Human Beings Begin as Zygotes: Refutations to 8 Common Pro-Choice Arguments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant
for biological definition purposes. It is not meant to establish or argue any
moral or philosophical points.
 

A zygote is a human being.  
1.  The zygote is an
organism.

Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes. [Marcello et al., Fertilization,
ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]

This is not a new concept. The zygote has been recognized as an
organism for decades:
“The zygote and early embryo are living human
organisms.
[Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud Before We Are Born –
Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. Fifth
edition.) Page 500]
“Embryo:
the developing organism from the time of fertilization until
significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes
known as a fetus.
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and
Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD:
GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a
critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new,
genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Muller,
Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York:
Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]
“The development of a human begins
with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from
the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise
to a new organism, the zygote.[Sadler,
T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams &
Wilkins 1995, p. 3]
Some pro-choicers imply that the
zygote is in some nebulous “in between phase” – not a gamete but not a human
organism. But biologically, life cycles do not contain such a phase. In humans
(animals), our life
cycle
 goes from diploid organism, which produces haploid gametes,
which combine to form a new diploid organism. The zygote isn’t in an unknown
stage; it’s the same organism as the grown adult, but at an earlier stage of
life.
The Diplontic Life Cycle
2. Every organism is part of
some species, and the human ZEF is part of the human species (Homo sapiens) by
virtue of its human DNA.
A species is defined as

 (2) An individual belonging to a
group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics
and (usually) are capable of mating with one another to produce fertile
offspring. 

Please note that “capable of
mating” does not mean at any given instant. For example, newborns are not
capable of mating, but are still organisms of the human species. “Capable
of mating” refers to an organism who should be capable of mating in their
lifetime, barring sterility. And on that note, also keep in mind that there’s a
difference between an individual organism being sterile vs. an organism having
developed genetic changes which render reproduction with his origin species
impossible (speciation).
Every organism is part of some
species. There are no “non-species” organisms. The organism is part
of its parents’ species. For example, two honey-badgers cannot reproduce and
create a frog; their offspring would also be a honey-badger. Furthermore, an
organism can never change its species mid-development (in the middle of its
life). A honey-badger zygote develops into a honey-badger adult; a honey-badger
zygote can’t develop into a frog adult.
One species can develop into
another species over many generations.
This is called speciation. Speciation most often occurs when one species is
split into two or more geographical groups (allopatric speciation). Genetic
changes accumulate over many generations, not within a single lifespan, such
that if the groups ever met again, they would not be able to produce viable
offspring. That’s when you can say “these are now two
different species.”
But we would never say “this
offspring is an organism but has no species membership.”
Human zygotes are human, both
because their parents are human and because they have human DNA. They are not
part of some other species, nor do they lack species membership.
3. An organism that is a member
of the species Homo sapiens is a human being.
There are other
definitions of human being, including “a person, especially as distinguished from
other animals or as representing the human species.” I am only referring to the
biological definition of human being when I
use the term:

1. any individual of the genus
Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.  

CONCLUSION: Since
the zygote is an organism and a member of the species Homo sapiens, it is a
human organism and therefore biologically a human being.

Below we present some topics that have been brought up as questions or
objections.

Q1. Chimerism
Put simply, a chimera is a
single organism composed of more than one unique DNA type (or antigenic marker
on red blood cells). In animals, this can result from the merging of 2+ zygotes into
one entity (tetragametic), or from twins sharing blood supply in gestation
(“blood chimeras” have more than one blood type). You can be a microchimera if
you received blood from mom early in gestation, if as a mother you received
fetal cells during pregnancy (as most do), or
just from a blood transfusion. You’re even considered a chimera if you received
an organ transplant. Chimerism is usually asymptomatic, but rarely it can
result in things like intersexuality if
it results from absorption of a twin.
The important thing to note is that
a chimera is still one individual human organism. From the britannica article:


Chimera, in genetics,
an organism or tissue that contains at least two
different sets of 
DNA. In dispermic
chimeras, two eggs that have been fertilized by two 
sperm fuse together, producing a
so-called tetragametic individual—an
individual
 originating from four 
gametes, or sex cells.When two zygotes do not undergo fusion but
exchange cells and genetic material during development, two
individuals
, or 
twin chimeras, one or both of whom
contain two genetically distinct cell populations, are produced. 

You may be a chimera and not even
realize it. You may have multiple DNA types due to absorption of some cell
types or an entire other organism — and this doesn’t change the fact that you
are still an individual human organism.
The reason this is brought up as an
objection is because people sometimes think of DNA as some sort of marker of
individuality, and therefore they may see multiple markers of DNA as a sign of
“multiple individuals.” DNA can function as an
individuality marker, but it doesn’t always as is evident in the case of
identical twins. DNA is simply a code of instructions for the body to function
effectively as an organism. That’s it. If it is unique to you, and you only
have one set of DNA — great! If you do not have unique DNA, or you have
multiple unique DNA sets — you’re still a singular human organism. 
Q2. Twinning
This objection usually goes
something like: A zygote can twin, therefore how can you say it’s an individual
human being before the potential twinning stage is over?
This objection is interesting
because by extension, none of us are individual human beings. Why? Well
twinning is essentially the same
thing as cloning
. The main difference is that one happens
“naturally” and the other happens artificially. The point is, if your
DNA can be taken from an epithelial cell on your arm and made into a clone,
would spawning a clone mean you were not an individual human being to begin
with? With advanced technology, we could all conceivably be in the
“twinning” (cloning) phase indefinitely! Yet we’re all still singular
human organisms.
This is basically the backwards
version of chimerism, by the way. Absorbing or spawning organisms
does not change the fact that a single organism is still a single
organism.   



