A Scientific View of When Life Begins

The question of when human life begins has been answered in a variety of ways by different religious and philosophical traditions throughout the ages, leading many to conclude the question cannot be definitively answered. Yet what does science tell us about when life begins?[1] One of the basic insights of modern biology is that life is continuous, with living cells giving rise to new types of cells and, ultimately, to new individuals. Therefore, in considering the question of when a new human life begins, we must first address the more fundamental question of when a new cell, distinct from sperm and egg, comes into existence. The scientific basis for distinguishing one cell type from another rests on two criteria: differences in what something is made of (its molecular composition) and differences in how the cell behaves. These two criteria are universally agreed upon and employed throughout the scientific enterprise. They are not “religious” beliefs or matters of personal opinion. They are objective, verifiable scientific criteria that determine precisely when a new cell type is formed. Based on these criteria, the joining (or fusion) of sperm and egg clearly produces a new cell type, the zygote or one-cell embryo. Cell fusion is a well studied and very rapid event, occurring in less than a second. Because the zygote arises from the fusion of two different cells, it contains all the components of both sperm and egg, and therefore this new cell has a unique molecular composition that is distinct from either gamete. Thus the zygote that comes into existence at the moment of sperm-egg fusion meets the first scientific criterion...

1.5 Million Embryos Killed Through IVF Since 1991 in Britain (7/2011)

1.5 Million Embryos Killed Through IVF Since 1991 in Britain Over one and a half million embryonic children have been killed in Britain through IVF procedures since 1991, according to new data from the country’s Department of Health. The figures, revealed by Britain’s Health Minister Lord Howe in response to a request from Lord Alton, show that over 30 embryos are created for every live birth through IVF. Doctors have created more than 3.1 million human embryos since Britain passed its Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1991, resulting in only 94,090 successful births.  Of the remainder, 1,455,832 embryos have been discarded, 101,605 were destroyed through research, and 764,311 were frozen. “We are creating and destroying human embryos on an industrial scale,” said Lord Alton, according to the Daily Mail. He criticized the fact that the government has spent so much money on IVF when there are 600 abortions in the country every day and only 70 babies offered for adoption every year. Pro-life advocates have heavily criticized IVF, in large part because of the massive death toll that it entails.  As the figures reveal, in each round numerous children are conceived to improve the chances of implantation, but those remaining unused are simply “discarded” or frozen. Critics also argue that the procedure reduces the newly-formed human life to the status of a commodity, and say that the child is meant to be conceived through the mutual love of husband and wife in the conjugal act. Additionally, research has shown that babies born from IVF have a much higher chance of birth defects, including heart valve defects, cleft lip...

Congress Bans Patenting of Human Embryos (2/04)

Congress enacted the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits the patenting of human embryos. The law became effective 23Jan04. The powerful Biotechnology Industry Organization lobbied against the legislation because the biotech firms it represents are relying on patents to enrich their own profits, and to give private investors a return on their investment. This bill will make it more difficult for biotech firms to profit from cloning human embryos; it may also lessen the profit motive behind the research. Some researchers hope to create cloned human embryos with specific genetic traits, patent them and then collect royalties each time researchers use a “copy” of the patented embryo [according to Nat’l Right to Life News, 2/04; HLA Action News, Spring...

Obtaining Stem Cells From Umbilical Cord Blood (3/04)

BioE [St. Paul, MN] has developed a processing system, called PrepaCyte-CB, that separates the stem cells from umbilical cord blood.  It is expected to become the first FDA-compliant cell-separation product and first available on the market by early 2005. Blood from the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells, which have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Use of umbilical cord stem cells is ethical and does not use or destroy human embryos.  BioE and lead neurologist, Dr. Leslie Weiner, have a research agreement with the Univ of Southern CA, where Weiner is chair in Neurology at the University’s Keck School of Medicine. [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 23Mar04; HLA Action News, Spring...