Skip to comments.‘When Does Human Life Begin?’ - Even Earlier Than Many Suppose
Posted on 12/04/2008 1:37:22 PM PST by NYer
Almost anyone with a high school education can correctly answer the question When does human life begin? by responding at conception or at fertilization of a human egg by a sperm cell. While we may not understand, or only vaguely recall, the precise process by which an egg and sperm combine to create a new unique human being, this basic truth about human life falls into the category of things we cant not know.
Yet today, many educated people who do know better assert that human life begins at some later stage of development.
They arbitrarily push forward the starting point to implantation or viability, or even birth and beyond, to accommodate their approval of abortifacient drugs and devices, in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, lethal embryo research (including embryonic stem-cell research), chemical and surgical abortion, and eugenic infanticide.
Because such confusion arises more from muddled values than a misunderstanding of basic science, one might think that the white paper When Does Human Life Begin?: A Scientific Perspective would have limited usefulness. To the contrary, the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person in Thornwood, N.Y., has done a great service to the public debate and to policymakers by publishing such a paper, authored by Maureen Condic, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Based on her objective review of current scientific evidence in human embryology, Condic convincingly demonstrates that a new human organism (an embryo that is called a zygote in its one-celled form) comes into being at the moment when the sperm and egg fuse. This occurs mere seconds after the sperm has penetrated the thin layer of protein enveloping the egg.
Her evidence refutes the recent assertions of some scientists that a human life begins at the eight-cell stage when gene transcription begins, or four days post-fertilization when the inner cell mass forms distinct from placental cells, or at 5 to 6 days when the embryo implants in the uterine wall. Condic demonstrates that each of these events like a babys first tooth or the onset of puberty are simply milestones along lifes path and not indicative of any fundamental change in the entity.
And her proof also counters the claim of some scientists (reflected in many textbooks and even legal codes) that a human organism begins to exist only at syngamy, an event that occurs roughly 24 hours after the sperm enters the egg.
Recall that every cell has a nucleus where the cells DNA is located. A thin membrane separates the nucleus from the rest of the cell (cytoplasm). In a new human embryo, however, there are briefly two nuclei one with dads DNA and one with moms. Before the first cell division takes place, the DNA from mom and dad (23 chromosomes each) have to match up and copy themselves.
To do that, the membranes surrounding their nuclei need to break down. That event is called syngamy.
Condic shows how the zygote is already behaving like an organism before syngamy because factors from the sperm and egg are interact[ing] coordinately to orchestrate subsequent development. The zygote already possesses DNA different from his or her mother and father and is carry[ing] on the activities of life with organs that are separate but mutually dependent.
For example, within minutes after the sperm enters the cytoplasm of the egg, the new zygote sends out chemical signals that change the outer protein layer to prevent other sperm from entering the zygote.
Within 30 minutes of the sperm entering the egg, factors contributed by the sperm signal the nucleus of the egg to reduce its two sets of DNA to one. Within the first hour, proteins contributed by the sperm interact with chemicals in the zygote to create changes that will allow the zygote to begin dividing and growing. The nuclei are already being directed to line up across from each other for the first cell division.
Also, as Condic notes, the breakdown of the membranes separating the nuclei from the sperm and egg is not a unique, zygote-forming event, but rather it is part of every round of cell division that occurs through life.
In this summary form Ive just given, it may be difficult to follow the complex interplay of paternal and maternal factors within the newly formed zygote. Fortunately, Condic takes pains to walk us through these first essential baby steps of every new human life. The white paper also contains illustrations and a very helpful glossary to aid in understanding these intricate processes.
Writing as a scientist, Condic criticizes analogies comparing the development of human embryos to manufactured products, even when the embryos lives begin in a laboratory. Conceptualizing human procreation as a manufacturing process encourages erroneous thinking that the human being does not fully exist until viability or birth, when all the steps of the manufacturing process presumably are completed in the case of a car, when it is fully assembled and ready to leave the factory.
But cars, unlike people, are built externally by others acting on them, building and assembling components. In contrast, she explains, the defining feature of the human zygote is that it has the power both to generate all the cells of the body and simultaneously to organize those cells into coherent, interacting bodily structures. Thus, from the first moment of fusion between sperm and egg, everything necessary to develop the adult human being is present, provided the new human embryo is allowed to develop in a safe environment and is able to access nutrition.
When Does Human Life Begin comes at a critical time. The new administration and many members of the next Congress are already championing policies that will put nascent human lives at even greater risk than they are today.
Federal funding and a vast expansion of human embryonic stem-cell research is almost a foregone conclusion. Our next president strongly supports such funding, and he can reverse the Bush moratorium with an executive order.
