Indisputable Fact: Life Begins at Fertilization (UPDATED)

In The Party of Death, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru writes:

We have developed ways of talking that enable us to pretend that the point can be blinked away. In the case of abortion and embryo research, the main technique is to suggest that there is some great mystery about “when life begins,” and that this alleged question is a religious or philosophical one. Yet science has since solved the mystery. From conception onward, what exists is a distinct organism of the human species. The philosophical question is what we make of that fact. To jumble these issues together—the essentially scientific question of categorizing an embryo as human and living, and the moral question of whether it follows from that categorization that it has a right to life—is a logical error. Justice Blackmun, of course, proceeded in just this erroneous fashion in Roe. And if we are not careful, talking in terms of “meaningful life,” or, as [author Ronald] Dworkin does, of “life in earnest,” can lead us into this error as well.

All of us who read this page were once human embryos. The history of our bodies began with the formation of an embryo. We were those embryos, just as we were once fetuses, infants, children, and adolescents. But we were never a sperm cell and an egg cell. (Those cells were genetically and functionally parts of other human beings.) The formation of the embryo marks the beginning of a new human life: a new and complete organism that belongs to the human species. Embryology textbooks say so, with no glimmer of uncertainty or ambiguity.

That new organism is alive rather than dead or inanimate. It is human rather than a member of some other species. It is an organism distinct from all others. It is not a functional part of a larger organism (the way a kidney is part of a larger organism). It maintains its own organic unity over time. It directs its own development, according to its genetic template, through the embryonic, fetal, and subsequent stages. Such terms as “blastocyst,” “newborn,” and “adolescent” denote different stages of development in a being of the same type, not different types of beings. At each of our earlier stages of life, we have been, as we are now, whole living members of the species Homo sapiens.
(hardcover, p. 77-78)

And medical textbooks do indeed say so:

Human Embryology, 3rd Edition by William Larsen, Lawrence Sherman, S. Steven Potter, & William Scott: “In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.” (p. 1)

The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th Edition by Keith Moore & TVN. Persaud: “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” (p. 18)

Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition by Ronan O’Rahilly & Fabiola Muller: “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (p. 8 )

Developmental Biology, 6th Edition by Scott Gilbert: “Fertilization is the process whereby two sex cells (gametes) fuse together to create a new individual with genetic potentials derived from both parents.” (p. 185)

Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia, 7th Edition by Douglas Considine: “At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun.” (p. 943)

Langman’s Medical Embryology, 7th Edition by TW Sadler: “The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” (p. 3)

Patten’s Foundations of Embryology, 6th Edition by Bruce Carlson: “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” (p. 3)

UPDATE: Pro-Life on Campus has more:

“When fertilization is complete, a unique genetic human entity exists.” (C. Christopher Hook, MD, Mayo Clinic, as quoted by Richard Ostling in an AP news story, 9/24/99)

Testimony before a US Senate subcommittee (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981)

“It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive…It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.” (Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School)

“I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception.” (Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics, University of Pennsylvania)

After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being. [It] is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.” (Dr. Jerome LeJeune, Professor of Genetics, University of Descartes)

“By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” (Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic)

“The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter—the beginning is conception.” (Dr. Watson A. Bowes, University of Colorado Medical School)

The official Senate report

Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.” (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981)

Quotes from leading abortion advocates

“Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus from conception onward on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus, after all, is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.” (David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 20)

“Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 85-86)

“A human fetus is not a nonhuman animal; it is a stage of human being.” (Wayne Sumner, Abortion and Moral Theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 10)

Life begins with fertilization and abortion is legalized destruction of life.” (Dr. Arthur Morris, Jr., Abortionist, as reported in the Asheville Citizen-Times, April 4, 1976)

“We tell her exactly like it is … when they abort, they’ll be aborting a small baby.” (Dr. Arthur Morris, Jr., Abortionist, as reported in the Asheville Citizen-Times, April 4, 1976)

UPDATE 5/17/11: Even more here.

Comprehensive week-by-week fetal development information can be found here.

Why Let Reality Get in the Way of a Good Meme?

When we last left Self-Defeating Left-Wing Zealot Scott, he was making an ethically-challenged fool of himself over abortion.  This evening, while browsing Boots & Sabers (which I really need to get back in the habit of reading more often – sorry Owen!), I came across the following comment from our pal:

Many conservatives eschew expert opinion in the first place, so what’s the big deal?  Everything from CBO reports to scientific opinion—it just doesn’t matter because you can’t trust those eggheads.  Me, I’m a big fan of learning.  I like to acknowledge someone else’s expertise and learn from it.

Again, the only proper response is:

For good measure, background behind his bull about the CBO can be found here & here, and about “scientific opinion” here.

We Interrupt the Usual Politics…

…to completely and utterly geek out.  I’m sure most of you are familiar with the lightsaber, the signature weapon of the Star Wars films:

Well, it turns out good old Earth science is much closer to making them work in real life than I ever would have guessed:

(Part 2, Part 3)

Truly, a ray of hope for humanity’s future at the end of such a grim week (hey, I’ll take what I can get).

