Is the Killing (Abortion) of Human Embryos Always Murder?

Dr. Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for developing in vitro fertilization. The mixing of eggs and sperm in the test tube makes early human embryos, which can then be surgically placed in the uterus of the hopeful mother, where they develop into babies. This technology creates life, allowing otherwise infertile couples to bear children. About one percent of all births in the US are the result of in vitro fertilization. It also provides the foundation for the generation of designer genes babies, with pre-selected traits, and is therefore likely to become increasingly prevalent in the future.

But, in vitro fertilization results in hundreds of thousands of leftover embryos that are frozen indefinitely or discarded. Is the destruction of these early embryos, consisting of small clumps of cells, murder?

Early Human development takes place very slowly. The single cell that we all started from, the fertilized egg, divides once to make two cells, then again to make four, and once more to make a small cluster of eight cells. It takes a few days to get this far. And, amazingly, at this stage of development each of the eight cells is “totipotent”, or able to give rise to a complete and normal person if separated from the other cells. Accidental splitting of this clump is one way to make identical twins, triplets, etc.

A dictum of developmental biology is that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. This means that development of the individual reflects the evolution of its species. The Human embryo has a very long tail, and branchial arches that resemble gill slits. It first forms a primitive fish like kidney, which is later discarded and replaced with a mammalian kidney. Indeed, in many respects an early Human embryo more resembles a fish than a Human.

But, according to some, the embryo becomes a full person, with all rights, at the moment of conception, when the egg unites with the sperm. In some respects this is an attractive and clean answer. At this point there is the creation of a unique combination of genes that marks that individual and distinguishes it from all others. This is a physically well-defined event, setting apart those few eggs and sperm that do unite to form an embryo and then embark on the voyage of embryogenesis, to make a person.

There are, however, several arguments that suggest that the moment of conception is too early to confer full personhood. The fertilized egg has no beating heart, no brain, and no consciousness. It is not aware, it cannot think, and it cannot sense anything, including pleasure or pain. It is just two cells, the egg and sperm that have joined into one.

At the other end of life, when a person is old, sick and dying, we do have some established rules concerning when death has occurred, or when it is acceptable to “pull the plug”. Perhaps the same rules that apply to the end of life should be applied to the beginning. If the analysis of brain activity shows no conscious thought then life is considered over. This suggests that life begins with the formation of a brain and the initiation of conscious thought.

Then there is the question of the soul? It could be argued that while the fertilized egg has no brain, it nevertheless has a soul and is therefore a person. But if the early embryo has one soul, and then the embryo splits, do the resulting identical twins, triplets and so on only get a piece of the soul? And what about the reverse? Chimeras are people that look perfectly normal, but are the result of two early embryos fusing together to make one person. Do chimeras have two souls?

It is also interesting to note that there is an enormous natural loss of early Human embryos. The normal reproductive process is not very efficient. Only about half of Human fertilized eggs survive to birth. The vast majority of loss is very early, within the first few days after conception, and the mother never knew she was pregnant. This means that for every person alive, a total of about seven billion, there was a natural embryonic death. What a horrible holocaust, if we equate early embryonic life with that of an adult!

So, when is an embryo a person? The other extreme view might be at the moment of natural birth, when you enter the world and can breathe on your own. While some accept this view, for most it would be far too late. The vision of an abortion doctor strangling a late-stage abortus that is fighting for air is extremely repugnant. Clearly, when able to live outside of its mother given the support of available medical knowledge, with a functioning heart and brain, with pain and pleasure sensors, the baby in the mother is indeed a human being and deserving of the right to live.

Where do you draw the line? The one thing that is certain, is that there are no easy answers.

About the Author: Steve Potter, PhD, is a Professor of Pediatrics, in the Division of Developmental Biology, at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. He has authored Designer Genes: A New Era in the Evolution of Man, published by Random House 2010 http://www.amazon.com/Designer-Genes-New-Era-Evolution/dp/140006905X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310842010&sr=1-1. In addition he has written over one hundred science papers, and co-authored the third edition of the medical school textbook, Larsen’s Human Embryology.

34 thoughts on “Is the Killing (Abortion) of Human Embryos Always Murder?

  1. I wish these arguments were discussed more often. They seem to destroy the usual positions of the conservative right but they still don’t answer, as the author points out, the problem of deciding when a human organism becomes a person. Maybe we just need to get used to the idea that infanticide isn’t such a bad thing? I’d like to see a politician try to hold this view–not very likely.

