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Is a Human Zygote an Organism?

Discussion in 'House of Debates' started by fedor50, Feb 10, 2015.

  1. fedor50

    fedor50 Member

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    Many pro-lifers , in varying forms, constantly state that "it is an objective scientific fact that a human zygote is an organism/human being". I disagree. And today I plan on proving WHY.

    First off, while "organism"/"human being" are indeed terms used by scientists, the manner in which they have come to be defined is not scientific in itself - it is merely semantic. That means that some scientists may consider a zygote to be an organism/human being, others do not - this is a subjective semantic differentiation, not an objective scientific one. "A human zygote is an organism" is a personal opinion, not an objective fact.

    Here is my evidence to prove that I am right:

    1) If you believe differently - define 'human being' (or even 'organism') and I will show you that your definition either includes things which clearly are not a human being (skin or sperm cells, for example, or transplanted organs), excludes things which clearly are human beings (conjoined twins or chimeras, normally), does not include a zygote/embryo/foetus, or is so convoluted and designed with pro-life in mind as to be uncitable.

    2) Because these terms are not fixed, they are used for a variety of purposes. That means that...

    ...there are lots of different 'starting points' for an organism....

    ” In this argument, the question is at what point after fertilization of egg by sperm the cell mass becomes a human being. This seems an ethical impasse which science may not be able to resolve. For ethical decision making on stem cell research, we should determine when a new human entity comes into existence. According to the scientific facts, there are significant points for delineation of human embryos, including: the moment of fertilization, the point of implantation in the uterus, the initial appearance of the primitive streak (19 days), the beginning of heartbeat (23 days), the development of brain waves (48 days), the point at which essential internal and external structures are complete (56 days), the point at which the fetus begins to move (12-13 weeks) (Hinman, 2009), and the point when the foetus would be viable outside the uterus (Balint, 2001).”
    ~Bioethics in the 21st Century, Chapter 6: Stem Cells: Ethical and Religious Issues (Farzaneh Zahedi-Anaraki and Bagher Larijani)
    Stem Cells: Ethical and Religious Issues | InTechOpen

    ...and the definitions themselves are debatable, or irrelevant to use out of the specific context for which they originated...

    ” Among biologists, there is no general agreement on exactly what entities qualify as ‘organisms’. Instead, there are multiple competing organism concepts and definitions. While some authors think this is a problem that should be corrected, others have suggested that biology does not actually need an organism concept.

    The foregoing discussion suggests that when biologists pose questions requiring the recognition of organisms, they should be explicit about what criteria they are using and why. This does not, however, require that we use only one operational definition for all purposes.”

    ~Pepper JW, Herron MD (Does biology need an organism concept?) Biological Reviews 83: 621–627.
    http://www.eebweb.arizona.edu/grads/...ions/BR_08.pdf

    ” Defining an organism has long been a tricky problem for biologists.

    Amongst biologists, there has been a lack of agreement on exactly what is required to make something an organism. A common approach to defining an organism is to consider things that clearly are organisms, and to then determine the attributes making them what they are.”

    ~Stuart A. West, E. Toby Kiers (Evolution: What is an organism?) Current Biology Volume 19, Issue 23, 15 December 2009, Pages R1080–R1082
    ScienceDirect.com - Current Biology - Evolution: What Is an Organism?

    ” Biology lacks a central organism concept that unambiguously marks the distinction between organism and non-organism because the most important questions about organisms do not depend on this concept.”

    Jack A. Wilson (Ontological Butchery: Organism Concepts and Biological Generalizations) Philosophy of Science Vol. 67, Supplement. Proceedings of the 1998 Biennial Meetings of the Philosophy of Science Association. Part II: Symposia Papers (Sep., 2000), pp. S301-S311
    Ontological Butchery: Organism Concepts and Biological Generalizations

    ” The evolution of organismality is a social process.

    we do not necessarily need to define the organism to do most of our work as biologists”

    ~ David C. Queller and Joan E. Strassmann (Beyond society: the evolution of organismality) Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12 November 2009 vol. 364 no. 1533 3143-3155
    Beyond society: the evolution of organismality

    Notice that, in order to address the point I am raising in this post, simply posting more reasons why you or others consider a zygote to be an organism is pointless. The problem I am raising in this post is not "a zygote is not an organism", but "the concept of an 'organism' is a subjective one".
     
  2. fedor50

    fedor50 Member

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    Here is Part 2:

    Partly supporting the argument from my previous post, there is a whole bunch of evidence that a zygote should not be considered an organism/human being. Obviously unless this evidence can be countered, it stands as proof that ‘organism’ is at best a subjective term, at worst something which excludes a zygote.

    There are, it must be said, some embryological textbooks which state that the newly-fertilised zygote is the start of a human being. However, the vast majority of such textbooks were published in the early 1990's or (often decades) earlier, before IVF was commonplace or much was known about stem cells. If you look at the most recent versions of many of these textbooks, these statements (which tended in the first place to be lines mentioned in passing in an introduction to the book) have been removed. At least one book has gone one step further to clarify:

    ”The question of when an embryo becomes a human being is difficult to answer because opinions are affected by religious and personal views. The scientific answer is that, from the time of conception, the embryo has human potential, and no other, because of its human chromosomal constitution”
    Before We are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects - with STUDENT CONSULT Online Access Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology & Birth Defects: Amazon.co.uk: Keith L. Moore, T.V.N. Persaud: Books.

    ...and other embryological textbooks offer views opposed to the pro-life claim:

    ” The zygote formed undergoes mitosis repeatedly to form the embryo which later develops into an organism”
    Textbook of Human Oral Embryology, Anatomy, Physiology, Histology & Tooth Morphology: Amazon.co.uk: K.M.K. Masthan: Books

    ...as do journal articles:

    ”each embryo, having the ability to develop into an individual, is valuable”
    Morphological appearance of the cryopreserved mouse blastocyst as a tool to identify the type of cryoinjury

    ...and other biology textbooks:

    Completion of mitosis then gives rise to two embryonic cells, each containing a new diploid genome. These cells then commence the series of embryonic cell divisions that eventually lead to the development of a new organism.
    ~The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition. Geoffrey M Cooper.
    Meiosis and Fertilization - The Cell - NCBI Bookshelf.

    ...and even the medical dictionary:

    Reproduction: the act or process of reproducing; specifically : the process by which plants and animals give rise to offspring and which fundamentally consists of the segregation of a portion of the parental body by a sexual or an asexual process and its subsequent growth and differentiation into a new individual
    ~Merriam-Webbster Medical dictionary (online).

    ...which indicates if nothing else that the question is a subjective one, since multiple scientific sources give multiple conflicting answers. Note that the first source, Moore and Persuad, is from the updated edition of an older textbook that pro-lifers love to quote (Pale Rider does it a lot). It’s an unequivocal statement from the mouth of a source which pro-lifers have already declared to be trustworthy, which puts them in the awkward position of conceding that what it says is true, or trashing a source which they originally held up as being the gold standard in such debates and, in doing so, displaying a not inconsiderable level of hypocrisy.

    It's also worth pointing out that something being the 'beginning of' a human being is not the same as being a human being. There are plenty of examples of this: cake mix is the beginning of a cake (but is not a cake yet), the bride's entrance is the beginning of a wedding (but is not the wedding itself), the '.' character is the beginning of this post (but the post was not a post until I hit 'send'), and so on. Many of the sources that are claimed to be pro-life are worded this way, and as such do not actually support the pro-life POV.

    Finally, there are plenty of other problems with a zygote being an organism which I will not go into in detail here. Things like the identity problem (when chimeras/monozygotic twins are made), the dependence problem (a zygote can only perform life functions through the direct biological intervention of the woman) and more (if my skin cells could be made totipotent, does that mean that all of my skin cells are human beings too?). I think I’ll save those for another day, though.
     
  3. Cruella

    Cruella Well-Known Member

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    All I know, or care to know, (I have four kids) is that after nine months, (sometimes less) regardless of what you call it at what stage, there appears a human.

    Not sure what the point of this whole exercise is, but I assume since it's predicated with the use of pro-life, that it's an attempt to absolve the pro-choice person of any guilt for terminating the life of a human.

    Seriously doubt this will change any pro-lifer's mind.
     
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  4. dogtowner

    dogtowner Moderator Staff Member

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    The definition of what is a human being,.worm, elephant or tree is that DNA which is defined (at least in humans) at conception.

    with the DNA established that genrric organism may become only one thing.

    isolated tissues really cant be seen as an organism nor human as humans are the cimulative effect of putting specialized tissues together just so as the DNA requires.
     
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  5. fedor50

    fedor50 Member

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    Here is the point:

    If a zygote is objectively not an organism, abortion should be ethically and legally fine (or higher-level arguments about non-human 'persons' need to be invoked, though I can't think of many who'd use them).
    If a zygote is objectively an organism, abortion should be ethically and legally questionable (or higher-level arguments about personhood, conflicting rights etc need to be invoked, which happens fairly often)

    But if a zygote is subjectively either an organism or not, depending on your POV, then the nature of the debate hugely shifts. The pro-life position stops becoming "protecting the rights of the undeniably human just like emancipation" and starts being "forcing my subjective opinion onto others just like PETA". If you accept that other people are justified in believing differently from you about the nature of pregnancy, then it becomes increasingly difficult to moraly force them to accept your own views. You are entitled to your own opinions up to the moment that you try to force them onto other people.
     
