Thursday, July 19, 2007

Life Does Actually Begin Part 1 [Jay]

Recently, I have read opinions that the beginning of biological life is either a fuzzy proposition or as Dr. Mark Hoofnagle asserts here is not a true beginning at all. I am still working on a response, but Wesley Smith posted a comment under this post at Second Hand Smoke that I thought was pretty right on all by itself. He is responding to a comment that “the beginning and ends of human life are not bright lines but complex processes.”

I am posting the comment in its entirety with Wesley’s permission:

The "complication" does not come from biology, but from philosophy, ideology. Biologically we know when a new human organism has come into being: it is upon the completion of the fertilization process in which the new organism has its own genome and is a unique, discrete, integrated individual. And don't talk twinning: That is merely one of the potentialities possessed by the unique organism for a period of time in its development. Indeed,if twinning occurs, then there are two unique organisms. But the capacity to twin does not mean that the embryo is not a living organism.

Death too is a biological process in which this organism ceases to operate in an organized, integrated fashion. In other words, even if there are still some cells that are alive, after death, it is not an organism any longer. (Thus, if you remove the heart and it keeps beating, this does not mean that the heart is a living organism. It is merely a heart that can beat for a time. Similarly, the fact that hair grows for a bit after life ceases, does not make the cadaver alive since it is not acting as an integrated organism.

We complicate what constitutes the beginning and end of human life for reasons of utility and ideology. (Ironically, this is generally done by people who claim the mantle of rationality and as defenders of science.) We want to be able to engage in ESCR, and so we say that embryos are really only pre-embryos that are mere chemical processing cell bundles. We want to harvest organs, so we say that a PVS patient is really dead.

But these arguments aren't scientific. Indeed, it is postmodern biology--a corruption of science--because the biological facts don't matter, or better stated, get in the way of what we want to do and get a good night's sleep. So, we adhere to the narrative instead of the facts.

The questions of birth and death, biologically, is not really all that complicated which is why I would trust a plumber with these matters far more than a Ph.D.


  1. Great post, Jay. It's amazing how many people are ignorant on what science clearly tells us. Here are some other responses to the "No one knows when life begins" argument. (much of it based on Scott's previous work)

    • If there is uncertainty about when human life begins, the benefit of the doubt should go to preserving life. If a hunter is uncertain whether a movement in the brush is caused by a person, does his uncertainty lead him to fire or not to fire? Shouldn’t we give the benefit of the doubt to life? Otherwise we are saying, “This may or may not be a child, therefore it’s all right to destroy it. If we don’t know when life begins, then we should not tolerate abortion because it may be the taking of a human life. What would we think of a structural engineer who chose to blow up an old building without first checking to see if anyone was inside? It’s the same thing as saying, “We don’t know if the unborn are human, but we are going to kill them anyway.”

    • There is no longer any doubt that individual human life begins at fertilization. "[The Zygote] results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." (The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th ed. Keith L. Moore, Ph.D. & T.V.N. Persaud, Md., (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), 2-18.)
    • "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual."(Human Embryology, 3rd ed. Bradley M. Patten, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 43.)
    • "The zygote thus formed represents the beginning of a new life." (Briological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, (Philadelphia: W.B. Sanders, 1974), 17.)
    •"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." (Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3d ed. E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, (Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975), vii.)

    • Prior to his acceptance of unrestricted abortion on demand, Planned Parenthood’s former president Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would not know this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” (Life in the Making, Viking Press, 1933.) [I have this book in my office, and I bring it to every debate I participate in.]

    • Dr. Landrum Shettles, the first scientist to successfully achieve fertilization in a test-tube, writes that, “Fertilization confers and defines life.”

    • Prominent feminist Naomi Wolf, in an article for the New Republic, said to her fellow prochoice advocates: “Clinging to 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.” (“Our Bodies, Our Souls,” New Republic, Oct. 16 1995)

    • Psychologist and pro-choice advocate Magda Denes wrote, “I do think abortion is murder – of a very special and necessary sort. And no physician ever involved with the procedure ever kids himself about that.” (“The Question of Abortion” Commentary 62, December 1976)

    • Prenatal development is so explosive that by the end of the 43rd day, every unborn child has a heart that is beating and a brain that is producing brainwave activity. Since few abortions take place prior to week six (since, as Dr. Hern points out, they are medically unsafe for the mother,) every child abortion kills has a functioning heart and brain.

  2. I REALLY like Wesley Smith! And, I'm a Ph.D. (:-)


All comments are moderated. We reject all comments containing obscenity. We reserve the right to reject any and all comments that are considered inappropriate or off-topic without explanation.