    • “Infanticide” is not a valid term in this argument, as it refers to the deliberate killing of a child (infant) that has been born and truly is a valid person with a birth certificate.

  2. Actually, the embryo divides from two cells into three cells.
    Only after it has been at the three-cell stage does it divide again to make four cells.
    http://www.brown.edu/Courses/BI0032/gentherp/earlyIE1.htm

    The idea that “ontology recapitulates phylogeny” is hokum. It was built on a series of drawings made by a man named Haeckel in the late 1800’s. It has been thoroughly debunked. “The core scientific issue remains unchanged: Haeckel’s drawings in 1874 are substantially fabricated. In support of his view, I note that his oldest “fish” images is made up of bits and pieces from different animals- some of them mythical . It is not unreasonable to characterize this as “faking”…. Sadly, it is the discredited 1874 drawings that are used I so many British and American Biology textbooks today.”
    Evolutionist Mik Richardson’s letter to “Science” 281 (5381); 1289 Aug 28, 1998 titled “Haeckel’s Embryos, continued”

    Human embryos don’t get gill slits.

    “Only about half of Human fertilized eggs survive to birth.” This is an estimate based on mouse studies, and is not known to be accurate. The best we can say with any certainty is “Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%.” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001488.htm

    In 2009, there were 31 countries reported in which at least 10% of children under five died. Chad, for instance, had a death rate of 209 per 1000, or just about 21%.

    Should we therefore conclude that children born in Chad are not human until their fifth birthday?

    Indeed, consider the famous “demographic transition” experienced by most industrialized nations, in which number of children born drops dramatically simultaneously with a dramatically increased lifespan. That dramatic increase in average lifespan is created largely by the reduction of raw child mortality numbers, i.e., as nations industrialize, people don’t have as many children, so there aren’t as many young deaths to hold the average lifespan age. During that transition, adults aren’t necessarily living a lot longer, it’s just that a lot fewer children are dying.

    You have a Ph.D. in pediatrics.
    Perhaps you should talk to an embryologist.
    They tend to have quite a different take on the subject.
    That is, most embryologists agree life begins at conception.
    It’s mostly people who don’t specialize in embryology who think otherwise.

    • You raise some interesting points. First, let me clarify that I am a PhD, and not an MD. I’m located in a department of Pediatrics, but do research in the field of embryology. I co-authored the third edition of the medical embryology textbook Larsen’s Human Embryology. I know something about the subject.

      You mention that the early embryo goes from two cells to three, not four. Actually we are both right. Each of the two cells does divide, to give a total of four, as I state. But the divisions are not completely synchronous, so there is indeed an intermediate point when there are three cells, as you point out.

      You claim that “the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny is hokum”. Sorry, but not so. The early formative stages of mouse, human, fish, frog and chicken embryos all bear remarkable similarities. The early human embryo does indeed have a very pronounced tail. And the human embryo actually makes a series of three kidneys that reflect the evolution of this organ. The first is a very simple structure called the pronephros. It rapidly degenerates and is replaced by a somewhat more complex kidney called the mesonephros. Adult frogs and fish have mesonephros type kidneys. But in mammals the mesonephros is then replaced by an even more elaborate kidney, the metanephros. Land dwelling animals require the greater urine concentrating power of the metanephros, because they don’t always have a readily available water supply.

      You dispute my numbers on normal embryo death rates. You are correct that the best numbers are based on mouse studies, but we also have pretty good data for people, from in vitro fertilization clinics. It is near universal practice to place several embryos into the uterus of the prospective mother, hoping that at least one will survive. And these are embryos that have been examined under the microscope and appear to be perfectly healthy. And still a very large percentage die. In a few cases (Octamom), too many embryos are placed into the uterus, and by chance a large number survive.

      You state that the miscarriage rate for women that know they are pregnant is around 15-20%. But, as i stated, the vast majority of embryo losses occur very early, in what is referred to as the preimplantation stage, before the woman knows she is pregnant.

      But we agree on the basic point. With each generation billions of embryos are naturally lost before birth. I might say seven billion, and you might say three billion, but this does not really change the argument. Billions of embryos are dying before women even know they are pregnant, and people are not terribly upset about it. My interpretation is that these very early embryos, made up of just a few cells, are generally held in lower regard than babies, children, and adults.

