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When does human life begin?


BusaDave9
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  1. 1. When does human life begin?

    • Life begins at conception
      4
    • It's not truly a human until birth
      3
    • It becomes a human after conception but before birth.
      4


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There are no moral or ethical dimensions to the statement: 'An anencephalic baby is not, nor will ever be, a human being'. Perhaps the word "baby" throws some people off, but the strictly scientific point of view should be no cerebral cortex, no consciousness, no self-awareness, and no possibility of ever achieving those human attributes, then it is not a human life. "Human" is far more than a question of taxonomy. [These statements obviously reflect my personal opinions; I am not a scientist nor a theologian]

I apologize if my discussion about mental retardation offended anyone. Again, my statements reflect my personal beliefs, not any accepted scientific opinions. But I intended to completely divorce the discussion from any moral or ethical component. I guess in this case you can't. But I still believe questions of what it means to be "human" are scientifically valid, if also morally discomfiting.

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I guess in this case you can't. But I still believe questions of what it means to be "human" are scientifically valid, if also morally discomfiting.

 

No one here is likely to argue with that position. The problem is that you would have to include the entire evolutionary, biological, neurological, ecological and psychological body of knowledge on homo sapiens to refine your definition. Who wants to do that? Even then a human body is still a human because in the end it's a question of DNA not brain waves. Science can be very helpful in determining when someone is brain dead but is not much use in determining when to pull the plug.

 

Off topic warning:

 

In the case of the retarded individual you cannot divorce your views from the views of others unless you have established a higher moral imperative. If other people view the individual as human you may want to as well.

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Is it necessary to make "life" and "human" into countable nouns? I am a human organism with a human heart and human brain. I developed from a human juvenile, which developed from a human fetus, from a human ovum, etc.

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Wolfhnd:

With all due respect, "If other people view the individual as human you may want to as well." doesn't move me at all. I am no more, nor do I wish to be, anyone other than myself. I am quite capable of forming my own opinions; I respect or reject the opinions of others as I see fit, without questioning the intelligence of those who hold those opinions. As I suspect you do.

I do not claim a "higher moral imperative". In my view, this is NOT a question of morals, or ethics, or anything other than the question of whether or not the individual I described is a "human being" in any but the taxonomic sense of the word "human". Perhaps I should have used the phrase "sentient being". It's more accurate as to my meaning, and definitely more palatable to most sensibilities. So I guess the more pertinent question is: "Is the individual I described 'sentient' within the accepted meaning of the word? And then the logical follow-up would be "Is sentience a prerequisite to be considered 'human' in a truly valid description of the term "human being"? I say "Yes"; you may disagree. Doesn't give your opinion the moral high ground any more than make mine despicable. It's not a question of ethics as I've posed the question. Should the individual be euthanized? Way to late to even consider. If the individual's condition could have been diagnosed during the first trimester, should abortion have been considered? That's a moral question. Should the individual, if diagnosed as profoundly retarded, have been given life-sustaining care after birth? Glad I didn't have to make that hypothetical decision. Does the individual's life have meaning? Who's to say. Does the individual have an existence that could be described as human in a truly meaningful sense? No. Should he be treated with the dignity and respect due any human individual? Yes.

This was posted after a lot of soul-searching, and a 6-pack of Tripel Karmeliet. If you're not familiar with Tripel Karmeliet, you haven't experienced BEER!

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You will find it hard to offend me mothythewso :mellow:

 

There are some language problems here.

 

A brain dead human is a subset of humans, a retarded human is another subset. A human fetus is a developmental stage of humans. "Human" is a scientific classification that distinguishes humans from non human animals. Scientifically a human is a human and there are subcategories each of which is well defined. Your human regardless of any subcategory you may fit. The concept of species is convenient but not necessarily precise.

 

Life on the other hand has no accepted definition, scientist cannot agree. With no accepted definition of life the OP is not a valid scientific question outside of defining what is not alive which is pretty easy to do.

 

We then turn to a scientific attempt to determine what constitutes an individual organism. A fetus is part of organism and only becomes an individual organism when it is capable of carrying out it's biological functions independently. So a human life begins when a fetus can survive independently.

