I thought it was the “wacky religious right” or the “lunatic fringe of the Republican party” that was supposed to be anti-science, but these champions of truth seem to want the anti-science crown more than anyone else. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in an anti-science contest against any of these folks!
To follow up on Blaise’s post on Dr. Gerard Nadal, I bring you quotes from regular embryology textbooks that students can purchase at their local university bookstore. It always seems like people don’t want to say when human life begins. The funny thing is that the actual experts in embryology have no problem saying when life begins. But what do they know really? It’s not like embryologists are interested in science or anything.
Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.
Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed
This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.
Read the rest here:
The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.
The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.
Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
Read the rest here:
When Lennart Nilsson’s pictures of developing embryos were published in Life magazine in 1965, they caused a sensation. Within days, the entire print run of eight million had sold out. More than 40 years later, the photographs have lost none of their power.
This photo is from 8 weeks.
More background on the photos at The Guardian.
So… guess when life begins?
Yesterday, we hosted Rebecca Kiessling at St. Michael’s College (in association with Toronto Right to Life) for her talk, “Did I Deserve the Death Penalty?” It was fantastic, and, if you haven’t heard her speak yet, I’d highly recommend it if you have the chance.
There were some amazingly powerful points she raised, yet some potential weaknesses also surfaced during the Q&A. Speaking as an individual here (not on behalf of Students for Life), I’d like to dive into some of the issues raised and hopefully generate a bit of discussion, or at least get people thinking.
As a child, Rebecca knew she was adopted. When she sought information about her biological parents as a young adult, the non-identifying description of her mother was extremely detailed, while the description of her father sounded like it was from a police report. That’s when she realized she was conceived in rape.
Even for many who are otherwise pro-life, rape is often held up as the one case which justifies abortion. Kiessling addresses that “exception” head on, and puts a face to it. If the unborn is human, how could anything — even an act as profoundly evil and reprehensible as rape — justify elective abortion? It’s not just a clump of cells we’re talking about, but real people. Rebecca Kiessling is one of those people who would have been killed.
She credits the former law (pre Rove v. Wade) prohibiting abortion for saving her life — her mother sought two back-alley abortions and even told her that, with legal abortion, she’d have terminated the pregnancy if she could do it all over again. Kiessling bears powerful witness as a person who would otherwise be dead if not for laws against abortion.
But there was one unsound argument to which she kept returning.
At first, it was a powerful point about the human face of the unborn. You wouldn’t say to someone’s face, “if I had my way, you’d be dead now,” yet Kiessling argued that that’s effectively what many people say about abortion, failing to see the unborn person whose life is at stake.
However, she kept pushing the idea. She spoke of a professor she knew, who was ardently pro-choice, but had an adopted daughter. She asked this professor, “what if your daughter was aborted?” He responded, “we would have adopted someone else.”
Here’s the disconnect.
Most pro-choicers probably interpret that question as meaning, “what if your daughter never existed?” Adopting someone else then seems like an obvious response (not a malicious one). But Kiessling seems to imply that they’re consciously condoning the killing.
The problem, it seems to me, isn’t that pro-choicers could care less if someone was killed, but that they maintain the insane position that the unborn is not a human person.
For the sake of clarity, the pro-life argument is as follows:
- Intentionally killing an innocent human being is a serious moral wrong.
- Elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.
- Therefore, elective abortion is a serious moral wrong.
Kiessling makes it seem as if pro-choicers object to the first premise. In reality, most pro-choicers want to maintain the first premise and, instead, look for excuses to invalidate the second. Somehow, they convince themselves that abortion is not the intentional killing of an innocent human being (usually by attempting to distinguish “human beings” from “human persons”).
We’ve explored these issues before. The unborn is clearly a unique human life, and carving out a subset of humanity as non-persons is literally the formula for human rights abuses. There’s no doubt that Kiessling is right, pro-choicers are effectively saying, “I’d have no problems if you were killed through an abortion.” But it’s essential to realize — if our goal is to persuade them — that most aren’t intentionally saying that.
Accusing a pro-choicer of condoning the killing of an innocent human person isn’t going to get us very far if that person doesn’t even believe that the unborn is a human person. The real point of disagreement centres around the question, “what is the unborn?”