Read more: Monozygotic twinning, Weasley brothers, flatworms, and cow clones.

Q3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
In vitro
means “outside the body.” IVF is when we use sperm to fertilize an
egg in a laboratory dish instead of a uterine tube (in vivo). The
resulting embryo is then placed into the woman’s uterus to allow implantation
and thus a pregnancy, which is why IVF is considered a type of assisted
reproductive technology (ART).
The pro-life objection to IVF is
that — due to time, cost, and failure rates — companies performing the
procedure will always fertilize more than one embryo at a time. Many will then select
the highest quality
 embryos
to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This means either
cryopreservation (freezing) of the remaining embryos if the couple wants to pay
for it, or destroying them.
In some countries, including the
US, multiple embryos can be transferred to the woman’s uterus to increase
chances of a successful pregnancy. This can sometimes result in multiple
implantations (twins or more), but this isn’t usually the case, which means the
other embryo will have been miscarried.
It’s worth noting that although
survival rates for IVF are poor, nothing about IVF alters the basic biological
process outlined above: gametes join to form a new human organism. It is merely
accomplished in a laboratory rather than in the womb. People conceived through
IVF are as human as anyone else.
From my perspective, there is
nothing inherently wrong with IVF if it were done on one embryo at a time,
which gives every embryo the best possible chance of life. But this is not standard practice.
Rather, IVF is used to make multiple embryos with the foreknowledge that not
all will be allowed to grow and live their life, and in most cases with the
foreknowledge that some will die.
One objection to this is: But a large percentage of
conceptions die before ever implanting, or soon after. Why is that foreknowledge
ok in natural conception, but suddenly wrong if done in a petri dish? 
In natural conception, couples are
trying their best to give every zygote a chance to live. If a zygote dies
naturally, that is not the preemptive work of the couple creating him/her as it
is in most cases of IVF.  
And while I greatly sympathize with
men and women who have fertility problems but have a great desire to create
their own offspring, the solution is not to treat human organisms as disposable.

Q4. Random Mutations
Through your life, your body
replenishes cells via mitosis. Every time a cell is copied, the replication
machinery — while mostly very accurate — will make mistakes in copying the
template DNA. Not to worry, there is proofreading machinery too. However, even this can
make mistakes. So in the end, there is some non-zero
number of mutations
 that are
incorporated into the new cell which are propagated in that cell line (although
you still have your original batch of stem cells).
What this means is that as you get
older, some portion of your cells will have a specific DNA sequence that is
different than the one you had when you were younger. Some people see DNA as a
unique identifier, like a name, and therefore a change in this identifier might
mean you are not the same individual.
We all change as we grow. I am not
the same person I was when I was 5; I have different memories, experiences,
mindsets, functionality, and slightly different DNA. But guess what? I’m
still the same organism.
While some people may ascribe to the belief that we are not the same
“person” we were yesterday, in a scientific sense we are still the
same organism. An organism goes through changes in its life, but it doesn’t end
its life and begin a new one in the same body.

Q5. Life as a Continuum vs Individual Life

We have written
about this topic before
. The objection goes something like: Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years
ago.”

The objection confuses the life of an individual human
organism
 with life arising from life (also known as the Law of
Biogenesis
.) The Law of Biogenesis points out that living matter has to
come from other living matter. However you, as an organism, were not the
precursor molecules that eventually formed you, as an organism. For example you
were not sperm and egg. Or an early primate. The precursors that create an
organism are not equivalent to the organism itself.
The fact that all life comes from
preexisting life does not change the fact that an individual organism’s life
has a start and end point. And for human organisms, that starting point is
always as a zygote.

Q6. Hydatidiform Mole
[November 2018 update: in the original version of this section we incorrectly stated that partial moles are never viable. We have sense learned there are rare cases where such humans have survived to infancy.]
hydatidiform mole (1/1000
pregnancies in the US) is an abnormal fertilized egg which implants in the
uterus.
(Q6a) Complete Mole: This
abnormality can occur when one (90%) or even two (10%) sperm combine with
an ovum that has no maternal
DNA
; the sperm then replicates its DNA to create an artificially
“diploid” cell. This results in a mass of abnormal tissue which can
develop into cancer (15-20%) and/or invade the uterine wall (10-15% of all
molar pregnancies will invade if not removed). Complete moles have no embryonic growth; there is only abnormal placental tissue. 
Maureen Condic said it much better than I ever could (the bolded part is most important):

Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure …, hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism…If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos.

(Maurine Condic, “A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo,” Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic’s.) 
(Q6b) partial
mole
 on the other hand is when a normal
ovum 
is fertilized by two
sperm or by one sperm that replicates itself, creating a triploidy or
tetraploidy cell. In this case, an embryo/fetus can develop. Rarely is this embryo viable; partial moles usually miscarry and even when they do not the embryo is often overtaken and destroyed by the abnormal placental tissue. However there have been extraordinarily rare cases of triploid human organisms surviving until infancy. These are human organisms with severe and fatal genetic abnormalities.
We have written on molar pregnancies before. Some people use hydatidiform moles as an
example to argue that fertilization is not necessarily the beginning of a human
being, or that because fertilization can result in these moles, then it’s wrong
to say a fertilized egg is a human being.
In one sense, they’re right. They’re correct to say that not all
fertilizations result in human beings. Clearly, some result in complete moles.
Fertilization is a necessary
but not sufficient 
condition
for the formation of a human organism.
However in the vast majority of cases, a fertilized egg is a human
organism (human being). The exception really does prove the rule. As the
previous blog post pointed out, pro-lifers tend to take shortcuts here and say
that fertilization is the beginning of a new human life. Most of the time,
that’s true. Perhaps it would be better to just say “a zygote is a human
being,” or something similar.  



