The Moral Nanosecond: Life begins in an instant but which instant?

Whatever your take on abortion is, pro or con, there can be no argument that abortion does violence to the embryo or fetus aborted. Therefore it follows that abortion is violence against “something” whether you think that “something” is a human or just a bunch of cells.

We do violence everyday by smacking mosquitoes and stepping on bugs and we would all admit that those violent actions are killing life of some sort. In the case of the mosquito one could argue it is them or us since a mosquito could give you West Nile virus and kill you. In the case of a stepped on bug we could say it was an accident. But abortion can neither be a response to a threat nor is it an accident. So what is it?

Your answer would depend upon your definition of “being.” What defines your being?

In metaphysics that question is part of ontology, the nature of being. Brown eyes, brown hair, the mole on your back, good at math, bad at grammar, what defines you as a person, defines your uniqueness?

Eighteen billion linked molecules called nucleotides define you. Those 18 billion molecules are better known as your DNA and your DNA is defined at conception. The DNA at conception is the same DNA at birth. There is no difference except that one cell and four feet of DNA at conception becomes 50 trillion cells and 40 billion miles of DNA at birth. Would you look at a day old baby and say, “I know you don’t understand and you are helpless and cannot speak for yourself but we passed a law that says we can use your DNA and we need your liver. Sorry.”

Of course no one would do that and everyone (hopefully) would find that morally reprehensible but that valuable, 1 day old liver came from the same DNA that was there at conception. A day old baby is just the 9-month manifestation of the same DNA represented in the embryo. Embryonic stem cell research simply sidetracks that 9-month manifestation for the benefit for someone else. Whether you take those liver cells 8 weeks after conception or 8 weeks after birth the unique human essence, the DNA, is the same.

For example, chimpanzee embryos have 97% the same DNA as humans and that’s why they are not human. Human embryos have 100% the same DNA and that’s why they are human.

If human embryos are not human then how is it possible that their parts are of value to other humans? Chimpanzee embryos and their parts would not be of value to humans would they?

Therefore we must ask this question: Is a fetus 8 months and 29 days a human? I know of no one who would dispute that point.

So count backwards a day at a time. Is a fetus 8 months and 28 days a human? How could it not be? How about 8 months and 27 days?

What if we count backwards an hour at a time? A minute? A second? When, at what boundary, does that agreed upon human, the one at 8 months and 29 days of gestation become a non-human, a disposable entity?

What if you count backwards a nanosecond at a time? A nanosecond is a billionth of a second, an instant almost immeasurable but a progression of time nonetheless. Where is that nanosecond, that immeasurable instant that becomes the moral boundary between life and death, between moral and immoral?

Can you choose the nanosecond when a fetus is human and the previous nanosecond when it is not human? Because that in reality is the choice you have to make if you believe a fetus at 8 months and 29 days is a human life.

So do that, count backwards in your mind, and as the nanoseconds tick off, can you choose that instant, that moral demarcation between life and death and morality and immorality? Can you choose any nanosecond that is not prior to conception? Aren’t all other choices illogical and impossible if a fetus of 8 months and 29 days is human?

You will have to choose your own moral nanosecond. Where will it be?

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation.