When does human life begin?

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When Does Human Life Begin?

Human life is contained in every sperm & egg cell; they hold our reproductive DNA so human life begins before conception.
4
15%
Human life begins at the moment a sperm & egg unite, forming a zygote; this can happen naturally or in a laboratory.
5
19%
Human life begins when the zygote implants itself on the wall of the woman's uterus.
3
11%
Human life begins when a fetus can survive outside the womb when the most sophisticated medical equipment available is employed.
5
19%
Human life begins when a fetus can survive outside the womb without any medical assistance.
4
15%
Human life begins when the newborn draws its first breath.
4
15%
Human life begins when the mother believes it begins, or at the latest, at birth.
2
7%
 
Total votes : 27

When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Tue Jun 16, 2009 8:12 pm

Since a huge controversy continues to storm over allowing or disallowing abortion, it seems that casting a vote over when human life "begins" could start a discussion, even among those on the same side of the issue.

When voting, leave a comment to describe (1) your religious orientation and (2) how your approach to the beginning of human life effects your stance on abortion/birth control.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby Penguin » Tue Jun 16, 2009 8:46 pm

NH Baritone wrote:When voting, leave a comment to describe (1) your religious orientation and (2) how your approach to the beginning of human life effects your stance on abortion/birth control.

I said that human life begins before conception. I think that the sperm and egg cells are both alive and both human, and they're "human life" in the same way that any other living human cells would also be human life.

(1) I'm an atheist.

(2) It doesn't. I don't think the beginning of human life implies the beginning of personhood or the beginning of when we should protect a thing.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Wed Jun 17, 2009 3:59 am

My own reply was that life begins when the baby draws its first breath. I choose this option because:
  • It's traditional. We issue birth certificates, not conception certificates, and we don't issue death certificates for miscarriages.
  • It's universal, i.e., the definition does not change depending on what medical technology is present.
  • It's a discernible moment, unlike the other options.
  • It does not interfere with the human rights held by women, thereby ensuring they have the same rights as men throughout their lives.
  • It is the moment in which the new life can absolutely continue without its mother. (Over the years, many children have been raised by their families after their mothers died during their birth.)
(1) I'm an atheistic agnostic.

(2) My idea is based entirely on practicality and the ways in which societies worldwide actually function. Listening to the rhetoric and observing the tactics of the anti-abortion movement, I have become convinced that they are imposing new "moral arguments" that more reflect an anti-woman and anti-sex bias than any real concern over the fetus. From that perspective, Scott Roeder killed Dr. Tiller for reasons similar to those that slave owners killed the organizers of the underground railroad.

That is not to say that being pregnant is not special for a woman/couple who wants a child. The fetus contains all the potential for being considered an independent human being, but a blue print is not a skyscraper. From this perspective, a fetus does not get to be considered human until it passes through the birth canal.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby Penguin » Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:43 am

NH Baritone wrote:My own reply was that life begins when the baby draws its first breath. I choose this option because:
  • It's traditional. We issue birth certificates, not conception certificates, and we don't issue death certificates for miscarriages.
  • It's universal, i.e., the definition does not change depending on what medical technology is present.
  • It's a discernible moment, unlike the other options.
  • It does not interfere with the human rights held by women, thereby ensuring they have the same rights as men throughout their lives.
  • It is the moment in which the new life can absolutely continue without its mother. (Over the years, many children have been raised by their families after their mothers died during their birth.)

Also, it marks a point of major physiological and mental change as the body switches from prenatal blood circulation to postnatal.

Personally, I consider this the point where I think it's reasonable to protect the baby under the law.

NH Baritone wrote:That is not to say that being pregnant is not special for a woman/couple who wants a child. The fetus contains all the potential for being considered an independent human being, but a blue print is not a skyscraper. From this perspective, a fetus does not get to be considered human until it passes through the birth canal.

