Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Life Does Not Begin at Conception

Why Life Does Not Begin at Conception

Does a sperm have to be alive before it can fertilize an egg? Of course it does. Only live sperms can propel themselves forward to reach an egg. As for the egg, a dead egg cannot be fertilized. So whatever happens, life had already begun before conception.

True enough, when a sperm joins an egg, the combining of two DNA systems form a new entity, which is a plan, a layout for a new human existence. OK, but is this enough to qualify for the definition of a human being? Is a body without a head or a head without brain a human being? Is a humanoid embryonic miniature without a brain already a human being? The seed of a cherry tree once in the ground is not yet a tree because it does not have the components that define a tree. Indeed, in terms of human life a functioning brain is an essential defining element. Where the definition of death used to be the stoppage of the heart, it is now defined as the moment at which brain activity has ceased.

Basically, an embryo in its early stages is nothing more than a fertilized egg. One could claim that the fertilized egg contains the soul of a future hen or rooster, but in order for the soul to get from the great beyond to the here-on-earth, the soul passes through many steps of implantation such as fertilization, growth, hatching etc., and it would be absurd to claim the soul has a “right” to go from one stage to the next. Any acts on the part of human beings that promote or impede growth are part of the greater picture in which it is decided where and how far any given soul might travel.

No one would claim that anyone eating a fertilized egg for breakfast is eating a chicken. Would disposing of an egg that might contain an almost-hatched chicken mean the “killing of a chicken?” Animal rights activists might label the destruction of a chicken embryo murder because an animal's life is terminated. While we might never ever solve the puzzle of what came first, the chicken or the egg, it is generally understood that a chicken is not an egg, nor is an egg a chicken. Similarly, determining when an embryo becomes a real human being is not altogether different from drawing the boundaries between the chicken and the egg, so let us beware of being bludgeoned by the so-called “pro-life” bullies.


sunsetovermarsh said...

in islam, the human soul is blown into the embryo after 40 days...incidentally, this number is when the fetus takes on its sex and other defining attributes. so its not the shape of the body for me, but whether it has been endowed with a human 40 days is my cut-off :)...furthermore a group of cells that is in the process of forming a living breathing human being--i think its unfair to compare it to an egg or a seed, its the potential that makes it so valuable

Howard said...

Yes, "potential" may set the stage for incredible results, but who is responsible for the actualization of potential? Is it the soul or is it those who provide the physical setting for the soul. If the onus is on the soul, then one might conclude that if it does not make it to the moment of the body's birth, it is its own fault for having made errors in navigation from one dimension to another. If the responsibility is on the parents for opening the door for and nurturing the soulthrough physical development until birth, could one then accuse them of blocking the path of soul by not having intercourse in the first place? Let theologians of various religions duke that one out.

Karen said...

Thanks for this nice story, Howard. Terribly difficult to communicate in any meaningful way today, at least face to face.