By any objective, scientific standard, the embryo qualifies as a member of the human race. From the moment of conception the embryo is an individual. The zygote is distinct from mother, father, and other living things, having her own unique genetic fingerprint.
The embryo is living, characterized by metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction (fulfilling the standard scientific definition of life).
The embryo is human, carrying DNA with a human genetic signature.
Finally, the embryo is an individual being: a self-contained, self-integrated living entity with her own nature. She has the innate capacity to proceed through the full series of human developmental stages. All that’s needed is proper nurture and environment, the same as you and I.
The embryo, therefore, from the very moment of conception is an individual, living, human being, a bona fide member of the human family. Her cells are not yet individuated (they haven’t developed unique vocations as bone cells, skin cells, etc.). Yet she is still an individual self (though not yet self-aware), and will remain herself for her entire life until death. She will never become a human; she already is one. That’s incontrovertible science.
The crux of the moral puzzle has to do with value: What gives human beings their worth? There are two general possibilities. Either human value is derived from some extrinsic, changeable quality (size, level of development, location, social convention, etc.), or humans are valuable in themselves because of some intrinsic, unchangeable quality that is part of their created nature.
Classically, western civilization has affirmed the latter, a conviction summed up eloquently by our Foundering Fathers as the cornerstone of our human rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
This one moral conviction has been the impulse for every human rights crusade up to the end of the 20th century, from the abolition of slavery in the United States and England, to child labor laws, to the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s crusade for civil rights in the ’60s.
Of course, the Founders may have been wrong, but such ideas have consequences. Remove the moral foundation and the moral edifice built upon it topples.
Gregory Koukl is founder and president of Stand to Reason, an organization devoted to a thoughtful and engaging defense of classical Christianity in the public square. He is also a radio talk show host and author of Relativism—Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.
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