There is nothing more difficult to reconcile than two sharply divergent views on the definition of human life. Competing viewpoints leave open, in fact almost mandate, that what one person calls perfectly acceptable, another will call murder. Nevertheless, unless we are going to kill each other over the difference, until one side or the other prevails, by exterminating the other, we must continue to talk about it. Kill for life never has made much sense as a program, no matter who tried it.
Science definitely disproves that “life” begins at “conception.” Life, has been continuous from one generation to the next, back to the first cell, which in some manner or other was the ONLY case of spontaneous generation, life from non-life, whether by random accident or divine creation. A zygote is most certainly alive, as is an anthrax spore. Sperm and egg are alive before conception occurs, and most of the sperm tragically die, those who lose the race. Skin cells are alive. So are liver cells. The real debate is about HUMAN life, not life. The real question under discussion is:
Does a unique human being, fully distinct from the mother, a distinct person fully worthy of the protection of the law, exist from the moment of conception?
“Yes” : This answer relies on the undoubted fact that the zygote contains within itself a unique new combination of 23 chromosome pairs (or maybe an extra one in case of Down’s syndrome), plus the undoubted fact that this cell, if its growth is not impaired in some way, accidental or deliberate, organic or mechanical, will naturally grow into a baby which will emerge by live birth into the world.
“No” : This answer relies on the fact that the zygote, and many successive stages yet to come, are completely dependent upon, and necessarily reside within, an individual woman, from which they cannot be removed or transferred without destruction, and, that these stages lack some essential characteristics of humanity, such as awareness of surroundings, consciousness of self as a person, ability to respond in a uniquely human way to their environment, not the response of a tadpole, or a frog, or a fish, or a chimpanzee, but the response of a human being. From this viewpoint, the fetus is a partial construction of what may become a human being.
The facts cited by each side are indisputable. The real argument consists of upholding the relevance of certain facts over other facts, or in denying facts which may support the disfavored argument, from the viewpoint of the speaker.
Every skin cell contains all the same genetic material as a zygote. One of the great mysteries, and the subject of stem cell research, is what makes one cell become part of the skin, and another become part of a heart, or the intestinal lining, when they all contain the potential for any type of cell, or of an entire new human body. The skin cell holds all the potential of a zygote, and the zygote has all the independent consciousness of a skin cell. Thus, the zygote is live, it is human, but it is not a person. It is not a human being.
The presence or absence of an Electo-Encephalogram (EEG) signal is a good measure of when a HUMAN BEING exists inside the womb. It is already used to determine when a patient is legally dead, even when a heart beat may continue. Metabolic independence also provides a worthwhile working definition — could the fetus function, metabolically independent of its mother if, like McDuff, it was “from its mother’s womb untimely torn.” We all destroy life every day, and we all destroy human cells every day, so the question really is, is THIS cell, or THIS mass of cells, a person, an organic, complete, human BEING?
Most people who insist that a zygote is indeed a complete human being have evaded the cold hard question, what exactly do you want to do about abortion? Do you want to send a woman to prison for life because she had one? Do you want the doctor who performed it executed by lethal injection? OR, are you really saying, “I want every pregnant woman considering abortion to hear my voice and what I have to offer from my experience, before she decides”? IF the last statement is the real point, then there is no cause for debate. Expression of that viewpoint is most certainly protected by the First Amendment. It MAY be right, for all we presently know.
We all know in trying to argue about what is scientifically established, a great deal of intellectual dishonesty occurs. Unfortunately, this particular medical procedure is a political football, with both sides trying to prove that their position is in perfect accord with all scientific, as well as emotional and spiritual, criteria available, while the other side are a bunch of heartless and/or brainless cretins. The pro-life side deserves credit for seeing more redemptive possibilities in the pro-choice individual than some pro-choice lobbies see in the devoutly pro-life. But both side play rough, and both sides bend any available fact to their intended purpose.