By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, May 10, 2012)
Is the fetus a human being?
Tory MP (Kitchener Centre) Stephen Woodworth has filed motion M-312 requesting that our government form a special committee to study Canada’s Criminal Code definition of the term "human being." From the point of view of informed critical thinking, I believe that Mr. Woodworth's request is most appropriate.
Presently, section 223 (1) of Canada’s Criminal Code states the following: “A child becomes a human being…when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not (a) it has breathed; (b) it has an independent circulation; or (c) the navel string is severed.”
I submit that the Code's understanding of human being runs contrary to fact as well as contrary to reason.
Consider the following facts and reasoning:
1. At conception the human sperm unites with the human egg, thereby generating the existence of an embryo, which is a new life form.
2. This new life form is no longer a sperm life form nor is it an egg life form: it is something substantively different, i.e., a different substance/being, a different living entity—it's a new, genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic organism.
3. The new life form is, biologically speaking, a human life form—it’s not canine, feline, reptilian, or floral.
4. The new life form contains all the essential biological material (outside of nourishment needs) and all the genetic information required for complete tissue and organ development as well as maturation.
5. With nourishment, time, and protection, the new life form at conception grows into the fetus. (“Fetus” is Latin for unborn offspring or young one.) The fetus is but a chronological-developmental extension of the embryo.
6. At about 22 days after conception, a heart begins to beat.
7. Within about 6-8 weeks, brain waves are detectable.
8. Changes after the 10th week are primarily changes in size.
9. With continued nourishment and protection, at about 9 months the fetus, or unborn infant, becomes the born infant.
10. The fetus, the infant, the toddler, the adolescent, and the adult are, biologically, essentially whatever their previous developmental stages are and are simply chronological-developmental extensions of these stages. The biological essence, that is, the fundamental/essential biological nature of being human—of human being—is present throughout the chronological-developmental span of the human life form, from conception to old age.
(Note: Careful language use is important here. The embryo, i.e., the union of the sperm and egg at conception, the fetus/unborn infant, the born infant, the toddler, the adolescent, and the adult are each a human being with potential, not a potential human being. The sperm and egg prior to conception are best described as a potential human being, because together they have the capacity to become a human being. However, and significantly, at conception we have a human being with potential, i.e., a human being with the capacity to become the subsequent developmental stages of the being that it is.)
Therefore, contrary to what section 223 (1) of Canada's Criminal Code says, when a child proceeds from the body of its mother, it does not become a human being. Why not? Because it already is a human being!
Surely, in the name of truth and reason—and in the name of humanity’s most vulnerable—we should support MP Stephen Woodworth’s request that our government form a special committee to study Canada’s Criminal Code definition of human being.
Surely, too, Canada’s law should include all human beings in its definition of human being.
P.S. In future columns I will address the problematic objection that the unborn human being isn't a "person." For now, please keep in mind that a law which purports to describe human beings should describe human beings accurately, which section 223 (1) of Canada's Criminal Code fails to do.
Note: For my additional columns on abortion, please check the archives.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, Ph.D., is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)