Are Fetuses Human?

It is almost impossible in today’s world to be unaware with the controversy of abortion. Politicians, religious leaders and people and general all seem to have a very clear view on this topic; whether aborting an unborn fetus should be allowed. Supporters say that a woman should do what’s best for her body and the fetus has not been born yet, so one is not killing anything when getting an abortion. Opponents claim that no one has the right to kill a defenseless human and abortion should be illegal. But what exactly is a fetus? And is it human?

A fetus is defined as an “unborn, developing mamal and occurs around the tenth week of pregnancy. A fetus is developed from an embryo and remains this way until the fetus is born. An embryo is the small height of .75 inches in the beginning stages to around 20 inches at birth. At this point, a fetus has fingers and toes, lungs are formed and the brain is constantly maturing and developing. By the ninth week of gestation, the baby’s “body will begin to store fat, and its respiratory system will develop and mature over the course of the pregnancy”.  This means that the baby starts to take on a more human appearance, with eyelashes, nails, and sometimes even hair. A mother is able to feel the fetus moving around and extending the fetus’ limbs by the 20th week of pregnancy. This is where the definition of a fetus gets tricky: do these features make it human?

One argument is that since a fetus has not exited the womb, it cannot be classified as a human. Even though this “mass” has a heartbeat and a developing brain, some believe that it cannot be a human until the fetus is physically born. A recent study tried to determine if a fetus has the ability to have behavioral states. They conducted a longitudinal study, “fetal eye movements, visualized by means of real-time ultrasonic imaging, and fetal heart rate patterns, recorded by means of a cardiotocograph” were observed as variable to see if a fetus experienced these states like a newborn human. The researchers discovered that between weeks 38 and 40, where movement is most easily recognizable, the four behavioral states were not found. While the researchers found that the fetus showed “wakefulness”, the “stability of association of parameters for prolonged periods and by the simultaneity of change of parameters at state transitions” was not statistically significant enough to prove that the fetuses had behavioral stages, and therefore is not human.

On the other hand, some believe that a fetus is human. When an egg and sperm cell are first combined, a unique combination of DNA is created, including what hair and eye color this zygote will have. Some argue that this shows that a fetus is and has always been a human because it has always been different and has had predetermined qualities. Supporters of this argument point out that the definition of a human being is “any individual of the genus Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens”. This official definition doesn’t discriminate which stage a zygote, embryo or fetus is in. Even my source from Princeton University states that “During the process of fertilization, the sperm and the oocyte [egg] cease to exist as such, and a new human being is produced.” 

In today’s highly political and intelligent world, it is important to be informed on controversial topics such as this one. Next time, make sure you know your facts before commenting on such a disputed topic.



A fetus…I know kind of gross looking, right?



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1 thought on “Are Fetuses Human?

  1. Walt

    The debate of when life begins is never going to end. Until Andrew mentioned it in class, I never really thought about the probability (almost a miracle) of me being alive. For a long time I often believed life began at conception. It is no doubt cellular life, but my stance about life beginning at conception changed when I thought about and researched when the fetus could survive on its own. Generally, the fetus can survive on its own if it is about 28 weeks old, but an New York Times article revealed that some may be viable, with certain medical care, at 22 weeks. This is important to consider in the political arena with regards to abortion.

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