LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Disputing facts about beginning of life

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 | 4:10 p.m. CST; updated 4:56 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In a letter to the Missourian, Edward Bode claimed, “the scientific medical fact is that human life begins at conception.” Nope. The scientific fact is that human life began hundreds of thousands of years ago, and life has existed as a continuum since then. There is human life in a tube of blood and in the sperm and egg cells prior to fertilization. The question is when does a particular human life – human being, personhood – begin? There is no religious, philosophical or scientific consensus regarding this.

At conception, a living cell with unique DNA is formed. But, from a scientific medical standard, the presence of unique DNA in a living cell does not establish personhood. Some level of neurologic function is necessary. Death of a human being occurs when brain activity is absent even though the body may contain millions of living cells containing unique DNA. While we know a lot about fetal development, it is not clear when neurologic function consistent with personhood is achieved. Estimates range from 12 to 24 weeks of gestation. There is good scientific evidence that a fetus does not experience pain until the beginning of the third trimester. (See the article in the August 24, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.)

Bode alludes to a “deleterious mental syndrome” allegedly caused by abortion. However, after reviewing the pertinent research, the American Psychological Association concluded that abortion does not increase mental health problems in women. A study of about 365,000 women published in the January 27, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in the year following delivery, women who delivered a baby suffered an increased rate of mental health problems, compared to the pre-delivery rate. In contrast, women who had an abortion did not have an increased rate in the year following the abortion.

I know from personal experience that the protesters at the Columbia Planned Parenthood Clinic do more than “pray.” As a volunteer at the clinic, I have been subjected to verbal abuse. Patients I saw in the clinic reported experiencing similar harassment.

The Columbia clinic has not provided abortions for over a year; yet the protests continue. The sad irony is that if the protests deter women from obtaining contraception, more unwanted pregnancies will result. By providing safe, effective contraception, the clinic is actually reducing the need for abortion, something the protesters should embrace.

Robert Blake, MD, is a Columbia resident.


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Joanne Schrader November 23, 2013 | 8:08 p.m.

Scientific Fact: Human Life Begins at Conception, or Fertilization
by Steven Ertelt

When it comes to the question of when human life begins, the science is crystal clear: human life begins at conception or fertilization. Americans United for Life, in a legal briefing it has prepared for the Supreme Court, has put together a collection of citations from scientific literature that proves the point.

The citations are reproduced below and they include information from the latest scientific textbooks, papers and medical agencies.

A New, Distinct Human Organism Comes into Being at Fertilization

It is undisputed that a new, distinct human organism comes into existence during the process of fertilization.[1] Scientific literature states the following:

• “The fusion of sperm and egg membranes initiates the life of a sexually reproducing organism.”[2]

• “The life cycle of mammals begins when a sperm enters an egg.”[3]

• “Fertilization is the process by which male and female haploid gametes (sperm and egg) unite to produce a genetically distinct individual.”[4]

• “The oviduct or Fallopian tube is the anatomical region where every new life begins in mammalian species. After a long journey, the spermatozoa meet the oocyte in the specific site of the oviduct named ampulla, and fertilization takes place.”[5]

• “Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes.”[6]

The government’s own definition attests to the fact that life begins at fertilization. According to the National Institutes of Health, “fertilization” is the process of union of two gametes (i.e., ovum and sperm) “whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated.”[7] Thus, in the context of human life, a new individual human organism is initiated at the union of ovum and sperm. One textbook similarly explains: Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell – a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.[8]

Thus, a new human organism is created before the developing embryo implants in the uterus – i.e., before that time at which some people consider a woman “pregnant.”

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader November 23, 2013 | 8:10 p.m.

Footnote citations to the above post:

[1] See, e.g., Condic, When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective (The Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person Oct. 2008), George & Tollefsen, EMBRYO 39 (2008).

[2] Marsden et al., Model systems for membrane fusion, CHEM. SOC. REV. 40(3):1572 (Mar. 2011) (emphasis added).

[3] Okada et al., A role for the elongator complex in zygotic paternal genome demethylation, NATURE 463:554 (Jan. 28, 2010) (emphasis added).

[4] Signorelli et al., Kinases, phosphatases and proteases during sperm capacitation, CELL TISSUE RES. 349(3):765 (Mar. 20, 2012) (emphasis added).

[5] Coy et al., Roles of the oviduct in mammalian fertilization, REPRODUCTION 144(6):649 (Oct. 1, 2012) (emphasis added).

[6] Marcello et al., Fertilization, ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013) (emphasis added).

[7] National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary (2013), (emphasis added).

