An Elegant Hymn
Written by the Late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III (in English My Throbbing Heart; in Arabic قلبي الخفاق )
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Is there scientific evidence of human life from the early stage of conception?
Evidence that a human person starts living from the moment of conception: Section I : Summary 1. There is evidence that the zygote, resulting from the union of a sperm and an egg, comes into existence with its own genetic code making up its own unique genetic identity of 46 chromosomes which are neither the father’s nor the mother’s. It is also able to develop naturally provided that the natural environment is there (needing only natural resources: food, water, shelter, and oxygen in order to grow.) The new zygote has the biological characteristics of life (see below for details.) 2. Based on cloning research, we know now that a zygote is a human being, and not only a cell with human life in the mother’s body. If you cloned any cell in the mother’s body, you would get a replica of the mother. But the zygote is completely different and has its own genetic code that if you cloned the zygote, you would get a totally different person. Consider this: The zygote is a unique cell. A cell from an adult’s body does not grow into you; you have to clone it artificially. But the zygote does grow into you, naturally. (1) Details on the above two points are found in Section II below in:a) What is life?b) Genetic code and DNA findings 3. Like the infant, the child, and the adolescent, the conceptus (zygote) is a being who is in the process of becoming. “The new life is not a potential human being but a human being with active potential to grow and develop in accord with the life cycle proper to the human person.” (2) The same being that begins as a zygote continues to birth and adulthood. There is no decisive break in the continuous development of the human entity from conception until death that would make this entity a different individual before birth.(3) Details on this point are found below in :c) The process of development 4. Some scientists have argued that since the brain is not developed until 7 weeks after fertilization, then the embryo is not a human being until then. According to this perspective, since death is defined by the loss of brain waves, so life is also defined by the presence of brain waves. However, as Germain Grisez has shown, death is irreversible while the developing embryo is growing towards fuller life. In fact, from the moment of fertilization, there is a continuous formation of the new body that goes on well after birth, until adolescence..etc. If life is denied before full development of the human individual, then we would be permitted to kill children since they are also not fully developed. Scientific research is continuously updating us with new evidence about early life, even feelings in the unborn. Significant is the very recent evidence about early pain that can be felt by the fetus. Here is an excerpt from an article showing new findings that move the feeling of pain to an earlier stage. The article is written in 2004 by Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist at the University of Toronto and an advisory board member of the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research: "By 1999 this had been updated in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology with the following statement: "Given the anatomical evidence, it is possible that the fetus can feel pain from 20 weeks and is caused distress by interventions from as early as 15 or 16 weeks." See the full article at: http://www.nrlc.org/news/2004/NRL04/a_pain_too_awful_to_imagine.htm Section II: Details a) What is Life?(4) What is life? It is the capacity of an organism for metabolism, growth and reproduction. These characteristics are shared by humans, lower animal life, and plants. A human being, however possesses a greater degree of immanence because of his unique self-consciousness. The following attributes are characteristic of life from the scientific viewpoint: 1) Organization: growth and other activities are not random processes but are so controlled that they form integrated and coordinated systems. 2) Cellular composition: made up of cells; a cell is the basic unit of life.3) Metabolism: chemical changes in a living cell by which energy is provided for vital biochemical reactions, and new material is assimilated. It is the sum of the processes in the buildup and destruction of protoplasm.4) Unstable equilibrium: typical of a living organism which becomes stable chemically only after it dies.5) Death: this is its eventual end.The above features are never found in non-living things, such as a blob. In August 1990, Life magazine published a vivid photographic essay, titled, “The First Pictures Ever of How Life Begins” and subtitled “The First Days of Creation.” It was about the work of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson who, with his high-tech tools, scanning electron microscopes and endoscopes, was able to photograph the development of a human life from its first second through its earliest hours and days. There is the mind-boggling pictorial evidence of “two small bubbles, filled with chromosomes floating around, one from the woman and one from the man. These nuclei, drawn inexorably toward each other, soon meet and begin to combine. The result is a single nucleus that contains for a new individual an entire biological blueprint — genetic information regulating all: nose length, skin color, body build, inheritable diseases, etc. Within 10 -12 hours, the two cells will split again and again, and so on.”(5) A Schema of the Unborn’s First Two Months of Life After fertilization, the following sequence takes place:• First cell, the zygote or the fertilized egg or the first cell.• 2-cell embryo; each cell is called a blastomere.• 3-cell embryo.• 4-cell embryo.• 8-cell embryo.• 16-cell, 32-cell embryos, and so on; 16 or more blastomeres form a morula, a solid ball of cells.• blastocyst — formed after the morula reaches the uterus and changes to a fluid-filled cavity.• embryo proper — formed from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. The embryonic period extends until the end of the 7th week when all the rudimentary organs and structures are already present.• Fetus – term for the developing conceptus after the embryonic period.(6) FertilizationThe fertilization of the human ovum by a spermatozoon occurs in the woman’s Fallopian tube within minutes, or at the most, in a few hours after ovulation.(7) George W. Corner described fertilization best, as follows:The fertilization of an egg by a sperm is one of the wonders of nature, an event in which magnificent fragments of human life are driven by cosmic forces toward their appointed end—the growth of a living being. As a spectacle it can only be compared with the eclipse of the sun or the eruption of a volcano . . . . It is, in fact, the most common and the nearest to us of nature’s cataclysm; and yet it is very seldom observed because it occurs in a realm most people never see — the region of microscopic things.(8) b) Evidence from genetic code based on DNA findings The Fertilized Egg (The Zygote) After the process of fertilization, the ovum becomes the fertilized egg. It is also called the first cell. This is the beginning of a new and unique individual person! This uniqueness of this particular new individual person means that each individual is different from the next individual, and there is no one like him in the whole world. This is not a hunch or a mere opinion; this is a demonstrable scientific fact.(9)Dr. Lejeune, Professor of Fundamental Genetics at the Rene Descartes University of Paris calls the zygote the most specialized egg under the sun. It contains the genetic message or information which is read like an algebraic formula, by all the other subsequent cells during the process of its development. The zygote is the earliest stage of a new human life and comes into existence during the process of fertilization.(10) The zygote is also the most “knowledgeable” cell in the world, since it contains all the paternal and maternal secrets of cell differentiation; i.e. its DNA contains all the instructions on how the fast-proliferating cells will diversify into various organs and structures of the still-evolving human person.(11) In this first cell, mental traits and the entire physical makeup, such as limbs, organs, circulatory system, etc., of this particular individual are all unambiguously laid out. This is not an unverified supposition; it is a scientifically verifiable, albeit hidden, phenomenon, perceptible to the DNA specialist, via the scientific technique of DNA manipulation of chromosomal molecules. Through this technology, one can reliably detect the features, peculiarities, and life codes of the beginning human being, and which appear immediately after conception and start to animate the new person.(12) The 3-Cell Embryo—the Stage of Differentiation Shortly after fertilization, the fertilized egg undergoes immediate mitotic division;28 this results in a 2-cell embryo, with each of the two daughter cells of roughly equal dimensions. One of these two daughter cells again splits into two, but the other member of this pair does not subdivide. There is an unequal division of blastomeres, according to the instructions written in the fertilized egg. This is the 3-cell embryo. That this stage occurs has been well known in the field of embryology for the past fifty or sixty years; but its significance remained a mystery. Soon after, the 4-cell embryo ensues and thereafter, the embryo continues to split into multiples of two. Most probably, it is during this period of the 3-cell embryo that a two-way message travels from the one cell on one side to the other two cells on the other side. Suddenly, there is the realization that these cells are not just an ordinary mass or a mere population of cells, or a tissue culture but a trio of cells bound for specialization and individualization, building itself according to its own inherent rules. It has been proven by geneticists, in experiments with 3-cell, 4-cell and 5-cell animal embryos that only the 3-cell embryo can differentiate into an individual organism.