Skip to comments.When Is There A Functioning Integrated Whole Human Being?
Posted on 06/13/2003 9:59:38 AM PDT by MHGinTN
In a previous essay we addressed the notion that with an alive human organism, the forms (sub-units) of the organism must be found to be functioning as an integrated whole. With an older individual human, the whole organism is working through a feedback system involving the most rudimentary portion of the organ called the brain. The older individual human being has a complement of organs that have been built and tied into a central processor in order to function as an integrated whole.
The organ harvesting industry uses a protocol that measures this integrated functioning by subjecting the body to various stimuli; noting the non-responses to these stimuli (no completed feedback loop of stimulus, primitive brain registering the nerve message, message returning for a response at the location of the stimulus) verifies that the individual who inhabited the body is no longer with the body; the organism is defined as dead when the feedback system is no longer working.
While the older individual has a central processor through which to measure the feedback loop of an alive individual, the integrated whole status of the individual was not always dependent upon the primitive brain. Indeed, even before there is an organ called brain, it can be demonstrated that the integrated whole is operating coherently.
There is a time during the earliest age of an individuals lifetime when just having a central processor working the nerve feedback loop is not sufficient to define the organism as alive in the air world because until approximately 20 to 22 weeks following the beginning of the individuals lifetime, the organs called lungs are not complete enough to sustain respiration, even with the central processor working perfectly. Thats what is meant by an integrated whole, each organ is tied into an interdependent system of forms tasked to do special jobs for the functioning of the organism, and once born and into the air world the primitive brain is the director. But prior to birth some other central director achieves the integrated whole.
The transition from one directing system to a later one is gradual, with portions of the tasking transferred little by little, to achieve a seamless transition. It is because of this gradual transfer that a baby may be born alive very prematurely, at perhaps 21 weeks, yet that alive individual will remain alive as the body finishes building and completing the forms that will be integrated into the whole organisms aliveness for the continued survival of the organism in the air world. It is the already alive individual that builds the sub-units necessary for survival as the environment changes. Going backward along the timeline, we will see how this transition is accomplished.
At 18 weeks from the beginning of a lifetime (for instance), the organism is clearly alive, the central processor of brain stem is functioning to maintain the feedback loop, but the organism has not completely transitioned from some other director for the integrated whole, to the primitive brain as director of the integrated whole.
For a human organism to be defined as alive, the parts will be functioning as a coherent whole organism, with the purpose to maintain the life of the organism, not just the organs of the organism. The brain is sufficiently developed by week three to four that some electromagnetic waves may be detected, generated by the connected feedback loop of body nerves and central primitive brain. But the organism is not yet in the air world so the additional form of lung is not yet vital to the functioning of the integrated whole, yet the individual is clearly alive and functioning as an integrated whole. At first, that may sound contradictory, but its not, because coherent functioning of the integrated whole shifts as the organism grows older.
Throughout an individual human lifetime, the parts of the organism will be functioning to accomplish in a coherent fashion the survival of the individual. Before direction of the integrated whole shifts to primarily the central processor (almost exclusively, but never entirely), the genes are controlling the form and function of the individuals life begun at conception.
During the most active development age, as organs are being formed and integrated into the whole, to spread out the life functioning tasks across a more complex system, the individuals DNA is a blueprint for forms to be built, and the special characteristic of a surviving organism in action directs the integrated whole. At molecular and cellular level, the design functions as the central coherency for the forming sub-units as they are built and integrated into the whole. Even when the organism grows old enough to live in the air world and enough organs are integrated into the whole system, there remains that original molecular driven design, functioning within the organ systems of the alive individual. As the organism grew, the cells being built became more specialized, to take on the function of specialized tasks within the organs of the integrated whole organism.
The already alive organism builds the organs that will accomplish viability in the next environment in which the organism will exist. Every alive individual human being began their human existence at the embryo age as evidenced by their first act of cell division. New cells were tasked to build the increasingly complex form for the already alive individual, to survive while in the womb and when exiting that realm. As the organism spreads its functioning out over a more complex integrated whole, the forms to support that complexity must be made up of more and more specialized cells, more differentiated cells.
At the age of embryo, the individual has stem cells that are less differentiated, and as the being builds organs, the newest cells are more differentiated, more specialized, but the organism is not more alive just because cells it is making are more specialized. The argument can be made that the first cell of conception is the most alive cell of an entire lifetime, and that the organism spreads this aliveness out over more and more forms, to accomplish more complex functioning as the organism ages.
