In 1875, German embryologist and zoologist Oscar Hertwig discovered that fertilization happens when an ovum and a sperm merge. It was an incredible discovery, and one from which the conclusion was drawn that life begins at conception. This conclusion has been universally accepted for almost 150 years. But what if it is simply incorrect?
What if conception and human life is more complex than a beginning and an end? Is there a beginning to individual human life, and if so, at what stage of human development does one acquire personhood and the right to life? What are the legal ramifications of giving microscopic, embryonic, and fetal human entities a right to life? And finally, what does it mean to be human?
Defining the beginning of human life
The word ‘beginning’ means the point at which something starts. Depending on how the word is used, it implies that no action led to that beginning and that there was no before. Those who claim the beginning of human life starts of conception, are implying that nothing came before to create that life.
A river does not start at the waterfall. It comes from the source that feeds it. The tree does not begin as a tree, but rather as a seed that came from another tree. The rainbow does not appear from nowhere, but rather from droplets of rainwater reflecting against the sun. The Big Bang did not start with an explosion, but rather with a build-up of compressed energy.
Nobody would ever credibly argue otherwise.
Why has the most illogical conclusion been drawn concerning the beginning of human life? Doctor and fertility specialist Richard J. Paulson (M.D.) investigated the issue in his 2017 publication The unscientific nature of the concept that “human life begins at fertilization,” and why it matters:
“One observation that has been attributed to scientific consensus—one that is highly relevant to our field—is the concept that “human life begins at fertilization.” This statement is commonly offered by religious organizations and is often cited as the basis for so-called personhood amendments, but the assertion that it is scientifically sound is incorrect. And although it is often offered in the context of abortion, it has profound ramifications for the treatment of infertility, particularly for in vitro fertilization (IVF).”
He asserts that fertilization is not the beginning of human life, as this notion conflicts with the scientific observation that life is a continuum. He explains that the ovum is alive and that if properly fertilized by a live sperm, it can become a zygote. If genetically compatible, the zygote, which is no bigger than the egg cell and nearly identical to it except for its new genotype, will continue to live. He maintains that biologically, no new life is created.
After conception, the vast majority of zygotes will never be anything other than a zygote as 70% to 75% of all conceptions do not survive to a live birth. In view of this and of Dr. Paulson’s scientific premise, it is not a leap of logic to claim that two compatible, viable gametes are both the life continuum of female and male humans, and the first and most primordial stage of human life.
Before successful conception, comes a living human sperm and a living human egg that are compatible. Without gametes, humans would not exist. Every human on Earth begins their journey into human existence as a sperm, and an egg, from a life continuum that can be traced back thousands of years. To deny this fact, is to deny the existence of human life itself.
The primordial human gamete
Many will argue that the merging of 46 chromosomes, and the ability to reproduce is what defines a human being. They seemingly choose to ignore the fact that people (ie. human beings who are born) with genetic abnormalities and chromosomal deficiencies would not be considered human beings by their own definition of the word, nor would people who are sterile and can’t reproduce.
In their quest to turn all girls and women of reproductive age into the sole bearers of human life, they are removing men from the equation of human reproduction and denying these fundamental facts of science and of life: Gametes are alive; they have a lifespan; they are the most primordial part of the species homo sapiens; they are genetically unique; and they are whole living beings in the truest sense of the word, at the first stage of human development.
Pushback by religious institutions and anti-abortion organizations is to be expected. Their entire ideology relies on the oppression and persecution of women—specifically of all women who have consentual sex outside of procreation (regardless of marital status), their personhood, their dignity, and their rights to protect their bodies and lives against sexual and reproductive exploitation.
However, that any doctor or scientist would argue against the most fundamental facts of human reproduction and of science, is deeply concerning and shows that subjective belief and personal gain and interests have long invaded the scientific method. Science, logic, humanitarian and human rights need to be reinforced in the scientific community. Infertility specialist Dr. Paulson is consistent with logic, scientific truth, a humanitarian approach to science and the fundamental facts of human existence:
“The egg is alive; the sperm is alive; and after fertilization, the zygote is alive. Life is continuous. Dichotomous thinking (0% human life for the egg, 100% human life for the zygote) is not scientific. It is religious thinking. Fertilization is not instantaneous, embryonic development is not precise, and individual blastomeres can make separate individuals. Some pregnancies develop normally and others are doomed, either from the start (e.g., if they possess an incorrect chromosomal complement) or later in pregnancy (e.g., if the central nervous system fails to develop). Religious leaders are neither scientists nor clinicians. They do not understand pregnancy and should not make decisions about the pregnancies of others.”