Read more: Hydatidiform moles and molar pregnancies
Q7. Miscarriages
According to the NIH, half of all fertilized eggs die spontaneously, and 15-20%
of pregnancies (post-implantation) will miscarry.
Q7a) People
may cite the high number of miscarriages to imply that abortion is not morally
problematic 
or the zygote is not a human being.
However, there’s a clear distinction between natural death and
intentional killing. Every human being will die. Some die of cancer (natural
death) and some die of gunshot wound (intentional killing). If lots of people
die of cancer, would that make shooting them morally acceptable? No. Just
because people die naturally, whether in old age or pre-implantation, doesn’t
mean it’s acceptable to kill them, whether by gun or by chemical.
If lots of people die naturally of cancer, does that mean they
were not human beings to begin with? Clearly not. Likewise a high rate of
natural death in the preborn does not mean they were not human beings. As
stated above, a zygote is a human being, whether it dies
naturally in a day or in 100 years.
(Q7b) People
may also cite the high number of miscarriages to question why pro-lifers don’t
appear as concerned with the high number of deaths there. 

Why do people speak out
more passionately and perhaps more frequently about shootings than they do
about cancer? Does it mean that people who die naturally, from cancer, don’t
matter? Does it imply that they don’t really care
about people dying in general? Of course not. It makes sense to be more upset
by a human being intentionally killing another human being than it does to be
upset by a natural cause of death. Furthermore, stopping this type of killing
is more likely within our grasp than finding a cure to cancer.
Likewise with abortion: we are far more equipped to stop the
intentional killing of young human beings than we are equipped to stop natural
miscarriages. And it’s understandable that an egregious harm being perpetrated
by an intelligent human being (capable of moral contemplation) is more
upsetting than harm perpetrated by non-moral agents.



Read more: Nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant
Q8. Skin cells are human!
The skin cells on my arm are human, too. Is it murder if I scratch
my arm? Sperm are also human, is masturbation murder? 

This objection conflates “human” the adjective and “human” the noun. Epithelial cells and sperm are human cells, but they are not human organisms. There is a
difference between components that make up an organism (epithelial,
endothelial, renal, pulmonary, hepatic cells, etc) and the organism itself.
Human organisms (human beings) are what pro-lifers are concerned with, which includes
the zygote.  

Human Beings Begin as Zygotes: Refutations to 8 Common Pro-Choice Arguments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant
for biological definition purposes. It is not meant to establish or argue any
moral or philosophical points.
 

A zygote is a human being.  
1.  The zygote is an
organism.

Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes. [Marcello et al., Fertilization,
ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]

This is not a new concept. The zygote has been recognized as an
organism for decades:
“The zygote and early embryo are living human
organisms.
[Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud Before We Are Born –
Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. Fifth
edition.) Page 500]
“Embryo:
the developing organism from the time of fertilization until
significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes
known as a fetus.
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and
Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD:
GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a
critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new,
genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Muller,
Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York:
Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]
“The development of a human begins
with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from
the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise
to a new organism, the zygote.[Sadler,
T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams &
Wilkins 1995, p. 3]
Some pro-choicers imply that the
zygote is in some nebulous “in between phase” – not a gamete but not a human
organism. But biologically, life cycles do not contain such a phase. In humans
(animals), our life
cycle
 goes from diploid organism, which produces haploid gametes,
which combine to form a new diploid organism. The zygote isn’t in an unknown
stage; it’s the same organism as the grown adult, but at an earlier stage of
life.
The Diplontic Life Cycle
2. Every organism is part of
some species, and the human ZEF is part of the human species (Homo sapiens) by
virtue of its human DNA.
A species is defined as

 (2) An individual belonging to a
group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics
and (usually) are capable of mating with one another to produce fertile
offspring. 

Please note that “capable of
mating” does not mean at any given instant. For example, newborns are not
capable of mating, but are still organisms of the human species. “Capable
of mating” refers to an organism who should be capable of mating in their
lifetime, barring sterility. And on that note, also keep in mind that there’s a
difference between an individual organism being sterile vs. an organism having
developed genetic changes which render reproduction with his origin species
impossible (speciation).
Every organism is part of some
species. There are no “non-species” organisms. The organism is part
of its parents’ species. For example, two honey-badgers cannot reproduce and
create a frog; their offspring would also be a honey-badger. Furthermore, an
organism can never change its species mid-development (in the middle of its
life). A honey-badger zygote develops into a honey-badger adult; a honey-badger
zygote can’t develop into a frog adult.
One species can develop into
another species over many generations.
This is called speciation. Speciation most often occurs when one species is
split into two or more geographical groups (allopatric speciation). Genetic
changes accumulate over many generations, not within a single lifespan, such
that if the groups ever met again, they would not be able to produce viable
offspring. That’s when you can say “these are now two
different species.”
But we would never say “this
offspring is an organism but has no species membership.”
Human zygotes are human, both
because their parents are human and because they have human DNA. They are not
part of some other species, nor do they lack species membership.
3. An organism that is a member
of the species Homo sapiens is a human being.
There are other
definitions of human being, including “a person, especially as distinguished from
other animals or as representing the human species.” I am only referring to the
biological definition of human being when I
use the term:

1. any individual of the genus
Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.  

CONCLUSION: Since
the zygote is an organism and a member of the species Homo sapiens, it is a
human organism and therefore biologically a human being.

Below we present some topics that have been brought up as questions or
objections.