(13) There are instances wherein individuation does not occur. A dermoid cyst can grow to a huge size in a woman’s abdomen; it will never develop into a baby though it contains the bodily “spare parts” such as hair or teeth. It results from the division of an ovum that is not fertilized. On the other hand, in hydatidiform moles, fertilization occurs. But somehow, the fertilized egg does not subdivide correctly because the maternal genes have disappeared and only two sets of paternal chromosomes remain. The “pregnant” uterus contain only small, shiny, grape-like balls, called moles, with no fetal parts.(14) In summary, it is an experimentally proven fact that the 3-cell embryo is already a unique individual, different from any other person. Thus, as soon as he is conceived, a man is a man.31 From three cells to four cells, the embryo grows on to eight cells, sixteen cells, thirty-two cells, sixty-four cells, and so on in quick succession until the ninth month when a fully-developed baby emerges from its mother’s womb.The Transmission of Life There is a vitalizing principle inside the zygote that tells it to build itself into a new individual, or a particular new person. Dr. Lejeune calls this the information which is contained in a vehicle or a material substrate, DNA–the line between parent and child. It transmits the information from generation to generation. The DNA molecule in the living cell is a complicated chemical composition made up of two pieces of thread, each thread approximately 3.3 feet long, with 23 pieces of programming contained in 23 chromosomes, bringing to a total of 46 chromosomes in each DNA molecule. Each strand is identical to the other. In each chromosome are many different combinations of coded instructions which we call genes. Each gene determines a characteristic of a part of the body, such as the color of the eyes, etc. Genes are the units of heredity and are portions of DNA that direct the production of specific proteins. The genetic information is coded in the sequence of subunits (nucleotides) arranged like a ladder, making up the DNA molecule. Thus, they are the blueprints for cell construction. To obtain a perspective, we may visualize this inexact analogy with a personal computer which stands for the nucleus of the cell. One software is the DNA which contains a folder of chromosomes. Inside the folder are files of genes. In each gene are the nucleotide sequences of chemicals which correspond to the text or words in each file. The chromosomes can be called the Tables of the Law of Life since on them are written the programs and attributes of each individual person.(15) Information Written on the Fertilized Egg Dr. Lejeune speaks of the information as the animating principle and the transmitter of instructions to proceed with the building of a new individual person. The information also signifies “the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something, as nucleotides in DNA.”(16) This information is inside the zygote and we cannot see it as it is infinitesimally small. It has been estimated that the matter of all the DNAs of the five billion human beings that will replace us in the future can fit into two aspirin tablets. Man has been reduced to his simplest expression; this is nature’s provision to provide order against the random movements of particles of molecules. The information is written in the smallest language possible so that it can dictate how to manipulate, particle by particle, atom by atom, molecule by molecule. But this “formula” can expand, if the zygote is given shelter, is nourished, allowed to grow and is protected and nurtured within its mother’s womb, and is not aborted, spontaneously or deliberately.(17) The amount of information inside the fertilized egg in 3.3 feet of DNA from each parent, is about 1010 to 1011 power, basically. If we add to that other protoplasmic processes, then no computer in the world has enough storage to carry all that staggering data involved in the making of a human person.(18) Modern DNA Technology DNA Manipulation Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist from England, discovered DNA manipulation in 1987. He was able to select an ultra-microscopic piece of DNA and replicate it several times. This technique proves that a specific message, e.g., to express or not express a certain trait, is repeated many times in the chromosomes. Under the special probe invented by Jeffreys, the chromosomes appear like an electronic bar code. What does the human “bar code” of Jeffrey’s method reveal? It tells us that every individual is unique, distinctive and special. The probability of persons with identical chromosomal bar codes is less than one in a billion.