I think this is where we get into tricky terminology. A fetus is human: it consists of living tissue and it's got 23 pairs of human chromosomes. Everything about it is human in the same sense that a human kidney is human as well. However, this does not make a fetus a human in the sense of personhood. One tactic that I've seen some anti-abortionists use is a false equivocation where they argue something like this:

1. A fetus is human.
2. A fetus is alive.
3. Therefore, a fetus is a human life.

Statements 1 and 2 are true. However, statement 3 does not logically flow from the previous two. I think it's better to attack the fallacious leap from 1 & 2 to 3 than it is to attack statements 1 or 2, since they're demonstrably true in at least one sense (despite the fact that they're not true in the sense that would be required to support statement 3).
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby mitchellmckain » Sat Jul 18, 2009 3:30 am

I cannot vote because my answer isn't there.

Life begins before conception of course, but that is beside the point because not all life is human life.

So it is question of what makes us human? And I am a ranting opponent of a genetic definition of humanity. Our humanity is not to be found in biological idenity which is 97% the same as the chimpanzee but in the human mind which has its own inheritance quite apart from any DNA. Well the absolute minimum requirement for the existence of a human mind is functioning human brain.

Thus human life begins between 20 and 22 weeks at the start of brain activity.

oh well, I chose the "sophisticated medical equipment" option as the closest approximation as well as for some good pragmatic reasons apart from the philosophical question.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby michael-45 » Sat Oct 03, 2009 2:12 pm

I am a Christian. Jeremiah 1:5 states "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Therefore, I chose the first option.
Another post above argues:
It's traditional. We issue birth certificates, not conception certificates, and we don't issue death certificates for miscarriages.
It's universal, i.e., the definition does not change depending on what medical technology is present.
It's a discernible moment, unlike the other options.
It does not interfere with the human rights held by women, thereby ensuring they have the same rights as men throughout their lives.
It is the moment in which the new life can absolutely continue without its mother. (Over the years, many children have been raised by their families after their mothers died during their birth.)

What in the world does a "certificate" have to do with it? Nobody is arguing about the time of "birth", it's at what point life begins that is the question.

It's universal? So is rape and murder, but I don't think we have to argue if that's wrong, do we?

It does not interfere with the human rights held by women, thereby ensuring they have the same rights as men throughout their lives. Suppose the child is a girl, I think it certainly interferes with her rights, considering she is being murdered.

It is the moment in which the new life can absolutely continue without its mother. That's absurd. If that were true, half the commentors on this site could be aborted.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:01 pm

Michael-45:

I'm not a Christian, so your argument holds no water with me. The Bible gets no greater respect from me than I give The Pickwick Papers or The Quotations of Chairman Mao.

So if you're going to make an argument that wins, you're going to have to make it without reference to scripture. Otherwise, you're requiring that everyone accept Christianity before you get a chance even to present your argument for making abortion illegal.

So, what are the secular reasons for doing so?

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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby tirtlegrrl » Sat Oct 03, 2009 6:22 pm

I chose when a sperm and egg unite, only because at that moment you are creating a unique organism with a unique genetic makeup that, if nothing goes wrong, will develop more and more into what we call a human being. Sperm and eggs are alive, but you only get a specific person when the two combine. If you kill an egg or sperm, you're not killing a person, just half of a potential person. This doesn't really have anything to do with my view on abortion, though. I soundly disapprove of killing a fetus that is viable outside the womb, around 26 weeks of gestation. I just think of all the couples that want children and can't have their own, and it seems like such a waste to kill a fetus after it has reached that point. The mother has already harbored the thing for that long and since it's already quite developed in terms of brain function it just seems gratuitious to abort it. Basically, the more it acts and looks like what I recognize as a baby, the more squeamish I am about letting it be killed and I am opposed to abortion past the first trimester for that reason. However, I am also opposed to legally forcing a woman to remain pregnant when doing so would cause irrevocable psychological or physical harm. I don't really want to force any woman to remain pregnant, period, especially if she had no intention of becoming pregnant in the first place. I'm in the difficult position of wanting to ensure women's reproductive rights, but also wanting to protect innocent human life. So I'm mostly pro-choice, but I also want all women to be fully educated about the nature of the thing they're aborting. It's not just a lump of tissue for very long.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby Pseudonym » Sat Oct 03, 2009 7:38 pm

NH Baritone wrote:It's traditional. We issue birth certificates, not conception certificates, and we don't issue death certificates for miscarriages.

