General Question

pekenoe's avatar

Human life begins when?

Asked by pekenoe (1401points) March 24th, 2009

With the debate now on the “morning after pill” being available for teens, the question arises again. When do you believe “Human” life begins? When the egg and sperm unite, when organs form or later when the first breath of air is taken? Is this related to the question “at what point does a human gain a soul?” Is the destroying of 2 cells that have the potential of forming a human being the same as killing same human after formation? If the 2 cells have no soul are they human?

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35 Answers

Staalesen's avatar

I belive it starts when it can survive outside the womb

KrystaElyse's avatar

The morning after pill should not be confused with the RU-486 abortion pill. It should be available to teens as long as they understand it’s not an abortion pill and that you need to take it within 72 hours or earlier to prevent pregnancy. When does life begin? I don’t think I can really give a precise answer to that.

nebule's avatar

I believe once the sperm and egg unite… although I’ve not started predestination yet…(on my philosophy course) I’m not quite sure….

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Staalesen: You beat me to it. Lurve. :)

aprilsimnel's avatar

The quickening is at about 4–5 months into a pregnancy. The risk of spontaneous abortions due to non-survivable defects (miscarriages) happen most often before that time. Just FYI. :)

casheroo's avatar

I believe it begins with the first heartbeat of the embryo, which is usually around 5 weeks.(i believe…)
But, that has no bearing on my views of abortion. I am fine with first trimester abortions.

miasmom's avatar

At the point of conception. Some babies make it full term, but are stillborn and we consider them a life, but they’ve never survived outside the womb on their own.

casheroo's avatar

@Staalesen I’m not sure what your answer means. A fetus can survive outside the womb at 24 weeks. I believe even 22 weeks, with all the technology we have today. So you believe it starts at minimum 24 weeks?

Staalesen's avatar

When it can survive, not beeing kept alive…

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Staalesen: That I will disagree with because there are a number of premature babies who need life support after they are born. I actually know a girl about my age who was born 3 months early and kept alive with life support. I guess that means that I agree with casheroo’s assessment. Once it can survive, with or without medical aid, outside the womb, I consider it a human. Of course, with the advent of technology, I think the line will have to be drawn somewhere because, eventually, we won’t even need a human womb at all to support a pregnancy.

Staalesen's avatar

Restructuring my thoughts: True, as for when HUMAN life start, instead of just life, is when self consiousness kicks inn

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Staalesen: That raises a whole other set of questions. Perhaps it would be good to start another thread. :)

Staalesen's avatar

I know, and maybe I will, but not now :)

basp's avatar

Along the same lines… I had twins born at twenty six weeks gestation nearly thirty years ago. Up until that delivery, I thought I knew right where I stood on the abortion issue.
As was stated earlier, I think life begins when life is sustainable outside of the womb. And while technology adds another demension, I see the use of technolgy for preemies no different than it BEng used on anyone else.
It is all very complicated, of that there is no doubt.

delirium's avatar

3.5 billion years ago.

I can’t take credit for that one, sadly. Bioliteracy, however, can.

ubersiren's avatar

When his self-consciousness kicks in? So, like his 2nd birthday?

It depends on your definition of “human life.” If it’s self-consciousness, then are people with severe brain damage (vegetables) no longer human? Everyone can answer this question differently, and the fact is that nobody knows for sure. You can feel very strongly one way or the other, but there is no one correct answer.

I believe upon conception, that being is assigned a soul and purpose. I am pro-choice, though I think that abortion is highly abused and am against it in most cases. We play God far too much. I’m also non-religious, so I find everyone playing God highly annoying.

Tangent! I can’t help it!

pekenoe's avatar

@ubersiren : Being non-religious, why do you believe that a soul is assigned upon conception? Would not believing in a soul be a religious thought?

My grandfather’s belief was, the soul was imbibed by the human form when the first breath is taken, I have no proof to dispute him.

Qingu's avatar

It depends on how you define “human life.”

My fingernail is technically human life.

I think the relevant question in the abortion debate is “when does the fetus become conscious”? Consciousness is the foundation of our morality—if you aren’t conscious, you can’t suffer, and it doesn’t matter what we do to you. That’s why we don’t feel bad about eating plants, but would feel quite bad about eating dogs.

Religious people tend to think in terms of “souls” instead of “conscoiusness,” and many believe that souls are magically imparted onto a zygote when sperm hits egg—which is utter nonsense and should have no place in a public policy debate about abortion.

