When Does a Person Become a Person? 6

This morning, a Facebook-friend (more than a FB-friend, but a good old friend I have not seen in quite a while — Cheers, Johannes!) asked me a question:

Can you help me with this question? A question to the scientists and philosophers out there: some argue that the moment brainwaves start during fetal development is the moment it is a human being. Response?

I decided to make my response my Biltrix post for today.

Some would say it depends on how you define a person. I would say it depends on what a person is: we define a thing according to what it is.

A person, is more than flesh and bones, brainwaves, and the ability to construct grammatical propositions. A human person is not just a collections of properties, but the individual who has those properties in virtue of its nature. That is to say, a person is a person whether he (or she) exercises his (or her) rational faculty at every moment of his (enough of the gender-pronoun stuff, already…) existence.

I am forgoing adding counter-examples as objections, only to refute them, since people can comment here with their objections if they want.

At the moment of his conceptions, in ordinary, healthy circumstances, a human embryo will naturally develop physically in such a way that he will eventually perform the operations proper to his nature. There are no brainwaves at the moment of conceptions, because… there is no brain. But just because there are no brainwaves, it does not follow that there is no person. God has no brainwaves, St Michael the Archangels has no brainwaves, and they are persons.

The human person is the type of thing which has the natural power to reason. Although in many cases there are impediments to rational thought, those impediments do not impede the person from being a person. Rather, they impede the person from exercising his natural operation. This does not mean that the person does not have the faculty; it only means that he cannot exercise it.

And so…

  • A human being is a person (naturally);
  • Once a human zygote is conceived, it is a human being (genetically);
  • So, once a human zygote is conceived, it is a human person.
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6 comments

  1. I can’t believe that this question is even considered. At the moment of conception, God infuses an immortal soul in every human embryo. If that isn’t when a person is a person, then all the arguing and conjecturing will never settle the question because it is too obvious to have a simple answer.

    • Good point, Sister!

      The problem is that the majority opinion in the scientific community does not take in to account things that are not scientifically verifiable; that is, according to natural science.

      This does not mean that a scientist cannot also consider the same issue from a metaphysical standpoint. Unfortunately, scientific reductionism keeps them from considering things beyond the physically observable order of things.

      I think that you are right: if you think about it (and even if you don’t), a person is a person at the moment when God infuses the soul.

      However, as you point out, it becomes complicated when you try to explain the simple. Yet many people still seek that explanation and we can give rational arguments for what they are asking.

  2. There are many arguements which belittle life using a dismissale of Faith as the scientific starting point. It may be useful to develop arguements that tackle the legitimacy of such approaches. For example, ” it isn’t a life with out a nervous system.” However, there are medical conditions which render adult members of society as having no nervous sytem or a diminished system. MS suferers may be an example. Is their life of less value?
    Even brain function is a dubious parameter under this premis. Does a higher IQ measure a higher life value? When we are resting, dozing after heavy brain activity, does our life value diminish?
    Rather than respond to demands that we must prove life is worthwhile, the onus must be on those who propose the final “solution.” The terminators should have the responsibility of proving life does not exist, using parameters that are complete, black and white, rather than defining life on measurements which are different between each and every person. The only parameter that is definitive is that of part a connects to part b forming person; the moment of conception. This is the only unit of measure that matches the unit of question. What are your thoughts?

    • I think you hit the nail on the head, especially when you said:

      “Rather than respond to demands that we must prove life is worthwhile, the onus must be on those who propose the final “solution.” The terminators should have the responsibility of proving life does not exist, using parameters that are complete, black and white, rather than defining life on measurements which are different between each and every person.”

      Quality of life cannot be judged from a scientific standpoint when the value, i.e., dignity, of the person is absolute. The value of human life is therefore inestimable. Therefore the burden of proof is on the one who proposes termination of life as the final solution.

      Thanks Edna!

  3. Life starts at conception! Not sooner,not later. If there is no conception, there is no life. How simple is that?

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