When in doubt, kill, kill, kill?

Obama recently clarified his position on when life begins (before he had said it was “above [his] pay grade”).  In an interview with ABC News’ This Week program on Sunday, Obama said, “What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility…all I meant to communicate was that I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

His position is quite similar (surprise, surprise) to that of his running mate, Joe Biden:

I’d say, “Look, I know when it begins for me.” It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I’m prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths – Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others – who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They’re intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life – I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, “Well, what about fascism?” Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism’s all right? Fascism isn’t a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea. [Italics mine]

Both of these guys are trying to say that the question of when a human life begins is a theological one and that they can’t force their opinion on others. The abortion debate has nothing to do with theology and everything to do with biology. You might be able to argue about when a human gets a soul, but you can’t argue about when life begins. It is a scientific fact that life begins at conception. It’s indisputable. Upon conception, a new biological organism exists that did not exist before. That precise point in time is when the life of that human being starts.

These guys do not want to “force their opinion” on others, so they prefer to let millions of unborn children be killed in the womb. Does no one else see a problem with that? Could they be any more lacking in moral conviction? Biden says that he accepts his church’s teaching on abortion, namely that abortion is morally equivalent to murder…and yet he thinks it is okay to sit back and do nothing about it? Nay, to actually remove all legal and economic obstacles that stand in the way? In our “pluralistic society” several decades ago, there were differing opinions as to whether black people were to be considered “persons.” If Obama had been alive at that time, would he have preferred that people not force their opinion on slave owners? Would Biden have insisted that personhood was a theological issue back then? Considering that it was the Republicans that moved to end slavery, maybe so.

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23 Responses to “When in doubt, kill, kill, kill?”

  1. Ash888 says:

    If Biden thinks unborn children are innocent humans, couldn’t the quote go like this too:

    “I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that innocent Jews should not be slaughtered. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

  2. Deb says:

    “…It is a scientific fact that life begins at conception.”

    AMEN! I believe the same thing. I’ve been reading your blog for some time and have similar views as you.

    Nice to see another blogger state their views without fear. :)

    Keep up the good work!

  3. casey says:

    Hi Deb, thanks for the comment. I notice from your blog that there’s one issue in particular we’ll likely disagree about ( ;) ). Doesn’t make me love you any less, though. ::hug::

  4. Candice says:

    I would agree that human life begins at conception. But I disagree with the statement that the abortion debate has nothing to do with theology. In regards to when the human life begins, yes, that has to do with biology. In terms of the abortion debate in general, stating that it has nothing to do with theology is quite bold. Whether or not anyone wants to admit it, theology and religion play quite a role in American politics.

    I appreciate your thoughts and opinions and look forward to reading more.

  5. casey says:

    Candice, certainly theology will play a role in whether or not you wish to protect innocent human life, but science has already settled the issue of when life begins. It really is that simple. Scientifically speaking, life begins at conception. Period. Science cannot tell us whether or not we should protect that life, but I would assume that most people can agree that innocent human life should be protected. So how someone can understand that human life begins at conception and still argue that we should allow that life to be extinguished is beyond me. And if there is some doubt, then why do we err on the side of killing instead of preserving life?

  6. waimarama says:

    Why don’t you extend your interest in human life to eggs and sperm?
    They’re genetically unique, and very much alive, and it’s very easy for them to become a zygote.

  7. casey says:

    I take it you fell asleep in biology class, waimarama? ;) If you had been paying attention you might have learned that sperm and eggs carry only 23 chromosomes. You might also have learned that the point when the sperm fertilizes the egg is the exact point that a new human life begins. A new human life with a unique genetic code that is, by definition, different from both the mother and the father.

  8. waimarama says:

    No, I took biology for three years, both my parents are geneticists.
    The sperm and egg are absolutely different from their parents, they were created by meiosis. Meiosis = random selection between the two sets, half the full number, and crossing over. The genetic information in every gamete IS unique.
    According to a doctor of genetics, a gamete is just as much new human life as a zygote. It seems unreasonable to sanctify a cluster of cells just because they have a full set of chromosomes, and such a thing can not reasonably have the protection of law extended to it (that’s usually reseved for around 8 months).
    Personally I wouldn’t do it beyond 4/5 months, when the nervous system develops and the fetus can probably feel pain. However, abortions beyond this point are unusual, and that video you were shown sounds like shock tactics – it’s not the usual situation.

