National Center for Selling Evolution Science Education’s Policy Director Josh Rosenau: It’s Hard to Distinguish Unborn Children From Cancer

Michael Egnor

National Center for Science Education official Josh Rosenau has chosen to pick up the pro-abortion mantle from P.Z. Myers, who despite expressing the wish that more women would abort their children, seems to have developed writer’s block since I asked him to define the characteristics that a human being must acquire before Myers would grant him/her the right to life.
Rosenau, the Programs and Policy Director at the NCSE, is less reticent to publicly defend the pro-abortion cause. He begins his post by botching even the rudiments of the pro-life argument:

“[Egnor] declares by fiat that every fertilized egg is a human and entitled to all the rights associated with personhood.”

No. Biological science affirms that every fertilized human egg is a human (it has its own gender, unique DNA, and is no other species but Homo sapiens). The question is not whether a zygote (or embryo or fetus) is human. It is. The question is whether a human at that stage of life has any rights.
Contra Rosenau, I have never asserted that human zygotes have “[a]ll the rights associated with personhood,” which would include the right to freedom of speech, to freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, trial by jury, etc. I do not assert that human beings at conception have all rights of personhood. Some rights of personhood depend on age, citizenship, acquisition of skills, condition of legal peril, etc.
I assert that all human beings have at least one right of personhood — the right to life.
Human life is a continuum from conception to natural death. At every stage there is a human being with a right to life. The right to life is not affected by age, size, appearance, intelligence, race, creed, or condition of dependency. The right to life depends only on being human.
Next, Rosenau goes off the deep end. Rosenau denies that human beings in the womb have a right to life by comparing them to cancer:

Is a fertilized egg “a discrete organism”? What about an embryo? A fetus? You could say that they must be discrete because they have genetic differences from either parent, but then you have to ask whether cancers caused by certain mutations are also discrete organisms, and whether they, by virtue of possessing human DNA and therefore being human, are also entitled to a right to life. You could point also to dermoid cysts, and ask whether they are discrete human beings, entitled to the same protections Egnor wants for every fertilized egg. Or what about HeLa cells, and other human cell cultures capable of existing independently in the lab?…But let’s suppose some sophistry gets us past these objections. It is, after all, obvious that they are spurious. We know, intuitively, that there must be a distinction between an egg cell gone wild and a baby. That it’s hard to come up with a clean, uncomplicated distinction shouldn’t persuade us that there’s no distinction at all. But it should give us pause whenever someone claims that it’s easy to draw a line between human life and everything else. And if that line is hard to draw, we may have to accept that fertilized eggs and embryos and fetuses fall on that border… [emphasis mine]

Keep in mind that Rosenau’s reference to a “fetus” (on the biological and moral “border” with a cancer) includes a full-term baby moments prior to birth.
What distinguish an unborn child from his/her mother aren’t genetic differences; a child in the womb is not the same organism as his/her mother because the child and the mother are different members of the species Homo sapiens. Half the time, mother and child are not even the same gender. The mother is a human being and the child is a human being. They are not the same human being. The child in the womb is located within the mother’s body and is dependent on her for many things. But location and dependency are not biological criteria for being a member of a species. ‘Homo sapiens’ does not include exemptions for location or for dependency. Unborn children at any stage do not “fall on that border” between human life and “everything else” (e.g. cancer). An unborn child is a human life, beginning at conception:

“Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zygtos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being.”
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]
“Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed. … The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
(O’Rahilly, Ronan and M�ller, Fabiola. Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29).
“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote). … The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” (Carlson, Bruce M., Patten’s Foundations of Embryology, 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p.3.)
(HT jivinjehoshaphat)

A human being begins at conception. That’s rudimentary biology.
Rosenau is attempting to deny the personhood of unborn children by denying that they are human beings, and by asserting that the line between a child in the womb and a cancer is “hard to draw”. He refers to the scientific fact that children in the womb are human beings from conception onward as “sophistry”.
I’ll not comment on the simple depravity of the comparison. I’ll restrict myself to the biology, which is incompetent, despite Rosenau’s claim to have been a doctoral candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas.
Contra Rosenau, there is a sharp biological distinction between a baby in in the womb and a cancer. That sharp distinction holds at every stage of human development. A zygote/embryo/fetus is an individual member of the species Homo sapiens. A cancer cell/tumor is not an individual member of the species Homo sapiens. A cancerous tumor is a part of a human being that has lost growth regulation and replicates without normal inhibition. Dermoids (benign tumors) and HeLa cells (immortal cervical cancer cells grown in culture and widely used for experiments) are not human beings.
A cancer cell if unchecked will grow into a tumor which will kill the human being of which it is but a part. A human being at conception will mature to a newborn baby and to an adult. A cancer is biologically, physiologically, biochemically, morphologically, histologically, phylogenetically, teleologically, therapeutically, and morally different from an unborn child. Cancers should be excised, radiated, and eliminated with chemotherapy. Children in the womb should be nourished, loved, and delivered alive and healthy.
The question is not whether a zygote (or embryo or fetus) is a human being. He or she is. And the question is not whether a cancer is a human being. It is not. Both are uncontested rudimentary facts of biology. Any competent biologist can distinguish an unborn child from cancer. Any competent pathologist can distinguish an unborn child from cancer. Any competent obstetrician can distinguish an unborn child from cancer.
Yet Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education, finds “that line is hard to draw.”
I reiterate:
Human life is a continuum from conception to natural death. At every stage there is a human being. All human beings have at least one right of personhood, and that is the right to life.
And a child in the womb is not cancer.
Perhaps the National Center for “Science Education” could begin by educating one of its own scientifically illiterate Directors.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.