Get A Life, Part 2

This is part two of a three-part series addressing three arguments made in defense of elective abortion.  Read Part 1 and Part 3.

A variation of the first defense for elective abortion builds upon the same false assumption, that the embryo/fetus is not a human.  The medical fact that a unique living human being is created at the point of conception is not up for debate.  This will focus more on the philosophical aspect of the argument.

Much like skin cells which also contain our dna, the developing embryo is not actually human but merely a mass of cells.  We do not consider killing skin cells to be murder, why should removal of a developing embryo be any different?

This argument makes the logical fallacy of composition.  It wrongly implies that, that which is true of the parts is true of the whole.  It is presumed that because a skin cell shares a common feature (dna) with the whole body (dna) that one is just as valuable — or non-valuable — as the other. Since we can destroy a skin cell with moral benignity, we can therefore destroy an entire human embryo with the same moral benignity.  But a skin cell is merely one piece of a greater complete thing that does not depend on a total amount of parts for its value.

A car, for example, is not a car until a sufficient amount of parts are assembled and operational.  Its value is dependant on the total sum of its parts.  A car with no engine, or no wheels is not a car, and is valuable only in so far as the individual parts have value.  A human is not assembled piecemeal like a car.  The embryo is a self-contained organism which, left unmolested will develop on its own through all the stages of life: fetus, infant, toddler, teenager, and adult.

Because a human being is not merely a sum of its parts, it maintains its identity through development and maturity.  Through each stage of development, a human doesn’t become more human; it maintains the kind of thing it is as it becomes more mature.  As such, when someone loses a limb, or has an organ or tooth removed, they remain who they are — because the parts of the human being are not essential to their identity.

What’s more, everyone is technically ‘just a mass of cells’.  A newborn, a teenager, even the defender of abortion.  What makes the statue of David valuable, is not strictly the bare materials.  It is not just a chiseled slab of marble.  I’m sure Michelangelo discarded the shards of marble as he fashioned his masterpiece.  The shards are of the same material as the finished statue.  But does it then follow that because the shards can be discarded without moral concern, that the statue can also be destroyed because it is of the same materials as the shards?  The statue of David is more than its physical parts, it is more than a piece of marble.  It is an end in itself.  In the same way, a human being is more than its components.

This is why the one offering the ‘skin cell’ defense of abortion misses the point.  There is a difference between the parts and the whole even though they share a common factor, dna.


  1. Marshall Art says:

    I predict that opponents will jump on this line…

    “But a skin cell is merely one piece of a greater complete thing that does not depend on a total amount of parts for its value.”

    …by pointing to the fact that an embryo or zygote has not yet developed all the parts that a fully formed human being has. It won’t matter that left alone, it will most assuredly develop them, barring defect. But a skin cell won’t. A skin cell, left alone will never be more than a skin cell. The fertilized egg is NOT merely a cell, but a person at its initial stage of development. A skin cell is only a skin cell.

    • I know what you mean. However just as said above, it might make a zygote less valuable, if a human is valuable because of its parts. Or if it is put together. As such it is a self-directing organism. Once fertilization takes place, the mother provides only the environment and nutrition — just as she does after the birth — only it’s a different environment and different nutrition. The fertilized egg is its own entity, it is the whole (not to be confused with mature) thing. I’m pretty sure the bases are covered as long as sentences are not isolated from the full argument.

  2. Agree. The abortionist must claim that “though human, there are different levels of being human that we treat differently”. Thus, “being human” is not enough to promise that life must be protected at all costs. Euthanasia, Mercy killing, Suicide and more get into question here. But you are right. Claiming that the embryo is not human seems lame to me too. Almost a desperate lame move.

    • @ Sabio
      There has been an evolution of pro-choice defenses, and as science and medicine progressed, they have lost all their medical defenses, i.e., not human, not alive, etc. Because they can no longer fall back on scientific gaps in knowledge, they are now turning to philosophical defenses. Which is the subject of part 3.

  3. @ John,
    That seems true and ironic: A similar phenomena has been seen as theists are the ones that are falling back more on philosophical/theological arguments as science has steadily chipped out their god-spackle which they used to fill in for knowledge gaps.

    The “philosophy” that follows such a stripping, is often mere fart logic (a Japanese term).

  4. Sorry, I forgot to check the “notify” button, so I will make one more comment:

    Over the years, when discussing this issue, I often have said that if we were to vote on the abortion issue, I think men should not be allowed to vote. I think there may be some important insight in that statement, if I don’t say so myself. smile

    • Sabio

      I think that is a mistake, that if there were a vote to disallow men from the process. The biggest hurdle to the abortion issue is the dehumanization of the abortion issue. It is easily forgotten that it is a child in the womb. Abortion advocates love to use the medical terms, embryo, fetus, etc. But we don’t see them calling eachother homo sapeins, no, they are called people and humans. It serves to desensitize people from what is really going on. Many men lose their children without even knowing. Many want the baby but the mother chooses abortion. I think the culture of “it’s a woman’s (alone) choice…” often silences the fathers because they have been beaten down the notion that it’s none of their business, so they quietly allow it to happen.

      I have never understood the logic of keeping men out of the decision. If it is because it doesn’t effect them physically, that should be irrelevant given the nature of elective abortion. It takes the life of an innocent human being. Arent you against things that you have no direct access to because of your sex? Like female genital mutilation? I’m against that. ‘but men are the one mutilating the girls!’ well, what if it were the women of the culture performing the forced mutilations? I’m still against it.

