Fetal Humans Are Persons Who Can Be Wronged

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 01/22/2014

In an interview posted today on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Frank Beckwith explains, “[B]y excluding the unborn from the human community, and claiming that this being is not the sort of human that requires the law to protect it, the state is in fact making a non-neutral claim: The unborn child is not one of us.”

He uses an illustration to clarify the truth that unborn human beings are, in fact, persons who can be wronged by our treatment of them:

Pro-lifers, with few exceptions, argue that the unborn is a moral subject (i.e., a person) from the moment it comes into being at conception, because it is an individual human being and all human beings have a personal nature, even when they are not presently exercising the powers that flow from that nature’s essential properties. These essential properties include capacities for personal expression, rational thought, and moral agency. The maturation of these capacities is the perfection of a human being’s nature. Contrary to what some abortion-choice critics claim, the human fetus can be wronged even before it can know it has been wronged.

To understand the pro-lifer’s point, consider this example. Imagine that an abortion-choice scientist wants to harvest human organs without harming human beings that are persons. In order to accomplish this, he first brings several embryos into being through in vitro fertilization. He then implants them in artificial wombs, and while they develop, he obstructs their neural tubes so that they may never acquire higher brain functions, and thus they cannot become what the typical prochoice advocate considers “persons.”

Suppose, upon hearing of this scientist’s grisly undertaking, a group of pro-life radicals breaks into his laboratory and transports all the artificial wombs (with all the embryos intact) to another laboratory located in the basement of the Vatican. While there, several pro-life scientists inject the embryos with a drug that heals their neural tubes and allows for their brains to develop normally. After nine months, the former fetuses, now infants, are adopted by loving families.

If you think what the pro-life scientists did was not only good but an act that justice requires, it seems that you must believe that embryos are beings of a personal nature ordered toward certain perfections which it is wrong to obstruct. This is why pro-life advocates would say that human embryos are not potential persons, but rather, that they are persons with potential.

Read the rest of the article.