Fact-Checking FactCheck on ClimateGate

Liberal damage-control efforts in the wake of ClimateGate have found a handy tool in this report, which concludes that the leaked CRU emails “show a few scientists in a bad light,” but “don’t change scientific consensus on global warming.”  There’s obvious propaganda value in supportive articles from supposedly nonpartisan sources, especially to a movement constantly on the lookout for excuses to avoid honest debate.  But, like past FactCheck treatments of abortion and gun rights, this “debunking” desperately needs a fact check of its own.

FactCheck admits that the emails show “a few scientists…sometimes being rude, dismissive, insular, or even behaving like jerks,” such as Ben Santer’s desire to “beat the crap out of” Pat Michaels, but that’s as far as their criticism of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit goes.

They preface their defense of the CRU with a note that, whatever the emails show, they don’t change the scientific consensus on global warming anyway, because the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say the planet’s getting warmer, with the IPCC finding humans “very likely” to blame, and the CRU is only one of multiple sources of climate data.

What FactCheck doesn’t tell you: those other sources are questionable, too.  Substantive concerns have been raised over the data adjustments made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA’s Goddard Institute has had issues with both incompetence and data withholding.  As for the IPCC, which boasts “2,500 scientific expert reviewers,” FactCheck’s readers might be surprised to read this:

But what did those 2,500 scientists actually endorse? To find out, I contacted the Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and asked for the names of the 2,500. I planned to canvas them to determine their precise views. The answer that came back from the Secretariat informed me that the names were not public, so I would not be able to survey them, and that the scientists were merely reviewers. The 2,500 had not endorsed the conclusions of the report and, in fact, the IPCC had not claimed that they did. Journalists had jumped to the conclusion that the scientists the IPCC had touted were endorsers and the IPCC never saw fit to correct the record.

Or this:

A 2001 IPCC report presented 245 potential scenarios. The media publicity that followed focused on the most extreme scenario, prompting the report’s lead author, atmospheric scientist Dr. John Christy, to rebuke media sensationalism and affirm, “The world is in much better shape than this doomsday scenario paints … the worst-case scenario [is] not going to happen.” Clearly, the IPCC does not speak as one voice when leading scientists on its panel contradict its official position. The solution to this apparent riddle lies in the structure of the IPCC itself. What the media report are the policymakers’ summaries, not the far lengthier reports prepared by scientists. The policymakers’ summaries are produced by a committee of 51 government appointees, many of whom are not scientists. The policymakers’ summaries are presented as the “consensus” of 2,500 scientists who have contributed input to the IPCC’s scientific reports.

In one email, CRU’s Phil Jones writes, “Kevin and I will keep [two dissenting papers] out [of the IPCC report] somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”  But FactCheck dismisses this as a cause for concern, since those reports were cited, if not in the final IPCC report, but in one of the three working group reports from which the end product was synthesized.  Putting aside the obvious question of whether or not they got a fair shake in that working group, since when do we dismiss clearly-stated intent to do something, just because that intent was evidently unsuccessful?

FactCheck does the same with Tom Wigley’s clear speculation that they could try to get Yale’s James Saiers “ousted” from his post at the journal Geophysical Research Letters if he turned out to be “in the greenhouse skeptics camp.”  Saiers, it turns out, isn’t a skeptic and stepped down of his own volition. Again, the intent is still clear, and all FactCheck’s account indicates is that Wigley & Co. didn’t follow through because he was one of theirs anyway.  This is supposed to reassure us?

We’re also supposed to remain unconcerned by their attempts to find ways to dodge Freedom of Information Act requests, since most of the data is already freely available (citing, um, East Anglia), and if any data destruction did occur, well, the investigation is ongoing. For an organization devoted to checking facts, FactCheck seems curiously content to take East Anglia at their word regarding the conduct of their own people, and suspiciously disinterested in either independently verifying East Anglia’s version or exploring its inconsistency with their earlier admission that “We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

Last I checked, one of science’s most celebrated virtues was its constant self-reevaluation and complete transparency.  Given that, I’d expect a little more concern over these scientists’ contempt for the very thought of sharing data with critics, or their attempts to avoid doing so.  But maybe that’s just me.  In any event, I hope the conclusion of East Anglia’s investigation, and the critical scrutiny it subsequently comes under, sheds more light on just what information is available, and what has been destroyed.

The CRU revelation that has gotten the most media attention is Phil Jones’ “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”  FactCheck fully reaffirms the spin that Jones was merely talking about presenting the data so as to account for discrepancies in temperature measurement methods.  But Steve McIntyre offers a detailed analysis of the “trick,” which concludes that, while it was not an instance of outright data falsification, it was an attempt to package the data in an oversimplified way so as not to “detract from the clear message that the authors wanted sent.”

The media might have seized upon FactCheck’s piece to tell the masses “move along, nothing to see here,” but in the final analysis it seems terribly unimpressive, hardly objective, and a little short on checked facts.

*          *          *

For further background on ClimateGate, Power Line’s Scott Johnson has compiled a handy summary of ClimateGate resources here, including Steven Hayward’s excellent Weekly Standard summary, Power Line’s own careful analysis of several of the emails, and more.  The National Post’s Lawrence Solomon has an eye-opening account of’s William Connolley and his work transforming Wikipedia into an eco-propaganda vehicle (more on here).  Here is some background on the financial dimensions of the alarmism movement.

For continuing coverage of all things scientific from a skeptical perspective, Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit, Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That?, and National Review’s Planet Gore blog are tough to beat.