 

I just don't see this as a hard question. The assertion that the definitions carry a cultural bias is a bit silly. If you want to say that some organisms that are scientifically classified as human are not really human then you have moved outside the realm of science.

Edited by Wolfhnd
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" A fetus is part of organism and only becomes an individual organism when it is capable of carrying out its biological functions independently. So a human begins when a fetus can survive independently."

 

I hope you realize that you've just agreed with me; in fact, you've gone further than I ever would. The individual I'm referring to has never been able to exist independently, neither as a fetus, nor after birth. If at 21 chronological years, he had to live independently, he couldn't. He would most likely starve, and assuredly die. He's not SENTIENT.

 

If you want to believe that at birth he was human and has lived a meaningful human life for the last 40 years, be my guest. Your logic, however, escapes me and further correspondence with you would be difficult.

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Here is an example of a profoundly retarded deaf-mute institutionalized until her mid 40s:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Scott

http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com/2015/01/judith-scott-aesthetics-and-biography.html

Minor but important correction. She wasn't profoundly retarded; she was a retarded, profoundly deaf-mute. If she had been profoundly retarded she wouldn't have had that artistic ability.

 

Interesting story and an art form that I wasn't familiar with. Kudos.

Edited by StringJunky
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"The individual I'm referring to has never been able to exist independently,"

 

Neither would any human because we all helpless at birth and as a social animal fairly helpless as individuals. We are just communicating here to try and help each other as social animals. The hope is that we can learn to full cooperate at some level by establishing a harmonious atmosphere. :unsure:

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WRT to the OP: I think 'human life' begins at the zygote because that's what it's hard-coded for, but the point in development when 'personhood' is reached can only be arbitrarily defined because it is, after all, a continuum.

Edited by StringJunky
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I deduced from the other comments that the original topic heading was meant to say when does a human life begin which could be confused with personhood.

 

In any case it is pretty difficult to figure out what the question was exactly. Perhaps the title could have been Should a severely retarded individual be considered human?

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I deduced from the other comments that the original topic heading was meant to say when does a human life begin which could be confused with personhood.

 

In any case it is pretty difficult to figure out what the question was exactly. Perhaps the title could have been Should a severely retarded individual be considered human?

Yes, the OP lacks precision and that's why I was specific in expressing a distinction between human-life and a person in my post.

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Minor but important correction. She wasn't profoundly retarded; she was a retarded, profoundly deaf-mute.
As it turned out. But to all appearances and official ("scientific") verdict for forty years (twenty or more years longer than her medically indicated lifespan) - the criteria here - she was so lacking in mental ability as to be incapable of benefitting from even rudimentary education.

 

So when did that woman's formal, scientific, rigorously defined, human life begin?

 

I'm leaning toward onset of awareness as the criterion, with the scientific establishment of the onset of awareness still a field of research.

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How are you defining 'human life'?

 

The practitioners of what is called science recognized early on that they needed their own language to avoid the confusion we see here. There are accepted if vague scientific definitions for the terms human and life but since science is a probabilistic business there is a cline in each term from non human to human and from non life to life. Science in general does not deal with absolutes like exactly when something began. Some estimations are very exact and some less so. We have enough information to be fairly exact about when a fetus begins and to predict when that fetus is "viable". That in no way helps us to define when a fetus becomes human because the definition of species is not nearly as exact as the definitions related to other biological processes. The inexact definition of Homo sapiens sapiens traditionally relied on physical characteristic but even with the advent of DNA testing what separates the various species of Homo is seriously debated. What is clear is that it the size of the human brain not it's function that defines the species. This may be only a historical artifact of the way species are defined or the inaccessibility of behavior in the fossil record. Either way it doesn't matter because one of the characteristic of science is that to some degree it relies on peer review and accepted definitions. The OP suggest that the species Homo sapiens sapiens be redefined using cognitive function as part of the definition but since doing so would have virtual no scientific utility it is unlikely to happen.

