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Human Life’s Beginning

November 15, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 46

I must protest in the strongest terms Kevin Siek’s assertion as scientific fact that human life begins at fertilization (C&EN, Oct. 11, page 4). I challenge Siek, or anyone else, to quote such an assertion from any embryology textbook currently used in an accredited medical school. For an example of scientific thinking on this point, see O’Rahilly, Ronan and Fabiola Müller, “Human Embryology & Teratology,” 3rd Edition, New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001: “It needs to be emphasized that life is continuous, as is also human life, so that the question ‘When does (human) life begin?’ is meaningless in terms of ontogeny.”

Siek further objects, “To define the beginning of human life later in the cycle is to favor morphological over chemical considerations.” Well, yes. One might reasonably argue that, to qualify as a human being, an entity must have human organs and a brain of human complexity. I do not question Mr. Siek’s knowledge of biochemistry, but his conclusion is a statement of religious opinion, not science.

The real problem, as O’Rahilly and Müller ably state, is that human life does not begin at any definable moment in time, so any choice is somewhat arbitrary. For legal purposes, one might look to Amendment 14 of the U.S. Constitution, which uses the word “born,” rather than “conceived,” “implanted,” or “gestated.”

Gordon G. Cash
Oakton, Va.

While those like Siek fret over whether an embryo is a human in some biological, chemical, metaphysical, or material way, I would like to point out that taxpayers are already paying for the murder of humans the world over in the name of things much less beneficial than science.

Apparently, Siek has no problem giving “his fair share” to the research on defense contracts that make a more efficient missile, the only purpose of which is to seek, kill, or destroy. Meanwhile, the benefit derived from medical research involving the destruction of, dare I even give him the benefit of the doubt and say, a life—one that has no future and no past and cannot survive on its own volition—is indefensible to him.

I would suggest he has his priorities, if not his morals, backward. So until I no longer have to pay for wars in foreign lands or the murder of criminals by the state, Siek and his ilk will have to accept “paying” for experiments involving embryos for the benefit of epistemology and mankind. Anything less would be purely hypocritical.

Christopher Whitehead
New Orleans



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