  9. casey says:

    Um, no. The DNA is the same. The sperm has 23 chromosomes (from the man that produced it), and the egg has 23 chromosomes (from the woman who produced it). Neither has a full set, and neither will ever develop into a human adult if left to themselves. Saying that these are different from the parents is meaningless.

    Who is the doctor you are referencing who says a gamete is new human life? I think you’re playing with words here. You need to back that up with a citation. Here are actual scientific texts which state that the new human life begins at fertilization:

    “Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception)…Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”
    [Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

    “The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
    [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

    “Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism…. At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun…. The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life.”
    [Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

    “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.”
    [Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

    “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.”
    [Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

    “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
    [Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

  10. waimarama says:

    This is ridiculous. The man I referenced is my father (an associate professor of genetics, I said doctor because he only received this new title last year). If something has a different genetic code to it’s parent (through recombination and segregation) what do you call that? The same??!

    Because of Mendel’s first and second laws it is inconceivable to make the same gamete twice, or for a parent to be the same as it’s child. All living organisms have “the same DNA” (you can read that on Wikipedia).
    According to my father, Dr.Cartwright, “every gamete is unique, one of a kind,” and “just because it is made up of the same materials as the father’s DNA” (A,C,G,T, as we all are) “does not mean that it is the same.” It has been cut, pasted, shuffled etc. It is new.

    Human development may begin at conception, but life does not, it was there before then, in two halves.
    “To say ‘life’ begins at conception is a theological statement, not a scientific one.” – R.T.M Cartwright. You may not believe me, or my father, or Mr.Mendel, but gametes are “new human life.”
    We all use the same DNA, but we are not the same, because the base sequence/genetic code is different (eg, in one loci the father’s code may = ACG, son = CAG, carrot =CCA, possum= GGC).

    No scientist in their right mind will tell you that the genetic code of a father and son is the same.
    If you’re going to ask me for citations then I would like you, please, to find a quote from someone with a Phd in genetics that can show that this statement:
    “The DNA is the same,” has any significance at all. You could also say ” the bird has the same DNA as the possum that ate it” but they do NOT have the same GENETIC CODE, and neither do the father and son.

  11. casey says:

    I’m not going to continue this discussion with you, waimarama, if you cannot provide a verifiable citation that I am wrong about when the life of an individual begins. You are correct that what I said about the DNA being the same is meaningless. I was trying to point out that there is no new organism when sperm or eggs are produced. It looks like I need to be more careful. Thank you for pointing that out. However, I have provided references from several textbooks/encyclopedias that state that the life of a human being begins at fertilization. If you wish to continue this conversation, provide me with a credible source that says otherwise. Show me the money. Show me a verifiable source that says a gamete is a human being or that the life of a human being begins at some other point than at fertilization.

  12. Ash888 says:

    waimarama,

    When people say “life” begins at fertilization (conception) they are referring to “human life,” not some ambiguous form of “life” in general.

    >Human development may begin at conception,
    >but life does not, it was there before then, in two halves.

    Please try not to equivocate. If you read those quotes more carefully, you’ll see that they use terms such as “the beginning of the human being,” “give rise to a new organism,” “a new life has begun,” “the beginning of a human being,” etc.

    23 chromosomes from the mother and 23 from the father combine to form a unique, individual human life. How can you dispute this fact?

  13. waimarama says:

    ASH, I DISPUTE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS FACT.

    Casey, I will give you two lines of argument, both with referenced evidence.

    1. That fertilisation is a process, like all human development, not as clear cut as you believe, and that the problems don’t end after the 22 hours in which the diploid is forming (it can still split into twins 2 weeks later).

    2. Possibly another thing for you to learn, the evolutionary genetics teaching of continuous life, which rubbishes the sacrosanct dividing line between gametes and zygotes.