Q1. Chimerism
Put simply, a chimera is a
single organism composed of more than one unique DNA type (or antigenic marker
on red blood cells). In animals, this can result from the merging of 2+ zygotes into
one entity (tetragametic), or from twins sharing blood supply in gestation
(“blood chimeras” have more than one blood type). You can be a microchimera if
you received blood from mom early in gestation, if as a mother you received
fetal cells during pregnancy (as most do), or
just from a blood transfusion. You’re even considered a chimera if you received
an organ transplant. Chimerism is usually asymptomatic, but rarely it can
result in things like intersexuality if
it results from absorption of a twin.
The important thing to note is that
a chimera is still one individual human organism. From the britannica article:


Chimera, in genetics,
an organism or tissue that contains at least two
different sets of 
DNA. In dispermic
chimeras, two eggs that have been fertilized by two 
sperm fuse together, producing a
so-called tetragametic individual—an
individual
 originating from four 
gametes, or sex cells.When two zygotes do not undergo fusion but
exchange cells and genetic material during development, two
individuals
, or 
twin chimeras, one or both of whom
contain two genetically distinct cell populations, are produced. 

You may be a chimera and not even
realize it. You may have multiple DNA types due to absorption of some cell
types or an entire other organism — and this doesn’t change the fact that you
are still an individual human organism.
The reason this is brought up as an
objection is because people sometimes think of DNA as some sort of marker of
individuality, and therefore they may see multiple markers of DNA as a sign of
“multiple individuals.” DNA can function as an
individuality marker, but it doesn’t always as is evident in the case of
identical twins. DNA is simply a code of instructions for the body to function
effectively as an organism. That’s it. If it is unique to you, and you only
have one set of DNA — great! If you do not have unique DNA, or you have
multiple unique DNA sets — you’re still a singular human organism. 
Q2. Twinning
This objection usually goes
something like: A zygote can twin, therefore how can you say it’s an individual
human being before the potential twinning stage is over?
This objection is interesting
because by extension, none of us are individual human beings. Why? Well
twinning is essentially the same
thing as cloning
. The main difference is that one happens
“naturally” and the other happens artificially. The point is, if your
DNA can be taken from an epithelial cell on your arm and made into a clone,
would spawning a clone mean you were not an individual human being to begin
with? With advanced technology, we could all conceivably be in the
“twinning” (cloning) phase indefinitely! Yet we’re all still singular
human organisms.
This is basically the backwards
version of chimerism, by the way. Absorbing or spawning organisms
does not change the fact that a single organism is still a single
organism.   



Read more: Monozygotic twinning, Weasley brothers, flatworms, and cow clones.

Q3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
In vitro
means “outside the body.” IVF is when we use sperm to fertilize an
egg in a laboratory dish instead of a uterine tube (in vivo). The
resulting embryo is then placed into the woman’s uterus to allow implantation
and thus a pregnancy, which is why IVF is considered a type of assisted
reproductive technology (ART).
The pro-life objection to IVF is
that — due to time, cost, and failure rates — companies performing the
procedure will always fertilize more than one embryo at a time. Many will then select
the highest quality
 embryos
to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This means either
cryopreservation (freezing) of the remaining embryos if the couple wants to pay
for it, or destroying them.
In some countries, including the
US, multiple embryos can be transferred to the woman’s uterus to increase
chances of a successful pregnancy. This can sometimes result in multiple
implantations (twins or more), but this isn’t usually the case, which means the
other embryo will have been miscarried.
It’s worth noting that although
survival rates for IVF are poor, nothing about IVF alters the basic biological
process outlined above: gametes join to form a new human organism. It is merely
accomplished in a laboratory rather than in the womb. People conceived through
IVF are as human as anyone else.
From my perspective, there is
nothing inherently wrong with IVF if it were done on one embryo at a time,
which gives every embryo the best possible chance of life. But this is not standard practice.
Rather, IVF is used to make multiple embryos with the foreknowledge that not
all will be allowed to grow and live their life, and in most cases with the
foreknowledge that some will die.
One objection to this is: But a large percentage of
conceptions die before ever implanting, or soon after. Why is that foreknowledge
ok in natural conception, but suddenly wrong if done in a petri dish? 
In natural conception, couples are
trying their best to give every zygote a chance to live. If a zygote dies
naturally, that is not the preemptive work of the couple creating him/her as it
is in most cases of IVF.  
And while I greatly sympathize with
men and women who have fertility problems but have a great desire to create
their own offspring, the solution is not to treat human organisms as disposable.

Q4. Random Mutations
Through your life, your body
replenishes cells via mitosis. Every time a cell is copied, the replication
machinery — while mostly very accurate — will make mistakes in copying the
template DNA. Not to worry, there is proofreading machinery too. However, even this can
make mistakes. So in the end, there is some non-zero
number of mutations
 that are
incorporated into the new cell which are propagated in that cell line (although
you still have your original batch of stem cells).
What this means is that as you get
older, some portion of your cells will have a specific DNA sequence that is
different than the one you had when you were younger. Some people see DNA as a
unique identifier, like a name, and therefore a change in this identifier might
mean you are not the same individual.
We all change as we grow. I am not
the same person I was when I was 5; I have different memories, experiences,
mindsets, functionality, and slightly different DNA. But guess what? I’m
still the same organism.
While some people may ascribe to the belief that we are not the same
“person” we were yesterday, in a scientific sense we are still the
same organism. An organism goes through changes in its life, but it doesn’t end
its life and begin a new one in the same body.

Q5. Life as a Continuum vs Individual Life

We have written
about this topic before
. The objection goes something like: Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years
ago.”

