Beginning of Human Life
(Top Posts - Social/Legal - 040501)

Complex, emotional, and controversial issues to deal with here.

Human embryos and fetuses are totally dependent on another
human being, the mother, for their welfare.

I think the Supreme Court's detailed explanation of the Roe
vs. Wade decision, by far, is the best explanation of why
there is a period of time for a pregnant woman and her physi-
cian to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

I am totally supportive of pro-active efforts at encouraging
women to use birth control, plan pregnancy, consider adop-
tion, check on the health of their babies and consider abortion
when the child's health is in doubt, choose abortion when
raped or when other psychological or physical circumstances
lead to that decision, and so on. I am not of the opinion that
women have no say on this issue and that they *must* have
a baby when they are impregnated.

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Roe vs. Wade


"We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and
emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous
opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and
seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One's
philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges
of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes
toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards
one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence
and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion."

"Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional
measurement, free of emotion and of predilection."


"This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth
Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon
state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined,
in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is
broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not
to terminate her pregnancy."


"We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy
includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not
unqualified and must be considered against important state
interests in regulation."


"The pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her privacy. She
carries an embryo and, later, a fetus, if one accepts the medical
definitions of the developing young in the human uterus. As
we have intimated above, it is reasonable and appropriate for
a State to decide that at some point in time another interest,
that of health of the mother or that of potential human life,
becomes significantly involved. The woman's privacy is no
longer sole and any right of privacy she possesses must be
measured accordingly."


"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.
When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine,
philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus,
the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's know-
ledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."


"In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory
of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that
are at stake. We repeat, however, that the State does have an
important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the
health of the pregnant woman . . . and that it has still another
important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of
human life. These interests are separate and distinct. Each grows
in substantiality as the woman approaches term and, at a point
during pregnancy, each becomes "compelling."


"To summarize and to repeat:"

"1. A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type,
that excepts from criminality only a lifesaving procedure on
behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and
without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative
of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

"(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first
trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left
to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending

"(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the
first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of
the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure
in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health."

"(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting
its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, reg-
ulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary,
in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life
or health of the mother."

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SHAPING GENES: Ethics, Law and Science of Using
New Genetic Technology in Medicine and Agriculture


Important Stages in Human Embryo Development

* There are about 300 million spermatozoa in a single

* Conception, the penetration of the egg by a sperm is
followed 22 hours later by syngamy, the alignment of
paternal and maternal chromosomes to form the new

* At 2-3 days, or the 8-cell stage, probably every cell is

* 45-70% of "preembryos" do not successfully implant.

* Can predict identical twinning at day 7, and by day 10
they are forming individual embryos.

* Up to 14 days the embryo may develop into a cancerous
tumour (hydatidiform mole), or two embryos may recombine
to form one individual.

* At 14 days implantation is complete.

* After 14 days the primitive streak starts to form,one per

* At 8 weeks the first neural cells start to be differentiating,
and the name changes to fetus.

* By 12 weeks, about half of the embryos that implanted
may have spontaneously aborted (about 80% since concep-

* By 12-16 weeks the fetus has taken on a distinctively
'human' form, and may feel pain or respond to stimulation
(not necessarily the same thing, as brain dead people also
have some responses from the spinal cord).

* At 17-20 weeks quickening occurs.

* By 22-24 weeks viability is reached, in some cases, if
in good hospital.

* At birth severely handicapped newborns may be left to
die if the parents do not want extraordinary treatment to

... The life of a 1 cell embryo is not sacrosanct, and
has never been, even in theological circles (Dunstan
1984, BSR 1984, 1985). The current Roman Catholic
view does have doubts, and does not categorically state
that the human soul is present from conception, despite
the genetic material being present (Vatican 1974, 1987).

However, in the absence of certain knowledge it views
embryo experimentation or abortion as wrong as it is
taking the risk of killing an ensouled human (Mahoney
1984). It may still be held that developing human life is
inviolable, irrespective of whether it has an immortal
soul. ...

There are sufficient doubts over the commencement
of human personhood until the cerebral cortex begins
to function, not to consider the embryo a person until
at least 8 weeks and possibly up to 24 weeks.

We await further scientific knowledge. Before this period,
the status is lower than a human person, and should be
recognised as such in law. After this period, the next
clear mark is viability, and during this period the fetus
takes on the status of an individual human being. Our
scientific data does not allow any finer demarcation than

As previously stated, a society may put earlier limits to
protect the human embryo or fetus because of social
or religious reasons, but they will not do so because
of scientific reasons. ..."

--- --- --- --- --- ---
Excerpt: "... Early in the 13th century, Pope Innocent III
stated that the soul enters the body of the fetus at the time
of "quickening" - when the woman first feels movement
of the fetus. After ensoulement, abortion was equated with
murder; before that time, it was a less serious sin, because
it terminated only potential human life, not human life.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also considered only the
abortion of an "animated" fetus as murder.

Pope Sixtus V issued a Papal bull "Effraenatam" in 1588
which threatened those who carried out abortions at any
stage of gestation with excommunication and the death
penalty. Pope Gregory XIV revoked the Papal bull shortly
after taking office in 1591. He reinstated the "quickening"
test, which he said happened 116 days into pregnancy
(16 weeks). ...

In the 17th century, the concept of "simultaneous animation"
gained acceptance within the medical and church communities.
This is the belief that an embryo acquires a soul at conception,
not at 40 or 80 days into gestation as the church taught.