Gametes are in fact alive. They are, by definition, living beings. They exist as the smallest and most fundamental form of human life. Sperm have a lifespan of approximately 74 days inside a man’s body. When sperm are produced, they mature, have motility, live for 74 days, then they die and are reabsorbed in the man’s body. Sperm have memory and they are intelligent. They have intention of purpose: To fertilize an ovum.
By comparison, female fetuses contain approximately 7 million oocytes which are immature eggs. At birth, a baby girl has 1 to 2 million oocytes in her ovaries. At puberty, girls have around 300,000 oocytes and that number gradually falls over three to four decades until menopause. It takes 90 days for an oocyte to mature, and once it reaches maturity it is released as an ovum during ovulation. The mature egg survives for 12 to 24 hours before it is expelled through menstruation.
Every sperm and every egg is genetically unique. This is why people from one family do not all look the same. Each gamete contains a unique genetic code passed from grandparent to parent, from parent to gametes, from gametes to zygote, and so on. That they are haploids and contain only half of the genetic material needed for conception, is irrelevant to the debate of right to life.
Gametes are not half a being. They are not half a gamete. They are a whole gamete that exists fully at that physical stage of human development. A zygote is a whole zygote, existing fully at that physical stage of human development. An embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, adolescent, and adult are not half of what they are.
Every being in existence at every stage of human development is a member of the species homo sapiens, starting by the most primordial and essential ones: The gametes. Human gametes do not belong to any other species. They cannot create anything other than a human pregnancy. They are the only cells in the human body that can create a successful pregnancy, a live birth, and therefore, a human person.
It takes a tremendous amount of energy, viability, and compatibility for an egg and a sperm to successfully merge and create a pregnancy that will survive the 70-75% rate of reproductive failure in the human species. That anybody would ever argue that gametes in human beings aren’t alive, that they aren’t genetically unique, that they aren’t part of homo sapiens and that they are only physical halves, is simply false. These arguments lack common sense, and a fundamental understanding of the biological process of human existence and of life continuum.
Those who argue human beings begin at conception, are denying the scientific observation of life as a continuum, and the reality that conception isn’t an act of spontaneous combustion coming from nowhere and nothing. Scientists who remove the gametes as the essential first phase of human life, are doing so against all scientific reasoning and logic.
There is very little difference between a scientist who claims that a human being begins at fertilization—therefore comes from nowhere—and a priest who believes in the virginal immaculate conception. Both are unscientific. They are faith-based ideologies entirely anchored in personal belief.
Reproductive rights vs the right to life
By the definition of the words life, human, and being, and according to ideologues who claim that people must not interfere with nature or do anything to prevent the smallest, most vulnerable forms of human life to exist, gametes have a fundamental right to life and to live out their existence as nature intended. They are in absolute fact, the tiniest, most vulnerable and primordial form of human life.
What are the ramifications, in American society, of giving a constitutional and legal right to life to every form of pre-born developing human, from the microscopic to the fetal? First, both men and women would be culpable of not doing everything in their power to keep pre-born human life alive. Male masturbation would become an act of intentional murder.
Miscarriages and stillbirths would be considered acts of murder or involuntary manslaughter. Pregnant women would be condemned and jailed for not being welcoming “environments” for their pregnancies (despite having no control over miscarriages or stillbirths). Women who have miscarriages or stillbirths, the fathers, and doctors would be incriminated for not doing everything in their power to ensure a successful pregnancy and birth.
In-vitro fertilization and embryologists would be criminalized as the death of an embryo in a clinical setting would be considered manslaughter. Vasectomies, oophorectomies, and tubal ligations would be outlawed as they prevent the gametes from living their natural life cycles and goal of conception. People who don’t want children would be stigmatized and under constant suspicion of preventing conception and pregnancy. Contraception would be outlawed as it prevents conception and pregnancy.
