The dilemma of when human life begins

Life begins with fertilization, which leads the embryo to birth in an organized


When does human life begin? This question has generated a wide debate in the scientific world, specifically since the eighties, with the appearance of assisted reproduction techniques.

The question, according to a paper based on research by Steven Jacobs, offers results about when an embryo or fetus should be considered human. It also explains the normative approach on when the embryo should deserve ethical and legal consideration.

Steven Jacobs, who included the research-based study in his doctoral dissertation from the University of Chicago in June 2019, surveyed 2,899 American adults to ask them to select the group most qualified to answer the question of when human life begins. The majority (81%) chose biologists, considering their scientific field the right one to determine when the life of a human being begins.

Then 5,502 biologists from 1,058 academic institutions were recruited to participate in the study on their descriptive view of when life begins. They evaluated statements that represented the biological point of view: “the life of a human being begins at fertilization.” This view was used because previous polls and polls suggest that many Americans and medical experts hold this view. Each of the three statements representing that view was affirmed by a consensus of biologists (75-91%).

Participants were divided into 60 groups, and each statement was corroborated by a consensus from each group, including biologists who identified themselves as very pro-choice (69-90%), very pro-life (92-97%), very liberal (70-91%), very conservative (94-96%), strong Democrats (74-91%), and strong Republicans (89-94%).

In general, (95%) biologists agreed that the life of a human being begins at fertilization (5,212 of 5,502).

According to Bioethics Web, which analyzes this study, “although the conclusions of this article suggest that a fetus is biologically classified as human at the time of fertilization, this descriptive view does not imply the normative view that fetuses deserve legal consideration throughout life. pregnancy.

They also believe that contemporary ethical and legal concepts that motivate reproductive rights may cause Americans to disregard the descriptive point of view or to disassociate it from the normative point of view.

However, they explain that these findings can help Americans move beyond the factual dispute over when life begins and focus on the operational question of when a fetus deserves legal consideration.

Bioethical assessment

From the scientific evidence, the profound knowledge of the biological nature of the embryo and its development leaves little room for doubt about its human nature. Life begins with fertilization, which leads the embryo to birth in an organized, continuous and increasingly complex process.

The alleged attempts of some scientists to define a pre-embryo have been definitively abandoned as science has been showing us the secrets of its biological evolution. They defined the pre-embryo as an evolutionary state prior to the embryonic stage to which a human nature could not be assigned.

For Personalist Bioethics, human nature cannot be separated from personal identity, which has dignity and rights. But other bioethical currents establish that the concepts of human nature and personal identity can be separated, so that there could be human beings (the early embryos) who were not people. And, therefore, they would lack dignity and rights.

The evolutionary terms that are established from these positions to delimit this separation are arbitrary and non-consensual, changing as new scientific evidence questions the validity of these criteria.

Meanwhile, millions of human beings are exterminated through abortion, assisted reproduction techniques or biomedical research, because they are not considered people. This continues to be the great unfinished business in bioethics in the third millennium.