The president-elect also has cosponsored legislation to greatly increase government funding of contraception, including abortifacients, and mandate contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies.
Annually, over 100,000 children are born in the United States as a result of assisted reproductive technologies. Most people are unaware that in the process of making these children, hundreds of thousands of sibling-embryos die or are killed.
In addition, President-elect Obama has promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a law that will effectively wipe out 35 years of pro-life laws at the state and federal levels. Many of these laws have been shown to reduce abortions and, in their absence, we can expect abortion rates to increase.
Many Americans are weary of political battles and deeply concerned about the economy and other issues that touch their families. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the legalized killing thats occurring in our country on an unprecedented scale. What lofty ideal does America still represent when its foundational principle the inherent, God-given right to life of every human being is violated by the very institutions entrusted with caring for the lives of vulnerable people: the family, the medical profession and the state?
We must urgently convey to our fellow citizens the inherent value and dignity of every human being. From the first moment of conception to ones natural death, every human being, regardless of size, age, sex, race, mental or physical ability, is a unique and irreplaceable creature, made in Gods image and infinitely loved by God. Every life is, therefore, worthy of protection and concern. There are no exceptions. Laws that tolerate exceptions are unjust and must be opposed.
Condic and the Westchester Institute are to be applauded for rigorously defining the beginning point of each human life from the perspective of science. The white paper should prove to be an excellent tool in our pro-life arsenal to refute claims that entities destroyed by abortifacients, destructive embryo research, IVF procedures, and abortions are something less than fully human beings.
If life does not begin at conception, why was birth control invented?
Uh...the sperm is alive. So is the ovum. It seems to me that life began before fertilization. Maybe it’s been a continuum since our first living ancestor—a virus perhaps—or maybe Adam.
thats funny because I was clicking in here to type just what you did, so if what you say is true, then to “kill” does not mean to “take a life” since you might say the parents are still alive.... very interesting.
First, they are amoral and choose to make money off the ending of human life. Others must do this as a way to deny that the life they are ending is "human" not a puppy, kitty or even "tissue."
How else do they hope to keep the idea in people's heads (especially teens) that what they are doing is NOT ending life but "preventing unwanted pregnancies" and thus eliminating "difficult situations."
True. A liver is also alive, and so is a pancreas. However, none of those will develop into something more than the original: a genetically complete, unique, and maturing human person. The combination of sperm and egg will, under the right conditions.
Read for later
What do lawyers call it? Something about “negligence”, maybe “reckless negligence”, to shoot at movement in the brush when you don’t know if it’s a human being or a deer.
This is the same - if you don’t know when it is a human being, you have no right to kill it.
Life is ongoing. A new human being begins at conception.
Good answer. Good answer.
The amoral, greedy and willfully ignorant choose to play ostrich so that they do NOT need to come face to face with the truth!
At the beginning. Besides, the pro-aborts don’t care about when life begins as is shown in their advocacy of partial-birth abortion. They only care about when life ends, and it is whenever they say it ends according to them.
My life began as a twinkle in my daddy’s eye....
...at least that’s what mom told me.
Yes, that’s a good way to put it. You can transplant a liver into another person, but it doesn’t make the recipient a different person, neither the donor nor the pre-donation patient. He’s the same person with a replacement liver. And yet the liver was alive, and continues to be alive.
Makes a person want to find her bedroom slippers and pour a glass of wine :-).
And haircuts are murder.
You have the right to remain silent.
I had an interesting discussion about this with a co-worker of mine one time. He's one of these libertarian types, you know, fiscally conservative but socially liberal. He kept insisting that believing that life begins at conception is a "religious argument". I explained to him that it is simply illogical - religion having everything or nothing to do with the argument - to think that life begins anywhere BUT conception, since from conception on the development of the child is a continuum on which there is no place at which a stage is abruptly passed whereby you can markedly say that something has happened to the growing child which would say "life began at this point". The only place where something like this happens is at conception, and this argument includes the act of giving birth. One MUST accept that life begins at conception, unless one wishes to be entirely arbitrary and question-begging.
He tried to argue with me that life begins at the point where the child is viable to live on their own. I pointed out to him that, depending on how you define that, this could mean children all the way up to 12-18 months old aren't really "alive" since they're pretty much incapable of fending for themselves even in the sense of finding food on a table to feed themselves with. He got a little red in the face at this point.
Thank you. It’s a point worth bringing up, I think, that we’re talking about not just “life,” not just “living tissue that’s part of a human body,” but the origination of a unique human being who is neither the father nor the mother. As I said in another post, that isn’t the result of any other transfer or combination of human tissue.