The question of whether abortion should or should not be permitted, and under what circumstances, is among the most difficult and sometimes anguished decisions for contemporary men and women. How we feel about this issue, and what actions we take, help to define our image of who we are as social beings. In the midst of the surrounding political, ethical, and religious debate, people everywhere are once again examining their conscience and their beliefs, and turning to unutilized sources of information as they seek to come to terms with this contentious issue. And as emotions run high, it is helpful to step back from the highly charged arena to reconsider the underlying scientific facts about human development.
In The Facts of Life, Harold Morowitz and James Trefil, two distinguished scientists and science writers, examine what modern biology can contribute to our understanding of this debate. Sensitive to the myriad ethical and religious arguments beyond the realm of science that swirl around abortion, the authors focus on one crucial question--when does a fetus acquire "humanness," that quality that sets us apart from all other living things. From the viewpoint of science, they argue, "humanness" begins with the possession of a highly developed cerebral cortex. While humans are linked via cell structure and cell chemistry with all life on our planet--from monkeys to fruit flies to pumpkins--it is the human brain structure which makes us who we are. Reviewing the latest advances in molecular biology, evolutionary biology, embryology, neurophysiology, and neonatology--fields that all bear on this question--the authors reveal a surprising consensus of scientific opinion on when humanness begins.
A lucid primer on the biological aspects of the abortion issue, The Facts of Life is also a fascinating inquiry, across various scientific disciplines, into what makes us uniquely human. Anyone who struggles with the issue of abortion will be grateful to find a work that moves this heated issue from the intensely emotional area it has occupied to the calmer domain of science.
"A remarkable book on several levels, not the least of which is that Morowitz and Trefil are scientists and science writers who write in an accessible, provocative, and wonderfully frank way about a difficult subject--abortion....An essential piece of literature."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The Facts of Life makes important contributions to the tendentious debate about abortion....Should be indispensable to that vast majority of citizens who are troubled by the simplistic polemics that have (mis)informed much of the debate."--Joshua Lederberg,The Rockefeller University
"The women of America owe Professor Morowitz and Trefil a debt of gratitude. Their careful scientific review cuts through the hype and hyperbole in the abortion debate and gives us a new perspective on the future of this debate. Fascinating!"--Ann Stone,Republicans for Choice
"Will disturb some, appeal to others, but interest all who wish to learn more about fetal development and its relevance to abortion issues."--Dominick P. Purpura, M.D., Dean, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
"It is well-written and informative and will create much needed discussion of and reflection on the issue of abortion."--Laurence A. Larson,Ohio University
1.: Framing the debate
2.: The web of life
4.: The emergence of humanness
5.: The development of the fetus
6.: The birth of the cortex
7.: Survival outside the womb: Hitting the wall