The definition of ‘life’
Recently, articles and a letter were printed in the Daily Press regarding the morals and… uh, methods, associated with pregnancy and abortion. Interesting reading, however a vital component was missing from these and, in fact, all discussions of pregnancy as it relates to abortion – the definition of “life”.
Multiple attempts to define “life” have gone from the frivolous “a convenient means to preserve meat” to the celestial “God’s greatest gift”. These are subjective value judgements and not scientifically supportable.
I submit a scientific definition would be: “life is the condition in which a viable and adaptable compliment of DNA is surrounded by a continuously nurturing environment”.
Serious discussion/argument of this definition would be lengthy, and I will offer but short and simple examples here. Most obviously, the DNA a fish out of water cannot adapt quickly enough to draw “nurturing” from air, life is extinguished. Substances seriously altering DNA (ex. Intense radiation), cause abnormalities incapable of properly utilizing the existing and nurturing environment, if adaptation does not take place, life is extinguished. A pumpkin seed you might plant in your garden does not have “life” – it has DNA – but requires earth and water to “nurture” it to life. Once its DNA recognizes and adapts to the surrounding nutrients, life exists.
Regarding human pregnancy, the full compliment of DNA (as in the pumpkin seed) resulting from the completion of a viable compliment (fertilization) is not within a continuously nurturing environment until it implants in the womb. In the days prior, the growing mass of cells is limited in it’s location in the fallopian tube (implantation here in an attempt to access a continuing nurturing environment results in a “tubal pregnancy” which cannot go to term).
Once successful implantation occurs and progresses with continued nutrition, the condition of life begins and continues to the point at which pregnancy ceases and birth into a new, continuously nurturing environment is required. Cessation of pregnancy through abortion may be induced during the intrauterine period either spontaneously by physiology or via external means. In these instances, life cannot continue and it is extinguished.
Concepts of morality, ethics, or cultural values (law, religion, etc.) cannot be addressed in this discussion because no universal (or at least consistent) definition of life exists. Utilizing a scientific definition does not imply “judgement”, but rather “reality”. When life can scientifically be recognized to exist (this is what a pregnancy test does), then it must be dealt with using morals, ethics, etc.
“Life is the condition in which a viable and adaptable compliment of DNA is surrounded by a continuously nurturing environment”.
I present this for your consideration.
Michael A. Glass