      But they are indeed certainly alive. No one is claiming that they are dead. The question is, if we kill a very early embryo is it the moral equivalent of killing a baby, child or adult?

      You point out that many children die today, and that does not mean their lives are worthless. I agree. But most people are very concerned about the death of children, and doing their best to reduce the rates.

  3. To answer Kevin’s question, the problem of “personhood” is an eminently religious problem.

    The word “person” was a theological term developed in the second century AD in order to solve a theological problem. Christianity was trying to describe the Godhead. Tertullian wrote De Trinitas, and became the first individual to use the word “person” in its modern sense in order to describe the three Persons of the Trinity. Man is a person because man is “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis).

    The theologian Boethius improved on the definition, rendering it as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” The Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas defined the terms in the definition to make the concept even more clear: a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will (“possesses,” “intellect” and “will” being the operative and defining characteristics of personhood, each having complete technical theological definitions).

    If you want to keep religion out of empirical science and empirical science out of religion, you need to STOP using the word “person” since it is a purely Catholic concept intended to resolve a purely theological problem.

    By the very fact that science INSISTS on using the word “person”, it admits that theology/religion has authority in this area. Which makes sense, because it does.

    “Science” comes from the Latin “scientia” which simply means “to know”. There are several different kinds of science: formal, empirical and applied. Formal science does not require experiment – think mathematics or logic. Theology is a formal science.

    Empirical science is meant to describe the relationship between objects.
    The formal science of theology is meant to describe the relationships between persons, specifically the relationships between the uncreated Persons of the Godhead, and the created persons which are angels and men.

    Empirical science cannot do much with deciding personhood because it is incapable of quantitatively measuring concepts of personhood, concepts like “intellect”, “will”, “virtue”, “sin”, “grace”, “evil”, “good”, “rights”, “duties”, etc.

    Thus, this entire essay is a contradiction in terms written by someone who means well, but who hasn’t done the necessary research in either the empirical science of embryology or the formal science of theology.

    I have a book which discusses some of these concepts available here.

    • Ideas evolve along cultural lines, as do the words which define them. Sometimes word usage evolves much farther from their origin than in other cases. This has been true since the beginning of recorded history and is just as true today.

      The origin of the word “person” is utterly irrelevant in today’s use of English. To cling to such etymology is pointless. The word has grown into common circulation and using it has absolutely no bearing on someone’s acknowledgment of theology, or lack thereof. To think otherwise is either misguided or spurious logic, at best. At worst, it is intentional obfuscation with a malicious, self-serving agenda.

      Random figure: 98% of the people who use the word Person give it absolutely no theological meaning. They use it to mean ‘individual’ or ‘human being’. Usage of the word does not give any theological dominion over the context in which it is used. That is feckless babble which ignores everything about the social evolution of language.

      I can run around all day saying, “Jesus Christ!” as an expletive and be an atheist. I can ask someone to rendezvous with me and have no interest in the French. Contending that ‘person’ invalidates science when employed in scientific statements is utter hogwash which ignores the metamorphic nature of common parlance and every single cultural lexicon in known history.

      Such a position (on scientific use of ‘person’) has the linguistic credibility of a drunk driver and is reminiscent of the movement to change ‘French fries’ to ‘freedom fries’ — an attempt at manufacturing what is normally a fluid development of language on an almost Goebbellian scale. So build all the dams (and damns) you want but I imagine the scientific community couldn’t care less if an academic paper uses ‘person’ or ‘individual’ or ‘human being’ in its dissertation provided it does not alter the intended meaning of said work. To otherwise cling to such an obviously outmoded view seems like a suspicious semantic manipulation.

      (Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing you of malice but the idea feels malicious when I turn it over in my mind. It is repulsive and insulting.)

      Christianity and theology in general have as much current dominion over the English language (and its application in traditional academia) as does the reigning monarch of England – in fact less so. Such ties have long since been severed, the yoke discarded, and the language has taken on, ehem, a life of its own. You have imbued ‘person’ with an archaic connotation which is almost utterly absent in the English speakers of the world. Philosophically speaking, it simply denotes an individual as we, the MWC, have come to understand and accept the distinction. I imagine it is fairly the same in the East, though I cannot realistically discuss it, though I can say in ESL ‘person’ is taught solely as the common dictionary definition. Beyond discussions of hive minds and other esoteric pursuits, there is a common understanding of what ‘person’ means which has nothing to do with theology regardless of its etymological roots. Heck, I don’t even know if what you say is true (although it sounds about right, I haven’t studied the specific word origin). If it hadn’t been framed in your argument, I’d likely accept it as a plausible explanation but now I’m almost moved to verify it because the rest of your assertion is poppycock.

