Sunday, January 11, 2009

When Does a New Human Life Begin?

This is a hotly debated question among those in the abortion debate. Many on the pro-choice side argue that a new human life doesn't begin until viability, quickening, or until birth. Also many people say that this is a philosophical or religious question..But what is the right answer?
The values of legal rights, personhood, and worth are philosphical and sociological values not to be confused with the scientific classification of a human being. However in my experience in debate and discussions, many individuals confuse philosophical ideas (like the concept of “person”) with the scientific/biological definition of “human being (a living organism of the human species)” or “a human”. Let's turn to science and medical embryology for clearification. The sciences of embryology and genetics reveal that a zygote, embryo, and fetus are members of the genius homeo sapiens (human beings) and rather these terms describe developmental stages, rather than species. Let's look at more of what embryologists have to say:

First, Let's Look at Newer Embryology Textbooks:"Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoo developmentn) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."
"A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)."
Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.

"Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the femal gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote."
T.W. Sadler, Langman's Medical Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006. p. 11.

"[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being."
Keith L. Moore, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008. p. 2.

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a 'moment') is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte."
Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8.

"Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization... This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development."
William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998. pp. 1, 14.

"It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitues the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual."

Now Let's Look at Older Embryology Textbooks:

Clark Edward Corliss, Patten's Human Embryology: Elements of Clinical Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. p. 30.

"The term conception refers to the union of the male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops."

"The zygote thus formed represents the beginning of a new life."

J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1974. pp. 17, 23.

"Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition."

E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd edition. Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975. p. vii.

Gravatar "Every baby begins life within the tiny globe of the mother's egg... It is beautifully translucent and fragile and it encompasses the vital links in which life is carried from one generation to the next. Within this tiny sphere great events take place. When one of the father's sperm cells, like the ones gathered here around the egg, succeeds in penetrating the egg and becomes united with it, a new life can begin." - 13

Geraldine Lux Flanagan, Beginning Life. New York: DK, 1996. p. 13.

"Biologically speaking, human development begins at fertilization."

And What Educational Videos Have to Say:
The Biology of Prenatal Develpment, National Geographic Video, 2006.

"The two cells gradually and gracefully become one. This is the moment of conception, when an individual's unique set of DNA is created, a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated."

In the Womb, National Geographic Video, 2005.
Science tells us an individual human life begins at conception. There has even been acknowledgement from the pro-choice side that life begins at conception.

Zygote, embryo and fetus don't refer to non-humans, but humans at a particular stage of human development.

Quotes compiled and documentation completed by Abort73, if in doubt you can borrow the above textbooks from your local public or university library and verify the above quotes yourself.

What the Pro-Choice Side Has to Say:

"I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don't know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus..."
Faye Wattleton. former president of Planned Parenthood, as quoted in Salon Magazine, June 27, 1997
"Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life...we need to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that the death of a fetus is a real death."
Naomi Wolf, prominent feminist author and abortion supporter, as quoted in Our Bodies, Our Souls, The New Republic, 1995).
"In the top drawer of my desk, I keep [a picture of my son]. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clear enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows [my son] at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point."
David Noonin, in his book, A Defense of Abortion, p. xiv

Quotes Compiled by Sarah Terzo at Abortion Clinic Quotes

Some Other Interesting Arguments the Pro-choice Side Makes:

The pro-choice side often compares the similiarities of developing human to other mammals or amphibians, pointing out gills along the neck and the tail of the developing human.

What are mistaken for gills are actually known as the pharyngeal arches. By the end of week 4, 6 pairs of pharyngeal arches are present, although only 3 are visible. (The word pharyngeal stems from the word pharynx, which refers to the area in the back of the throat.) These arches have been thought to resemble a fish's gills; however, it should be noted that they do not function as gills. Pharyngeal arches, on the other hand, are tissue folds which will develop into head and neck structures. The 1st arch will develop into parts of the upper and lower jaw, the ear, the mouth, the teeth, and the nose. The 2nd arch will help to form the tongue, the neck, the tonsils, and the ear. The 3rd arch will help to form the tongue, the parathyroid gland, the thymus gland, and the neck. The 4th, 5th, and 6th arches will all work together to form parts of the larynx, commonly referred to as the "voicebox," and the trachea, as well as contributing to the parathyroid and thymus glands.

Also, what is believed to be a tail is not a tail at all, but is the continuation of the spinal cord, caused by the spine growing in length faster than the rest of the trunk

Visible Embryo

University of New South Wales Embryology Website

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