When does life begin?
Name: Amit Srivastava
Hi, I was wondering about a bioethical issue that's really important today-
abortion. Most of the debate about abortion revolves around when life
begins, so I was wondering when most scientist's believe that life begins,
since you obviously would know more about this subject. You don't have to
give your moral beliefs or anything, but I would just like to know when you
think that life begins... Thanks! =)
This is an important topic, but even (or especially) for a scientist
you and I must realize that my "moral beliefs" will affect the kind
of answer I give.
Even the unfertilized egg and sperm are "alive" so in some sense
life begins before fertilization! The fertilized egg is certainly
alive, in that it can copy its genetic information (DNA) and it can
divide into more and more cells. The more critical question, I think,
is when that life becomes "human", and that is not a question that
science will be able to answer. Human-ness is a religious, or moral,
or philosophical question that is not likely to have a single
Steve J Triezenberg
I agree with Steve on both points. Life is continuous from one generation
to the next. The real question is when does the developing human
organism (embryo, fetus, infant, etc.) attain the basic rights of a person?
These rights include the basic right to life. I also agree that this is a
question of philosophy, not science.
I also agree on both points. It is part of the job of scientists
to educate people that science will not be able to answer all of the
great questions that plague us. Some of those questions, including the
exact definition of life, will always have a philosophical or even
religious component. Life itself may be easier to define than the
issue of what is human. Will we someday perhaps not care about what
is human, but rather be concerned with "sentience" or the realization
that one is alive and unique with respect to others?
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Update: June 2012