Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

The Fertilization Argument

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 23, 2009

Some opponents of abortion (most, actually) argue that life begins at conception. But why conception? Why doesn’t life begin as soon as the egg is fully formed? proponents ask. Anti-abortionists respond, it is because an egg only has a half-set of DNA, and so doesn’t really count. So the question is, is this assertion a sound one?

The soundness of the assertion depends on where the opponent’s argument is coming from: what are his axioms? The opponent seems to be assuming that human life has intrinsic value, while non-human life does not. Is there any basis for this assumption? I think not. Although humans can cooperate with each other more effectively than with other animals, and we all happen to be human, there is nothing inherently special about human DNA. What makes humans special is their ability to reason and to think creatively; humans are better at this than any other animal. Just-fertilized eggs and unfertilized eggs, however, are both equally bad at reasoning and creative thinking. So the only real difference is in the DNA. Is the opponent of abortion then arguing that DNA is what defines human rights? This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, in effect, the division is arbitrary.

What about an egg’s “potential”? A fertilized egg has the potential to grow into a human being. It will grow into a fully formed baby after just nine months. Fertilized eggs certainly have potential to become fully human. They just need warmth, nourishment, and protection from the elements. Actually, that’s quite a lot. But anyway, let’s look at unfertilized eggs. What kind of potential do they have? They may only have half a set of DNA, but the difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg is a fairly simple one. The egg just needs to be fertilized. Fertilizing an egg is certainly a lot less work than raising one into a baby. An unfertilized egg has nearly as much “potential” as a fertilized egg does. So that argument is bogus.

Given these observations, what then is the difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg? Apparently, DNA is the only real difference. So can the opponent prove that DNA matters? To do so, he must prove that human DNA is superior to non-human DNA, and that this superiority is the most important factor. I have many times seen it implicitly asserted that human DNA is superior, but have never heard a legitimate reason why. Sure, I’ve heard “because God made humans to be special”, but never a reason that didn’t rely on assuming the existence of a deity that no one has ever seen.

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One Response to “The Fertilization Argument”

  1. Jade Storm said

    Ok. your sentence here,”Although humans can cooperate with each other more effectively than with other animals, and we all happen to be human, there is nothing inherently special about human DNA”, is f confusing. “We all happen to be humans”? who is the we, can you please explain this.

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