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The practitioners of what is called science recognized early on that they needed their own language to avoid the confusion we see here. There are accepted if vague scientific definitions for the terms human and life but since science is a probabilistic business there is a cline in each term from non human to human and from non life to life. Science in general does not deal with absolutes like exactly when something began. Some estimations are very exact and some less so. We have enough information to be fairly exact about when a fetus begins and to predict when that fetus is "viable". That in no way helps us to define when a fetus becomes human because the definition of species is not nearly as exact as the definitions related to other biological processes. The inexact definition of Homo sapiens sapiens traditionally relied on physical characteristic but even with the advent of DNA testing what separates the various species of Homo is seriously debated. What is clear is that it the size of the human brain not it's function that defines the species. This may be only a historical artifact of the way species are defined or the inaccessibility of behavior in the fossil record. Either way it doesn't matter because one of the characteristic of science is that to some degree it relies on peer review and accepted definitions. The OP suggest that the species Homo sapiens sapiens be redefined using cognitive function as part of the definition but since doing so would have virtual no scientific utility it is unlikely to happen.

I'm all for following the scientific consensus on definitions otherwise it just leads to misunderstandings. Until otherwise enlightened, or logically refuted, the fact is a human zygote is coded to make a human, so to me it is a human, but the stage it becomes a person is open to question.

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"I'm all for following the scientific consensus on definitions otherwise it just leads to misunderstandings. Until otherwise enlightened, or logically refuted, the fact is a human zygote is coded to make a human, so to me it is a human, but the stage it becomes a person is open to question."

 

I think you missed my point in so far as no amount of DNA identity changes the fact that the scientific definition of human requires a specimen that has certain physiological characteristics. You can identify the zygote as the product of human sperm and egg by DNA but that doesn't make it human. A lot of people think the current definition is idiotically archaic and maybe it is because it is derived from archeological not genetic definitions. One thing is certain and that is zygote is not just a zygote it belongs to a species. Logically though your DNA proposition of identity opens up the door to the other suggestion that cognitive function is needed to define what is and isn't human. I think it is best just to leave things as they are and not start redefining things in the current atmosphere.

 

Zygote definition: the cell produced by the union of two gametes, before it undergoes cleavage.

 

Note not a human but a cell.

 

 

Fetus definition: an unborn or unhatched vertebrate especially after attaining the basic structural plan of its kind; specifically : a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth—compare embryo.

 

Note a fetus not an embryo and an embryo not a human.

 

 

You can make up your own definitions if you like but I don't see any reference to DNA and no reason to change the definitions.

Edited by Wolfhnd
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"I'm all for following the scientific consensus on definitions otherwise it just leads to misunderstandings. Until otherwise enlightened, or logically refuted, the fact is a human zygote is coded to make a human, so to me it is a human, but the stage it becomes a person is open to question."

 

I think you missed my point in so far as no amount of DNA identity changes the fact that the scientific definition of human requires a specimen that has certain physiological characteristics. You can identify the zygote as the product of human sperm and egg by DNA but that doesn't make it human. A lot of people think the current definition is idiotically archaic and maybe it is because it is derived from archeological not genetic definitions. One thing is certain and that is zygote is not just a zygote it belongs to a species. Logically though your DNA proposition of identity opens up the door to the other suggestion that cognitive function is needed to define what is and isn't human. I think it is best just to leave things as they are and not start redefining things in the current atmosphere.

 

Zygote definition: the cell produced by the union of two gametes, before it undergoes cleavage.

 

Note not a human but a cell.

 

 

Fetus definition: an unborn or unhatched vertebrate especially after attaining the basic structural plan of its kind; specifically : a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth—compare embryo.

 

Note a fetus not an embryo and an embryo not a human.

 

 

You can make up your own definitions if you like but I don't see any reference to DNA and no reason to change the definitions.

I could carry on but I'm not going to because this is in a standard science board so I'll leave it here..

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At the risk of a moderator stepping in and censoring me :blink: I'm trying to maintain the historical legal position on this subject so we can avoid any inadvertent support for the various ethical positions people may postulate outside the science forum.

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At the risk of a moderator stepping in and censoring me :blink: I'm trying to maintain the historical legal position on this subject so we can avoid any inadvertent support for the various ethical positions people may postulate outside the science forum.

Yes, I appreciate that but even that's not science ultimately.

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