When Does Personhood Start?


One of the favorite excuses that the “pro-choice” advocates frequently make after all of their other arguments for their position fail is to claim that the unborn is not a person.  The first question I like to ask such a person is:  What is the difference between a human being and a person? When is a human being not a person?  If we know that human life begins at conception and this fact has strong scientific backing, when does a human being begin to be a person, if not at the beginning?  What is the transitional bridge that they can point to which can be proven?  The pro-choice crowd is all over the map on this.  Certainly they cannot point to any scientific data to point to when a human life becomes a person, therefore it is a personal choice.   Can this stand the scrutiny of logic?  I think not.  If personhood is a moving target how can anyone say with certainty that their beginning point has any universal credibility?  This argument is purely a metaphysical one, unsupported by facts or science.

Let’s look at some more high-profile advocates of when they believe personhood starts.  Peter Singer is a professor of Bio-Ethics at Princeton University and is often quoted by both sides of the argument.  According to Singer, “Human babies are not born self-aware or capable of grasping their lives over time. They are not persons. Hence their lives would seem to be no more worthy of protection that the life of a fetus.”   In the 1857 Dredd Scott Supreme Court decision ruled that slaves were not persons, but property.  In 1973 the Supreme Court, again, ruled that the unborn were not persons.  What did they base their decision on?  They did not say other than to proclaim it in their “wisdom.”  The fact of the matter is simply that the pro-choice advocate cannot base his/her opinion about personhood of the unborn except in his/ her own prejudice (moral relativism).

Let’s turn to science.  In a 2001 paper by Scott Klusendorf of Stand to Reason (www.str.org), titled “Harvesting the Unborn: The Ethics of Embryo Stem Cell Research,”  in response to a quote from Michael Kinsley,  Klusendorf quotes  Dr. Landrum Shettles, the first scientist to achieve conception in a test tube, who writes that conception not only confers life,” it defines it.”  Professor Robert P. George, of Princeton University, an expert in Bio-Ethics  and author of the recent book, “Embryo, A Defense of Human Life” published in 2008 by Doubleday (p.39),  quotes an Embryology textbook by Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud “The Developing Human”:  “Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell – a zygote.  This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”  All of us, you and me, started as a zygote – the beginning of personhood.  Personhood was assigned to us at the beginning of life by our very essence as a human being, not by a proclamation by any man.  To assign personhood at any other time is not only wrong but also not logical or scientific.

Dr. Robert George, in “Embryo,” argues that the essential question about personhood is “what are we”? “Are we human beings who began to exist when sperm and egg united to produce a new, complete, and distinct human organism – a new human individual? Did you come to exist sometime after the complete human organism that each of us seems to be came into existence?  Similarly, consider a dog, Rufus.  Rufus began to exist when this particular dog began to exist, and he will cease to exist when this particular dog ceases to exist.  But he did not begin to exist when he began to run, or when he grew teeth, or when Smith purchased him; nor will he cease to exist if he ceases to possess the traits of running, having teeth, or living in Smith’s house (pp.57-58).

The argument here is simply:  we became a person when we began to exist – at conception.  There is no other way of arguing that we became a person at any other time.

Scott Klusendorf, in the same paper mentioned earlier, states that the pro-choice crowd assume a “parts” view of human persons, confusing functioning as a person with being one.  Klusendorf further states: “People who are unconscious cannot presently function as persons, but they still have the inherent capacity to perform personal acts. That is why we do not kill them. From the moment of conception, the unborn human has the natural, inherent capacity to function as a person. What he lacks is the current capacity to do so. That he cannot yet speak, reason, or perform personal acts means only that he cannot yet function as a person, not that he lacks the essential being of a person.”

The pro-choice advocates cannot back their opinions with facts.  When you question such people all they can come up with is platitudes and “pie in the sky.”  This is a pathetic reason to believe on such life and death matters. Yet, intelligent men with high IQs who teach at universities and other well-educated men and women continue to believe in things that they cannot support with evidence. We must hold to a higher standard:  truth, logic and good scientific evidence.  Nothing less will do.

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