    EVIDENCE AGAINST LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION
    Scott F. Gilbert is Professor of Biology at Swarthmore College where he teaches developmental genetics, embryology, and the history and critiques of biology.
    “Current perspectives on when human life begins range from fertilization to gastrulation to birth and even after. Contemporary scientific literature proposes a variety of answers to the question of when human life begins”.
    (Scott.F.Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 8th Edition)

    “Although the opinion that life begins at fertilization is the most popular view among the public, many scientists no longer support this position, as an increasing number of scientific discoveries seem to contradict it”.
    (Gilbert)

    The most popular argument against the idea that life begins at the moment of fertilization has been dubbed the “twinning argument.” The main point of this argument is that although a zygote is genetically unique from its parents from the moment a diploid organism is formed; it is possible for that zygote to split into two or more zygotes up until 14 or 15 days after fertilization. Even though the chances of twinning are not very great, as long as there is the potential for it to occur the zygote has not completed the process of individuation and is not an ontological individual.
    (Gilbert)

    Just as it is possible for a zygote to form two or more individuals before it is implanted in the uterus, it is also possible for it to not continue to develop at all, but rather just become a part of the placenta”.
    (Shannon and Wolter 1990).

    “Both the sperm and egg cells should individually be considered to be units of life in the same respect as any other single or multicellular organism. Thus, neither the union of two gametes nor any developmental point thereafter should be designated as the beginning of new life”.
    (Gilbert)

    “The metabolic view takes the stance that a single developmental moment marking the beginning of human life does not exist”.
    (Gilbert)

    “This position is supported by recent research that has revealed that fertilization itself is not even an instantaneous event, but rather a process that takes 20-22 hours between the time the sperm penetrates the outermost layers of the egg and the formation of a diploid cell.”
    (Kuhse 1988).

    As long as twinning can occur the “zygote has not completed the process of individuation and is not an ontological individual”.
    Besides this, would you call a zygote still in the process of fertilisation a human individual?

    Those are the sources that say that the life of an individual human being begins at some other point than at fertilization.
    The important distinction is personhood, but I’m not even going to go into that here.
    Now on to WHY it is significant that human life is continuous.

    LIFE IS CONTINUOUS, AND WHY IT MATTERS

    Carl Sagan “Is it Possible to be both ‘Pro-life’ and ‘Pro-Choice?’” in Billions and Billions (Ballantine 1997): “… Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.”

    “Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult”.
    (Sagan)

    Sagan spent time as an undergraduate working in the laboratory of the geneticist H.J.Muller, he has an S.M in physics, and a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics.

    My mother, Dr.Margaret Butler (PhD in Zoology) says that she “could not have put it any better” (she’s reading and would not write any more).

  14. casey says:

    Now we seem to be getting somewhere. I apologize for my initial sarcasm. Without an explanation I thought you were being sarcastic with your original question.

    Okay, first, the observation that life is continuous is irrelevant. Everyone agrees on this point. If you say “human life is an unbroken chain dating back hundreds of thousands of years, so it is okay to kill unborn babies,” then the same logic can be applied to human beings at any stage of development.

    Dr. Kischer, emeritus professor of Anatomy at the University of Arizona, writes, “…the first thing learned in human embryology [is] that the life of the new individual human being begins at fertilization (conception)…we should respect a microscopic human embryo because at that time it is an integrated whole organism, just as the human is at every moment in time until death. Every human embryo deserves as much respect as you or I because it is formed as a new individual human life within the continuum of life …” To deny this, Kischer says, is “a trivialization and corruption of the science of human embryology.”
    http://www.all.org/abac/ab020128.htm

    As far as twinning goes, the argument assumes that twinning is a random accident. If the information is there from the beginning, then it becomes irrelevant to the discussion (since not all human concepti have the capacity to twin, one could argue that there exists in some concepti a basic duality prior to the split). Since we do not know whether the information is there from the moment of fertilization or not (in the article above, Dr. Kischer states that we do not know why it occurs), to then kill the child based on that reason is to err on the side of death. I’d rather err on the side of life (in the philosophical sense). Moreover, even if the point where twinning generally no longer occurs (around 14 days) is the point when the individual’s life begins, that eliminates the majority of abortions anyway.

    You are right. The important distinction is personhood. Is every human being a person? I say yes.

  15. Ash888 says:

    waimarama,

    I said: “23 chromosomes from the mother and 23 from the father combine to form a unique, individual human life. How can you dispute this fact?”

    You answered: “ASH, I DISPUTE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS FACT.”

    Are you saying that whether or not the life is “human” is insignificant? Doesn’t that then make human rights insignificant?

    If you were convinced that, through overwhelming evidence, that human life does indeed begin at fertilization, would you still feel the same way?

