The Emergent Human Being

    Many scientists and experts, along with some members of the general population, utilize the gradualist thesis to determine when human life begins. Two major proponents of this theory are Daniel Callahan and Robert Wennberg. Francis Beckwith (1994) states that these two men, along with other defenders of the gradualist thesis, argue that "the unborn entity increases in value as it develops physically." This theory does not give a specific moment when the fetus makes the shift from nonperson to person. Instead, the one-celled zygote has less value than the three-month fetus, and the three-month fetus has less value and a lesser right-to-life than the eight-month fetus. The newborn baby has the greatest right to life.

 
    People who hold this view often tend to set limits on the time during a pregnancy when a woman can have an abortion. For example, if they believe that the value of the fetus at six months has increased so much that it now has the right-to-life, then they will declare that abortion is acceptable until the sixth month of pregnancy.
 
    Other variations of the gradualist theory exist. Nat Hentoff (1996), a writer for Village Voice, has interviewed many physicians in regards to this issue. He discovered that without exception these physicians have emphasized that human life is a continuum from conception until death. They believe that one point of development is dependent upon a previous point. From their viewpoint, the fetus is a developing human being who has the right to life at all stages, and they will set no boundaries as to when it is acceptable to have an abortion and when it is unacceptable. Hentoff (1996) sums up this viewpoint with the following statement: "Whether in the fourth or fourteenth week, it is the life of a developing human being that is being killed."

    Josefina Figueira-McDonough (1990) observes that a consensus exists that the fetus is an emergent human being. Yet she raises the question, "When should the fetus be recognized as a person, a being who has the kinds of characteristics that are taken to be relevant to compel a recognition of human personhood?" Francis Beckwith (1994) agrees that there needs to be a moment when the preborn baby is seen to achieve humanness. He argues that once humanness is achieved, we do not continue to gradually become more human. He concludes by agreeing that from conception until death, humans develop gradually. However, he states that we do not gradually become more human.
 
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    This page was made by Christina Rutten, a student at  Wayne State College, on April 20, 1999. If you
                have any questions or  comments, please e-mail me at c_rutten@hotmail.com.