One of the early lessons in Physics is the Conservation of Energy. Energy comes in two broad categories (forms), kinetic and potential. Energy can be in either form, and the form can even be changed. Electric utility companies like to produce energy when there is little demand, store it, and release it when demand is high and generators can’t handle the load. One way of doing this, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is to pump water to an elevated reservoir. The water at height stores gravitational potential (weight) energy. That potential is very stable, only subject to little practical things (like leakage) that change the potential energy back to kinetic energy. The big practical thing is releasing water to flow through electric generator turbines.
It is kinetic energy that gets ‘er done. Potential energy deserves a comparable respect.
The precise language of Physics sometimes uses the same words which are used rather loosely in other contexts. One such context applies the phrase ‘potential life‘ to human reproduction. We have heard this phrase repeatedly, so we know what is meant by it – or, at least, we know what we are meant to think it means. We are meant to think that it means (and here, I will attempt a precise statement of that meaning) ‘mated human gametes are capable of becoming a developmentally-complete human organism and should be regarded as equivalent to that human’.
That’s fine and dandy. Mated human gametes, with a bunch of help from the host mom, can often do that. You know the rationale attached to this: the mated gametes are to be considered morally and legally identical to an adult human. That is a logical high-jump, about which I shall defer comment to another time. What I do not see is any comparable logical gymnastics to any other ‘potential life’ or other ‘potential outcome’.
And boy, lemme tell you that there is a LOT of ‘potential life’. The armadillo inserts a multiplier into the situation. One set of mated armadillo gametes is (for some species) potentially four (4, quatre, vier, arba’a) individual, genetically-identical ‘dillo babies – not just one!
That doesn’t count the potential descendants of the armadillo.
The potential for life, for descendant individual organisms, doesn’t even depend upon sex. Yeah, maybe you thought that everything depended upon sex – but not this time. Lots of organisms reproduce asexually. ‘Budding’ can propagate yeast such as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It begins with a bump, which progresses to a distinct appendage, which separates and goes its merry way. So the bump is ‘potential life’, right? Well, I dunno.
When is it a bump, anyway? When the cell wall deviates from round by a statistically-significant amount? How “statistically significant” is significant enough? How different from other cell-wall bumps must it be?
Cavendish bananas are my favorite example of asexual reproduction. Every Cavendish banana in the world is genetically identical. They are vegetatively propagated by cuttings. That makes me wonder – if a cutting can yield an entire planet-load of organisms, does destruction of a cutting mean that the potential for millions of organisms has been destroyed?
The potential of mated gametes may be different than a potential for developing into an individual. The potential may be to spontaneously abort. Yes – this is a natural, even normal, process that happens to a statistically significant number of mated human gametes. There is also a statistically significant potential for mated gametes to kill the host mom. How “statistically significant” is significant enough? We have dead moms as the answer.
If the continued protection and nourishment of mated gametes leads to the potential to kill the host mom, do we consider only their potential for developing into an individual – an individual who will also die with the mom?
If a pumped-storage hydroelectricity reservoir has a crack, and it might collapse and destroy lives and property, do we consider only its potential for generating electricity?
We are not meant to think that ‘potential life’ means something like: ‘a bud from asexual reproduction is equivalent to a developmentally-complete organism’ or ‘a reproductively-viable organism is equivalent to generations of distinct individual organisms of the same specie’ or ‘sustenance of some mated gametes is equivalent to killing the host mom’.
We are meant to accept the aforementioned logical high-jump without questioning that its premise is actually based on the misogynistic misapplication – beginning in recent history – of a particular religion’s scriptures. No other consideration, whether religious or extra-religious, is meant to apply.