrocity of 3500 possible murders that take place every day in the USA if life is found to begin at conception.”

    I never argued that it did, did I? (Did you miss the part where I said I’m pro-life?) I’m honestly quite confused by this portion of your post. It seems as though you didn’t really read what I said, or at least just didn’t want to answer any questions, or address my points for whatever reason.

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Sorry Luke, but my days are really busy, and your posts tend to be very long. In short, the taking of any life is unfortunate no matter all the twists and turns to the story. Nobody is “escaping” anything. Everyone will answer for their decisions, that is why God says to turn the other cheek when you are wronged, since He will deliver justice. What you said above that bothered me, was that you were arguing that the 4 year old life was worth more than the 4 second old life. I feel that is silly. Since if the 4 year old would just have been aborted, then it would have been okay. Sorry, got to go.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Louie: “you were arguing that the 4 year old life was worth more than the 4 second old life”

        At no point did Luke argue that. Not even close. He was exploring whether OTHERS see the 4-year-old’s life as being worth LESS than the 4-second-old life.

        Louie, that you got so many aspects of Luke’s very clearly express post backwards backs up his point that: “It seems as though you didn’t really read what I said”

        Reply
  4. David says:

    If god is going to punish in hell forever the majority of all humans that were ever birthed and if the aborted baby goes straight to heaven when it dies, abortion would seem to be a merciful act. More effective than any evangelistic approach to getting people into heaven. Abortion would seem to be the greater good. How can you desire for any human to ever reach the age of accountability Mike?

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      If Christianity is true, its not about what you or Mike or I desire, its about what God desires. The bible tells us that only God is allowed to give and take life.

      Reply
      • Luke says:

        Louie,

        What do you mean? Is your Bible devoid of examples of G-d allowing (and encouraging and commanding) the killing of men, women, children, animals?

        What translation do you favor?

        Thanks,

        Luke

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          If God is commanding these things, then He is responsible for the life being taken. There is much life taken in the bible, and God gives and takes life as He wants, everything is His.

          Reply
          • Luke says:

            Louie,

            To be fair, Louie, you didn’t say that G-d was the only one who could be responsible, you said G-d was the only one allowed to take life.

            If I am watching two kids, a 13 year old, and a 5 year old, and I tell the 13 year old: only you are allowed to cook french fries (given the hot oil and all), and I find that the the 13 year old has passed the fry cook responsibility to the 5 year old, according to the logic presented here, everything that happened was kosher. That’s clearly not so, Louie.

            Your idea here gives us three possibilities for killers.

            1. Those who kill, but don’t believe it was what G-d wanted them to do.
            2. Those who kill, believe that G-d wanted them to, and are correct about that.
            3. Those who kill, believe that G-d wanted them to, but are wrong about that.

            Now, if someone believes that G-d wants them to kill, they can’t know if they are #2 or #3. So what should one do?

            Thanks,

            Luke

    • Louie says:

      David, I am sorry to hear that. If you hate God and all he stands for, then he mercifully sends you away from Him for all eternity. That place is called hell, but it is the persons choice. In my opinion, punishment for someone who hates God would be forcing that person to spend and eternity with Him.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “If you hate God and all he stands for, then he mercifully sends you away from Him for all eternity”

        But Louie, you’re not just talking about people who ‘hate God and all he stands for’. You’re also talking about people who LOVE their God, but just love a different God to the one you think exists. You’re also talking about people who don’t believe God exists, so don’t actually hate him. You’re talking about people who may read the bible, think the God in it is fantastic, and a loveable character, but just don’t think he exists.

        Do you think these people all go to hell too? If so, don’t pretend it’s about ‘mercifully sending you away from him’, as that makes no sense applied to such people.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          I think it is that simple. God fully admits that he is a jealous God. He has placed His word and His Son(the living word) in our midst for our own good, not His own good. Either you pursue a relationsip with your creator or you do not. If you want Him, you’ll pursue Him.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            Right, so if it’s about his jealousy, why pretend it’s about him being merciful? He’d miss out by sending me away – I’m very unjealous. Sounds like your God could learn a thing a thing or two from me. People who surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men miss out on personal growth. They get in an echo chamber of opinions. It apparently doesn’t make him happy.