Neuroscience shows that consciousness is an emergent quality of the brain. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing; rather, it comes into being gradually as the brain develops complexity. (Another way to think about this is to trace consciousness back through evolution. Is a chimpanzee conscious? Obviously. What about a reptile or a fish? Yes, almost certainly. What about a starfish? Starfish have no brains, but they have complex nervous systems. I don’t know. What about a jellyfish or a sponge?) The point being, there isn’t a clear dividing line between conscious and unconscious organisms—rather, consciousness emerges gradually as brains become more complex.

But in public policy you have to draw some arbitrary lines (see, for example, the driving age—not all 15 year olds are incapable of driving, and not all 17 year olds should be allowed on the road, but 16 is a decent line to draw). So I’d draw the line for the “emergence of conscoiusness” at the end of the second trimester—after which abortions are usually restricted anyway.

delirium's avatar

Now for Sara’s serious nosenseofhumor answer(s):
Although I dislike implying that one life is worth more than another, I prefer to circumvent the ‘life’ definition issue by supporting the notion of potential with the fewest resources spent as can be. If I found myself in the position of being pregnant now (statistically almost impossible), while I’m in school to learn to save the world in my own little way, I would (close to) absolutely not allow it to come to term. This is something that I have been sure of (and spent a lot of time thinking about before hand) since I decided to become sexually active in a manner that put myself at risk for pregnancy.

My basis of reasoning is that I am more likely to be significantly more valuable to society as a whole if I am a science-focused individual. I would not be able to achieve my life goal (make up for the resources spent to bring me to my potential and leave the world a better place for my having been born). It’s more of a waste to give up a life on the verge of being productive for the ecosystem. That said… I also don’t consider myself to be financially, educationally, and emotionally prepared to have something that can actively suffer under my responsibility.

Life doesn’t stop or start. All of our cells are ‘alive’.

That said, I also avoid attaching emotions to a fetus in much the same way as I avoid attaching emotions to my wisdom teeth, or my appendix. I do NOT personify these things, because that usually only leads to Bad Decisions.

On the matter of holding life sacred… I honestly find that one fairly obnoxious… primarily because it usually comes out of the mouths of people who hunt, eat meat, and don’t consider their environmental footprint and the effect they have on all the lives on earth. Even more annoying is when they’re all that and they’re the type that actually only holds the afterlife sacred.

Summary: Life matters more to me than life. That which surrounds my meager consciousness is not the Big Picture. I usually keep an ammonite (that is almost 2 billion years old) around my neck to remind me of that. It’s the superhero conundrum: Lose one to save many?

ubersiren's avatar

@pekenoe : It’s just something I believe. I feel like from the point of conception, that being’s life is set in motion. It’s growing. It’s advancing. It’s developing. In its future, he will accomplish something. It might be that he will be a great teacher, or he may be a heroin addict. But that journey began when he was conceived. For whatever reason, “Mother Nature” (or whatever you want to call it- perhaps nothing at all) selected conception to happen at that time, and with those parents’ DNA to create a new being.

Nothing comes from nothing, and if the very small reactions aren’t allowed to develop to the next stage because we don’t believe it’s human yet, that’s really unfortunate. The process is amazing to me. I can’t help but think that’s a real person on his way up in the world. It has nothing to do with religion.

Qingu's avatar

@ubersiren, I think that’s a compelling argument, but I fail to see how it applies to the morality of abortion.

Imagine if, instead of having sex and growing a fetus in your womb to procreate, you instead had to shake a cue ball and roll it down a big ramp. As the ball rolls down the ramp, it gradually becomes more and more like a human infant. About 2/3 of the way down, most balls have developed brains sufficient to experience consciousness.

But why would it be wrong to stop a ball from rolling well before the 2/3 mark? It’s just physical processes, and early on, it’s still just a ball. Wonderous physical processes, and a wonderful ball to be sure, but I don’t see how we can derive a moral view one way or the other from them.

HarmonyAlexandria's avatar

I’m the ultimate pragmatist, don’t care what imaginary gods/theologians or philosophers have to say on the matter.

By convention and legal precedent , live birth is what differentiates a zygotes/embryo/foetus from a human being.

(imaginary)souls are irrelevant

HarmonyAlexandria's avatar

@ubersiren The potential argument might hold merit, if it were not for damn statistical reality.

~6.8 Billion people on the planet, 1/2 are female, 30% of those are of child bearing age= ~1 B.