During pro-life/pro-choice discussions, the notion arises that the early individual human being (at embryo age, for instance) is not yet fully an individual human being, that somehow there is a moment or time period when a pre-human awakens to become a full human being. When pressed to defend this, the pro-choice advocate cannot name a specific moment as the time slot in which this magical awakening occurs.
In the past, the notion of quickening (when the preborn individual could be felt moving) was used to define when an alive individual was present in the womb. As science has progressed, weve found that the only reason the woman begins to feel the movement is because the individual within her body has become large enough for its actions to be recognized. The little one has been moving and active for a long stretch prior to being felt.
There is no moment or window of development when the individual begun at conception is more alive. The functions of integrated whole organism (the definition of alive) change gradually, as forms are built to take on specialized tasks for maintenance and functioning of the whole organism. The individual human being is alive from the first time following conception, even before the first evidence of the individuals survival actions occurs. Survival is begun with the first cell dividing to begin the specialization process, whereby necessary complex survival tasks, first in the water world of a placental bag, and then in the future air world, will be handled by organs that may have only limited functional necessity, dependent upon location of the individual being.
Many believe that the development of internal body organs is the first construction project the newly alive individual accomplishes, but it is actually the construction of its own space capsule to be filled with fluid that is the first major building project the individual human being undertakes. It is this space capsule--the placenta--that acts to protect the new, separate individual being from tissue rejection assault by the womans body (tricking her immune system to identify the growing life as non-alien), and acts as the means for nourishment to arrive from the womans life supporting more specialized organ filled body. As soon as conception occurs, there is a separate, alive, new individual existing in time and space, no matter where that new individual is located, whether in a womans body or in a lab dish where in vitro fertilization was accomplished.
Even if the new individual is conceived in a dish, by bringing sperm and ovum together artificially, the new, alive individual builds its own organs for survival. The embryonic individuals an in vitro technician tries to insert into a womans uterus have already begun building their own sub-units necessary for survival. The technicians look for embryonic individuals who have built the first form of the placenta they will occupy during pregnancy, the outer barrier that will be necessary for attachment to the womans uterus. The placental sac is actually a very special first organ for survival, built by the tiny embryonic individual, as the tiny human being makes new, more and more specialized cells that work as a coherent whole of separate but integrated parts working to accomplish continuing survival of a new human being.
When the issue of viability arises, it should be noted that to be viable in the air world requires functioning lungs, a blood circulator, and a central nerve processor of at least primitive brain. To be viable in a water world of the placental sac doesnt require functioning lungs (for instance) but does require a different set of functioning parts, yet the whole organism is coherent, acting as an integrated whole.
Life? A life? The practice of placing the indefinite article before the noun is linguistic sleight of hand. Now the question becomes not when does life begin but when does a life we value begin. Honesty in the debate about life founders here and is unrecoverable unless we agree that life and a life are not equivalents for the purpose of debating abortion or other destruction of embryonic human life.
There are several points in the Bible (OT and NT) where reference is made to body, soul, and spirit. In a recent Catholic homily, the Priest refers to the soul wrapping the body, not the body wrapping the soul. This leads me to understand that it is the soul (and spirit) that is not locked in time and space, but the body clearly is.
I've attempted, with the entire series of essays, to approach the realities of the organism from a biological perspective, avoiding the religious aspects as best I can. The series is offered for folks already pro-life to one extent or another, in an effort to give substantial reason why current biological understandings underpin the pro-life position. In subsequent essays, the notions of legal positions (abortion laws, the Roe, Doe and Casey decision, embryonic stem cell proscriptions, cloning regulations) will also be addressed but the addresses of same underpinned with the biological realities.
Women: Age 24
Men: Age 30
The author reaches for such a broad definition of life that he ends up including unfertilized eggs. An unfertilized egg is as "integrated" of a "whole organism" as an fertilized egg. Thus a "human life" means a live egg than has been turned into a live human being by the process of fertilization.
embryonic individuals who have built the first form of the placenta they will occupy during pregnancy
The author seems intent on personifying cell specialization and other genetic processes. These exist throughout nature and in no way imply consciousness or survival instinct. They are simply predictable, predetermined actions.
When human form and human functions develop (I believe 8 weeks or so), then there is certainly an argument to be made for intentional actions by the individual. Otherwise I don't see how it is any different from what an unfertilized egg does, or for that matter an organ.