Just a clump of cells?
”Just a clump of cells’’ is the cliched mantra which is often intoned by those who describe themselves as pro-choice, when faced with the accusation that abortion is nothing less than the deliberate killing of a human life. But we all know – or should know – that there is a distinct human life within the mother’s womb. We should also know that this life within the womb is equipped not only with its own genetically distinct and unique identity, but also with the ability to develop all those characteristics which form a fully-fledged human.
Does this mean that any deliberate termination of a human life inside the mother’s womb is tantamount to homicide, if and when one intentionally brings about the destruction of that life? If we define homicide as the deliberate killing of human personby another human person we find ourselves immediately mired in the controversy of what constitutes personhood.
Personhood is not a scientific concept. Personhood is a legal and philosophical concept.
On this basis abortion would therefore be clearly and unequivocally inadmissible.
One of the great debates within the abortion controversy is the question of whether, in its early stages, the zygote/embryo is to be considered a person. Personhood is not a scientific concept. If there is a human biological development which unequivocally signifies that the human life is, as from that moment, to be considered a human person we do not know what it is.
Personhood is a legal and philosophical concept. In so far as the law and philosophical ideas are changeable, so is personhood in this sense. Legally and philosophically one may ‘’decide’’ that a human being is to be considered a person right from birth. But human intuition would rebel against such a definition: how can a particular individual be considered a person the moment he or she emerges from within the mother’s womb but not one second before? Or five minutes before, or two hours, or even seventy-two hours, before? And so on.
Some would take issue with the adoption of a definition of abortion on purely legal and philosophical grounds and would ascribe personhood to all human life which is endowed with at least rudimentary brain structures. The brain starts to form at around the sixth week of gestation which is quite early in the developmental journey inside the womb. However, this position does not quite satisfy the argument that even within the earliest stages of human pre-birth development the individual human life carries within each and every cell the ability to develop all human tissues and organs – what is technically known as toti-potency. What if it is this characteristic rather than a cerebral structure which is objectively the hallmark of personhood?
We simply do not know what objectively, as distinct from ultimately man-made legal or philosophical considerations, constitutes personhood. Faced with this situation the only morally acceptable position is to apply the precautionary principle: we must take care to protect all human life which could possibly be a human person. On this basis abortion would therefore be clearly and unequivocally inadmissible.