When Does Life Begin? (+Potential Life?)

Bill Maher: Kathy, why do you oppose a women’s right to choose

Kathy Ireland: Bill, when my husband was going to medical school I underwent a transformation.  Because I used to be in favor of abortion.  But I noticed when I was reading through some of his medical teaching books, that according to a law in science known as the law of biogenesis, every living thing reproduces after it own kind.  That means dog produce dogs, cats produce cats, humans produce humans.  If we want to know what something is we simply ask what are its parents. If we know what the parents are, we know what the thing in question is.  And I reasoned from that because human parents can only produce human offspring, unborn human fetuses could be nothing but human beings, because the law of biogenesis rules out every other alternative.  And I concluded therefore that because human fetuses were part of our family, we should not harm them without justification.

This is an excerpt from Randy Alcorn’s book (older edition), “Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments Expanded & Updated


It is uncertain when human life begins; that’s a religious question that cannot be answered by science.

An article printed and distributed by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL [the original, and still largest pro-choice organization]) describes as anti-choice the position that human life begins at conception. It says the pro-choice position is, Personhood at conception is a religious belief, not a provable biological fact.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said on July 3, 2000, “No one knows when human life begins.” He made no distinction between biological life and any other kind of life. Mr. OReilly then went on to ask a guest if “is an embryo in a [petri] dish a human life”? Sen. Hatch’s claim that “an embryo in a petri dish is not a human life”?

1a.  If there is uncertainty about when human life begins, the benefit of the doubt should go to preserving life.

[One of the reasons the Supreme Court allowed the legalization of abortion is that they werent sure of when life began.] Suppose there is uncertainty about when human life begins. 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? If youre driving at night and you think the dark figure ahead on the road may be a child, but it may be just a shadow of a tree, do you drive into it or do you put on the brakes? If we find someone who may be dead or alive, but were not sure, what is the best policy? To assume he is alive and try to save him, or to assume he is dead and walk away?

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.

1b. Medical Textbooks and scientific reference works constantly agree that human life begins at conception.

Many people have been told that there is no medical or scientific consensus as to when human life begins. This is simply untrue. Among those scientists who have no vested (monetary) in the abortion issue, there is an overwhelming consensus that human life begins at conception. (Conception is the moment when the egg is fertilized by the sperm, bringing into existence the zygote, which is a genetically distinct individual.)

Dr. Bradley M. Pattens textbook, Human Embryology, states:

  • It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and the 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 a new individual.

Dr. Keith L. Moores text on embryology, referring to the single cell zygote, says:

  • The cell results from fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being. He also states, Each of us started life as a cell called a zygote.

Doctors J. P. Greenhill and E. A. Friedman, in their work on biology and obstetrics, state:

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

Dr. Louis Fridhandler, in the medical textbook Biology of Gestation, refers to fertilization as:

  • that wondrous moment that marks the beginning of life for a new unique individual.

Doctors E. L. Potter and J. M. Craig write in Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant:

  • 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.

Popular scientific reference works reflect this same understanding of when human life begins. Time and Rand McNallys Atlas of the Human Body states:

  • In fusing together, the male and female gametes produce a fertilized single cell, the zygote, which is the start of a new individual.

In an article on pregnancy, the Encyclopedia Britannica says:

  • A new individual is created when the elements of a potent sperm merge with those of a fertile ovum, or egg.

These sources confidently affirm, with no hint of uncertainty that life begins at conception. They state not a theory or hypothesis and certainly not a religious belief every one is a secular source. Their conclusion is squarely based on the scientific and medical facts.

1c. Some of the worlds most prominent scientist and physicians testified to a U. S. Senate committee that human life begins at conception.

In 1981, a United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee invited experts to testify on the question of when life begins. Al of the quotes from the following experts come directly from the official government record of their testimony.

Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, stated:

  • I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception. I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of a human life.

I am no more prepared to say that these early stages [of development in the womb] represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty is not a human being. This is human life at every stage.

Dr. Jerome LeJeune, professor of genetics at the University of Descartes in Paris, was the discoverer of the chromosome pattern of Downs syndrome. Dr. LeJeune testified to the Judiciary Subcommittee that:

  • after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being. He stated that this is no longer a matter of taste or opinion, and not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence. He added, Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.

Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic:

  • By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.

Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School:

  • It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive. It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception. Our laws, one function of which is to help preserve the lives of our people, should be based on accurate scientific data.

Dr. Watson A. Bowes, University of Colorado Medical School:

  • The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view as simple and straightforward matter the beginning is conception. This straightforward biological fact should not be distorted to serve sociological [familial, age, or medical advances], political [pro-choice], or economic goals [cannot finish school].

A prominent physician points out that at these Senate hearings, Pro-abortionists, though invited to do so, failed to produce even a single expert witness who could specifically testify that life begins at any other point other than conception or implantation.

1d. Many other prominent scientists and physicians have likewise affirmed with certainty that human life begins at conception.

Ashley Montague, a geneticist and professor at Harvard and Rutgers, is unsympathetic to the pro-life cause. Nevertheless, he affirms unequivocally, The basic fact is simple: Life begins not at birth, but conception.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, internationally known obstetrician and gynecologist, was co-founder of what is now the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL [Dr. Nathanson help start the entire pro-choice movement]). He owned and operated what was at the time the largest abortion clinic in the Western hemisphere. He was directly involved in over sixty thousand abortions.

Dr. Nathansons study of developments in the science of fetology and his use of ultrasound to observe the unborn child in the womb led him to the conclusion that he had made a horrible mistake. Resigning from his lucrative position, Nathanson wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that he was deeply troubled by his increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60, 000 deaths.

In his film, The Silent Scream, Dr. Nathanson later stated, Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from us. Dr. Nathanson wrote Aborting America to inform the public of the realities behind the abortion rights movement of which he had been a primary leader. At the time Dr. Nathanson was an atheist. His conclusions were not even remotely religious, but squarely based on the biological facts.

Dr. Lundrum Shettles was for twenty-seven years attending obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Shettles was a pioneer in sperm biology, fertility, and sterility. He is internationally famous for being the discoverer of male- and female- producing sperm. His intrauterine photographs of preborn children appear in over fifty medical textbooks. Dr. Shettles staes:

  • I oppose abortion, I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically manifest that human life commences at the same time of conception and, secondly, because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic, and humanitarian.

The official Senate report on Senate Bill 158, the Human Life Bill, summarized the issue this way:

  • Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a humans being a being that is and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.

Does It Matter?

In a statement form the The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Director of Media and Policy Daniel McConchie said:

  • “Stem cell lines are quickly becoming marketable items. Once some integral human parts can be bought and sold, we run the risk that democratic societies will decide that other weak and defenseless members of the human race in those societies can be utilized for profits as well.”

Jews and Blacks were once said by the courts to be less than human, I wonder if we are headed down that path again?


Potential Life?


The Fetus Is Only A Potential Human Life.

Only through mind-numbing stupidity could someone suggest that when human sperm and human eggs unite they produce something that is only “potential human life.”

If the word “potential” is suggesting that the unborn is only potentially alive, that is easily disproved. Even in the earliest stages of pregnancy, sonograms show movements and heartbeats that do not belong to the woman. Whatever else the fetus is, it is impossible to logically argue that it is not, at least, alive.

On the other hand, for “potential” to be referring to the word human, a fetus would have to have the potential of becoming either a human being or some other form of life. Perhaps a parrot or a spider. Of course, the problem is that there is no record of such a thing having ever occurred.

So while it may be reasonable to say that a fetus is a potential major league baseball star or a potential school teacher, it is idiotic to say that a fetus is a potential human being. If for no other reason, the fetus is a living human being because that is the only thing it can be.

Also, if the issue is “development,” let’s not forget that human beings develop for their entire lives. A fetus is less developed than a newborn just as a child is less developed than an adult. But being less developed than an adult does not mean that a child is any less a human being. That’s also true of the unborn.

Pro-lifers aren’t the only ones who know that it is a baby who is killed in an abortion. At a National Abortion Federation conference in Philadelphia during September of 1994, Texas abortion clinic director, Charlotte Taft, said, “When [a pro-choice activist in the Dallas community] came into our clinic – we were inviting her to learn more about abortions – this is a quote from this woman – she said, ‘If I believed that abortion was the deliberate ending of a potential human life, I could not be pro-choice.’ I said, ‘It would be best for you not to see a sonogram.’”

