The “Beginning” of Human Life

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Abstract

The Question May Be Placed: When does human life begin? But what is being asked when that question is raised? Is a point in time being sought, some moment in gestation where a line is crossed that differentiates the human from the nonhuman? If a point in time is the aim, for what purpose is it sought: to begin a chapter in an embryology textbook, or to fashion a law dealing with the disposal of embryonic or fetal remains, or to solve an abortion problem? The aim we have in mind in placing the question in the first place will have a bearing on the answer we consider appropriate. Then there are further distinctions to be made. If a moment in time could be specified—“at this moment human life begins”—does this entail that the life so begun has or gains value at that moment? Or would it be possible to say, on the one hand, that life begins at “x” moment, but on the other, need not be valued until “y” moment? Again, for what purpose are we asking the question “When does human life begin?” Is our purpose descriptive or classificatory? Or is our purpose legal, social, or moral? People do not usually ask such questions out of idle curiosity.