Ep 21 – That Clump of Cells is Just a Parasite!

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Thanks for joining me for episode 21!
Click here to listen to it in a new window.

Here is my claim:
The unborn is a living, human organism.
I will use this episode to defend this claim.


How do we know that the unborn is alive?

One of the reasons that we describe life is because it’s hard to define life. If we define it in a certain way, it might include something like a virus or a tornado, and those are things that we know are not actually alive. I have a coffee mug (see image) that accurately describes life in a way that coincides with most professional biologists on the topic.

Life can be described as having the following features:

  • Irritability
  • Growth
  • Propagation
  • Inheritance
  • Movement
  • Metabolism & energy conservation

All of these things are qualities that the unborn has, so therefore the unborn must be alive.

Counter claim: “Alright, the unborn is alive. But it’s certainly not human!”

How do we know that the unborn is human?
I recorded an episode on this exact topic. Visit TheFetalPosition.com/11 for that.
But I have a few more thoughts on this.

One of the reasons pro-choice people think pro-life people are crazy is cuz they think that the human is constructed like a car, rather than developed. Human beings are developed from within (like a Polaroid picture), rather than constructed (like a car). This is a morally relevant difference because the entity developing in the womb is a whole human organism, unlike a car that may be considered a car when it gets the engine or the paint job or whatever.
There isn’t a heart added at 6 weeks, the unborn develops a heart at 6 weeks.

The unborn isn’t a potential human, it is a human with potential.
If someone claims that the unborn is merely a potential human, ask the question what is it before it becomes a human. If it is a potential X, it must currently be an actual Y. What species is it before it becomes a member of the species Homo sapiens?

Counter claim: “Alright, so the living human entity, but it’s just a clump of cells! Or it is alive in the same sense that a skin cell is alive!”

How do we know that the unborn is an organism, not just a clump of cells?
One of the more quick responses is to point out that technically we are all “clumps of cells”, but I think that might confuse things. The pro-choicer is suggesting that the unborn is a clump of cells that does not function as an organism. They believe it functions more like a bag of marbles rather than a living being.
Working  off of the fact that the unborn is human, we have to ask… what do we mean by “human”? Well, gametes, somatic cells, embryos, and toddlers are human in the adjective sense, only the newly created human organism is human in the noun sense.
A skin cell is human, but it is not A HUMAN.
A fetus is both human AND A HUMAN.

If the skin cell of a male gynecologist enters the woman’s uterus during an examination, no one thinks that she will become pregnant because of that. But if a human (in the noun sense) enters the uterus, she will likely become pregnant.

This is why it’s so stupid to suggest that masturbation is genocide, or that we ought to mourn every period.
It’s a confusion of parts and wholes.
It’s a confusion of adjectives and nouns.

So what is the difference between an organism and a clump of cells?

An organism is a collection of biological parts that function together to sustain the existence of the whole being that possesses the qualities of life.

A clump of something is often used to describe something that exists as a loose collection of things that do not interact for the good of the whole. When given time, nutrition, and the proper environment, an organism will mature into a more developed member of its species. But a clump of cells will not.
When the embryo begins to exist, it has a new goal-oriented development (or telos). It now has its own aim in development.  It is no longer like an organ or a part of the woman’s body because parts of the woman’s body participate in the function of the body as a whole. The new human being is a new organism that has its own ends that it develops towards.
It’s parts are working towards the good of its own whole.
My cells are my parts working towards the good of my whole.

This is one of the reasons I refuse to use the term “product of conception” when referring to the unborn. The unborn is clearly a human organism, that is not a part of the woman’s body. Plus, the placenta is technically a product of conception, and we have to distinguish between the unborn human organism and the placenta. It’s possible for the mother to live if the unborn child dies; likewise, it’s possible for the unborn child to live if the mother dies. This could not be so if they were truly one body. Additionally, a Chinese zygote implanted in a Swedish woman will always be Chinese, not Swedish, because his identity is based on his genetic code, not on that of the body in which he resides.

Counter claim: So if the unborn is alive, a human, an organism, and completely dependent upon the mother… wouldn’t it be reasonable to consider the unborn to be a parasite? 

Is the unborn a parasite?

(my voice goes up in pitch during this part of the episode and I have no idea why. lol)

It’s interesting that so many people think that in order to be a distinct entity, the unborn child must be detached from the mother. Yet in the same breath they describe the unborn as a parasite, which is a distinct entity that lives off of the host.
You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s an organism or it’s not.
And clearly it is, as we’ve demonstrated.

Before diving into the science of parasitism, let’s ask a philosophical question.
Is a parasite the kind of entity that has a right to life?
Clearly not. In fact, we do our best to rid ourselves of parasites!

So the argument at this point could go either way.
Either we can rightly classify the unborn as a parasite and therefore it does not have the right to life, or we cannot rightly classify the unborn as a parasite and therefore we cannot kill it without proper justification. If you don’t want to get into the science, ask your interlocutor this question:
Do you agree that every adult human being has the right to not be killed? So do I.
But what exactly is it that makes that right something that all human beings have? It can’t be consciousness, IQ, brain development, or anything else that exists on a gradient. You cannot ground an unchanging right to life on something that exists on a gradient, because that would entail that some people have more of a right to life than others.

So what is it that gives all human beings a right to life?
It is the fact that they are all human.
And if the unborn is human, the unborn must have a right to life.
And therefore the unborn must not be a parasite, because a parasite is something that does not have the right to life.

Perhaps your opponent will remain unconvinced.
No scientific or philosophical backing.
It’s a dehumanizing factor.
Time to bust out the science.

What do we mean by parasite?

Technically it does not have to be a separate species, which is contrary to what a lot of pro-lifers claim. There is something called intraspecific parasitism. One of the more obvious examples is usually referred to as brood parasitism, and birds do it to other birds. Cuckoos will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds (either other cuckoos or another species) and the mother will feed that chick like it’s her own.
Ultimately this is a degree of dependency argument because a parasite is completely dependent upon the host. Arguably, if we can place the fetus in this category, we can also call newborn babies a parasite.

I have a microbiology text sitting in front of me, as well as multiple websites from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the national library of medicine (NLM), and absolutely none of them list the fetus as a parasitic organism. I like this summary of the difference between a parasite and the unborn baby:

A parasite reduces the fitness of its host; a baby increases the fitness of its parents.

There may be a superficial similarity between the baby and a parasite, but when you actually get into the details, those similarities fade away.
If you look at the way a host and parasite typically act, the host is trying to get rid of the parasite by increasing its immunological defenses. The parasite then responds by evolving more complex attacking mechanisms that circumnavigate the host’s immune system. But the relationship between the mother and the baby is intrinsically cooperative. We have even discovered that the unborn child’s stem cells can be used to help heal the mother’s hearts.

Ultimately, it all depends on what the goal of the two organisms is. In a host-parasite relationship, the host’s primary desire is to rid itself of the parasite while the parasite fights off the host’s immune system. In a parent-child relationship, the goal of both is the survival and development of the child. It get a little interesting because of the rH factor, but that is actually considered a misfiring; a mistake. The mother’s body isn’t performing correctly when her immune system attacks the baby.


Alright! I hope you enjoyed this episode!
Don’t forget to share the show with your friends. And if you review the show, I will totally give you a high-five if I see you.

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