  6. fedor50

    fedor50 Member

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    Your entire argument is speaking upon what a zygote will EVENTUALLY become. In other words, you are talking about POTENTIAL. But doing this basically proves my entire argument.

    Unless you can PROVE that abortion kills an organism/human being, you cannot try to force your views onto other people who do not believe the same thing that you do.
     
  7. Lagboltz

    Lagboltz Well-Known Member

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    To confuse the matter even more, the word human can be used an adjective. For example if you say “the zygote is human,” that could easily be true since “human” is used an adjective. It has a different meaning than, “the zygote is a human,” which I would say is false since it uses human as a noun.

    The same goes for DNA and isolated tissues. They can be called human (adjective), but not a human (noun). A lot of people that argue anti-abortion versus pro-choice often confuse their grammar. That makes the verbal arguments rather pointless.

    Science, law, and religion all have different defining qualities of a human. Black's Law Dictionary is used by the Supreme Court. It also includes a corporation as being a person.
     
  8. dogtowner

    dogtowner Moderator Staff Member

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    Nope. The DNA is whole and complete and can only become one thing across its lifespan. All life has a lifespan associated which is also defined in the DNA.
    Your point is a non argument based on semantics.
     
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  9. fedor50

    fedor50 Member

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    DNA alone does not an organism make. I have shown, no, PROVED that a zygote is NOT objectively an organism. I have ALSO proved (with EVIDENCE) that a zygote is NOT an individual thus due to all of these facts abortion is not only justifiable, it is also not wrong.

    If you believe differently, then I urge you to give me a definition of organism...
     
  10. cashmcall

    cashmcall Well-Known Member

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    What difference does any of this make? we've all seen pictures of what a fetus looks like in over 75% of all abortions, It's more then just DNA, it has a head , arms and legs.. So what part of that are we talking about? If you try really hard you might even convince yourselves .. No I don't think so..
     
  11. pocketfullofshells

    pocketfullofshells Well-Known Member

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    Your trying to use science to fight back what people feel is true and what a 2-40000 year old book tells them,....not likey to help
     
  12. pocketfullofshells

    pocketfullofshells Well-Known Member

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    actuly thats not the majority of Abortions...in fact most of the time when people like to show posters of abortions they show A: ones that are not legal..or B Rare cases that where late term but don't bother to you know have context like...saved mothers life....
     
  13. cashmcall

    cashmcall Well-Known Member

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    I have researched abortion for over 20 years.. and most abortions by a large margin are a little more than DNA..
     
  14. paf_2

    paf_2 Member

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    To me a featus or zygote as its been referred to here is an actually living creature when a heartbeat is detected. The heart beat is the definitive sign of life, it shows that there is a living being within. This is why I can't really condone later in pregnancy aboritions unless there is a reason for it such as the woman's life would be in danger if she continued the pregnancy. Now I know there is an argument that the fetus is life from the beginning but in my opinon that isn't true, there is no life there at that point and time of fertilization this comes in the gestation process.
     
  15. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    Let me take this forum one step further than the definition of an organism.
    Is a fetus alive?
    If it is alive, does abortion kill that life?
    Here are a few definitions of life:

    Full Definition of LIFE

    1
    a : the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body

    b : a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings

    c : an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction
    2
    a : the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual

    b : one or more aspects of the process of living <sex life of the frog>

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/life

    Definition

    noun, plural: lives

    (1) A distinctive characteristic of a living organism from dead organism or non-living thing, as specifically distinguished by the capacity to grow, metabolize, respond (to stimuli), adapt, and reproduce

    (2) The biota of a particular region


    Supplement

    There is no consensus regarding the answer to the question as to when does life begin. Does it begin at the time of fertilization or the time before or after that? The origin of life is also contestable. Despite of the irresolute answer for questions about life, the basic characteristics of a living thing are as follows:

    • with an organized structure performing a specific function
    • with an ability to sustain existence, e.g. by nourishment
    • with an ability to respond to stimuli or to its environment
    • capable of adapting
    • with an ability to germinate or reproduce
    http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Life

    Definition of life in English:
    noun (plural liveslīvz)
    condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death: the origins of life

    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/life


    A fetus is alive and meets the definition of "life" at the instant of fertilization.
    And the sole purpose of abortion is to kill that life.
    In my opinion the definition of organism is not the issue.
    The true issue is "does abortion kill a baby".
    You can debate when an abortion should be allowed (not past 20 weeks) but this is pointless debate.
    If you kill a baby at ANY stage in the baby's development you have killed the baby.




     
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