      Here’s a fun thought: A popular expression in the US is goes something like the following. “If it weren’t for us, you’d be speaking German.” Well, I guess we should ‘fix’ one of America’s greatest passions in the NFL which frequently uses the term ‘blitz’ — a German word popularized during WWII. How un-American! A blitz, when properly executed, is considered an admirable play by the defense which often results in a ‘sack’ (another euphemism cribbed from war which originally included looting, pillaging, murder, and rape). See, now, there, we gotta get rid of that word, too!

      P.S.: I did look it up in my only non-internet reference, John Ayto’s “Dictionary of Word Origins” (Arcade Publishing, 1991). Cross-referencing with my Oxford Dictionary (1998) (it has sentimental value) and some online sources, it seems they differ from your accounting in that it was derived form latin (persona) which was likely derived from Etruscan and/or Ancient Greek sources. None of these sources say anything close to your claim:

      “The word “person” was a theological term developed in the second century AD in order to solve a theological problem. Christianity was trying to describe the Godhead. Tertullian wrote De Trinitas, and became the first individual to use the word “person” in its modern sense in order to describe the three Persons of the Trinity. Man is a person because man is “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis).”

      According to these sources, ‘person’ became increasingly widespread since its inception, took various paths (one including ‘parson’, another popularized by Jung’s ‘persona’, which was itself a throwback) and became common parlance which meant: “individual” (human). So, we’re back to spurious.

      Granted, I didn’t reference anything in-depth and my physical references are “so Twentieth Century” (ha, that feels horrid) but the quick online search yielded nothing contradictory. And certainly nothing which said echoed the paragraph of yours which I have cited above.

      Bupkis. Well, aside from a link to this blog article generated by the content of your comments. It was several Google pages deep.

  4. Sorry you didn’t like my use of the word person. I was going with the standard dictionary version, as copied below.

    1. A human being, whether man, woman, or child: The table seats four persons.
    2. A human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.
    3. Sociology . an individual human being, especially with reference to his or her social relationships and behavioral patterns as conditioned by the culture.

  5. The dictionary version is fine.
    You just have to realize that the dictionary version assumes the theological definition already described, if only because Christianity invented the term in its modern usage.

    Keep in mind that he modern English language came into existence around the time of the printing press, which in turn was a product of Catholic culture. The first thing the printing press produced was a copy of an indulgence, followed closely by Gutenburg’s 32-line Bible.

    Everyone forgets that modern English is a construct of Christian theology.

    Today, science is attempting to redefine “person” along empirical lines (heartbeat, brainwaves, etc.), but that attempt is less than fifty years old. There’s no indication that it will (or that it won’t) succeed.

  6. Very impressed with the quality of the essay and the discussion that it developed. I congratulate you both for the professionalism you have used to present your points of views and to contradict each other. Both arguments are totally valid. They show the ideological difficulty of understanding abortion and its place in society.

  7. Thank you for the clarification on your degrees, but I had not assumed you were an MD. It is pleasant that you co-authored a textbook on embryology. That’s an appeal to authority – the weakest of all logical arguments.

    Since you did not address Haeckel’s deliberate fabrication of an anatomical chart in order to promote the ontogeny-phylogeny concept, I assume you are aware that Haeckel lied and has long since been caught in that lie.

    I never disputed that human embryos do not have a tail – your remarks in that regard are a strawman argument.

    I instead pointed out that human embryos do not have gills.
    You have not refuted my assertion because you can’t. They don’t.

    This was common knowledge as early as the 1970’s, so you certainly haven’t repeated that canard in your own book, have you? “The pharyngeal arches and clefts are frequently referred to as branchial arches and branchial clefts in anology with the lower vertebrates, [but] since the human embryo never has gills called ‘branchia’, the term pharyngeal arches and clefts has been adopted for this book.” (Langman, Jan, Medical Embryology (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1975), p. 262.)
    You proceed to a discussion of kidney development. If you wish to argue that most vertebrate classes share many common features really early in development, I have no quarrel. If you wish to argue, as Haeckel did, that an embryo passes through the adult forms of its ancestors, you have long since been proven wrong by much better scientists than either of us.

