Amanda Marcotte rips into stupid gotcha by Marco Rubio.
When Rubio appeared on CNN after Thursday night’s Republican debate, he kept insisting that this vague entity called “science” has declared that human life begins at conception. (Actual biologists, for what it’s worth, argue that life is continuous and that a fertilized egg is no more or less alive than a sperm or an unfertilized egg.) CNN host Chris Cuomo vainly tried to point out that “science” says no such thing, and Rubio got a little excited.
“Let me interrupt you. Science has—absolutely it has. Science has decided… Science has concluded that—absolutely it has. What else can it be?” he asked. Then Rubio reared up for what he clearly intended as his wowza line: “It cannot turn into an animal. It can’t turn into a donkey. The only thing that that can become is a human being.”
This seems to be the core pseudo-scientific premise of the anti-choicers, and it rests on a fundamental flaw in their reasoning. Yes, it’s true that a human zygote is alive and cannot become a cat or a donkey, but “human” here is being used in the broadest possible sense. We do not offer full rights and protections to everything that is “human”, or bleeding, spitting, and masturbation and menstruation would be illegal. Those acts also destroy living, human cells that cannot become donkey or cat cells.
We only offer legal rights to reasonably well-organized collections of human cells. Teratomas do not have a right to exist, nor do warts or severely damaged limbs — we will amputate badly injured, irreparable limbs even though they contain living human cells, because their retention puts the conscious part of the organism at risk.
I think the reason for this flawed argument (besides motivated reasoning) is that the public has a serious misconception: they know about genes and a little bit about inheritance, and unfortunately what they infer from that tiny bit of knowledge is a kind of genetic determinism. People, they think, are defined by the genes present in their nuclei. They aren’t.
I wish there were a way to get this across, but I’m aware that it’s a difficult argument that requires a deeper understanding of biology than most people have. Humans, in the narrow sense of conscious, behaving entities with a full suite of functioning tissues that allow at least semi-autonomous existence, are the product of genes plus developmental processes plus experience. Genes are not sufficient.
Genes are fully human in the same sense that a hunk of lumber is furniture. You have to recognize that there’s more to it than just a raw material.