Most jurisdictions issue stillborn certificates and have for quite some time.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Sat Oct 03, 2009 7:43 pm

tirtlegrrl wrote:... I soundly disapprove of killing a fetus that is viable outside the womb, around 26 weeks of gestation. ...

...

I don't really want to force any woman to remain pregnant, period....

You may want to clarify this, because you've left me thinking you want women who want to terminate their pregnancy at week 26 or later to be forced then give premature birth. Otherwise you are forcing them to remain pregnant.

What does that mean if the woman is nowhere near a hospital with sufficient neonatal care for a 26-week fetus to survive?
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby tirtlegrrl » Sat Oct 03, 2009 8:53 pm

NHB wrote:
tirtlegrrl wrote:
... I soundly disapprove of killing a fetus that is viable outside the womb, around 26 weeks of gestation. ...

...

I don't really want to force any woman to remain pregnant, period....
You may want to clarify this, because you've left me thinking you want women who want to terminate their pregnancy at week 26 or later to be forced then give premature birth. Otherwise you are forcing them to remain pregnant.

What does that mean if the woman is nowhere near a hospital with sufficient neonatal care for a 26-week fetus to survive?



I can't think of a reason off hand why a woman would want to terminate a pregnancy after 26 weeks, other than if the fetus had some incurable defect and was sure to die at or before birth anyway. Outside of extenuating circumstances, if a woman has had 26 weeks to contemplate the life inside her and knows that each day brings it closer to resembling a healthy chubby newborn, in my own gut I would find it a horrible thing if she chose to kill it at that point when she could have done it earlier with less suffering to the fetus.

I also don't see a plausible instance where a woman could suddenly want to be un-pregnant at 26 weeks and need an abortion rather than delivery. If you're away from medical care at 26 weeks, you're in just as much trouble trying to abort as deliver.

Anyway, this is my dilemma; I would like a woman to have complete control over what happens in and to her own body, but I've had a sister born premature at 33 weeks and she was just as much of a baby, though smaller, as a baby born at full term. How can I condemn most infanticide, the killing of babies outside the womb, and be okay with abortion, which is that same baby just still attached inside the mother? At what point can I conscientiously draw the line and say it's not a baby anymore? I think I side a lot wth Mitchell, who ties personhood to the mind and brain.

I also believe that the life and health of the mother take precedence over the life of the fetus, under my ethic of wanting to prevent the most suffering for the most parties involved. Generally the partner of the woman and her family lose more if she dies than if the fetus dies, and I couldnt demand the woman sacrifice her life or in most cases her health for an infant. In my musings on abortion this is assumed to be the case.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Sat Oct 03, 2009 8:55 pm

Pseudonym wrote:
NH Baritone wrote:It's traditional. We issue birth certificates, not conception certificates, and we don't issue death certificates for miscarriages.

Most jurisdictions issue stillborn certificates and have for quite some time.

Well, this prompted some research on my part. And as is often the case, the details provide for some truth to dwell in both of our statements.

I said that death certificates are not issued for miscarriages, and that is true everywhere I could determine. You said that stillborn certificates have long been issued by "most" jurisdictions, and although I originally quibbled with your number, that is also largely true. The problems is that, legally, miscarriages and stillbirths are treated as two different matters.

Miscarriages are failed pregnancies that result in fetal death before the baby would have been viable outside the womb. Most of the time they occur within the first trimester. The term "miscarriage" does not apply to fetal death in later pregnancy. Instead, and in every case listed below, in order to gain a stillbirth certificate or a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth, a fetus must die after 20-25 weeks' gestation (depending on jurisdiction) and must weigh above a specified weight (usually around 0.8-1.0 pounds).

In the US, 27 states issue Certificates of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth. The earliest this began was in 2001, which I have to point out was well into the national debate over abortion. Twelve other states issue a Certificate of Stillbirth, which according to advocates, does not count as a "birth certificate." Stillbirths have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control for years, but it appears that these certificates in the US are a recent development. Three Canadian provinces are also following suit in issuing stillbirth certificates for parents; this is also a relatively new practice.

