When Does Personhood Start?


A common retort by typical “pro-choice” advocates is that, even though the unborn are  human beings, they can be killed because they are not  persons.  As my favorite philosopher, Lieutenant Colombo, would say just before heading out the door – I have one last question.  What is the difference between a human being and a person?  Can there be human beings that are not persons,? and if so, when can a human not be a person?

Let’s start from the beginning.  It is a well established scientific fact that life begins at conception. Dr. Jerome Lejeune, “Father of Modern Genetics” and discoverer of the cause of Down’s Syndrome, stated, “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion . . . it is plain experimental evidence.”   Those who claim that an unborn is not a person cannot tell you when human life begins with any documentation of their position.  They may give you their opinion of when it happens, but nothing based on fact and certainly nothing based on scientific evidence.

So, those claiming that an unborn is not a person have no case; however, they will still make the straw-man argument that an unborn can be killed because, in their opinion, the unborn is not a person.  In 1857, in the famous Dred Scott U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a slave, although a human was not a person, at least not a 100% person.  In the more popular 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, the Supreme Court stated that they did not know when life begins.  Well, even if you don’t know when life begins, does it follow that you can destroy a human being such as an unborn?  Let’s make this a little clearer.  Let’s say, we’re blowing up a 50-story hotel in Las Vegas to build a newer one.  The hotel is emptied.  Before you give the command to ignite the dynamite you ask your foreman if he’s checked that there is no one left in the building.  He tells you he does not know.  Do you go ahead and blow up the building?

Personhood begins at the same time that life begins.  Personhood is inherent in a human life.  There can be no other answer.  if you answer that personhood begins at any other time, then you have to ask who determines when it begins?  Professor Robert George of Princeton University is one of the most eloquent defender of the unborn’s dignity; he defines personhood like this:  “Professor George claims that it is a matter of justice to recognize the personhood of the unborn from the moment of conception. Failure to do so divides the world into human person with human rights and human persons without rights. History has shown the horrific results of such a division…”

To claim that personhood is assigned at any other time than at the beginning of life is to play God.  If it can be assigned at any other time then it logically follows that it can be taken away or denied at any other time, as we’ve seen above in Dred Scott.

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