          • Louie says:

            If I were God, I could answer the question with 100% certainty, but I am not. All I can tell you, is that to best of my knowledge, if you do not believe that Jesus is who he said he is, then you do not go to heaven. Instead, you go to a place called hell. Is it due to His jealousy alone? His mercy alone? Something else? A blend of these? Ask Him when you see Him. No matter His answer, the end is the same.

      • David says:

        Louie, why do you automatically assume I hate god. That just proves how narrow your perspective is. Despite what your bible might lead you to believe, the world is not made up of two categories: 1.) conservative evangelical Christians and 2.) god haters. Stop with the character assassination.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          David: Take it easy, as I did not mean to speak to you directly. If “a person” hates God…
          Either you believe that Jesus is who he says he is and pursue a relationship with Him, or you do not.

          Reply
          • David says:

            Louie, You’re still equating not desiring a relationship with Jesus as hating god. Why? Why not just call it not believing in Jesus? Or, coming to the conclusion that the bible is folklore and not actual history?

          • Louie says:

            I equate it because according to the text, it makes no difference. Either you believe in Him or you do not. There is no inbetween, so why soften the language.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “Either you believe in Him or you do not. There is no in-between”

            No-one suggested there was an in-between. The question was why you think ‘not believing in Jesus = hating Jesus’. Why ‘not desiring a relationship with Jesus = hating Jesus’. This isn’t about ‘softening language’, it’s asking why you equate the two.

            I’m not desiring a relationship with Zeus or Allah or Ganesh or Thor, and I don’t believe they exist. But I don’t hate any of them. Do YOU hate them? Do you think not believing in them is the same as hating them?

          • Louie says:

            If there is no inbetween, then why bother defining it. Whether you hate or choose not to believe, you will meet the same end either way. At least that is how I understand scripture.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            So is it accurate to say you hate Thor, Louie?

            You say ‘why draw a distinction?’, but it comes across as odd from someone to say we hate a being when it’s such an inaccurate description. It’s like describing all food as excrement, simply because you reckon they all end up as excrement. Perhaps, but that doesn’t make your terminology accurate.

  5. Luke says:

    Hi Mike,

    I’m not sure if you answer questions from commentators, but I’m curious about a few things.

    I’m pretty firmly pro-life and if you ask me “when does life begin” my honest answer would be “at fertilization”.

    That said, I think this is an easy reflexive answer.

    For starters, how do we know there there is a specific point where life begins? Life itself is rather difficult to define — As is death — so why should we expect it’s beginning to be so clean and easy?

    You may know of the debate: “when is a strawberry dead?” It’s not that easy to answer.

    When is a person dead? Is it when the brain stops to function? It surely can’t be when the heart stops beating, since we can now (often) reverse that. (These questions are just hypothetical, meant to reinforce the idea that there’s not such a bright line on the backside of life to death.)

    It seems to me that saying that it’s not simple is not such a bad thing. It fact, it may be the honest thing. (Have you ever read David Parfit’s Reasons and Persons, specifically the section about identity? He brings up some interesting thought experiments.)

    Now, to the questions I’d like your view on:

    I.
    One of my children once asked me “how long have I been here?”

    My answer, after a bit of thought was “well, part of you has been here since a bit before your mom was born”. This seems true to me, since a woman is born with all of her eggs (one of which became this very child). Something that went on to become my child has been here since that egg formed.

    “In another sense”, I answered, “much of you hasn’t been ‘you’ for very long, since just about every atom in your body is replaced as you go through your life”. There does seem to be a certain Ship of Theseus aspect to our physical lives. (I also mentioned that you became you when you became conscious. I stated that the first and third ideas were most persuasive to me as a source of identity.

    I was surprised by my answer. I would have expected myself to say something like “when this cell met with that one”. Yet, I found I couldn’t really make a cogent argument for that. It completely ignores that part of her had been there for over 20 years before that. You could point to a cell, 20 years before she was even a thought in anyone’s mind, and say “that’s you!”. That cell will make up your body, and divide and grow, and become what you are now. Why dismiss this?