I’ll take the opposite side of your bet, statistically speaking that zygote/embryo/foetus is going to be born in some incredibly poor country with few opportunities…but she/he will have very human needs…for food/shelter/etc. PLUS develop the desire to procreate themselves, which they will consider to be their greatest accomplishment…or at least hope that some prt of them will have a chance at something better, which will never happen as unintended pregnancies do nothing but exacerbate the over population problem that is at the heart of their dismal circumstnces.

ubersiren's avatar

I’m not making an argument, so I don’t know how you’re taking the opposite side of it. I respect other people’s opinions and beliefs on the matter. This is just simply what I believe, and I don’t wish to pursue an argument about it. I don’t disagree that your scenario is a possibility.

I’m not fond of laws, so that has no influence or standing with me.

@HarmonyAlexandria : I don’t know what position of mine you are opposing. I didn’t say I was against all abortion. I do, however, think that people should be accountable for their mistakes. I’ve known women to have 2, 3 or more abortions. In my OWN opinion, I just think that’s irresponsible. I don’t approve. But, I respect the reasons they give for doing it and must assume that they are the lawmakers of their own lives. I remain friends with these women.

Sorry, but I don’t understand what your statistics are saying. I might have missed something, but I don’t get what you’re arguing there. I’m not trying to be a smart ass, I really am not understanding.

As for the whole under privileged births thing, I don’t believe never ending abortions is the answer to overpopulation. Education about birth control would be a better solution in my opinion.

I’m trying not to be stupid about this. I guess what I’m saying is that nobody knows when human life begins, so why don’t we just mind our business? That goes for all laws in my philosophy.

Federica's avatar

I don’t think anyone can give one precise answer. I personally believe that life is such when it grows on its own.

BBQsomeCows's avatar

Life begins at conception: a genetically new instance.

Every other definition is arbitrary.

delirium's avatar

Every other opinion is arbitrary…

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. Factually human life starts when the fertilized egg finds a home in the uterine wall. Before it is de facto life because left alone under the right conditions it will become a human. Just because it is 16 cells or whatever doesn’t reduce it to mere tissue as some would try to rationalize to make them selves feel better. People want to say when there is a heart beat, when it can live on its own, after X amount of weeks etc.

The Alagoas Curassow is a prime example of the folly that life doesn’t start the moment the embryonic mass of cells hit the walls of the womb. The Alagoas Curassow is a near extinct bird, they live only in captivity, there are non left in the wild. If they are to survive it will be due to the efforts of man to breed them. But what if every time a pair did, and produced and egg someone smashed it? Do you think the bird species would survive? If you took the smart money you would understand the egg and the bird are the same even if the egg looks NOTHING like the bird; no egg, no bird, simple as that. No embryo, no human, simple as that. The embryo if left to do what it does is not going to grow into a lung, kidney, spleen; that is tissue, mere organs. If you think that a embryo to fetus is just tissue you better hope women don’t birth hearts gall bladders and such ad not whole humans. I would love anyone to try to explain away or argue that.

Coloma's avatar

I believe life begins at conception. ( I am pro-choice btw..just to clarify )

Sperm are alive, ovum are alive in live bodies engaged in live processes.

Cells dividing and forming a new life form, are indeed, life unfolding from the get.

‘Alive’ begins the moment an embroyo begins the process of growth

OneMoreMinute's avatar

I now believe that we have always been alive, and will continue.
Birth and death are tangled up into confusion by so many different religions.

Our body is a flesh vehicle that is operated by an eternal multi dimensional observer that sort like connects in the womb, and disconnects at the last breath.
I think we’re confused because we’ve been fed so much lies and bullshit over the millenias.

source is not mine, but it’s the story I like the best. it takes the edge off the fears of birth/death thing. everything out there is still opinions.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Coloma Larvae big time for you. Too bad most would rather ignore the logic than embrace it. I guess those people will logically think because no one is around in the forest when the oak falls there is no sound. Or maybe they believe what is growing is just tissue that by luck becomes a human and not grow into a spleen, kidney, or rib bone.


For me, human life, like all animal life, begins when egg and sperm join. When that happens, the life of a human animal starts, and does not end unless it is interrupted by environmental forces (disease, being killed, etc.). Incidentally, I do not support abortion unless the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother and/or unborn child, or if the fetus has a serious congenital defect.

kritiper's avatar

When conscious thought begins. It’s what makes humans human.

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