    You agree your assertion about embryo loss are based on mouse studies, not human studies, but then argue that the multiple implantations done during IVF constitutes valid human studies. This fails on at least three points.

    1) You are apparently unaware that IVF children who survive birth have a much higher rate of morbidity and mortality than normally conceived children. This demonstrates that IVF-produced embryos and the environments they encounter are more often defective than normal embryos and their environments.

    2) You know, or should know, that defective embryos cannot be microscopically distinguished in reliable ways from normal embryos. Indeed, that’s why IVF clinics shotgun embryos into the womb – they can’t tell which ones will fail, so they multiply implantations to maintain ROI. Even with that, some IVF clinics not uncommonly have failure rates above 90%.

    3) Mouse wombs generally support multiple embroys. The human womb normally supports only a singleton – multiple births are not the norm. Thus, the very practice of shotgunning embryos could directly be causing high loss rates, since it ALWAYS creates a situation is not normally found in humans, e.g., embryonic competition for resources, hormonal differences, etc.

    Thus, you have provided no evidence to support your assertion about embryo loss.

    You ask if the killing of an embryo is morally equivalent to the killing of a baby.

    I will point out that Watson and Crick, Nobel prize winners for the discovery of DNA, both held that the killing of a baby should not be considered murder unless that baby had passed a series of tests by the age of one to three years of age. They would hold that killing a newborn is not morally problematic. Peter Singer holds an equivalent position.

    “Person” is a narrowly defined technical term of Christian theology expressed in a language (modern English) that was essentially invented by a thoroughly Christian culture.

    Similarly, “morality” is a specifically Christian concept created to describe the relationships between “persons.” (according to the OED, the term was first used by Pope Gregory the Great in his “Morality in the Book of Job”).

    Empirical science quantitatively describes the physical relationships between objects.

    Christian theology qualitatively describes the spiritual relationships between persons.

    When you ask about the “morality” of killing “persons” you are engaging in a theological discussion which you are not equipped to discuss. Moreover, it is a discussion which empirical science has no method for assessing. There is no lab instrument that measures “good” or “evil”, “virtue” or “vice”, “person” or “non-person” nor does empirical science claim that it has such an instrument.

    So, why do you bring completely irrelevant subjects like brain waves, heartbeat or cell count – quantitative measurements involving objects – to a moral discussion about persons?

    Unless you think theology is extremely relevant to the problem, and is, ultimately, the only science which can answer the questions?

    If so, I agree with you, but I am puzzled by your approach.

    • In your previous comment you stated that I had a PhD in pediatrics (which, to my knowledge, does not exist) and suggest that if I were an embryologist I’d know better. So, I pointed out that I am indeed an embryologist. And now you claim that I am “appealing to authority”. Please, give me a break.

      And I never said that an embryo has gills, but rather branchial arches that look like gills. The point being that with a fish like kidney, a tail, and early on a simple tube like heart, the embryo does not much resemble what we think of as a human. Of course, it does have the potential to make a normal human, and that is a very important distinction, that does indeed separate it from a fish.

      You seem very upset by my statement that normal Human embryo loss rates are very high. I gave the number around 50%. Some experts in the field claim it is much higher, in the 60-80% range. See http://reason.com/archives/2004/12/22/is-heaven-populated-chiefly-by. Others say the number might be lower, perhaps more like 20-40% (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12620443). But as I said before the point is simply that lots of embryos are naturally lost. Indeed, billions each generation. This is true if you go with 15% or 80%. So I don’t see why you are so obsessed with worrying about my comments on this. It is beyond refute. Do some reading. The question is, how important is it? If you think that the early embryo is a full fledged human and as important as a baby or adult, then it should indeed be a very big deal. Otherwise, maybe not. I don’t claim to know the answer on this.

      • I am not upset about the loss rate of embryos.
        I am just pointing out that the quoted loss rates are based on essentially no solid evidence.

        You seem very upset that you have no evidence.

        I don’t think the loss rate for embryos is any more important than the loss rate of children in Chad.

        You haven’t explained why you insist on addressing theological issues (the morality of killing embryonic persons) in the context of empiricism.

        Empiricism has nothing to say about morality or about persons, since neither can be proven to exist empirically.

        Why do you seem to think empiricism is relevant to the theological discussion you seem to want to hold?

        • Please, read the articles I cited for you, and others by these scientists, and then carefully critique them and kindly explain how these researchers were able to publish these numbers in peer reviewed journals without any supporting evidence.