Less than two years later, at another National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco, a New York abortion clinic director, Merle Hoffman, stated “…I mean, we are talking about an abortion here. And uh, also that the staff is uncomfortable when a patient said, ‘I think I’m killing my baby.’ So I’m comfortable with saying, ‘Yes, you are, and how do you feel about that?’”

(LIFE DYNAMICS)

The Unborn is Only a Potential Human Being

This objection is related to the first one above and so often the two objections must be dealt with together. Refer to the quotes above, along with these additional quotes by embryologists (who should be considered experts in the subject matter) relating to the actual (not potential) humanness of the unborn:

It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and the 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. (Dr. Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 43)

The cell results from fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being…Each of us starts life as a cell called a zygote. (Dr. Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 1, 12).

The science and logic behind this is simple and straightforward. The unborn has human parents and human DNA. The unborn has a human genetic fingerprint. In other words, human beings make human beings. If the unborn is not a human, one needs to explain how it is possible for two human beings to produce something that isn’t human (in spite of the scientific evidence) but somehow later becomes human.

To put it another way, life is a continuum. Embryologists agree that from the moment of conception the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being. Scott Klusendorf sums it up this way:

You didn’t come from an embryo. You once were an embryo. At no point in your prenatal development did you undergo a substantial change or change of nature. You began as a human being and will remain so until death. Sure, you lacked maturity at that early stage of your life (as does an infant), but you were human nonetheless.

In other words, “embryos are human individuals at a particular stage of their development.” This is an important point to grasp. No one is arguing that embryos are fully mature and developed human beings. Neither are newborns or toddlers for that matter. Rather, embryos, like newborns and toddlers, are human beings at a particular stage of development.

To summarize, the unborn are distinct from their parents possessing their own unique chromosomal structure and directing their own internal development. They are living because dead things do not grow, metabolize, or react to stimuli. And they are human because they come from human parents and have a human genetic signature. All the unborn needs are time and nourishment, just like the newborn.

Therefore, the unborn is not a potential human being anymore than a newborn is a potential human being. They are both human beings at particular stages of development. An embryo is a potential fetus, which is a potential newborn, which is a potential toddler, which is a potential adolescent, which is a potential adult. But all are human beings.

On a more abstract philosophical note, a potential X must be an actual Y. It is not enough for the defender of abortion to say the unborn is a potential human being. They must define what it is actually. So if they are going to deny that the unborn is actually human, what is it? What kind of being is it? A fish being? An ape being? A cat being? Again, science makes it clear that the unborn from conception belongs to the species Homo-sapiens, in other words, the unborn is a human being.

(PLEASE CONVINCE ME)

Tiny Babies Are Like Acorns

Objection: “This is wrong. The unborn—especially at their earliest stages—are potential humans, but they’re not yet humans. An acorn can one day grow into an oak tree, but that doesn’t mean you would call an acorn an oak tree, does it?”

Response: This objection evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of human biological development. There is no such thing as a “potential” human; there are human haploid gametes, male and female, and when they meet, they create a fully actual human being, no “potential” necessary.

After being created, a human being surely has a lot more growing to do, but the creation—the dividing line between nonexistence and actualized existence—has already happened. Full and complete humanity does not depend upon growth but rather origination—that is to say, fertilization.

The acorn-to-oak tree argument is a clever explanation of a flawed hypothesis. For the purposes of this analogy, the relevant feature of both acorns and oak trees is not their various stages of development but the fact that they both belong to the tree family Fagaceae.

No serious person would claim that an acorn, simply by dint of being smaller and less-developed than an oak tree, is somehow less a part of Fagaceae than a fully-grown oak is. They are both part of the same family no matter what stage of their development. Of course, we don’t give basic rights to members of Fagaceae, but if we did, we would be logically obliged to extend those rights to all members of Fagaceae, acorn and oak alike.

We do, however, recognize the rights of members of the species Homo sapiens, and thus we should extend those rights to all members of this species—born and unborn, big and small, strong and weak, vocal and silent.

(THE FEDERALIST)

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