The objection confuses the life of an individual human
organism
 with life arising from life (also known as the Law of
Biogenesis
.) The Law of Biogenesis points out that living matter has to
come from other living matter. However you, as an organism, were not the
precursor molecules that eventually formed you, as an organism. For example you
were not sperm and egg. Or an early primate. The precursors that create an
organism are not equivalent to the organism itself.
The fact that all life comes from
preexisting life does not change the fact that an individual organism’s life
has a start and end point. And for human organisms, that starting point is
always as a zygote.

Q6. Hydatidiform Mole
[November 2018 update: in the original version of this section we incorrectly stated that partial moles are never viable. We have sense learned there are rare cases where such humans have survived to infancy.]
hydatidiform mole (1/1000
pregnancies in the US) is an abnormal fertilized egg which implants in the
uterus.
(Q6a) Complete Mole: This
abnormality can occur when one (90%) or even two (10%) sperm combine with
an ovum that has no maternal
DNA
; the sperm then replicates its DNA to create an artificially
“diploid” cell. This results in a mass of abnormal tissue which can
develop into cancer (15-20%) and/or invade the uterine wall (10-15% of all
molar pregnancies will invade if not removed). Complete moles have no embryonic growth; there is only abnormal placental tissue. 
Maureen Condic said it much better than I ever could (the bolded part is most important):

Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure …, hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism…If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos.

(Maurine Condic, “A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo,” Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic’s.) 
(Q6b) partial
mole
 on the other hand is when a normal
ovum 
is fertilized by two
sperm or by one sperm that replicates itself, creating a triploidy or
tetraploidy cell. In this case, an embryo/fetus can develop. Rarely is this embryo viable; partial moles usually miscarry and even when they do not the embryo is often overtaken and destroyed by the abnormal placental tissue. However there have been extraordinarily rare cases of triploid human organisms surviving until infancy. These are human organisms with severe and fatal genetic abnormalities.
We have written on molar pregnancies before. Some people use hydatidiform moles as an
example to argue that fertilization is not necessarily the beginning of a human
being, or that because fertilization can result in these moles, then it’s wrong
to say a fertilized egg is a human being.
In one sense, they’re right. They’re correct to say that not all
fertilizations result in human beings. Clearly, some result in complete moles.
Fertilization is a necessary
but not sufficient 
condition
for the formation of a human organism.
However in the vast majority of cases, a fertilized egg is a human
organism (human being). The exception really does prove the rule. As the
previous blog post pointed out, pro-lifers tend to take shortcuts here and say
that fertilization is the beginning of a new human life. Most of the time,
that’s true. Perhaps it would be better to just say “a zygote is a human
being,” or something similar.  



Read more: Hydatidiform moles and molar pregnancies
Q7. Miscarriages
According to the NIH, half of all fertilized eggs die spontaneously, and 15-20%
of pregnancies (post-implantation) will miscarry.
Q7a) People
may cite the high number of miscarriages to imply that abortion is not morally
problematic 
or the zygote is not a human being.
However, there’s a clear distinction between natural death and
intentional killing. Every human being will die. Some die of cancer (natural
death) and some die of gunshot wound (intentional killing). If lots of people
die of cancer, would that make shooting them morally acceptable? No. Just
because people die naturally, whether in old age or pre-implantation, doesn’t
mean it’s acceptable to kill them, whether by gun or by chemical.
If lots of people die naturally of cancer, does that mean they
were not human beings to begin with? Clearly not. Likewise a high rate of
natural death in the preborn does not mean they were not human beings. As
stated above, a zygote is a human being, whether it dies
naturally in a day or in 100 years.
(Q7b) People
may also cite the high number of miscarriages to question why pro-lifers don’t
appear as concerned with the high number of deaths there. 

Why do people speak out
more passionately and perhaps more frequently about shootings than they do
about cancer? Does it mean that people who die naturally, from cancer, don’t
matter? Does it imply that they don’t really care
about people dying in general? Of course not. It makes sense to be more upset
by a human being intentionally killing another human being than it does to be
upset by a natural cause of death. Furthermore, stopping this type of killing
is more likely within our grasp than finding a cure to cancer.
Likewise with abortion: we are far more equipped to stop the
intentional killing of young human beings than we are equipped to stop natural
miscarriages. And it’s understandable that an egregious harm being perpetrated
by an intelligent human being (capable of moral contemplation) is more
upsetting than harm perpetrated by non-moral agents.



Read more: Nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant
Q8. Skin cells are human!
The skin cells on my arm are human, too. Is it murder if I scratch
my arm? Sperm are also human, is masturbation murder? 

This objection conflates “human” the adjective and “human” the noun. Epithelial cells and sperm are human cells, but they are not human organisms. There is a
difference between components that make up an organism (epithelial,
endothelial, renal, pulmonary, hepatic cells, etc) and the organism itself.
Human organisms (human beings) are what pro-lifers are concerned with, which includes
the zygote.  

What do you call the embryos conceived through IVF, then destroyed?

Above: Then-President Bush cradles a snowflake baby

You’ve probably seen the story that went ridiculously viral last week. You know—the one about embryos conceived in vitro, then killed, and their tiny bodies preserved and incorporated into jewelry for their parents to wear.

That was a mouthful. But what else can we call these young victims?

The original article called them “extra IVF embryos.” LifeNews described them as “human embryos left over from IVF.” On the other end of the political spectrum, Slate also went with “extra,” but added that women in online forums sometimes call them “snowbabies” or “frosties.” I also saw the phrase “unused embryos” in some media outlets.

None of these descriptors are adequate.

