Is an embryo a person 2 – Twinning

One argument commonly put forward for why the embryo is not a human in the first 14 days or so of life, before implantation, is that it may yet divide into twins. If it can become two individuals, the logic goes, how can we say it is now a person? It must be in a pre-person state until it becomes two separate people.

Twinning is basically a cloning process, or a form of asexual reproduction. The one embryo splits into two pieces, which each grow into identical twins.

If we consider this from a purely atheistic perspective, the argument rapidly falls apart. Just because something may later become two individuals doesn’t mean it is not an individual before then.

If a bacterium divides to produce two identical clones, does that mean it was not an individual bacterium before the cloning? Of course not.

If the technology ever becomes available to clone a human adult (some claim it has already been done), a human adult could later become two humans. Does this mean the adult was not a human before the cloning?

The embryo is one human. If at some later point it can become two humans, that does not detract at all from the fact that it is already human. It only means that by killing it you have cut off the potential for two lives rather than only one – which is twice as bad.

Now if we add the Christian perspective, that humans are not only physical but also have a soul, you may be able to say the embryo is not human before it divided because the individual twins were not given souls until they separated.

But how do you know? This is pure speculation. God may do that, or He may give one soul at conception and a second one when twinning occurs, or (knowing twinning will occur) he may give both souls from the start… The Bible never says. We can speculate for ever but will never reach an answer. It is best to forget this line of reasoning and focus on the physical.

So whether you are atheist or Christian, the twinning argument holds no water. And anyway, most embryos don’t twin – how many identical twins do you know?

For a far more detailed refutation of the twinning argument, check out this excellent article by Alexander Pruss of Baylor University (hat tip MandM). Matt’s response is here, but he does not appear to really counter what Pruss says, just disputes some minor points.

I have discussed other issues around abortion in these posts.

Is an embryo a person?

This question is at the heart of the abortion debate. A pro-choicer may admit that genetically and scientifically an embryo is a human, but they will then argue that they do not yet have “personhood” so it is ok to kill them.

Before addressing the question of whether or not a human embryo is a person, let’s look at the question itself.

Where on earth did the idea come from that you can be “human” but not a “person”? What is the difference?

For an atheist, who believes only in the physical, an embryo is genetically human, and it is clearly alive. Therefore it is a living human. A living human is a person, because only the physical is real and they are a physical person.

However the Christian, who believes that a person is both a physical body and a soul, may believe that personhood is not physical. They may be able to believe that an embryo, although scientifically human, is not a person because they do not have a soul. In my opinion this is a poor argument, as we have no idea when the soul is imparted into the body, can never prove any view on this, so must stick with the science that says life starts from conception. But it is an argument that sounds plausible.

The atheist must accept the embryo is a person. The Christian may choose to believe otherwise (although this is illogical in my opinion).

So why are so many pro-lifers Christian, and so many pro-choicers atheists? Why are people expressing a pro-life position so often accused of being religious fanatics?

It’s really quite crazy when you think about it.

The pro-choice position is not based on atheistic logic. It is more often based on emotion – people have had an abortion or know someone who had an abortion, want to believe that that was ok, and come up with philosophical or religious reasons to justify their position. This process may be subconscious.

If you look into it hard enough, you may quickly conclude that abortion is wrong. Check out the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, Libertarians for Life, and this excellent article on “Why should Atheists be Pro-Life”. But many people are unwilling to look at the issue with cold, hard logic, and become blinded by emotion.

So, in your opinion, can a human ever not be a “person”? If so, when does the embryo become a “person”? And WHY do you believe this? Logically, not emotionally.

Breast cancer? You don’t deserve to live.

That is the message of the latest so-called “treatment” for breast cancer that was featured on the news last night. The report was on the first British baby born after screening for a gene that contributes to breast cancer risk. The BBC has more info here.

The first baby in the UK tested before conception for a genetic form of breast cancer has been born. …

The embryo was screened for the altered BRCA1 gene, which would have meant the girl had a 80% chance of developing breast cancer. …

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves taking a cell from an embryo at the eight-cell stage of development, when it is around three-days old, and testing it.

This is before conception – defined as when the embryo is implanted in the womb.

Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes to continue the pregnancy, and discard any whose genetic profile points to future problems.

Firstly, the BBC need to ensure their medical reporter knows some basic science – they have no clue about what conception is, basic early high-school biology. Stupid sentences like “This is before conception – defined as when the embryo is implanted in the womb” really destroy what reputation the BBC may still have.

Basically what they do is produce a number of babies, test them, use one they like and kill the rest.

The media are calling it a “treatment”, or “gene therapy”. But it is nothing of the sort. A treatment is when someone has a disease and you treat them. This is simply killing off those that have an increased risk of developing a disease. You don’t treat anything. Nor do you prevent anything, as the “murdered ones” may never have developed the disease anyway, and the “chosen one” could still develop it regardless.

This process is actually called “eugenics”, killing off or sterilising the “undesirable” humans. It was pioneered in the USA before WWII, where many disabled people were sterilised. Hitler became a big fan, and set up death camps where millions of disabled people, Jews, Gypsies and gays were killed. Following the exposure of these camps at the end of the war most of the world rejected eugenics and suddenly no-one had ever supported the idea. But the philosophy lived on, and now it is coming back with a vengence.

In this situation, they are basically saying that if you have this one gene that increases the risk of breast cancer you don’t deserve to live. Already we have many Downs syndrome babies aborted, because people believe they don’t deserve to live either.

Where is the moral outrage that we saw at the end of WWII? Back then the West was dominated by Christianity. Now it is dominated by atheism. The moral fibre has gone.

So now eugenics is back. And many people don’t care because if you kill them before they are born you don’t have to hear them scream.