Friday, July 13, 2018

Life begins at conception

"Life begins at fertilization, science teaches":

  1. The aforementioned article cites several medical and scientific textbooks stating life begins at conception aka fertilization.

  2. It's a helpful list. There are others like it elsewhere (e.g. The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor if I remember correctly).

  3. There are newer editions of some of the cited textbooks. I assume the reason the older editions are cited is because more recent editions aren't as clear in stating when life begins.

    I don't know the exact reason(s) why more recent editions are less clear on when life begins, though I have my guesses. I know it's not because the medical science on when life begins has somehow radically changed between editions!

  4. However, even considering the recent editions aren't quite as clear as the older editions, here's a quotation from the latest (9th) edition of Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (2016) edited by Keith L. Moore, T.V.N. Persaud, and Mark G. Torchia, p. 1:

    Human development begins at fertilization when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. Development involves many changes that transform a single cell, the zygote, into a multicellular human being. Embryology is concerned with the origin and development of a human being from a zygote to birth.

    Also, here's a quotation from the latest (10th) edition of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (2016) edited by Keith L. Moore, T.V.N. Persaud, and Mark G. Torchia, p. 1:

    Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male (Fig. 1-1). Cell division, cell migration, programmed cell death (apoptosis), differentiation, growth, and cell rearrangement transform the fertilized oocyte, a highly specialized, totipotent cell, a zygote, into a multicellular human being. Most changes occur during the embryonic and fetal periods; however, important changes occur during later periods of development: neonatal period (first 4 weeks), infancy (first year), childhood (2 years to puberty), and adolescence (11 to 19 years). Development does not stop at birth; other changes, in addition to growth, occur after birth (e.g., development of teeth and female breasts).

    All that's slightly more oblique, but the scientific facts are still unavoidable. The debate is primarily over the philosophical and ethical ramifications of the science, not the science itself.

  5. Scientific textbooks have their limitations. They're typically a decent summary of the fundamentals, but often textbooks don't reflect the latest bleeding-edge research. In fact, many textbooks are at least a couple of years out of date by the time they're published. The latest research tends to be presented at medical and scientific conferences and published in medical and scientific journals (e.g. Nature, Science). But again, textbooks are generally suitable for the established fundamentals, which is what's in view when it comes to when life begins.

  6. The article likewise quotes scientists and physicians on when life begins. Of course, experts are the ones attending conferences, contributing to scientific papers, and writing textbooks or chapters in textbooks. Textbooks themselves are based on the work of experts. So expert opinion on a topic in their field of expertise carries considerable weight. Just keep in mind scientific and medical experts aren't necessarily philosophical or ethical experts and vice versa.


  1. Life may begin at conception, but does *personhood*? I would like the laws to be stricter in regards to protecting the unborn when there are any discernible vital signs, but I'm struggling with whether the law should afford a zygote the same legal protections as an adult.

    In addition, declaring a zygote a "person" creates an unreasonable burden on women who are raped who seek to terminate a possible pregnancy within the first several days.

    1. As I've argued on more than one occasion, the prolife case doesn't depend on the personhood of the baby.

    2. "In addition, declaring a zygote a "person" creates an unreasonable burden on women who are raped who seek to terminate a possible pregnancy within the first several days."

      1. This assumes what's in dispute with at least some pro-lifers. As such, some pro-lifers might retort it's like saying: declaring grandma a person creates an unreasonable burden on her caregivers so it should be justifiable to terminate grandma.

      2. Have you seen this, "Abortion Is Wrong Even If The Fetus Is Not A Person"?

    3. I remember my ethics class 6 or so years ago conceded (the textbook anyone qith differing viewpoints and essays) that life, even personhood began at conception. Rather the argument moved to whether or not it was a 'moral person,' one that was self aware enough to contribute anything. At least that's what I got out of the definition. Very Singerish.
      So it doesn't matter to these folks. They will kill. They want to Ban guns and all self defense yet, they love to kill the defenseless.

  2. Trent, I have heard it argued that a fetus is fair game so long as the umbilical cord is still attached. It is probably useless to argue over whether a zygote is a person at this point when it's being suggested by the intellectual "elites" that a fully developed fetus may not be. We are probably getting ahead of ourselves.

    As an aside: someone mentioned The Handmaid's Tale on this site. I've actually been watching the show. I'm surprised that it hasn't been accused of portraying a stealth pro-life message considering that the handmaids all seek to keep and protect the children they've conceived from instances of rape. Further, despite the twisted theology of the guardians of Gilead, the protagonist seems to be a woman of some faith herself, even if marginal. It's not a hit piece against all things religion. The show's also stunning in its cinematography.

    1. Wow, considering the umbilical cord isn’t typically cut or “detached” until after birth (i.e. the umbilical arteries vasoconstrict through multiple smooth muscle contractions which increase in frequency and intensity over time which in turn causes the umbilical cord to naturally close and eventually fall off after birth, unless a surgeon cuts or more commonly now lets the woman’s partner cut the umbilical cord before the entire process is complete), that means these people are arguing a more radical position than even a Democrat like Hillary Clinton would argue.

  3. The most common response to citing these textbooks is to claim that phases like "Human development begins" does not mean that the fetus is already a human being. For instance, suppose that we were writing a textbook on how vehicles are manufactured. We might look at the very first assembly machine in the factory and say this is where a truck begins, but not mean that the first metal beam, sans the final process, constitutes a truck.

    I think there is a response to this (difference between a self-directed organism and an artifact, etc), but the textbook language is, I think, intentionally vague to leave such wiggle room.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John Bowling.

      1. I think your point about a zygote being "a self-directed organism" is a fair response to this kind of claim.

      2. I'd add if one isn't sure the zygote is or isn't a human being, if one thinks it could go either way, then I would think it's far better to err on the side of life and assume it is than to err on the side of "death" - abortion or termination.

      Maybe it's like how people who are against capital punishment argue it's better that a hundred guilty people go free than one innocent person is falsely convicted. After all, they say, once an innocent person is executed, he can't be raised from the dead!

      3. Also, I would take issue with their "truck and factory" analogy. A truck being built in a factory is built one piece at a time like you described. But it seems to me a zygote is more like the factory itself that builds a truck.

  4. >>>I don't know the exact reason(s) why more recent editions are less clear on when life begins, though I have my guesses.

    Science, like most technical fields (or all fields?) is a field that works on definition. Depending on how one determines how "life" is defined, the answers will change.

    1. If that's the rationale, the textbooks should be equally vague about other statements of life, but they aren't.