What does it mean to be an “extra” person? I think of China, where being “extra” carries a terrible weight. I also think of Bill Nye, who last month was rightly criticized for suggesting that parents should be penalized for having “extra” children. Calling someone “extra” defines the person negatively, in contrast to people who are just enough, whatever the hell that means. It’s dehumanizing.

LifeNews‘ phrasing comes closer to giving these embryos some measure
of dignity, but “left over” has some of the same connotations as
“extra,” and has the added problem of making me think of food in my
fridge.

“Snowbabies” and “frosties” reminds me of “snowflake children“—the term pro-lifers and others have used to describe babies born alive after IVF, cryogenic storage, and embryo donation. I have no real problem with this language from a moral standpoint, but as a practical matter, most people will not know what you are talking about when you say that jewelry is being made from snowbabies. In this day and age, they might think you’re talking about overly sensitive college students!

And then there is the word “unused,” which certainly captures the commodification of the embryos in question. As with “extra,” I worry that the language we employ might support the very dehumanization we are denouncing. I also object that the descriptor “unused” is not accurate; the embryos were, tragically, used in the end.

I mean no disrespect to LifeNews or any of the many other journalists who covered this disturbing story. My point is that we don’t have humanizing, concise, familiar language to describe the victims of this practice. And that’s a problem. How can we humanize someone, when we don’t even have the words to call them to light?

What do you call the embryos conceived through IVF, then destroyed?

Above: Then-President Bush cradles a snowflake baby

You’ve probably seen the story that went ridiculously viral last week. You know—the one about embryos conceived in vitro, then killed, and their tiny bodies preserved and incorporated into jewelry for their parents to wear.

That was a mouthful. But what else can we call these young victims?

The original article called them “extra IVF embryos.” LifeNews described them as “human embryos left over from IVF.” On the other end of the political spectrum, Slate also went with “extra,” but added that women in online forums sometimes call them “snowbabies” or “frosties.” I also saw the phrase “unused embryos” in some media outlets.

None of these descriptors are adequate.

What does it mean to be an “extra” person? I think of China, where being “extra” carries a terrible weight. I also think of Bill Nye, who last month was rightly criticized for suggesting that parents should be penalized for having “extra” children. Calling someone “extra” defines the person negatively, in contrast to people who are just enough, whatever the hell that means. It’s dehumanizing.

LifeNews‘ phrasing comes closer to giving these embryos some measure
of dignity, but “left over” has some of the same connotations as
“extra,” and has the added problem of making me think of food in my
fridge.

“Snowbabies” and “frosties” reminds me of “snowflake children“—the term pro-lifers and others have used to describe babies born alive after IVF, cryogenic storage, and embryo donation. I have no real problem with this language from a moral standpoint, but as a practical matter, most people will not know what you are talking about when you say that jewelry is being made from snowbabies. In this day and age, they might think you’re talking about overly sensitive college students!

And then there is the word “unused,” which certainly captures the commodification of the embryos in question. As with “extra,” I worry that the language we employ might support the very dehumanization we are denouncing. I also object that the descriptor “unused” is not accurate; the embryos were, tragically, used in the end.

I mean no disrespect to LifeNews or any of the many other journalists who covered this disturbing story. My point is that we don’t have humanizing, concise, familiar language to describe the victims of this practice. And that’s a problem. How can we humanize someone, when we don’t even have the words to call them to light?

Study: “Extra” Embryos Do Not Aid Infertility Treatment Compared To eSET

CORRECTION 10/17/16: The study we referenced below is specifically comparing elective single embryo transfer (eSET) to transfer of multiple embryos. eSET involves creating multiple embryos, using certain criteria to choose the embryo most likely to be viable, and transferring just that embryo to the mother. This process is in contrast with non-elective single embryo transfer, when only one embryo is created and so that specific embryo must be the one transferred to the mother. The study referenced below did not examine the live birth rates and multiple birth rates for non-elective single embryo transfer, but it is unlikely that creating and transferring a single embryo would be as effective as creating multiple embryos and transferring either the most promising embryo or more than one embryo.

A storage tank containing frozen embryos

Religious authorities widely oppose in vitro fertilization (IVF)—that is, fertilization outside a woman’s body—as being unnatural or against the will of a god. From a secular point of view, IVF is not necessarily unethical… but often is in practice. There is nothing inherently good or bad about where conception takes place. The critical question is: how is the resulting embryonic human treated?

From the early days of IVF, fertility clinics have made a habit of creating far more embryos than the parents actually intend to raise. The idea is that by creating and implanting “extra” embryos, you can offset any embryos who might die naturally from miscarriage and therefore increase the odds of at least one baby being carried to term.

In practice, however, many of these “extra” embryos are not introduced to the womb with their siblings. Instead, they are kept frozen for subsequent IVF attempts. And if a baby is born on the first try and the subsequent attempt at pregnancy never comes? Some of the “extra” embryos are adopted by other infertility patients. Others are killed, sometimes for research. Over half a million remain in a frozen limbo.

Ethicists have written mountains of articles about the conundrum posed by frozen embryos. No one can seem to agree on a good solution. But it has to start with stemming the tide of all these “extra” embryos. As it turns out, creating and implanting “extra” embryos doesn’t actually aid fertility treatment.

A new study destroys the underlying premise that implanting multiple embryos increases the odds of a healthy birth. Researchers found that an infertility patient is just as likely to give birth if only one embryo is implanted. “Extra” embryos aren’t offsetting miscarriages, resulting in one healthy newborn. The real effect of implanting those “extra” embryos? Twins and triplets, of course:

The study, published in this month’s issue of Fertility and Sterility, analyzed data collected in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 467 of the country’s fertility clinics. Researchers took into account the age of each patient, the stage at which each embryo was transferred, and the number of embryos each patient had available. Still, they found no significant difference in birth rates as the number of embryos transferred increased, though rates of multiples increased.

