peter lindsay

Physics Teacher,


This conversation is closed.

When does a human become a human?

I'm not really looking for a pro-life/pro-choice argument here. I think we need to take a step back. Whether you place more emphasis on the rights of the fetus or the mother should really be preceded by a discussion about what is human. You can't protect the human rights of something that isn't human yet. I find it hard to apply the "human" tag to a fertilised ovum that is floating down a fallopian tube with only a 20% chance of implantation. The vast majority of fertilised ova are flushed down the drain without acknowledgement. Even after implantation there is only a one in three chance of success.

  • Aug 6 2012: For what purpose?

    I have asked myself this question more than once, and have never come up with a good answer. In part because the answer can be different for different purposes. Some human rights are age dependent, including our most basic right, the right to vote. A child has almost no rights that cannot be waived or otherwise controlled by a parent. The Supreme Court of the USA decided that a person's right to life begins when it has the ability to live outside the womb, a decision that seems to be based on common sense.

    Now suppose a couple is going through the process of in vitro fertilization. If a clinic has not been paid can the clinic retain custody of an embryo? Suppose a vandal breaks into the clinic and destroys a fertilized egg. Is that murder? Is it vandalism? Is that egg the property of the parents in the same way that a car is their property?

    What is a human? If a human is the organism comprised of its cells, then collecting some of those cells for evidence would be the equivalent of putting part of you in jail. But, in the USA, the courts permit the collection of your cells for evidence. If you are not your cells, what are you?

    The courts have also ruled that DNA can be patented, and human DNA was not excluded.

    As a society, I think we still have not figured out what a human is. Are you sure you want to be one?
    • thumb
      Aug 6 2012: Thanks for making me even less sure about what I think. All valid points though. Thanks for the contribution.
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2012: This is tough to divorce from the abortion debate. But, with the "step back" you advocate, which I assume is intentional avoidance of the moral/social/legal disputations, your question is answerable: 1) A woman's egg is not a human. 2) A man's sperm is not a human. 3) A woman's egg fertilized by a man's sperm is a human.
    • thumb
      Aug 6 2012: I can understand your opinion on this but it leaves me uncomfortable with the 80% or so of these fertilised egg humans that don't make it and are unacknowledged. I feel a bit like we want to have it both ways. If the zygote is successful then it was human from fertilisation but if it is unsuccessful its just a single cell and apparently of no consequence.
      • thumb
        Aug 7 2012: I am unfamiliar with the percentages you mention and I do not see them as germane to the question before us. A human becomes a human when a human egg is fertilized by a human sperm. After that is another question. Thank you, Peter.
      • thumb
        Aug 7 2012: I take your point Peter. Life is the gift of God, I guess we are human when we are given a soul. This really is not our domain, it is His.
        On a technicality; how on earth can we measure these percentages? By the very act of attempting to measure this we are bound to affect the outcome. It sounds a bit like propaganda, but I may be wrong.

  • thumb
    Aug 6 2012: I wanna agree with Edward, that a human is when the egg is fertilized and the embryo is starting to create that Baby. But I guess I just don't know that much about how a baby works.
  • thumb
    Aug 7 2012: Why is it we address humans in terms of zero to 100% in one step. We do not do that for the butterfly or others. We address them in stages of development. So it should be with human development. 1) Ovum and sperm 2) fertilised ovum 3) embro 4 ) fetus .... etc .. Not my field but you see what I am driving at.

    Since we address each stage the discussion should be at what point do we say that the product is a "baby" the smallest form of "human". We say she is having a baby. We say that she has given birth. Therefore by common excepted terms have we not defined the point we accept the arrival of a human.

    There is all sorts of medical, religious, and legal arguments. But at the root of the event is the mother and father and they use the terms "having" and "had" a baby.

    I am a simple person and that is good enough for me.

    All the best. Bob

    P.S. If I am proven wrong my name is Harvy Smidlapp and I do not know Bob.
    • Aug 9 2012: "Why is it we address humans in terms of zero to 100% in one step."

      A very good question. I suspect it is connected with our myth that human life is sacred. I call it a myth only because, historically, we sure haven't behaved as though human life is sacred. I am sure that some people still believe that human life is sacred.
  • thumb
    Aug 7 2012: Your DNA holds information that exists for one single reason : self replication. Whatever information failed to cause replication was superseded by information that could.
    We may marvel at the complexity of an adult human being, yet we should keep in mind that our genes are taking the easiest path ; we are the fastest, cheapest and simplest vehicles for our genetic information.
    In our parochial worldview, we think of humans as individuals, even though a person is just a slice of a genetic continuum one the one hand, and an assembly of billions of independant careless pieces on the other hand.

    And evolutionnary wise, there is no such thing as a human either, unless you believe humans spontaneously appeared on this planet.

    So the definition of what's human is no better than the definition of what's heavy. It's just a matter of context.
    And morals have nothing to do with reality. We decide that killing human beings is wrong because of the social consequences of murder, and because of our repulsion to violence, or other reasons that have no connection with what human beings are. One could say that bald men are not human beings and decide that they shouldn't be treated as such. "Human beings have hair on their head." Of course, our civilization wouldn't benefit from this segregation, nor would it from any kind of racism, so we'd soon decide that to be unethical.
    Human-ness and heaviness are not defined in reality.
    • Aug 8 2012: "And morals have nothing to do with reality."

      I disagree. Morals have a great deal to do with reality. I submit that the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Hitler and Stalin prove my point.

      We may not know exactly what humans are, but we know that humans discuss moral issues and that morality affects human behavior. That is real.
      • thumb
        Aug 8 2012: Morality does undeniably affect human behavior, and so does the price of gasoline.
        My point was that there is no "real price of gasoline", to be discovered.
        • Aug 8 2012: And there are no "real morals" to be discovered. Of course not; humans invent morals, and morals are real. Reality consists of all that is to be discovered, but also all that we invent. Our internal lives may be subjective, but even subjective experience is real.

          There may be no real price of gasoline to be discovered, but when I buy gasoline I pay the real price for that particular purchase.

          This is all about the way we use words. I prefer to use them literally, but you seem to use them more poetically. For example, when you say "And evolutionnary wise, there is no such thing as a human either". If I took this literally, I would have to conclude that there are no humans; you are not human, and that you believe that everyone involved in this discussion also are not human.
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2012: I just do not know so for myself ONLY I always believed in erring on the side of caution. I figured it was my kid and no one was going to take it away from me. I am delighted to be beyond any such worries for myself.
  • Aug 6 2012: in my view
    a human becomes a human .............when he tries to help even those people who don't like him
  • Aug 6 2012: People are able to rationalize anything to support a current posit.

    Humans are not animals, so therefore ova and sperm from humans are not animal potential. We likely would be wise to consider the word potential. There is always potential for ovum and sperm to connect, then potential for completion of growth, then potential for birth, then potential for maturing to adulthood, which then means potential for sexual intercourse for still more potential-------of continuing human life.

    At what stage in the line of potential continuation do you want to interrupt life potential? Saying this entire process includes a non-human segment seems very disrespectful for the gift of the entire plan. For what purpose do you want to reclassify any portion of the process as non-human?

    We would be wise to accept the process for humans as human benefit and learn to love relating to one another, giving greater potential for peace and happiness. Why deny that potential to any potential one?

    Degrading life at any stage seems so crude and rude. Degrading personhood is not peace loving, but a threat.

    Food for thought.
  • thumb
    Aug 6 2012: Make it a hat trick. I'm with Edward & James.