[8] Moore & Persaud, THE DEVELOPING HUMAN 16 (7th ed. 2003) (emphasis added).

[9] For an overview of how the definition of “pregnancy” has changed, see Gacek, Conceiving Pregnancy: U.S. Medical Dictionaries and Their Definitions of Conception and Pregnancy, FRC INSIGHT PAPER (Apr. 2009),

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader November 23, 2013 | 8:51 p.m.

In the past, African-Americans were not considered persons especially during the time of slavery. The Supreme Court in the 7 - 2 Dred Scott decision even said as much. It took the 14th Amendment to establish Blacks as persons and full citizens of the United States. Native Americans, Irish, and Asians, for example, were also deemed to be sub-human and thus non-persons in the past. The lack of personhood was promulgated to discriminate, oppress, and exploit other human beings for the wholesale gain of another class.

Abortion supporters obfuscate the personhood question in order to minimize the humanity of pre-born children and justify their slaughter. It is no different than what happened to ethnic groups.

I once had a fourth year medical student from Mizzou insist that a fetus did not become a human being until the 24th week of gestation. That is ludicrous. That is to say a preemie born before 24 weeks and survives is not living human. Furthermore, there is nothing in the definition of fetus or embryo that denies this is a human being. Who would trust such a physician?

Science has underestimated the capabilities of prenatal and neonatal children before. It was not until more sensitive testing, scans, and instruments were previous assumptions corrected. We now know scientifically that a pre-born child has brain waves in the first trimester. The first beat of the heart begins a few weeks post-conception. The presence of a heartbeat and brain waves are used for a determination of life or death. Shouldn't we err on the side of caution?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 23, 2013 | 9:01 p.m.

In the US, murder of a woman and the concomitant death of her unborn fetus is a double homicide.

This is an odd legal posture, indeed.

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader November 23, 2013 | 9:33 p.m.

It is easy to make an accusation of "verbal abuse." Without details of what, how, when, where, and by whom, it is simply a baseless and inflammatory accusation. I would be interested in knowing on what facts this is based. Where's the proof?

Thousands of people drive by 711 N Providence Road every week and see peaceful people quietly praying, holding signs, and offering literature. If we were so negative and harassing, I doubt the Hickman students and other pedestrians would pass by us so non-nonchalantly.

And even though we are peaceful and positive, every day I am on the sidewalk I experience at least one obscene hand gesture or cuss word. I have even heard that I ought to be raped or killed for my pro-life views. So, tell me about verbal abuse.

The prayer vigils continue because the Columbia Planned Parenthood still counsels and refers women for abortions. They also see post-abortive women. We reach out to these mothers to offer an alternative or provide healing.

Artificial contraception especially from the nation's largest abortion provider is not the only way to prevent pregnancy. Planned Parenthood's sex education methods and "preventative" services must not be very effective or their abortion numbers would not continue to rise every year. It now stands at 334,000 lives snuffed out annually. Moreover, the Guttmacher Institute (research arm of Planned Parenthood) reports that the majority of women seeking abortion used contraception the month they became pregnant. With the greater availability, acceptance, and types of contraception since the pre-Roe days, you would think abortion would be rare now.

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader November 23, 2013 | 9:35 p.m.

Planned Parenthood's business model is to sell sex to young people. "See, when teenagers are having casual sex, Planned Parenthood makes money. It makes money selling condoms for men, makes money selling birth control pills for women, and makes money testing boys and girls both for STDs. All while pushing teenagers into the mentality that casual sex is the norm, thus making them repeat customers.

Think about this: if an oil company told you that you have a "right" to a car that requires oil to run, wouldn't you become suspicious? How about if a cell phone company encourages you to exercise your "right" to communicate in a way that only that company's phones are capable of?

So how about when a company that sells contraceptives, STD testing, and abortions promotes behavior that requires contraceptives, STD testing, and abortions?

That's Planned Parenthood. It's a business. It is selling something.

Oh, and by the way? Planned Parenthood also gets hundreds of millions of dollars in forced taxpayer money. Your money.

Parents, do you think a billion-dollar abortion corporation should get public money to make sex-customers out of your kids? And teens, should you be forced to send a slice of your very first paychecks to an industry that sees you as nothing but a big dollar sign?

The folks at Planned Parenthood might deck their advertisements with smiling female faces, but remember: they're a business. They've got a bunch of Mad Men behind the scenes, working round the clock to figure out how best to sell contraception and abortion. Don't doubt it for a second." Drew Belsky, Communications Director, Live Action

(Report Comment)

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