Kiessling does a great job bringing up all the relevant medical, philosophical and ethical considerations to that point. She gave the example of Bernard Nathanson, who took an ultrasound of an abortion (which turned out to be horrific — he became pro-life). Ultimately, she says that you must “know your audience” in order to persuade them of the pro-life position. Some people might dismiss anecdotes (“the plural of anecdote isn’t data”) and look for hard evidence, others might want to delve into the philosophical issues, while some people won’t be able to get beyond emotions.
I agree wholeheartedly that you must know your audience and adjust your approach. But, I worry that either Kiessling’s approach doesn’t know the pro-choice audience, or doesn’t have a pro-choice audience.
It’s my personal opinion that coming from a them-vs-us American political perspective risks alienating opponents. If you accuse your opponents of condoning murder before you get them to concede that a human life is at stake to begin with, they are going to ignore you. Unless we can speak effectively to those who disagree with us — even those who strongly disagree with us — we aren’t going to get very far.
I left the talk feeling as though Kiessling had provided many invaluable arguments with which to approach proponents of abortion. Her ability to put a human face to unborn victims of abortion is extremely powerful. But we must also recognize that staunch believers in a “woman’s right to choose” may rationalize that away if they aren’t prepared to hear it, especially in the face of weak analogies and in the absence of shared assumptions (the difference between “what if your daughter was killed?” and “what if your daughter never existed?” being cast aside).
“Knowing your audience” must also mean acknowledging that there are some good intentions from the other side of the issue, even if they are extremely misguided and effectively evil. I worry about that particular analogy pushing opponents further away, instead of helping them to understand the pro-life position better.
What do you think? Is it just me, or did anyone else take issue with that particular argument? (I raise it here because I wasn’t the only one to raise it during the Q&A.)
Any other notable ideas or moments from the talk?
My favourite part was towards the end, when Kiessling explained how her son had said to her that she could be a super hero since she saves babies! This is another personal thing, but when I hear the phrase “save babies!” I immediately think of that fake Nutrigrain ad from a few years back (“BABIES EVERYWHERE!”)…
Anyways, thanks to everyone who was able to attend, thanks to Toronto Right to Life for co-sponsoring the event, and thanks especially to Rebecca for sharing her story. I’d love to hear thoughts from others on the talk — have your say in the comments!
One of the most influence pro-life essays I’ve read was in grade 12 philosophy class, an essay titled Is every human being a person? by Patrick Lee (IIRC).
So, when I see Patrick Lee’s name as one of the authors of this article, I know it’s worth reading.
For people who advocate the killing of embryonic human beings in the cause of biomedical research, the Holy Grail is an argument that would definitively establish that the human embryo, at least early in its development, is not a living human organism and therefore not a human being at all. The problem for these advocates is that all the scientific evidence points in precisely the opposite direction. Modern human embryology and developmental biology have shown that fertilization produces a new and distinct organism: a living individual of the human species in the embryonic stage of his or her development.
Some proponents of embryo-destructive research are willing to face up to these biological facts. They concede that human embryos are living individuals of the human species, but deny that this gives them the moral status of being persons… There is much to be said against this position, but its defects are philosophical, not scientific. Its proponents recognize that there is no Holy Grail out there to find, and they are willing to defend the killing of human embryos while facing up to the biological facts.
But then there are the Grail searchers. These people are determined to prove that what modern human embryology has been telling us is wrong, and to this end they scavenge the fields of molecular biology and human genetics.
Matthew Warner has a great post over at FallibleBlogma.com outlining the scientific basis of the origin of life. Quite frankly, it’s disappointing that it needs repeating, but some people just don’t want to believe it.
“It’s just a clump of cells.” Mmm… yes, as we all are. But, that there’s a unique human life, a new organism, from the moment of conception is not a matter of debate for any man or woman of science.
“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
Then, this is where the twist usually comes.
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.
How often do pro-choicers change the topic mid-debate? It’s important to separate the science from the philosophy. Scientifically speaking, there is no distinction between a human being and a human person.
It’s sad that this needs repeating, but Matthew does a great job of repeating it.