This blogpost was taken from my new personal blog here.
As someone who defends the pro-life position I'm often accused of
believing absurd things that are often ascribed to me even though I
don't believe anything of the sort. One common assertion thrown at me is
that I believe that human sperm is also a subject of moral rights
or as Monty Python put it, every sperm is sacred.
This is allegedly because I think that human life is morally valuable
from fertilization in virtue of the sort of thing they are (a substance of rational nature) and therefore have certain moral rights (such as that not to be intentionally and unjustly killed)
I must also believe that sperm and ovum have moral rights to. The
logical conclusion is that I must believe that every-time someone
masturbates they are committing something akin to mass murder or
Now I feel I have a certain obligation to the number of pro-life critics
who more often than you would think seem to get mixed up what the
pro-life position is, particularly between the difference between a part
and its whole. Now, from conception/fertilization a new human organism
comes into being, they may differ in regards to size, level of
development, environment and their degree of dependency but they are a
whole human being (or if you prefer a member of the human species).
The pro-life position is not that a part of a human of itself has moral
value, for instance a kidney or liver is a part of a human being but
they are certainly not whole human beings. Of course they are
genetically human but they do not function as a whole human organism but
as a part of a whole human one. Gametes (sperm and ovum) are parts of a human being, they are not in themselves a whole human organism.
I suppose some of the confusion may arise from a misunderstanding of an
argument from potential, that is some people think that the same sort of
potential resides within a gamete cell as it does in the early human
embryo. However this misunderstands two types of potential, active and
Gametes have the sort of potential that ingredients have for making a
cake, that is left by themselves they will not develop into a cake.
However this is not analogous to the embryo which is already a whole,
alive, self-directed developing human organism with all the ingredients
mixed and in the oven. That is to say left by itself in the maternal
environment it will continue to develop into a mature human being,
however that is not the case for a gamete which left alone for a few
days will cease to exist like any other human cell.