Most parents pursuing fertility treatment welcome multiples, but sadly, not all; the abortion of one twin or two triplets in a “selective reduction” after IVF is not unheard of.

Why create “extra” embryos, and cause such an ethical dilemma, when it doesn’t actually benefit infertility patients? Fertility clinics should scale back and create only the number of embryos that the parents are prepared to raise or place for adoption.

Study: “Extra” Embryos Do Not Aid Infertility Treatment Compared To eSET

CORRECTION 10/17/16: The study we referenced below is specifically comparing elective single embryo transfer (eSET) to transfer of multiple embryos. eSET involves creating multiple embryos, using certain criteria to choose the embryo most likely to be viable, and transferring just that embryo to the mother. This process is in contrast with non-elective single embryo transfer, when only one embryo is created and so that specific embryo must be the one transferred to the mother. The study referenced below did not examine the live birth rates and multiple birth rates for non-elective single embryo transfer, but it is unlikely that creating and transferring a single embryo would be as effective as creating multiple embryos and transferring either the most promising embryo or more than one embryo.

A storage tank containing frozen embryos

Religious authorities widely oppose in vitro fertilization (IVF)—that is, fertilization outside a woman’s body—as being unnatural or against the will of a god. From a secular point of view, IVF is not necessarily unethical… but often is in practice. There is nothing inherently good or bad about where conception takes place. The critical question is: how is the resulting embryonic human treated?

From the early days of IVF, fertility clinics have made a habit of creating far more embryos than the parents actually intend to raise. The idea is that by creating and implanting “extra” embryos, you can offset any embryos who might die naturally from miscarriage and therefore increase the odds of at least one baby being carried to term.

In practice, however, many of these “extra” embryos are not introduced to the womb with their siblings. Instead, they are kept frozen for subsequent IVF attempts. And if a baby is born on the first try and the subsequent attempt at pregnancy never comes? Some of the “extra” embryos are adopted by other infertility patients. Others are killed, sometimes for research. Over half a million remain in a frozen limbo.

Ethicists have written mountains of articles about the conundrum posed by frozen embryos. No one can seem to agree on a good solution. But it has to start with stemming the tide of all these “extra” embryos. As it turns out, creating and implanting “extra” embryos doesn’t actually aid fertility treatment.

A new study destroys the underlying premise that implanting multiple embryos increases the odds of a healthy birth. Researchers found that an infertility patient is just as likely to give birth if only one embryo is implanted. “Extra” embryos aren’t offsetting miscarriages, resulting in one healthy newborn. The real effect of implanting those “extra” embryos? Twins and triplets, of course:

The study, published in this month’s issue of Fertility and Sterility, analyzed data collected in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 467 of the country’s fertility clinics. Researchers took into account the age of each patient, the stage at which each embryo was transferred, and the number of embryos each patient had available. Still, they found no significant difference in birth rates as the number of embryos transferred increased, though rates of multiples increased.

Most parents pursuing fertility treatment welcome multiples, but sadly, not all; the abortion of one twin or two triplets in a “selective reduction” after IVF is not unheard of.

Why create “extra” embryos, and cause such an ethical dilemma, when it doesn’t actually benefit infertility patients? Fertility clinics should scale back and create only the number of embryos that the parents are prepared to raise or place for adoption.

Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

Three-Parent Babies: A Pro-Life Ethical Analysis

[Today’s guest post by Victoria Godwin is part of our paid blogging program.]

The UK Parliament voted early last month to allow for the creation of children using the biological DNA from three people, effectively becoming the first country to officially approve this technique. The aim of this technology is to allow parents with a high likelihood of passing down genetic diseases, particularly mothers who carry genes coding for mitochondrial disease, to have healthy biological children. Mitochondria, which are essentially the energy “power houses” of our cells, are passed down to children by only the mother. A child with an inherited mitochondrial disorder will likely not survive long after birth, or will be severely disabled if he or she does. Proponents of the three-parent measure point to Sharon Bernardi, a UK mother who lost seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, as the type of person who would benefit from the technique, along with an estimated 150 eligible parents in the UK each year. The three-parent method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would not only allow parents to have children free of certain incurable genetic diseases, but would essentially eradicate mitochondrial disease from a genetic line. Sounds pretty great, right? But like with all technology involving the creation of new human beings, it’s not that simple.

For pro-lifers, the primary issue is that the three-parent IVF process can involve the destruction of human life. There are actually two methods: “egg repair” and “embryo repair.” Both are modifications of IVF (which is controversial in its own right). Briefly, in “egg repair,” two eggs are involved: one from the mother, and a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed and discarded, and the nucleus of the mother’s egg is inserted into the donor egg. The new egg, which contains the mother’s nucleus but the donor’s healthy mitochondria, is now ready to be fertilized by the father’s sperm before being inserted into the uterus.

The “egg repair” three-parent IVF method

The second approach, “embryo repair,” is more complicated as it involves two embryos: one created from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, and a donor embryo created using the father’s sperm but a healthy donor egg. The nuclei of both embryos are removed, but the intended parent’s nucleus is inserted into the donor embryo while the donor nucleus is destroyed. This results in an embryo with the parents’ nucleus and the donor’s mitochondria that is then ready to be inserted into the uterus.