(19) c) Process of development (based on scientific references)(20) When does the heart begin to beat?At 18 days [when the mother is only four days late for her first menstrual period], and by 21 days it is pumping, through a closed circulatory system, blood whose type is different from that of the mother. J.M. Tanner, G. R. Taylor, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Growth, New York: Life Science Library, 1965, p. When is the brain functioning?Brain waves have been recorded at 40 days on the Electroencephalogram (EEG). H. Hamlin, "Life or Death by EEG," JAMA, Oct. 12, 1964, p. 120Brain function, as measured on the Electroencephalogram, "appears to be reliably present in the fetus at about eight weeks gestation," or six weeks after conception. J. Goldenring, "Development of the Fetal Brain," New England Jour. of Med., Aug. 26, 1982, p. 564 How early do some organs form?The eye, ear and respiratory systems begin to form four weeks after fertilization. K. Moore, Before We Were Born, 3rd ed., 1989, p. 278 And function?Very early, e.g., glucagon, a blood sugar hormone, has been demonstrated in the fetal pancreas 6 weeks after fertilization, and insulin by 7 to 8. F. Cunningham, "Pancreas," William's Obstet., 19th ed., 1993, p. 183-4Thumbsucking has been photographed at 7 weeks after fertilization. W. Liley, The Fetus As Personality, Fetal Therapy, 1986, p. 8-17 When does the developing baby first move?"In the sixth to seventh weeks. . . . If the area of the lips is gently stroked, the child responds by bending the upper body to one side and making a quick backward motion with his arms. This is called a 'total pattern response' because it involves most of the body, rather than a local part." L. B. Arey, Developmental Anatomy (6th ed.), Philadelphia: W. B. Sanders Co., 1954At eight weeks, "if we tickle the baby's nose, he will flex his head backwards away from the stimulus." A. Hellgers, M.D., "Fetal Development, 31," Theological Studies, vol. 3, no. 7, 1970, p. 26Another example is from a surgical technician whose letter said, "When we opened her abdomen (for a tubal pregnancy), the tube had expelled an inch-long fetus, about 4-6 weeks old. It was still alive in the sack. "That tiny baby was waving its little arms and kicking its little legs and even turned its whole body over." J. Dobson, Focus on the Family Mag., Aug. '91, pg. 16 When are all her body systems present?By eight weeks (two months). Hooker & Davenport, The Prenatal Origin of Behavior, University of Kansas Press, 1952 When do teeth form?All 20 milk-teeth buds are present at six and a half weeks."Life Before Birth," Life Magazine, Apr. 30, 1965, p. 10And include dental lamina at 8 weeks. Med. Embryology, Longman, 3rd Ed., 1975, p. 406 How about nine weeks?At nine to ten weeks, he squints, swallows, moves his tongue, and if you stroke his palm, will make a tight fist.By nine weeks he will "bend his fingers round an object in the palm of his hand." Valman & Pearson, "What the Fetus Feels," British Med. Jour., Jan. 26, 1980 When does he start to breathe?"By 11 to 12 weeks (3 months), he is breathing fluid steadily and continues so until birth. At birth, he will breathe air. He does not drown by breathing fluid with-in his mother, because he obtains his oxygen from his umbilical cord. This breathing develops the organs of respiration." "Life Before Birth," Life Magazine, Apr. 30, 1965, p. 13"Maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy decreases the frequency of fetal breathing by 20%. The 'well documented' higher incidence of prematurity, stillbirth, and slower development of reading skill may be related to this decrease." 80 F. Manning, "Meeting of Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons," Family Practice News, March 15, 1976"In the 11th week of gestation fetal breathing is irregular and episodic. As gestation continues, the breathing movements become more vigorous and rapid." C. Dawes, "Fetal Breathing: Indication of Well Being," Family Practice News, Mar. 16, 1976, p. 6Episodic spontaneous breathing movement have been observed in the healthy human fetus as early as ten weeks gestational age. Conners et al., "Control of Fetal Breathing in the Human Fetus," Am J. OB-GYN, April '89, p. 932 When can she swallow?At 11 weeks. Valman & Pearson, British Med. Jour., "What the Fetus Feels," 26 Jan. 1980, p. 233What of detailed development, like fingernails and eyelashes?Fingernails are present by 11 to 12 weeks; eyelashes by 16 weeks. Fingerprints are completely established during the fourth month of gestation. Hamilton et al., Human Embryology, Fourth Ed., 1972, p. 567 At what point are all her body systems working?By 11 weeks. "Life Before Birth," Life Magazine, Apr. 30, 1965, p. 13 How does the size of the baby increase in weight?At 12 weeks (three months) she weighs about 30 gm (1.0 ounce); at 16 weeks about 170 gm (6 ounces); and