          I didn’t mention religion in the blog, to my recollection, although it will obviously influence views. I just try to mention some observations that I think are relevant to the issue.

          I don’t claim my view to be any better than those of others. You can think what you want, and I won’t hate you for it.

          My view, which clearly comes through in the blog, is that very early embryos are just one step or so beyond eggs and sperm. I value them more than eggs and sperm, and they have remarkable potential, but I value them less than babies, children and adults.

          But late term embryos, or fetuses to be more correct, are just babies that haven’t been born yet.

          And religion does not enter into the equation for my views.

          And don’t tell me you need theology to address questions of right and wrong. Sorry, total BS.

  8. The Reason article is useless for analyzing your claims.
    The NCBI study is the only thing with data.
    So, you’ve got a total of one study to back you up.
    If that’s how you do empirical science, then you do it differently than most.

    As for the theological underpinnings of your beliefs, I gave you the evidence you needed to see that theology (not religion – there’s a difference, but you aren’t educated enough to know what it is) has already entered your views – indeed, they define your views – but you seem peculiarly unable to accept or process the historical, philosophical, philological, or theological facts. Your condition is not unusual… it’s similar to autism, and a similar failure is present in many idiot-savants.

    I will only note that to my points, you provided no counter-evidence.
    You simply assert the contrary.

    Sigh…

    • I really appreciate your eagerness to learn, and your open mind. Please consider looking over some of the following articles.

      You might especially like reading this article, by a “pro-lifer”, which acknowledges the high rate of embryo loss and discusses the implications.
      http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2008/12/103
      “Could an omnipotent and benevolent God permit the death of so many young and innocent human beings?” The author addresses many of the important issues, and provides some answers that might allow you to sleep a bit better.

      But, if you just want documentation of the high rate of early Human embryo loss, look at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21050816 which is a review article, that cites many of the primary articles that provide evidence. Or, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11775983
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7819708
      http://www.pnas.org/content/98/4/1655.full.pdf

      which all discuss the high loss, provide data or cite other papers that do, and discuss possible causes.

      Please, learn on!, brave student of life.

      • And, as I said before, the loss rate of embryos is of no more or less importance than the loss rate of children under 5 in Chad.

        If the two groups are composed of human beings, then it means a lot of young people die. If these are not people, then it doesn’t matter.

        How do you propose to empirically demonstrate who is a person and who is not, given the fact that personhood is a theological concept?

        • What kind of a logic is this? “If the two groups are composed of human beings, then it means a lot of young people die. If these are not people, then it doesn’t matter.”
          What do the children in Chad have in similar with embryos? That they both die? Are there only two options – both Chad children and embryos are human beings; both Chad children and embryos are NOT human beings??? What about – Chad children are human beings, embryos AT CERTAIN STAGES are not yet humans?

          By the way, each year 6-7 million children under five die; when looking at the total population, much more die. If you are really interested in saving lifes (not just for an argument, but really), why not focusing your efforts to save “already”-born and living beings instead of spending your time for embryos?

          I know these entries were posted in 2011, but could not prevent myself from commenting. I also want to congratulate the author for his calmness and excellent answers.

      • On a slightly different thread, and as a preliminary to a second point, I should point out that all of the articles you refer to are crap.

        All four studies rely at least in part on IVF loss rates (three of them rely entirely on it). I’ve already pointed out why IVF loss rates are likely to be entirely wrong, and you’ve done nothing to refute those points.

        While quantity is, indeed, a quality, piling up studies based on fallacious underpinnings doesn’t prove anything. You must first explain why anyone should trust IVF studies in determining embryo loss.

        It’s a philosophical problem which you are probably not trained to handle.

        Now, I’ve looked at your studies.
        What have you done to understand the theology of the problem?

        You keep tossing around words like “person”, “right”, “wrong”.

        The whole point of your essay is to ask the question: “So, when is an embryo a person?”

        Have you studied Trinitarian theology, so that you at least know what, or rather who, a person is? Have you read Aquinas on personhood?
        You could try
        http://newadvent.org/summa/1029.htm
        or
        http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/PPer/PPerClar.htm

        Do you understand the difference between “accident” and “substance”?
        Between “person” and “nature”?

        You have shown no interest in learning what you need to know in order to answer your question.

        Empirical science cannot answer your question because it isn’t equipped to do so. It’s like trying to work out how much your wife loves you by use of quadratic equations – you can’t get there from here. Do you understand that?

