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Fetal Heartbeat Doesn’t Prove “Life”?

Doctor examining pregnant woman


Good grief. Some people keep pretending that we don’t know when human life begins.

Sure we do. That’s a scientific question. Embryology textbooks tell us at the completion of fertilization. Which means that you and I are the same organism now that we were at that point in time when we consisted of one cell.

Sometimes, the attempt to deny this scientific reality gets comical. Like in this Slate piece by Elissa Strauss that actually claims a beating heart isn’t necessarily proof of life. From “When Does Life Begin? It’s Not So Simple“:

In the debate over life’s beginnings, the heartbeat is a metaphor, a visceral and potent symbol of life that some can’t help but interpret as proof of life itself.

It’s hard to be unmoved by the coursing of blood through an embryo or fetus’ heart, something many women and men now bear witness to in the exam room, with our eyes, ears, and, yes, hearts.

Still, the heartbeat deceives. It renders the grayscale beginnings of life in black and white, in refutation of the fact that this is a mysterious process with many possible ends

What does that even mean? Strauss’s thesis seems to be that when life begins is a matter of what one feels about the question.

But that’s not true. Whether an eight-week gestated fetus is “alive” is beyond doubt. That’s basic objective science. If the living fetus is human, he or she is a human life.

Whether that matters morally, and if so, how much, is a subjective question of values, morality, religion, ethics, philosophy, etc. Hence some will admit a fetus is a human life but claim he or she is not a “person,” and therefore possesses less or zero moral value.

Strauss uses “life” and “person” as if they were interchangeable. They are not. Life is objective, the existence or nonexistence of which can be demonstrated by science.

Personhood is not a scientific category. It is a subjective value judgment or philosophical concept.

Some abortion supporters conflate these two different ideas to sow confusion — apparently because they believe admitting the embryo or fetus is a human life, that is, a human organism, and hence, a member of the human species, makes their policy advocacy challenges more difficult.

Photo credit: © auremar —

Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



Elissa Straussembryoembryologyfetushuman lifelifepersonhoodSlate