at 20 weeks (four months), approximately 454 gm (one pound). When is taste present?"Taste buds are working between 13 and 15 weeks gestation" (11 to 13 weeks after conception). Mistretta & Bradley, Taste in Utero, 1977, p. 62 Bradley et al., "Dev. Taste Buds . . . ," J. Anat. 101 (4) 1967, p. 743-752 How about hearing?"Auditory sense is present in the infant 24 weeks before birth [14 weeks after conception]. This involves brain functioning and memory patterns." M. Clemens, "5th International Congress Psychosomatic," OB & GYN, Rome: Medical Tribune, Mar. 22, 1978, p. 7 Recent References “Apart from fortuitous disturbances, at the fusion of two gametes [sperm and egg], a new real human individual initiates its own existence, or life cycle, during which – given all the necessary and sufficient conditions – it will autonomously realize all the potentialities with which he is intrinsically endowed.” Serra & Colombo, “Identity and Status of the Human Embryo: The Contribution of Biology,” in “Identity and Statutes Human Embryo: proceedings of Third Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life”, 1998 "From the moment a baby is conceived, it bears the indelible stamp of a separate distinct personality, an individual different from all other individuals." Ultrasound pioneer, Sir William Liley, M.D. 1967 "After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into existence. This is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception." Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the late Professor of Fundamental Genetics at the Rene Descartes University of Paris (in his 1989 court testimony in Tennessee, cf. also Louisiana Legislature's House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice on June 7, 1990..) He discovered the Down syndrome chromosome. "It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception." Professor M. Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School. "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception." Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic. “But today we know that a sequence of primordial centers of organization in the embryo goes back continuously to the nucleus of the zygote, long before the brain appears as the final centre.” B. Ashley & K. O’Rourke, Health Care Ethics: A theological Analysis, 1997 as quoted by M.A. Taylor in, “Abortion”, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2000 Concluding Words While it is evident that human life starts at conception with the zygote, the formation of some key organs such as the brain, and the heart do not complete until later stages in pregnancy. In fact, the process of forming the physical human body does not get completed until well after the birth of the child, as evident for instance in the neurological capacity to see. Some scientific researchers have argued that science has not been able to give a definitive answer to the question of when life starts. The moments of fertilization, gastrulation, neurulation, and birth, are then milestones in the gradual acquisition of what it is to be human.(21) However, it goes without saying that this human being is already present since day one and is significantly uniquely formed according to its genetic code plan as demonstrated above. If we permit ourselves to cut off this process at pregnancy then logically speaking we are permitting ourselves to also cut it off at any other stage of development process such as the early childhood phase, or the adolescent phase. And no civilized nation would agree to that. Notes(1) See Peter Kreeft, Three Approaches to Abortion, Ignatius Press, 2002, pp. 90-95(2) See M.A. Taylor in, “Abortion”, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2000, Vol. 1, p. 29(3) “Is the unborn human less than human”, ChristianAnswers.net http://www.christiananswers.net/q-sum/q-life000.html (4) We are quoting heavily and thankfully from an excellent paper: “The Fertilization of a Human Life”, by Dr. Luz Gabriel, member of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, published by Catholic Faith Magazine. Also published on the web: http://www.catholicmatch.com/pl/pages/community/articles/details.html?ra=1;id=89(5) Lennart Nilsson and editors Life “The First Days of Creation,” Life, Aug, 1990. (6) F. Gary Cunningham, et al, William’s Obstetrics, 20th edition (Appleton & Lange, 1997), 105-107 - See Gabriel. (7) Ibid. 19 - See Gabriel.(8) Ibid. 96 - See Gabriel. (9) Jerome Lejeune, The Concentration Can (San Francisco: Ignatius Press,1992), See Gabriel(10) Ibid. (11) Ibid.(12) Ibid.(13) Lejeune, op. cit. 38-39, 51. See Gabriel.(14) Ibid. 46. See Gabriel.(15) Lejeune, op. cit. 31. See Gabriel.(16) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition (1994), 599.(17) Lejeune, op. cit. 32, 37. See Gabriel. (18) Ibid. 55. See Gabriel.(19) Ibid. 41-42(20) See Abortion.netfirms.com at http://abortion.netfirms.com/faqprenataldevelopvanderbilt.htm (21) See article http://www.devbio.com/article.php?id=162