      Additionally, its not strictly a female issue, it is a parental issue. One parent has the power to end the life of both parent’s child, without consultation, approval, or endorsement from the other. The child in the womb is not exclusively the mother’s, it has a father too. Thus, men had better have a say.

      One more quick note, I think the epidemic of abortion can be laid at the feet of men to begin with for the most part. If they — as a whole — stepped up and would be providers and supporters of the women they get pregnant and their children, the number of abortions would take a plunge. I also think the acceptance of no-fault divorce plays a big role in the degridation of family as well.

  5. I’m willing to agree that a baby is a baby, regardless of the stage of development. I don’t like the argument that a fetus is not alive- it most certainly is by whatever sense you use that term save attaching sentience. Though I caution the logic of saying that all conceptions are viable- since this is both scientifically false and easily proven so. You risk giving your opponents easy ammunition.
    My issues with abortion I’m sure you will brush on in your third installment. I will await that post.

  6. I think that is a mistake, that if there were a vote to disallow men from the process.– John Barron

    You just said you said they “silence the fathers”, “beet [them} down” and you say “I have never understood the logic of keeping men out of the decision”. But those aren’t arguments.

    Then you said: They can have an opinion even if it does not effect them physically. BUT, oppose to the examples you gave, it DOES affect the woman physically in ways you can’t imagine. If a man runs, a woman usually bears the price (throughout the mammal kingdom). Sure, you can have an opinion, but it affects you so minimally compared to the female. Sure, you can care about the elections in Germany but, you don’t get a vote no matter how much you feel silenced.

    If males want a voice, they can get it by choosing a reliable female, nurturing a healthy relationship, offering a secure environment, safety and resources. The man has to earn that voice — the voice is trust and relationship — not the power of the law to force what happens to the woman’s body. That would be the counter arguments to yours.

    Perhaps you should do a separate post on “Why Women’s votes count less than Mine”.

    • Sabio, You’re right, the portions you cited werent arguments. But the part where I reminded readers that there are two parents involved in a pregnancy; the fact that one parent should not have free reign to end the life of her child without the consent of the other parent; the fact that many men (even if not all men) want to be fathers but are not allowed to be because of a unilateral decision on the part of one parent.

      it only effects the woman if the man shirks his responsibility. But I already concede that the abortion epidemic can be laid at the feet of dead-beat irresponsible selfish men for not stepping up to the plate and giving the new mothers the security and protection they need. The women do bear responsibility because they are still carrying their child and must not let the insecurities or selfish motives trump the life developing within her.

      • @ John Barron
        I contribute to my company, but my bosses have absolute veto power over all my decisions. If I want influence in the company, I must earn it. That is the relationship. It is not a matter of natural rights. I can protest all I want, but if it is set up like that by law, it is decided. I personally thing companies work better like that. I think offspring decisions would too.

        In many animal species males provide only sperm and little of anything more. Humans have evolved to offer more. But it is not more right or wrong to feel the female should have absolute decision over birthing or not that making it 50% or 25% of the males. I am merely arguing that there appears to me no reasonable way to establish that. Thus, I think society would be a better place if women were given the total decision on that. Men must earn love, respect and care of their possible offspring.

        Reason won’t decide this issue as it does not decide many others.

        So, whether the mother should abort a pregnancy is a whole different issue, but I think society would be better off if that were solely a woman’s decision which ever way that went. I guess you feel society would be better if men had 50% or 95% influence as they do in our present society. I think that is just a matter of opinion and difficult to judge. I don’t think your book of rules[Bible] covers that issue, does it?

        • Sabio

          What goes on in a company is not any where near the same thing. Your bad decision can be addressed after the fact. When a life is gone it is gone. Humans are more than mere animals, and as such appeals to the animal kingdom for moral clarity is a farce. Not only is it selective and arbitrarily so, animals are strictly amoral. We don’t claim sharks murder seals, they hunt. If we are going to corrolate in any way our behaviors to to the animal kingdom, then you must accept an entirely darwinian survival of the fittest outlook. In which case nothing is immoral, and in fact nearly everything we’d call immoral today would then have to be considered good, since all kinds of immoral behaviors would help pass on my progeny.

          I don’t think one parent, either one should be able to end the life of their child. Not 50-50, not 95%, not at all. It is not difficult at all to judge. It all comes down to what is it you’re trying to kill. If the answer is “a human being” the answer is “no”. The Bible does have something to say about taking innocent life, are you really unaware of this? It starts with “M” and is in the decalogue.

  7. @John Barron
    Of course companies and marriages are different. I was using an analogy to point out a principle. I will not degress in to argumentation on that.

    Ironically I just posted on the “Humans are more than mere animals” claim.

    I have already told you that I think morality is merely social agreements. Some work better (once “better” is defined), than others. So we won’t get anywhere on that one unless we agree on what “better” is. Meta-ethics is the domain for that conversation and it is over my head.

    Again, I am not talking about IF abortion happens, I am suggesting how society comes about handling the conflict. Our approaches disagree. Well, heck, a lot more than our approaches disagree. Smile.

    No, I think parts of the Bible recommend killing innocent life over and over. Are you aware of that? [cute tone, btw — I love when you get emotional and start beating your chest — it is so sexy]

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