    The “twinning” argument you introduced, although interesting, sounds like an exception to the rule, as Gilbert explains, “the chances of twinning are not very great.” That doesn’t negate the fact that a unique human individual is formed in the majority of cases.

    Shannon and Wolter explain, “…it is also possible for it [the zygote] to not continue to develop at all, but rather just become a part of the placenta.”

    Once again, this is an exception to the rule. Sometimes a baby might cease to develop at any stage in his or her life (inside or outside the womb), and that’s a tragedy that often can’t be avoided. However, it does not validate the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

    “fertilization itself is not even an instantaneous event”
    I don’t see the relevance of this. The genesis of the individual is when fertilization is complete.

    The Carl Sagan quote, “Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult”

    This was probably the weakest of the arguments you presented. As Sagan was a renowned astronomer, dabbling in genetics for 2 years in college doesn’t make him an expert in embryology. He can pontificate all he wants, but embryologists will disagree. Especially if his ambiguous terms are supposed to mean “potential human.”

  16. waimarama says:

    To Casey

    This is the thing that should interest you most:
    “Division of the zygote into two embryos is not considered to be a hereditary trait, but rather an anomaly that occurs in birthing at a rate of about three in every 1000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race”.
    (from Wikipedia, quoting April Holladay)

    “Identical twins do not run in families and, therefore, twinning is not related to genetics”.
    (April Holladay)

    Identical twins probably result from the blastocyst hatching less-than-perfectly out of it’s shell, and up to that point a zygote that goes on to form one fetus and a zygote that goes on to form twins (or triplets, if things are very messy) were the same.

    “If you say “human life is an unbroken chain dating back hundreds of thousands of years, so it is okay to kill unborn babies,” then the same logic can be applied to human beings at any stage of development.”

    You’re right Casey, that’s why you need personhood to go with it.
    Personhood is not something that anyone has satisfactorily defined with science, so this seems like a philosophical statement to me, and I don’t know what you would support it with. Most people would call a newborn a person and the law of many countries states that it is illegal for doctors to abort a pregnancy over 8 months old (for a scientific reason – it’s almost certainly aware) unless there are unusual complications.
    From the point of view of someone who was taught science and has no religion, it seems unlikely that an organism without a nervous system could be self-aware, and if you’re not self aware at all, how can you be a person?

  17. waimarama says:

    To Ash

    If you’re going to be mourning the tragedy of zygotes that don’t implant, you’re going to be mourning about half the conceptions on the planet.
    ” Sometimes a baby might cease to develop at any stage in his or her life”
    MILLIONS of times.
    It was basically a 50/50 chance whether any of us survived beyond conception, so spontaneous abortion can’t really be called “an exception to the rule.”
    Mr. Sagan was awesome, and a scientist, which is a good start, and besides THIS is the opinion of an embryologist:
    “Current perspectives on when human life begins range from fertilization to gastrulation to birth and even after. Contemporary scientific literature proposes a variety of answers to the question of when human life begins”. (Gilbert) Most of the quotes I put up are from Gilbert, an embryologist.

    I know that 23+23=46, but while 46 may equal new human life, I do not accept that it equals new human being, that’s why I dispute the significance of this statement, and why you need the idea of personhood. I can see that I’m getting nowhere on the gametes are the two halves/ are individual human life/ have as much potential as the zygotes that fail more than half the time idea. However, it’s not a completely crazy idea, it’s the position of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
    To me your position sounds like saying everyone should eat the bread they make, because to not do so is a waste, and then saying it’s okay and not a waste to dump tonnes of flour in the sea.
    What is the bread made of Ash? What are you not going to have without flour?

    Your position on twinning is not cool, are soon-to-be-twinning zygotes not unique individuals? Non-twinning zygotes and twinning zygotes are the same, up until the point when the twins’ blastocyst breaks in half coming out of the shell. It was a unique individual that was accidentally cut in half…

  18. casey says:

    April Holladay is apparently a journalist. Hardly an authority on the topic of human embryology and twinning. Anyway, the quotes do not prove that the information is not there from the moment of fertilization. “Probably” is not good enough. There is still a lot we do not know or understand.

    To argue that it’s okay to deliberately kill a human being in the womb because his or her chances of survival are 50/50 is absurd. The same logic could be applied to children in Africa. Is it okay to deliberately kill them because they have a low survival rate anyway?

