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When does human personhood begin?

The processes of pregnancy: What a developing
pre-embryo, embryo, and fetus look like.

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Alexander Tsiaras's video "Conception to birth -- visualized:"

Tsiaras is the author of the book "From Conception to Birth: A life unfolds." 1 He delivered the following presentation at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk. It shows the process of gestation from spermatozoon and ovum to a live birth.  Absolutely riveting! 2

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YouTube viewers' comments:

As expected, the video ignited a firestorm of comments from viewers who support the pro-life or pro-choice positions, and believe in either evolution, intelligent design, or creationism. There were over 980 comments during during the first two weeks alone. Most viewers seem to feel that the video confirmed their own personal beliefs about the personhood status of pre-embryos, embryos, and/or fetus. Each viewer approaches the video with their own belief system and finds proof there of the accuracy of their position

The following is a group of comments from 2001-NOV-27, which happened to be the first Sunday in Advent. Three bigoted or one-word postings were not included:

  • jtgear: People believe a fetus is not life, because it is not alive. It cannot survive on it's own, it is a part of the mother.

  • daveindurham2701: That logic is so flawed. So mentally disabled people, the elderly, and children under 5 are also not alive because they couldn't survive "on their own" either? That is starting to sound like the eugenic, social Darwinist line of thinking. I guess it's not surprising considering Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist who wanted to eliminate the undesirables like poor people, black people etc.. Look it up, no lie.

  • PBDPBD: Re: embryos and fetuses: They're all human life, and every biologist (including myself) will tell you that. They all are alive, and they all belong to the H. sapiens species. It IS a fact, whether you choose to accept it or not. What none of those things are, including zygotes, is an individual person. They lack everything that makes them a person. They are not thinking, feeling, human BEINGS.

    ... Psst: Margaret Sanger was pro-life. To quote wiki: Sanger was opposed to abortions, both because they were dangerous for the mother, and because she believed that life should not be terminated after conception.

    She wrote, "while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization." ... In addition, she did NOT want to eliminate poor or black people. She was actually a very progressive individual for her time, and did not tolerate any kind of bigotry among her staff. In fact, many black leaders supported her and her efforts. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. praised her when he received the Margaret Sanger award in 1966. Look it up.

    A fetus IS alive, just like every single cell in the human body is alive (well, that's not really true, some cells aren't... but you get my point.). Whether or not something can survive on its own is irrelevant. What matters is whether something is able to experience pain, or pleasure. Whether it is able to enjoy a cupcake or worry about the future of its children. Whether it has hopes, dreams, and aspirations, or whether it just has the mental capacity of a potato.

  • 1floridacracker: Anyway you slice it, abortion is murder. Not surprising leftists support it. They hate the human race and wish they could abort about 6 billion people that are not as 'smart' or 'enlightened' as they are.

  • VividGrim: If abortion is murder, then isn't killing any sort of animal murder? I support a woman's right to choose, and I *don't* hate humans. Get a new argument.

    ... It's certainly unique, and possibly precious, but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether or not it's a person, with legal rights.

  • Water4jeremiah: I completely agree. Abortion is murder. And murder is a violation of someone's physical being. Anyone who commits murder should be put to death by our judicial system. Oh yes, I also think that violating someone's intellectual potential is also a crime. Believing in a god and using that belief to love and take care of other people is no crime, however anyone who teaches that a hell exists or a god punishes people should be put to death. Now that's a TedTalk worthy of the name.

  • Pawsnews: This amazing video should be mandatory viewing for anyone even contemplating abortion.

  • jhendriksen78: The creation of humans in itself proves intelligent design. Also proves that you must have more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. Amazing!

  • notjustadog: This process was going on 15,000 years before Islam, Judaism or Christianity, it will continue long after the world's religions have been forgotten. To pin it to an existence or belief in God is just ignorant.

  • MrPigeonSlayer: Not really. Experiments done have already shown that creation of life through evolution of RNA into DNA was possible during the early years of Earth when everything was a hot cooker. Intelligent design is just a fancy word used by Christians to get their point across to those of Science. It's all a lie, but it sounds nice.

  • emtguf: Thinking that you understand all, and people of faith are wrong is just ignorant. I'm sure your answers are the correct ones though, I mean science never changes..........

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Book cover image Alexander Tsiaras, "From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds," Book, Doubleday, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized," Video, TED, uploaded to YouTube on 2011-NOV-14, at: http://youtu.be/

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Site navigation:

Home > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Basic facts > Human personhood > here

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Text copyrighted © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Video copyrighted by TEDTalks at http://www.ted.com. Used in accordance with their CreativeCommons (CC) license,
Initial posting: 2011-NOV-27
Latest update: 2011-NOV-27
Text author: B.A. Robinson

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