All women who are pregnant—even the ones who want to be pregnant—would be under constant suspicion and surveillance to ensure they don’t seek underground abortions. Women would be legally forbidden from leaving their states for out-of-state abortions. Those who have abortions would face the death penalty.
It would be illegal for pregnant women to do anything that could be perceived as harmful to their pregnancy or “reckless endangerment.” They would be punished for such things as exercising too much, drinking soft drinks with caffeine, eating fast food, driving when pregnant, getting into a car crash or accidentally falling down the stairs.
Right to life would nullify human, civil, constitutional, and humanitarian rights for all people, and girls and women would be the main targets. Human dignity would no longer exist, as people would be born into involuntary servitude to every form of pre-born human life, from the microscopic gamete to the fetus.
For those who don’t believe any of these things can happen, many of these scenarios have already happened and are still happening across the globe and in America.
Defining personhood, right to life, and being human
In view of the ongoing egregious violations to women’s human rights, dignity, and bodily autonomy all over the world, do gametes, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses have a fundamental right to the bodies of people they inhabit? In a civilized society where humanitarian, civil, constitutional, and human rights prevail, the only answer to that question is a resounding no.
All pre-born human life in microscopic, embryonic, and fetal form—including the primordial gametes—who are still inhabiting people’s bodies are not entitled to the bodies they inhabit. Every member of the human species, including those in development must be held to a human standard: No human entity born or pre-born has the inherent right to be inside a person’s body against their will, not even if they need that person to survive. No human has the right to use the blood and organs of another, even if they will die without them.
Vaginal birth or birth by caesarean are the fundamental acts that activate right to life and personhood. Pregnancy and childbirth kill hundreds of thousands of women every year worldwide and leaves an untold number of women with life-long medical issues and trauma. In view of the inherent dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, the historical horror of childbirth, the unimaginable number of women killed by pregnancy and childbirth since the beginning of human existence, and the physical, emotional and psychological toll it takes on women, pregnancy and childbirth are and will continue to be a woman’s choice regardless of religious and political interests.
Women are the only ones that can and will choose—regardless of draconian laws and illegal diktats—what is best for their lives, their safety, and for the lives and safety of their children and families. A woman’s right to choose her life, her liberty, and the pursuit of her happiness is absolute and universal. Her rights will simply never be nullified by endless debates on when life begins, and whether her body should be commodified by rogue institutions who want to strip all girls and women of their personhood and humanity.
By respecting women’s humanity and dignity, all pre-born beings have a better chance at life. And if they have a better chance at life, they have a better chance at liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right to life and personhood become absolute, universal rights once the gametes, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are no longer internally parasitic (ie. inside a person’s body). No person has ever been attached to a woman’s insides through a feeding tube or needs to be inside a woman’s womb in amniotic fluid—which is primarily made up of fetal urine—to survive.
With right to life and personhood come constitutional, civil and human rights with everything these rights entail: the right to citizenship; the right to be socialized; the right to proper nourishment and health care; the right to housing, and education; the right to a loving, nurturing home; the right to have all human needs met; the right to pursue and achieve personal and professional goals and dreams; and the fundamental right to live in a world where human dignity reigns and where people are not commodified for anyone else’s benefit.
Although every member of the human species—from the human gamete to the human adult—is a whole physical entity at every stage of human development, becoming a whole person and a whole human being is an entirely different matter. Physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual development is what defines the whole human being, and the whole person.
Wholeness of being does not happen at conception. It does not even happen at birth. It takes decades for people to achieve completeness of person and fully develop their human essence. Some people never achieve it as they never feel complete or fulfilled. Others are content with who they are from the moment they become conscious of their own existence. Many embark on a path of renewal at various stages of life. Nobody is the same person they were yesterday, and they are not the same person they will be tomorrow. Life is constant change, renewal, and evolution.
The ability to be born with 46 perfect chromosomes or to be a “perfect physical specimen” with the capability to reproduce, has very little to do with becoming a whole human person. Becoming a whole human person takes time, and it takes an immense amount of humanity.