When Life Begins

While most people would agree that religious beliefs should not be imposed on others by force of law, there are some people who say that this 'rule' should also apply in preventing certain philosophic beliefs and theories being imposed by law.
  • Any discussion of human life must first look to embryology, foetology and medical science.
  • At fertilisation, a new, unique living individual with 46 chromosomes (the number and quantity specific for the human species) is formed.
  • Furthermore, at fertilisation the human embryo is already a male or a female. 
  • Virtually all of the genetic information the human being will ever have or need is present immediately at fertilisation.
  • It is therefore incorrect, both medically and scientifically, to present the early human embryo and human foetus as not being a human being or human person.
  • We can only base our laws on the medical and scientific definition as to when human life begins.
In considering when human life begins it is necessary to first look at the spiritual and philosophical definitions.

A religious, faith belief or spiritual definition usually sees the creation of the soul as the beginning of human life. The problem here is that there is a difference of opinion between believers in when they think the soul is created.

There are, of course, others who do not believe there is a soul at all but that what is important is that in our secular society, no one's religious faith belief can be imposed on others through force of law. Therefore, we cannot use a religious definition of when human life begins as a basis for making laws.

'Human Life' defined Philosophically
Philosophically, 'human life' is defined in a myriad of ways. For example, this is not human life until birth or until there is:
  • a certain level of consciousness
  • a certain degree of being wanted
  • a certain exchange of love
  • a certain humanisation, or culturalisation
  • a certain degree of self-sufficiency, or viability
  • a certain degree of physical development
  • a certain degree of physical or mental perfection...etc.
Many sincere people define and debate 'human life' by these and other criteria, all of which have certain things in common:
  • While admittedly arrived at through a certain reasoning process, all of the above remain theories.
  • None can be proven factually by science.
  • All individuals have a right to hold their own philosophic beliefs.
  • People of goodwill can and do differ completely on the correctness of the philosophic beliefs mentioned.
Because these are non-provable theories and beliefs, they should be treated the same way as religious beliefs.

Society should not impose religious, faith beliefs or philosophic beliefs and theories on others through force of law.


We do have microscopes, stethoscopes, and genetic knowledge now, all of which go far beyond the limited knowledge obtained by sight alone. To base your opinion solely on what you see, rather than upon what science is capable of telling you, is not rational.

While some people consider the developing embryo as a form of animal life which only becomes human at some later stage of development, in reality the fertilised ovum of an animal, or of a human, at the time of fertilisation and beginning growth, already is - in totality - that animal, or human.

Because of present scientific knowledge of chromosome and gene structure, and because of the intricate genetic programming that we are now aware of, we already know that an animal can only develop into what it already is - a dog, for instance, can only develop into a dog... and a specific species of that dog.

All this is predetermined and already exists in totality when fertilisation occurs. The same is true of a human.

"In biology and in medicine, it is an accepted fact that the life of any individual organism reproducing by sexual reproduction begins at conception...."


"Furthermore, at fertilisation the human embryo is already a male or a female; immediately, specifically human enzymes and proteins are formed; specifically human tissues and organs will be formed (not cabbages or giraffes). Virtually all of the genetic information the human being will ever have or need is present immediately at fertilisation.

"No genetic information information is gained or lost throughout development - only the use of some information is lost through mechanisms such as methylation."

Ms Irving also states that there is no scientific physiological basis for a valid parallel between "brain death" and "brain birth", sentience or self-consciousness, and points out that full human development is not complete until after 20 years of age, and "full brain integration and the actual exercising of 'rational attributes' are not present until several years after birth.

"Thus any arguments about physiological 'preconditions' for either sentience or rational attributes," Ms Irving goes on to say, "are themselves arguments from potentiality, and actually depend physiologically on the precondition of the single-cell human zygote itself.

It should be carefully noted that if either actual sentience or rational attributes are indeed the rationale for human 'personhood', then newborns, young children, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill and retarded, the depressed, comatose patients, and paraplegics (to name a few) are not 'persons' either, and thus, by the very same logic, could be 'disposed of'."

It is therefore incorrect, both medically and scientifically, to present the early human embryo and human foetus as not being a human being or human person. This takes us back to the initial assertion where it was stated that, because the spiritual and philosophical definitions are non-provable theories and beliefs, we can only base our laws on the medical and scientific definition as to when human life begins.

References:
  1. Report to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981.
  2. Shettles, Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth, p. 113.
  3. The Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Report to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981