what makes human life?

This is a picture of an embryo my husband and I made back in 2009. It is just over eight weeks old and has a visible heart beat. It spontaneously aborted itself three weeks after this ultrasound.

The biological definition of life is incredibly broad because biology is the study of all living things- from simple bacteria to complex humans. Biology defines life from a stand point reversed. "I know it is alive now, so let me step back and figure out the parts it needed and the processes it went through to achieve this state: life that I can prove." Those parts and processes become the bullet points for what gives something life. This is the only way we can apply the scientific method biologically. The problem is that humans can't know everything about the parts and everything about the processes, so we end up with bullet points that create a broader definition of what biologically is a life then is actually true. This applies to defining life in general, but has major implications when we're talking about defining human life.

This broad definition of biologically alive would apply to the embryo in that ultrasound. But the problem is this: even before our embryo was biologically considered life, it was determined unable to become a human life. Miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion -the medical profession's irking name for it, is generally caused by a chromosomal abnormality that results in the embryo or fetus eliminating itself. This basically means that the sperm or the egg, or the initial, single-celled, combination of the two (called a zygote), is damaged. And, eventually, that damage will limit the development of these parts, such that they will never be able to complete the processes involved in becoming a human life. The damage is probably done even before conception, with the problem being in the egg or the sperm. But, we have to include the zygote because all we can scientifically determine is that the combination of the two has a problem and it has been there from the absolute beginning. Even though there is conception, there was no potential for human life. 

The embryo in my uterus was biologically alive, but it was never going to be a human life. It just did not have the parts required to perform the processes. Therefore, it could never actually be considered a human life, not even from a biological standpoint. This is a paradox because we don't know the biological determination in reference to the "human life" definition until after it has come to be. What happened in my conception, where egg met sperm and made nothing, is what happens in anywhere from 10% to 75% of human conceptions, depending on who you ask.

So, I am having a really hard time with what I have been hearing from the pro-life side of the abortion debate since the US election. In the past week or so, I have heard too many times "life begins at conception is scientific fact."  Yeah maybe general life, like trees and mushrooms and viruses have, but in terms of human life, this is just not true. I am shocked because the response seems to be silence. Silence is usually understood to be agreement! Well I formally DISAGREE!

[I actually decided to write this post after I saw Mike Huckabee on The Daily Show. In the interview portion only posted online he said that a pro-life view is scientific because "biologically, life begins at conception." All Jon Stewart could say in response was that it was a loaded statement. Well you know what you needed to say Jon: the biological definition of life is way to broad to indiscriminately use it to define, without exception, a human life.]

The point is that just because something is biologically alive, it does not mean it has potential for human life (even when it is made up of only human parts- like these beating heart muscles UCLA made, or the embryo my husband and I made). Humans are not skilled enough to determine the exact moment when human life actually begins, although we do have it down to a window. And, I would argue that point is probably different for every combination of sperm and egg, so expecting anything but a window from science is unrealistic. There actual answer to when human life begins will never be a nice sound bite statement like "life begins at conception." But, this isn't about pro-choice vs. pro-life for me. It's about abusing science to present beliefs as fact, and how the abuse of the science impacts women.

When people, outside of their own personal beliefs, proclaim that human life begins at conception, they stigmatize the large population of women who have had a miscarriage or will have a miscarriage. Saying "life beings at conception is a scientific fact" is a perverse statement that puts women who have had a miscarriage in a position of having to defend themselves. Sometimes what they are made to defend is extreme, like the woman in Ireland who recently died because she had a miscarriage but was denied the life saving medical procedure of an abortion to remove the rotting leftovers of the thing inside her that was never going to be a human life. 
Sometimes what they are made to defend is just their experience. The thing inside me was never a human life because it was mathematically and biologically predetermined to never be able to become a human life. That is a fact, not a belief. Another fact is that I am actually thankful that pregnancy was not a human life, because without my miscarriage, I would never have had E or moved to Denmark. I blessed to be able to grieve and move on. I want every woman to have the right to the same opportunity.

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