What does it mean to be a 'human'? In this series we are examining our definitions of being human from several viewpoints. In Part I of this series we explored the idea that we each have our definition of humanness and that this view changes with time and culture. In Part II some background information about the biology of conception was presented.
Part III looks at the ethics issues with sexual reproduction of humans.
|A zygote at its beginning.|
When we think of reproducing humans, we normally think of a man and woman having sex. Mechanically this is about getting a single sperm into a ready egg that beings the process of growth leading to an adult human. Until 1978, this was the only way to have a baby.
A Zygote is the initial cell formed when a sperm and egg combine. It is also used to describe the mass of cells that divide. Zygotes are composed of cells that have not yet become other types of cells. Cells in a zygote have the potential to become any kind of other body cell and are sometimes known as stem cells.
Many religions maintain that the moment a zygote is formed, God puts a soul with the zygote. This belief has no direct observable evidence and is an act of faith on the part of the believers. Using this description of “soul attachment”, believers then claim that the zygote is a human.
Science indicates that one quarter of all fertilized zygotes die before ten weeks of development. Frequently this occurs because of errors in the zygotes genetic material.
It would seem, from the religious perspective, God is choosing which souls are becoming humans by chemical selection early in life much more often than humans do. Some believe that the world is cursed and miscarriage is God's way of limiting the curse. Others believe that miscarriages are caused by sins of the mother.
Philosophy views procreation as a fundamental human right. Rather than examining the means of reproduction or miscarriage, philosophy focuses on the moral right of human beings to reproduce if both adults are willing.
|Land of the those who are no longer human.|
A few religions believe that every sperm and egg are sacred. The focus is upon individual cells as part of a potential human being. This viewpoint suggests that every wasted egg/sperm is a failed potential human being. This view of humanity however makes every man who masturbates is a mass murder, committing genocide on an epic scale. Women who masturbate do not kill eggs and are therefore are only sexually deviant, but still sinful.
Science takes the view that sperm cannot reproduce. Sperm outside the body quickly dies. This means sperm is a not a being by itself, but a part of a human. This view equates blood cells, brain cells, and muscle cells to be equal with sperm cells.
Sexual reproduction is well understood by science and religion. Both ethical sources have strong established views on how we become human. This is not true for other means of reproduction.