    You said, “while 46 may equal new human life, I do not accept that it equals new human being.” Fertilization is the point where a new biological individual is formed. As Dr. Fritz Baumgartner stated, “There is no greater pivotal moment in our growth and development than when 23 chromosomes from our father join with 23 chromosomes from our mother to form a unique, new biologic entity who heretofore simply had not existed. This new biological individual is complete, has a gender, and is fully and uniquely programmed and equipped to grow and develop and change until death. All he or she needs is nutrition and a warm place to grow.”
    http://www.prolife.com/life_begins.html

    Applying personhood to any stage of development other than at the point where the new individual comes into existence is arbitrary. Self-awareness? Does the person in a coma cease being a person? What about the person who is asleep? No, so personhood is not linked to self-awareness. Personhood should be granted to every human being regardless of their stage of development.

    P.S. Your comments are being posted twice every time. Please press the submit button only once.

  19. waimarama says:

    I never said that a 50/50 chance made it okay to “kill” someone, I was telling Ash a fact, spontaneous abortion is not an exception to the rule.

    I really, really resent you trying to guilt trip me by using words like “baby” and “child” for anything from 2 cells to a 9 month old unborn,
    “Human being” is a word, a name for a state called humanity that develops gradually, and yes humanity can also leave a human body. Both me and my mother do not wish to be kept alive if we should become little more than warm shells.

    I regard keeping someone’s body alive on machines with the same disgust that you have for abortion, you can lose what makes you human, and you can not have it yet.
    People who are sleeping still have brain activity, and sleep (loss of conventional self-awareness for several hours) is very different to being brain-dead, or not having a brain.

    If you’re going to use guilt-tripping, giving the status of person to something that does not have a brain, attributing time-wasting sarcasm to someone who was trying to meet you half way, and failing to know the difference between DNA and base sequence, you’re cause is not going to make much progress.

    I’m sorry to have said anything, I’m going to say goodbye now and spend my last week before starting university doing something else.

  20. Ash888 says:

    waimarama,

    You said: “It was basically a 50/50 chance whether any of us survived beyond conception, so spontaneous abortion can’t really be called “an exception to the rule.””

    First of all, I’d like to see the data for that statistic. Even if it’s true, “spontaneous abortions” are something unavoidable. How does that make it okay to deliberately kill an innocent human being? If someone is dying of cancer, and they have a 50% chance of survival, does that make it okay to deliberately kill that person?

    I understand your position now on a human being not being a person at all stages of its life. This is really key to the whole argument I suppose. To me, human being = person.

    “Mr. Sagan was awesome, and a scientist, which is a good start”
    I still don’t see what that has to do with anything. It’s generally not convincing to quote an astronomer as an authority on embryology.

  21. casey says:

    Being kept alive artificially is not the same as allowing nature to take its course. I never argued for keeping people alive artificially. It has nothing to do with this discussion. In fact, if the argument is to let nature take its course, then you would have to agree with me that abortion is wrong.

    You cannot lose what makes you human. You are either a dead human or a live human. There is no in between.

    When I said coma, I was not referring to brain death. Regardless, the fact that self-awareness can be lost, even temporarily, means that it is not a requirement for personhood.

    It’s guilt tripping to call an embryo a baby? Wow. My pregnant friends have always done that. I never thought they were trying to give anyone a guilt trip. It seems to me that we use the word “baby” when we’re going to keep the organism and “fetus” or “blob of cells” when we are going to abort the organism.

    If your sarcastic sounding question was meeting me half way, then again, I apologize. It certainly seemed sarcastic at first, and even re-reading it now it still looks like a sarcastic remark.

    I’m sorry that you’re sorry, but I am glad you commented. The discussion has been beneficial for me, anyway.

  22. Ash888 says:

    Casey,

    I thought this quote to be interesting from Dr. Yamanaka, one of the first discoverers of how to “successfully turn adult skin cells into the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells without using an actual embryo.”

    “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/science/11prof.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

    He must be a fundamentalist right wing religious fanatic like me (sarcasm).

    Anyway, it’s a shame that Obama continues to push for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research even after this amazing discovery that should really put an end to the debate.

  23. casey says:

    Thanks for the link, Ash888.