Australia & New Zealand register stillbirths, although I could not find whether they routinely issue a certificate to the parents. (Pseudo, perhaps you know.) All the sites I found describing the practice of stillbirth registry focused on surveillance for reducing the number of stillbirths. In other words, it functions as a public health matter rather than a way of giving a name to the stillborn child.

The UK's Stillbirth Certificate allows for a name to be entered or a description if no name was given. A stillbirth certificate may be issued to the parents, who are (surprisingly) solely responsible for registering the stillbirth. This began in 1992.

My original statement still applies. Miscarriages are not recorded and there no certificates issued prior to week 20. But in the details, you also are correct: fetal death after that time is considered a stillbirth, and registration (often with accompanying certificates) applies.

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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby NH Baritone » Sat Oct 03, 2009 8:58 pm

tirtlegrrl wrote:I can't think of a reason off hand why a woman would want to terminate a pregnancy after 26 weeks, other than if the fetus had some incurable defect and was sure to die at or before birth anyway. Outside of extenuating circumstances, if a woman has had 26 weeks to contemplate the life inside her and knows that each day brings it closer to resembling a healthy chubby newborn, in my own gut I would find it a horrible thing if she chose to kill it at that point when she could have done it earlier with less suffering to the fetus.

I also don't see a plausible instance where a woman could suddenly want to be un-pregnant at 26 weeks and need an abortion rather than delivery. If you're away from medical care at 26 weeks, you're in just as much trouble trying to abort as deliver.

Anyway, this is my dilemma; I would like a woman to have complete control over what happens in and to her own body, but I've had a sister born premature at 33 weeks and she was just as much of a baby, though smaller, as a baby born at full term. How can I condemn most infanticide, the killing of babies outside the womb, and be okay with abortion, which is that same baby just still attached inside the mother? At what point can I conscientiously draw the line and say it's not a baby anymore? I think I side a lot wth Mitchell, who ties personhood to the mind and brain.

I also believe that the life and health of the mother take precedence over the life of the fetus, under my ethic of wanting to prevent the most suffering for the most parties involved. Generally the partner of the woman and her family lose more if she dies than if the fetus dies, and I couldnt demand the woman sacrifice her life or in most cases her health for an infant. In my musings on abortion this is assumed to be the case.

TG: This is a legal matter. Your feelings are important, but insufficient for guiding how the government should act. How would you write the law?
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby tirtlegrrl » Sun Oct 04, 2009 10:20 am

Well, we're talking about rights here. We grant rights based on what we value as a society, and society's values reflect the values of individuals like me who have the potential to make law. I value women, and I value babies. I value freedom, and I value life. In the case of a woman who wants an abortion, the two conflict. Most of us in Western society would condemn the taking of another human life outside of the due process of law. We can't help imposing our own values on others via law at some basic level. We give and restrict freedoms via law based on what kind of society we want to encourage. So when I'm talking about feelings, I'm also talking about what I value, and I want my values to be reflected in law just as most people do. I wish that I didn't believe a baby's a baby whether in or out of the womb. I wish human life started at birth, so I could be okay with a woman having an abortion whenever she pleases. But I don't and I'm not. I am both pro-life and pro-choice. I can't really design an abortion law that would completely satisfy me. Generally any law I designed would probably allow abortion through the first trimester, abortion only for medical necessity after that, and no abortion after the fetus becomes viable outside of the womb.
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Re: When does human life begin?

Postby Angela » Sun Oct 04, 2009 11:14 am

I look at this a lot like tirtlegirl does. It's just not a black and white issue. Personhood (I agree with Mitchell that this is a more relevant way to frame the issue, rather than "life") doesn't begin, it develops. As much as it would simplify things to be able to point to some point in fetal development and say "ah, right there, NOW it's a person," it's just not that simple. It's unfortunate that extremists on both sides of the issue dominate the national abortion debate. I think tirtlegirl describes well the conflicting values that make this such a difficult decision, both for the individual and lawmakers. IMO, the ideal law would make abortion legal and easy to obtain during the first trimester, place significant restritions on it in the second trimester, and make it illegal except in extreme cases (life of the mother or very severe birth defects) in the third trimester.
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