The “embryo repair” reproach is undeniably immoral from a pro-life perspective because it involves the destruction of an embryo, a new human life. Furthermore, the destroyed embryo was created solely for the purpose of creating a healthy embryo; do the ends justify the means? While the “egg repair” method is certainly controversial too, it does not require the destruction of embryos and could be considered an acceptable moral option if appropriate protocol is implemented. Caution must be taken, however; if typical IVF protocol is followed in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, then several embryos could be created while only some are implanted, leaving the rest to be discarded, frozen indefinitely (with few being adopted), or donated to science.

Moreover, while the destruction of human embryos is the main area of concern from a pro-life standpoint, other ethical concerns are worth mentioning, including the potential slippery slope towards “designer babies” and eugenics. To be clear, only about 0.1% of the child’s DNA would be from the donor woman’s mitochondria, and it would not affect traits such as personality or physical appearance, which originate from nuclear DNA. But despite this small percentage, it is still a permanent change in DNA which would then be passed down to subsequent generations through the female line, a fact that has some bioethicists concerned due to the lack of research on the outcomes. 

A precedent has undoubtedly been set with the UK’s approval of this technology. Mitochondrial donation methods were banned in the US at the turn of the millennium during controversy over trials that used a similar cytoplasmic transfer technique (read the scientific publication here), but this issue will surely resurface as the process in the UK continues. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Institute of Medicine have recently been holding meetings to discuss the ethical issues brought up by mitochondrial donation techniques.

While I understand and appreciate that this IVF procedure has many potential benefits, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the destruction of human life in the quest to create human life free of debilitating diseases. I would encourage my fellow pro-lifers to also question the ethics of current mitochondrial donation methods (particularly the “embryo repair” method), and to make our voices heard: methods involving the destruction of human embryos are immoral, even if they do result in a healthy embryo. We must ask ourselves just how far we will go to achieve our ends.

Three-Parent Babies: A Pro-Life Ethical Analysis

[Today’s guest post by Victoria Godwin is part of our paid blogging program.]

The UK Parliament voted early last month to allow for the creation of children using the biological DNA from three people, effectively becoming the first country to officially approve this technique. The aim of this technology is to allow parents with a high likelihood of passing down genetic diseases, particularly mothers who carry genes coding for mitochondrial disease, to have healthy biological children. Mitochondria, which are essentially the energy “power houses” of our cells, are passed down to children by only the mother. A child with an inherited mitochondrial disorder will likely not survive long after birth, or will be severely disabled if he or she does. Proponents of the three-parent measure point to Sharon Bernardi, a UK mother who lost seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, as the type of person who would benefit from the technique, along with an estimated 150 eligible parents in the UK each year. The three-parent method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would not only allow parents to have children free of certain incurable genetic diseases, but would essentially eradicate mitochondrial disease from a genetic line. Sounds pretty great, right? But like with all technology involving the creation of new human beings, it’s not that simple.

For pro-lifers, the primary issue is that the three-parent IVF process can involve the destruction of human life. There are actually two methods: “egg repair” and “embryo repair.” Both are modifications of IVF (which is controversial in its own right). Briefly, in “egg repair,” two eggs are involved: one from the mother, and a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed and discarded, and the nucleus of the mother’s egg is inserted into the donor egg. The new egg, which contains the mother’s nucleus but the donor’s healthy mitochondria, is now ready to be fertilized by the father’s sperm before being inserted into the uterus.

The “egg repair” three-parent IVF method

The second approach, “embryo repair,” is more complicated as it involves two embryos: one created from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, and a donor embryo created using the father’s sperm but a healthy donor egg. The nuclei of both embryos are removed, but the intended parent’s nucleus is inserted into the donor embryo while the donor nucleus is destroyed. This results in an embryo with the parents’ nucleus and the donor’s mitochondria that is then ready to be inserted into the uterus.

The “embryo repair” reproach is undeniably immoral from a pro-life perspective because it involves the destruction of an embryo, a new human life. Furthermore, the destroyed embryo was created solely for the purpose of creating a healthy embryo; do the ends justify the means? While the “egg repair” method is certainly controversial too, it does not require the destruction of embryos and could be considered an acceptable moral option if appropriate protocol is implemented. Caution must be taken, however; if typical IVF protocol is followed in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, then several embryos could be created while only some are implanted, leaving the rest to be discarded, frozen indefinitely (with few being adopted), or donated to science.

Moreover, while the destruction of human embryos is the main area of concern from a pro-life standpoint, other ethical concerns are worth mentioning, including the potential slippery slope towards “designer babies” and eugenics. To be clear, only about 0.1% of the child’s DNA would be from the donor woman’s mitochondria, and it would not affect traits such as personality or physical appearance, which originate from nuclear DNA. But despite this small percentage, it is still a permanent change in DNA which would then be passed down to subsequent generations through the female line, a fact that has some bioethicists concerned due to the lack of research on the outcomes. 

A precedent has undoubtedly been set with the UK’s approval of this technology. Mitochondrial donation methods were banned in the US at the turn of the millennium during controversy over trials that used a similar cytoplasmic transfer technique (read the scientific publication here), but this issue will surely resurface as the process in the UK continues. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Institute of Medicine have recently been holding meetings to discuss the ethical issues brought up by mitochondrial donation techniques.

While I understand and appreciate that this IVF procedure has many potential benefits, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the destruction of human life in the quest to create human life free of debilitating diseases. I would encourage my fellow pro-lifers to also question the ethics of current mitochondrial donation methods (particularly the “embryo repair” method), and to make our voices heard: methods involving the destruction of human embryos are immoral, even if they do result in a healthy embryo. We must ask ourselves just how far we will go to achieve our ends.