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Pro-Life Connections -- South King Pro-Life Support Network Message Board › When does a human being become a person?

When does a human being become a person? - From Human Life of Washington's website

Patricia C.
Group Organizer
Federal Way, WA
Post #: 11
When does a human being become a person?
Date: 05 Aug 2011

When does a human being become a person?
There are those who admit embryos are human beings, but insist embryos are not yet persons, and consequently do not have the moral status of persons deserving of rights.

One of the arguments against embryos being persons is that at conception and embryo is only a single-cell and no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. This kind of reasoning is just plain silly. Although both may be similar in size, given a safe environment and nutrition, an embryo will grow into an adult. The period just lays there. It won't even grow into a complete sentence. A period is a period - period.

The argument from size commits a dangerous logical fallacy, and that is to base the argument simply on a description of the embryo's appearance. It is neither an explanation or definition of what this human being is.

Aristotle 2400 years ago understood the principle that to obtain a true definition of something, you must discover what its powers are and what it is meant to be. Passing judgement based on appearance is not only irrational, but it has brought about the horrors of genocide, slavery, and ethnic cleansing.

At conception we are self-possessed human persons. We possess our own future. It belongs to us uniquely and no one else. Despite our size, present within us at conception is the complete design of what we are meant to be and a self-directing power that brings that development about. This power and the information necessary to direct it must be present at conception in order for development to occur. The genetics are irrefutable.

Personhood does not depend on whether one is currently manifesting all one's powers or not. It is not a temporary state that comes and goes with our degree of functionality. I don't become a non-person when I fall asleep or become unconscious. We are after all, human beings not human doings.

Mere functionality does not reveal a living being. A machine could conceivably be designed to look like us, and mimic numerous human traits, but functional mimicry is not personhood. Indeed, there are already machines that actually function more efficiently than we do at specific tasks, but I seriously doubt your vacuum cleaner ever wonders about the fairness of it all. You, on the other hand, are intrinsically oriented toward that unique human characteristic, evident even in young children, to desire and reflect on transcendent realities like truth and justice. Parents are certainly aware of this characteristic, being the recipient of the oft heard remark "that's not fair!"

Too often in the debate about embryonic stem cells, our moral status as persons is obscured by labels assigned to stages of development such as embryo or fetus, but an embryo is not less of a human being than an infant, anymore than a child is less of a human being before puberty than after. At every stage we are whole human beings.

Failing to distinguish between a label and reality is not a new problem. In fact, Abraham Lincoln used to illustrate it by humorously asking how many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? The answer is four, because it makes no difference if you call it a leg - it is still a tail. In the same way, how we label a stage of development doesn't change the fact that human beings are persons.

Absurdly, some argue that if we can't "perceive" personhood in others with our senses, we cannot assume they are persons. But we are persons because of our human nature, not because of our size, or skin color, or abilities. I can't "see" freedom or justice either, that doesn't mean they don't exist. I can't see that part of the electromagnetic spectrum that allows us to have radios but not only does it exist, but it existed before radio was invented. The point is - our own limited perception does not alter objective reality.

Those who would deny personhood under these circumstances fancy themselves more sophisticated than their historical counterparts who condoned atrocities based on appearance. Yet ironically, they display the same shallow mentality when it comes to contemporary debates. Once again, we witness ignorance and utilitarian motives corrupting what is both rationally and morally obvious - we can not earn for ourselves, or bestow on others what is already ours by nature.

Whether conceived by sexual reproduction, in vitro fertilization, or cloning, an embryo is not some thing but someone.

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