In 1658 Hieronymus Florentinius, a Franciscan, asserted that
all embryos or fetuses, regardless of its gestational age, which
was in danger of death must be baptized. However, his opinion
did not change the status of abortion as seen by the church.

Pope Pius IX reversed the stance of the Roman Catholic
church once more. He dropped the distinction between the
"fetus animatus" and "fetus inanimatus" in 1869.

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Excerpts from "The Intimate Universe, The Human Body,
The Incredible Journey From Birth to Death", a book
written by Anthony Smith

Page 17: "In a five-week human foetus evidence for
this ancient story is clearly visible. Near the head there
are six cartilages on either side, neatly and symmetrically
arranged like the gill supports of a fish. Beside them
are blood vessels and muscles, lined up as though
destined to join the gill system. When the foetus
reaches 20 weeks this earlier layout has been totally
transformed. All six cartilages have acquired new roles. ...

As biologists like to say, 'ontogeny recapitulates
phylogeny'. This means that the development of an
individual reflects its evolutionary past to some degree.
A very early human embryo is not identical to a fish or
a reptile embryo, but there is a degree of resemblance.
Only as the genetic program runs on does each species
begin to develop the characteristics that make it unique."

Page 26: "Each new human life starts as a single egg,
viable for 8-24 hours. Having been formed before its
mother's birth, it waits - for 20, 30, 40 or more years
before being prepared for fertilisation."

Page 35: "A large proportion of fertilised eggs fail to
implant, and are lost with the menstrual flow without
anyone realising that a conception took place."

Page 36: "Even for embryos that successfully implant,
early pregnancy is a precarious process. Up to one in
five pregnancies fail before eight weeks, usually because
something has gone wrong and the new life is no longer
viable. ..."

Page 40: "What is certain is that many more twins are
conceived than are actually born - the so-called 'vanishing
twin' syndrome. ... 12-15% of all human beings alive start
out with a twin, and for every set of twins born another
10-12 twin conceptions end as singletons. To put these
figures into perspective, only about one fertilized egg in
four results in a live birth."

Page 44: "Not until about week 18 will she (the mother)
begin to feel fluttering movements inside. This event was
known as the quickening, and until the modern era was
considered to be the beginning of life."

Page 47: "Week 22 - there is a small possibility that the
baby might live if born prematurely, but most die because
their lungs are too immature. ... Week 24 - half of babies
born now will survive given sophisticated care, but many
of these develop problems. ... Week 25 - 80% of prema-
tures survive given the right care."


So, most states severely limit abortions after the 1st
trimester, the 1st trimester being a time when babies
cannot survive outside their mother, yet in the 2nd
trimester it's highly unlikely the baby will survive even
at 22 weeks. I am of the firm opinion that after a
woman is aware she is pregnant, a period of time of
consideration and decision is appropriate and moral
for her (and her partner if she so chooses) to *decide*
if they want to love and care for their fertilized egg,
for a lifetime.

If the mother or the mother and her partner choose not
to continue the pregnancy in the 1st trimester, after
careful consideration of the facts, responsibly, who am
I to question her/their morality and their decision to not
continue a pregnancy, to abort an unwanted pregnancy,
to end by decision what is most often ended by nature
(or per religious beliefs, by god).

When is the fertilized egg a human being worthy of pro-
tection as a human being, above the desires of the mother?
I submit survival out of the womb is a valid point. Many
submit that fertilization of the egg, an egg which nature
(or per religious beliefs, god) has stacked sizable natural
odds against, an egg likely by rule of nature (or per reli-
gious beliefs, by rule of god) to die, that egg is worthy
of protection as a human being irregardless of the desires
of the mother.

Keep in mind, by nature's law (or per religious beliefs,
god's law), all unfertilized eggs die, most fertilized eggs
die, and almost all sperm die - fertilization being the only
respite from death for a surviving sperm. A fertilized
egg is a premature and arbitrary point at which to deny
a mother control of her body, in my view. I submit that
the position of using conception as the defining point of
of life, despite the overwhelming natural (or per religious
beliefs, god-derived) acts counter to that view, is based
primarily on the sexual guilt imparted by religious phil-

Until modern technology, a fertilized egg was not consid-
ered viable until the quickening, ~18 weeks into a pregnancy,
well after the 1st trimester. Therefore, all of the anti-abortion
stance applying to the 1st trimester is of modern origin, and,
I would submit, is primarily based on the prevailing sexual
guilt of most church hierarchies instead of being based on
a carefully weighed and difficult decision as to when to
assert that a fertilized egg has rights which can be imposed
(by the state) to supercede the rights of a mother over her
own body.

This is a difficult moral dilemma, one which has gnawed at
the soul, if you will, of American consciences for decades.

I welcome new life - my daughter was a surviving identical
twin (her sister did not make it by choice of nature), born
at 28 weeks ... she's a happy, healthy, and thriving 9 year
old and I love her dearly. How can I reconcile that with
giving mothers a choice in the 1st trimester?

Life by choice, rather than life by sex act, simply put.

Anti-abortionists would assert that the sex act is a life
choice. I would assert that knowledge of a pregnancy
in the 1st trimester -and- a decision to continue with the
pregnancy (if acts of nature don't adversely intervene)
is a life choice.

It's a difficult moral dilemma, in my view, one not easily
disposed to an edict from church authority or even from
state authority so far as that goes.