Posts Tagged ‘Fetus’

Over at Jill Stanek’s blog a debate between a pro-abort troll and the pro-lifers has developed, a debate over what the name “Fetus” means and what sort of rights issue forth from that name’s definition.

This is a massive blunder that pro-lifers get sucked into about 3,000 times a day. The dignity of the person does not issue forth from the meaning of an ancient Latin word, neither does the dignity of the organism depend on some arbitrarily line drawn across the developmental continuum. When presented with this losing argument by proaborts, we need to counter by reframing the question around objective reality and not get sucked into this quagmire.

My response to the proabort named Doug:

I’m a biologist, and we’re the ones who name things. Often we (men) name things after our wives (and since I’m a microbiologist, Mrs. Nadal has assured me that the day I ever name a disease after her is the day that she serves me with divorce papers).

Therefore, nomenclature can be an entirely arbitrary endeavor that is not descriptive of the biological entity before us.

For example, Escherichia coli (E. coli) does not look at all like Dr. Theodor Escherich who discovered it. (Trust me on this one. I’ve looked at lots of E. coli under the scope.) Nevertheless, Dr. Escherich spent his life saving people, and while some E. coli are normal gut flora without which we would die, some that have acquired some pretty nasty genes can kill us in a matter of days (the dreaded 0157:H7).

So not even a namesake necessarily shares the function of the one whose name it bears.

The same with developmental nomenclature. The reality of the embryological or fetal organism is not governed by its name any more than the benign/killer natures of Escherichia strains are a function of that sainted physician’s name.

“Fetus” describes a developmental stage shared by many organisms in the animal kingdom. Thus, there is nothing particularly human about the word for a biologist. Thus the word is hardly descriptive of human reality. (Pro-lifers don’t go to war over the deaths of fetal pigs, which are used by the tens of thousands in biology labs annually)

The truth here is that a human organism has a defined life cycle which begins at the moment of fertilization of a human egg (mother’s gametic tissue) by a human sperm (father’s gametic tissue) and becomes a new entity which is neither mother, nor father’s gametic tissue, but a stand-alone organism. A new human animal with its own unique genetic identity.

The rights attendant to that new animal derive from the kind of animal it is (human). If one disagrees with this fundamental premise, then one would not be at all disturbed by the happenings at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s office. Further, one would not be any more bothered at the thought of saving those fetuses for a dissection lab than one would at the thought of using fetal pigs. For that matter, it would be an interesting lab to dissect a fetal human side-by-side with a fetal pig.

But I’m sure the very thought of that wrenches the gut of even the most strident proabort, and the question is:



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Building on the quotes from medical and biological texts posted below yesterday, there is a need to answer some common mischaracterizations of exactly what a human embryo and fetus is, and what it is not. Some fundamental biology will clear up the confusion.

A commenter on the post No Handicapped Allowed has this to say,

“If I were married, and my wife were pregnant, I would want to get the amnio test, but ultimately I would have to respect her choice if she declined. I would fully support her decision to abort if there were clear (not maybe 1%) evidence of Down’s syndrome, or particularly of anancephaly. I don’t think of that as killing a baby. I think of it as removing tissue that will grow into a baby with severe disabilities, or even with no brain at all. Again, if she declined, I would have to respect her decision. The body often spontaneous miscarries such tissue — I have no problem with human intervention if the body doesn’t recognize the problem in time.”

It’s an understandable position until one sees the developmental stages.

The commenter mentions amniocentesis and the baby at that stage being mere tissue that has potential to become a baby in the future.

Typically, amniocentesis is performed between 16-20 weeks of development. By then the baby has developed substantially with all of its organ systems in place. When the term ’tissue’ is tossed around, it is almost universally used incorrectly.

16 Weeks Photo: MedicineNet.com

A Primer On the Hierarchy of the Human Body’s Organizational Levels:

Cells. There are approximately 200 distinctly different types of cells that comprise the human body.

Tissues. Different types of cells aggregate to form specialized functions and are called tissues. The human body is comprised of four main tissue types: Epithelial, Connective, Muscle, Nerve.

Organs. These are composed of two or more tissue types to perform special functions. Examples: Stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, heart, etc.

Organ Systems. These are two or more organs that act in a coordinated fashion to perform a common function. For example the digestive system is composed of several organs, including the stomach, pancreas, sall and large intestines, etc., whose coordinate function is the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Organism. This is the whole and complete animal, made up of all the organ systems functioning as a coordinated whole.

See these video and 4-D ultrasounds of developing embryos and fetuses at The Endowment for Human Development.

20 Weeks Photo: MedicineNet.com

It must be stressed, however, that even in the single-celled stage of development, the zygotic stage, there exists a brand new human organism, whole and complete in form and function for that developmental stage.

The same holds true for every stage thereafter. That’s because even at the single-celled stage, the zygote is intrinsically ordered toward mature organismal development and is proceeding along that trajectory. At birth, the baby lacks full maturational development, and will not attain such until adulthood. This developmental reality renders all argument to the contrary an expression of whim, of personal desire, with no bearing on the biological reality of organismal development.

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