  9. When two eagles produce offspring, it’s not complicated. They produce eagles. When two human beings produce offspring, it’s equally uncomplicated. They produce human beings. If human beings are not persons from the moment of the beginning of their biological development, then who gets to say when they are? When human beings get to decide, the beginning of human life transforms from absolute to arbitrary.

  10. I read an interesting thought experiment. Suppose you are in a burning building and must choose between saving a petri dish on the table containing ten early human embryos, or a baby crying in a crib.

    I go for the baby. How about you??

  11. I grab them both.
    I don’t believe in the no-win scenario. 🙂

    BTW, do you realize the scenario you proposed was first created by Talmudic scholars? Is there a particular reason you favor Jewish morality over Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist morality?

  12. I’ve got some questions for you.

    The hospital is on fire.
    There are two boys in hospital beds.
    One is ten years old and one twelve years old.

    There’s only time to save one.
    Which one do you save?

    Follow-up:
    Does that mean the other one isn’t human?
    Does it mean the other one isn’t worth saving?
    Is the other one of less value?

    Do you see why you really should learn some basic ethics (and basic logic) before you start asking inane questions?

    Here’s another set of questions: how long will you refuse to do the research you need to do in order to answer your own question?

    Are you REALLY interested in finding an answer,
    or
    do you really just want to have your uninformed prejudices confirmed?

    Are all Ph.D.s intellectually lazy?
    Are all “scientists” intellectually lazy?
    Are all co-authors of embryology textbooks intellectually lazy?

    You’re smarter than this in other subjects.
    Why do you insist on playing stupid on this one?

    • It is definitely killing a life. But does life begin at conception? Aren’t eggs and sperm also alive? Yet we don’t worry too much about killing them. But there is no doubt that they are living cells. And they also have the potential to make people.

      • I thought yours was an interesting question. For me, it is easily answered by my faith – as faith and morals intertwine.
        All life does begin at conception (the fusion of two gametes).
        It is my view that abortion is murder because God instills a human soul (containing free will and intellect) into the embryo at the moment of its conception.
        I do not worry so much about the egg and sperm (their death is inevitable – those that do not combine die in the course of nature anyway) as I do the generated embryo because the difference between a human life and an animal or cell life is great. At the moment of their conception, these creatures did not receive free will and intellect; they are not made in the “image and likeness of God”; they were not made human. Thus they do not deserve ‘Special respect’ (HOWEVER that is not to say they don’t deserve RESPECT, as all creatures of God deserve respect) that only humans deserve (there is a hierarchy – this why I believe its ok to kill animals for human consumption – all things on the earth are God’s gift to mankind. Our souls are also eternal, unlike the animals, for we will hopefully get to live with God in Heaven)

        Anyway I hope maybe, amid all my ramblings on my religion, you took something from that 🙂

      • Is it murder if the embryos are not implanted and they die of freezer burn?

        Is it murder if a thinned uterine lining prevents implantation?

        Is it murder if you prevent a blood transfusion patient from taking your blood?

        And my condolences, that Kellmyer guy is insufferable.

