Declaring that an eight-cell human embryo is not a human being has a purpose. The idea is to convince people by spinning a tale – that the embryo is not human but only a product, a commodity, and being a product it can be used and abused in any way which the powers that be decide. Being a product it could be used with business as a means to an end and may be disposed of accordingly. This effort to reduce a human being to the level of a product also shows that individuals are now patting themselves on the back for having achieved the capacity to create and eugenically choose or reject human products and in their arrogance feeling as if they have achieved the status of a god. Arrogance of power goes very much with thinking that one is a god or demi-god and treating us mere ordinary mortals as the little people that we are.
Human Science shows us that the reality lies elsewhere. Cell biology and those who study it, as well as embryologists show that the life of a human being begins when the human ovum is fertilised by the human sperm cell. This is the real science and all other opinions are just that, opinions. A human embryo whether one cell, eight cells, 32 cells, blastocyst, eight weeks remains a human being. It remains a human being in its development to birth, childhood, and adulthood to old age until death. These are just different stages of the same human being.
Why is it a human being? That it is human is never in doubt as it is the result or fruit of the interaction between two other human beings and contains a human genetic blueprint. That it is a human organism is also not in doubt as it is moving under its own steam with a self-moving active potency to develop as all independent organisms do from the single cell amoeba to the trillion-cell human. This capacity to develop is attained the moment that the new genetic identity is fused inside the new embryo cell which gives it a new and unique human identity and allows development to start with the building of proteins necessary to its development and survival. Like in any other organism, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and continues to remain so until death. The Church has nothing to do with the defining moment of when we become human. The Church only insists that when science says that a human organism exists, that life should be protected and it has always done so. So much so that in the Middle Ages when the little science known then believed, according to Aristotle of ancient Greece, that human life started after 60 or 90 days of human embryological development, that was the time the Church believed that human life should be protected. However, science has now advanced sufficiently and shown us the truth, and those who now bring in the Church to confuse matters, obviously have other motives in mind.
A human embryo is fully a human being, a human organism and natural reason tells us that if it is fully human then it should be defended and it is a prima facie right to protect it. Therefore, it should not be destroyed or forced to lose its dignity such as by freezing which both kills embryos and destroys their human dignity.
However, the human embryo is entirely a human being and also a fully human person. Those who point out a distinction here only do so to lay a trap for fools. Personhood is considered an individual member of the human species, so any individual member of the human species is enough to make him or her, a person. Personhood objectively defined means any individuated being of a rational nature, a self-reflecting nature. This nature is attained during fertilisation when the unique genetic and epigenetic features of the new human individual are laid down together with this self-moving potency to develop, a potency we refer to as the form, essence, nature or soul of the human being. It is this rational nature of each human being which make it a person and not the individual functions that are exhibited by this nature or form in matter. We do not always think, move or talk, but we are always human persons even in a comatose or anaesthetised state. Greek philosophy clearly laid down that a form and matter produced an individualised human substance. Boethius expressed this very clearly in his famous ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ as Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia. An individual substance of a rational nature! This concept has been a principle of ancient Greek philosophy from the times of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus among others. When later Descartes in the 1600s came up with the dictum of cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, he was in no way trying to reverse this definition of person. He was just pointing out that thinking and self-reflection were features that defined the human species from other species and was one of the functions exhibited specifically by our nature or form as a species. In effect it was always from the beginning of civilisation a concept of ‘sum ergo cogito’, I am therefore I think. Thinking is an ultimate expression of human nature not the other way round. Thinking comes from the nature, from the form, from the essence of humanity not the form of humanity from thinking! Therefore, a human embryo is also a human person by nature of being a human organism not only a simple human cell as some would have us believe and in the process subjectively reversing four thousand years of philosophy.
The subjective corruption of the definition of person and also now of the definition of the human organism is just a feeble attempt of those who want to render the human being and person simply as a human product. Being a human product to be used and abused according to the dictates of others in order to return to the times of slavery when human beings were just products. This attitude is borne out of an arrogance of power, idiocy and the wish to make human beings a source of commercial profit, an end for business and money. Those who expound it have other interests at heart, definitely not the interests of human dignity. The interest of human dignity is clearly expressed in our Constitution. Every human person has a right to life. Our Constitution defines the limits of the right to life specifically when such a life is intentionally threatened with intended malignant violence by another, so that the right to self-defence from a bad intentioned violator arises. In pointing out this only exception, our Constitution also underlines that the right to innocent human life is an absolute right and ultimately this is the principle which our government plans to do away with for obvious reasons, and to pave the way for future assaults on innocent human life!
Dr Asciak is Senior Lecturer II in Applied Science at MCAST.