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Name: Amit Srivastava
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Question:
Hi, I was wondering about a bioethical issue that's really important today- abortion. Most of the debate about abortion revolves around when life begins, so I was wondering when most scientist's believe that life begins, since you obviously would know more about this subject. You don't have to give your moral beliefs or anything, but I would just like to know when you think that life begins... Thanks! =)



Replies:
This is an important topic, but even (or especially) for a scientist you and I must realize that my "moral beliefs" will affect the kind of answer I give. Even the unfertilized egg and sperm are "alive" so in some sense life begins before fertilization! The fertilized egg is certainly alive, in that it can copy its genetic information (DNA) and it can divide into more and more cells. The more critical question, I think, is when that life becomes "human", and that is not a question that science will be able to answer. Human-ness is a religious, or moral, or philosophical question that is not likely to have a single agreed-upon answer.

Steve J Triezenberg


I agree with Steve on both points. Life is continuous from one generation to the next. The real question is when does the developing human organism (embryo, fetus, infant, etc.) attain the basic rights of a person? These rights include the basic right to life. I also agree that this is a question of philosophy, not science.

Brian Schwartz


I also agree on both points. It is part of the job of scientists to educate people that science will not be able to answer all of the great questions that plague us. Some of those questions, including the exact definition of life, will always have a philosophical or even religious component. Life itself may be easier to define than the issue of what is human. Will we someday perhaps not care about what is human, but rather be concerned with "sentience" or the realization that one is alive and unique with respect to others? Fascinating discussion!

emayo



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