  13. It is ironic and hypocritical that the Jesus-hating terrorist Scott Melvin Evans would comment.
    I know from personal experience.
    I live two blocks away from where Scott bullies people nearly every Saturday (Scott Evans calls his bullying and harassing behavior “sidewalk counseling”). We all know exactly who Scott is and every single time I drive by there (like this past Saturday morning), he is out there with a ridiculous looking small video camera mounted to his shoulder, makes terrible loud noises blowing on some horn, all in some vain attempt to overcome some major insecurities, and all while trying to videotape everyone and violating everyone’s right to privacy. My neighbors and I have researched these people and almost all of them are criminals!
    Scott Melvin Evans and convicted criminals Jo Anne Scott (convicted of federal charges of conspiring to bomb a clinic!) and Ken Tyler Scott (convicted deadbeat dad!), are all Jesus-hating “sidewalk counselors” and have disgusting, photo-shopped signs, bloody plastic children’s baby dolls, morbid “baby caskets”, and fake ‘abortion’ posters of bloody babies, and these are all over the streets in our neighborhood. They have giant signs of miscarriages and knowingly falsely present them as “abortions”.
    I recently found out that Ken Scott has been committed to a mental hospital before because of his actions! Before I found this out, Ken had invited me out to join them after my neighbor’s church went out for the 40 days for life protest. I was appalled at what I witnessed out on the public street! Their tactics are awful and even anti-human.
    I have two daughters, both on birth control until they are ready to have my grandchildren (hopefully soon!), and if Scott harassed them like that, I would call the police on him. I met several of the other horrible bullies next to the driveway on that Saturday and got their names: Beau Ballentine, Leslie Hanks, Tony Massey, and Cliff Powell. They are out there regularly and are yelling nasty stuff too. They all try to emulate Scott Evans or Ken Scott’s aggressive, obnoxious, anti-Jesus behaviour.
    They know no boundaries, are very loud, obnoxious and aggressive and I can often hear them yelling and making noise from my back yard! NONE of my neighbors want to drive near these horrible images and activities, especially when we have our young children in the car. Everyone reading this take a minute and imagine how you would feel if you had these grotesque signs lining the streets in your neighborhood! We are sick of it. These “protestors” all seem to try to video tape and intimidate anyone who drives down Pontiac street here in Denver and will lie to and mislead ANYONE who they can get to stop to listen, or otherwise is within earshot.
    These “sidewalk counselors” are out there nearly every day, and apparently paid to be there by Bob Adolph Enyart of Denver Bible Church in Arvada.
    Fact: “Pastor” Bob Adolph Enyart was sentenced to 60 days in jail for beating a 7 year old boy so hard with a belt that he bled! This is the kind of person he truly is the leader of the pack and Scott Evans and Ken Scott follow his every whim, doing the devil’s work.
    They are all blasphemous towards the sacred Christian Bible and are harassing many REAL Christians, most whom are going into a clinic for birth control and other needed medical services (many from our surrounding neighborhood!). They do so much harm to the anti-abortion cause, which should be peaceful. I personally would like to see us get to the point where abortion is rare or non-existent.
    GOD will be the judge of all of us one way or another, NOT these terrible bullies! Jesus was peaceful and would have never done any of this and would not have approved in any way. These “sidewalk counselors” are the new Westboro Baptist Church of our community and their arrogant ignorance is so sad and pathetic that it sickens me.
    These are the worst of the worst of anti-abortion (and anti-gay) extremists. Anyone that associates with these people will be judged the same way by the public and by God (as mentally ill, sadistic and psychopathic!) There is a special place in Hell for all of these people, but it’s just as well, since these “sidewalk counselors” hate Jesus and are doing the devil’s work.
    I am a member of a very large and REAL Christian Church south of Denver and our Pastor gave a wonderful sermon on Sunday about how these “sidewalk counselor” bullies blaspheme the name of the Lord. Our Pastor encouraged us to engage Voice of Choice (http://www.vochoice.org) to help attempt to get the protesters to see that this should not be about anyone’s stance on abortion, but to NOT BULLY and NOT HARRASS your fellow human beings.
    Hundreds of the parishioners have contacted Voice of Choice and offered their services to do what they could do to help. I hope you will do the same. Please pray for the protesters!

  14. I am glad to see that people have stopped responding to Steve Kellmeyer. There is a difference between discourse and bating people into arguments, and I am glad to see we have stopped taking the bait. Steve, I am not disputing your intelligence or even your arguments but rather your approach, in which you assume the other person wants to fight when apparently he just wants to have a conversation.

  15. How do you respond, though, to someone who is willing to use discredited sources and obviously faulty logic? How do you respond to someone who is still willing to continue with such a position even though it has been proved wrong?

    Sorry, but a human embryo can only go to be a human fetus, baby, child, adult, etc.

    It can never, ever become a fish, a hawk, or whatever other species you want to use.

    To imply, as was done with this post, such a thing itself is shameful, but to defend it is beyond the pale and places such a person in intellectual suspicion.

    In other words, do we suffer fools gladly or shut them down cold?

    Francis Click believed in a form of “positive” eugenics in which the upper class should be encouraged to have more children, never mind we have a long history in humanity of the upper class creating depraved and despotic heritage.

    James Watson was not so reserved in his desires to see the lowly, the dumb, the undesirables culled from society. He, not that long ago, 2000, attempted to link skin color and libido.

    While both of these men are very intelligent, they held some very unintelligent views.

  16. Oh dear, too many very large egos here with a lot of puffed up opinions! It is always best to listen and not judge, after all we are human beings with very, very limited knowledge and intelligence. As much as we would like to THINK we know the mind of God, we don’t.

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