    So to return to the “part of you has been here since a bit before your mom was born” part of my answer. Isn’t this true? Didn’t this bit grow? It seems to me that it did grow. Given your test, is an egg not alive? (Eggs mature even before fertilization.) If it is, Andy’s points above seem important. If it’s not, then it seems your formulation is imprecise at best; “dead things” do grow!

    (Or maybe life and death are not so binary, but that would undermine your main argument.)

    II.
    You might answer the above by saying that an egg, by itself, doesn’t grow (though I’d quibble with this, as the eggs mature from their state at birth to their state at ovulation) — it needs something else.

    I agree, but don’t we all?

    Children need an egg, a sperm, and nutrition to grow and develop. (Time is also needed, but all matter has that, as all matter marches through time. I’ll just ignore it here instead of writing it each time.) Without each of them, you will never have a child. Given this, why is fertilization, not complete implantation the beginning of life? How many unimplemented fertilized eggs have become children?

    If the answer is zero, shouldn’t that mean something? Isn’t an unimplemented embryo a thing that doesn’t grow, in any real, sustainable, or lasting sense — and as a thing that doesn’t grow, wouldn’t you call it dead?

    Only when it implants does it begin to grow.

    (Incidentally, it’s estimated that 50% to 80% of fertilized eggs fail to implant properly.)

    In other words, doesn’t implantation give us that third ingredient which changes what we have from “ingredients for life” to growing life?

    If so, why isn’t that a better moment to say life begins?

    (As an aside, if you look up “conception” in a dictionary, implantation is a very real definition for conception, and many medical groups use that terminology. Fertilization is too, of course, but not the only one.)

    Let me state this another way. If we say an egg isn’t worthy of protection because it requires two things to become a child: sperm and nutrition. Why is a something that requires one thing to become a child: nutrition become worthy of protection?
    (Perhaps the reverse of the question is more important, why does it not deserve protection because it needs two things, instead of just one?)

    (Once an embryo is implanted things seem to change because at that point it’s getting nutrition. It’s not something it needs, it’s something it has. At that point, it has everything it needs to become a child. To end the pregnancy we would need to take away something the embryo has. Why should that be unimportant? On a gut level, I guess it strikes me as tremendously important.)

    IIb.

    I have a thought experiment for you.

    As you likely know, fertilization doesn’t take place until some time (hours to days) after intercourse. Imagine that in the future doctors create a nanorobot which one can implant in a fillopean tube and monitor the egg and sperm. When it detects an sperm within 15 nanometers (less than the diameter of a ribosome) from one another, it sends a heat pulse and destroys both — instantly.

    Would you have no problem with this?

    Now imagine, that the nanorobot works differently. This version is less advanced. It detects the egg and sperm coming together, but it takes it time to maneuver close enough to destroy them. It destroys the egg about 42 nanoseconds after the sperm has entered the egg.

    Would you have a problem with this?

    If you say that the first is fine, but the second is not, you seem to say: it is okay to deny potential life two ingredients it needs to change from potential life to growing life, but it is not okay to deny one. This seems illogical, no?

    (One could also interpret this as saying that it’s okay to deny ‘time’ but not ‘nutrition’, as time is the thing that we add in the second scenario. Logically, why should this be?)

    III.
    Andy mentions this as well, but why is gastrulation not a better moment to begin a person’s life?

    (Also, I’ve certainly seen embryologists cite gastrulation as the beginning of life, what are you basing your claim of consensus among embryologists on? I’m certainly not saying it’s wrong. It’s just that if you had asked me this morning, I would have been pretty confident in saying most would say beginning of gastrulation/end of cleavage. It’s the moment at which we can always say “that’s you” with no potential qualifiers. (Before that moment, we couldn’t say ‘that’s a picture of you to an identical twin, we’d be forced to say ‘that’s you and your sister’.)

    Do you believe that identical twins are one person, or two?

    Summary:
    I began this by saying that if asked I’d say that life begins at fertilization, but as I said that’s both a reflex and simply a useful heuristic. It’s not something I can mount a vigorous scientific defense of.

    Anyway, it’s certainly interesting stuff to think about.

    Thanks a lot,

    Luke

    Reply

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