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Complete Self


It’s impossible to separate a human person’s body, soul, and personhood.

It takes little more than a cursory review of the human body to recognize that it is a magnificent creation. An intricate assembly of tissues, organs, veins, and fluids that come together to support and sustain a rational being. The way that all of these parts are assembled and packaged is enough to make the most celebrated technical engineer envious.

The building block of any human body is its DNA. This DNA is specific to a person. There is a unique DNA combination for every single human person who ever was, ever is, or ever shall be. Within this structure that we know as DNA are the blueprints for human growth and development. These hard coded instructions help the body to move from a single totipotent cell all the way through what we would recognize as a fully mature human body.

This DNA blueprint is formed in the first moments of life and defines us for as long as our physical matter remains in existence.

The Requirements of Sustaining Human Life
It is because of these blueprints that the human person requires little external support in order to progress through maturation. Those required external supports are adequate nutrition and safe environment. If a human is able to eat and exist in an environment that is not hostile to them, they have the ability to progress through maturation.

There tends to be two stages in a person’s life where additional external support is necessary. In the earliest stages of development, from the moment of conception through school-age, the human needs significant assistance to maintain a healthy growth curve. In utero, a healthy umbilical cord with proper placement is essential. Nutrition and waste flow between the mother’s body and the child’s. This assistance is not ended at birth, when the child continues to depend on its mother for nutrition and the maintenance of hygiene. In the same way, a person who reaches an advanced age requires similar levels of intensive support.

A four-celled human has within it all of the instructions that it needs in order to become a multi-trillion-celled human adult. Those hard coded instructions will be followed, without any external intervention, so long as adequate nutrition and safe environment is maintained.

Independence does not Define Personhood
It would be a grave error to attempt to define personhood, or the value of a human life, by equating personhood to a certain level of independence. We all value our independence, and it is a wonderful thing. However, it is a feature of our existence, not a qualifier of our personhood.

A potty-trained five year old is no more a person than a diapered three-week old child. A 30 year old doctoral student is no more a person than a forty year old adult with Down Syndrome. An 80 year old marathoner is no more a person than a teenager in a wheelchair.

In this light, it is wrong to deny the personhood or value of a human person in utero simply because they lack independence. There is no concrete delineation to be made, regarding the essence of a human person, between a child in utero and a days old child. They are of the same species and genus, with similar structures, organs, and cognition. The sole difference that marks these two persons is their relative position on the spectrum of development and maturation.

Timing as it Relates to Personhood
There is a common snare that leads us to unethical medical decision making that relates to timing. It is well known that reaching the point of live birth is no small feat. Human growth and development is among the most complex of processes in the known world. At any point, a simple error can have dire consequences. Even making it to birth is no guarantee. SIDS, pandemics, accidents, and any number of circumstances can lead to the natural death of an otherwise healthy child.

Culturally, we believe that there is a certain wrongness about a person dying before a certain age. Of the old, we say they lived a long and fruitful life, and of the young we say they are gone too soon.

A statistical percentage of conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, commonly called miscarriage. These negative outcomes are a result of any number of complications. Although these persons die at a very early stage of development, the timing of their demise does not diminish or negate their personhood.

There is no correlation between time of existence, relative position on the development spectrum, and personhood. A person is a person regardless of their stage of development. The spectrum of human development has two termini, namely conception and natural death. If one is on the spectrum, they are necessarily a person.

It’s impossible to separate a human person’s body, soul, and personhood. The three remain linked from the moment of conception, when a the unique blueprints of DNA are formed, until the disintegration of body and soul at the moment of death.

About the Author

CHET COLLINS is a full-time sidekick to three small humans. He gets his best creative work done during their nap time. He’s had a keen interest in bioethics since 2003.

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