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The Embryo Before the Physician

The first event in the formation of a human being is the fusion of the ovum and the spermatozoid (each a “gamete”); this is known as conception.  Upon conception, a developmental process of life begins that will not cease until death.

Evidence Of The Embryo’s Human Status

1. Genetic Individuality

The segregation and crossing over of chromosomes in each of the gametes ensure that at conception the embryo has an entirely new genetic makeup—one different from the mother and father.  This demonstrates beyond any scientific doubt that the embryo is a unique and unrepeatable individual.  Throughout the entirety of his further development, the embryo will not acquire any new genetic information: his genetic identity will always remain the same.

2. Continuity of Development

From his one-cell stage (a “zygote”), the embryo develops continually, undergoing cell divisions and organizing himself incessantly towards his later fullness.  From the moment of conception, an uninterrupted process ensues that passes from one stage of differentiation to the next.  At no point in this process can the embryo be said to be anything other than what it was in any previous stage.

As renowned Professor Jerome Lejeune noted: “Science leads us to affirm that if the human embryo were not human from the beginning of his individual life at conception, he would never become such.”

Of those who deny that an embryo is anything other than a unique individual belonging to the human species—claiming that his beginning comes at a later moment—we must demand the following: Please then determine for us with scientific rigor to which species the embryo belongs until such moment, because without a doubt it is some type of living being belonging to some species.  Moreover, please explain how the process of changing from one species to another takes place somewhere within a nine-month window, when in fact the process of evolution takes millions of years to change from one species to another.

Some will tie that moment of transition to the manifestation of some capacity, often the ability to reason.  However, that, and every, capacity is inscribed in the individual’s genome from the moment of conception.  We need only allow the embryo to develop for its capacities to be manifest.

3. Autonomy of Prenatal Life

The formation process of the embryo is autonomous in spite of the intimate relationship between the body of the mother and her child.  The plan according to which the embryo develops is fully contained in his genetic makeup from conception.  The embryo—and only he—directs his development and communicates with the mother’s body so as to continue the pregnancy.  For example, he chemically suspends the mother’s menstrual cycle.

The Physician

According to the Hippocratic Oath, the physician is called to heal the sick, and—if not possible—to assist and comfort them; never to kill them.

An abortion is not a cure for an unborn child with an incurable disease or malformation; it simply ends his life.  Physicians are called to fight and find solutions for disease, but never to exterminate a patient under the pretext of alleviating suffering.

The Parents

Three people—all endowed with intrinsic dignity—take part in a pregnancy. From the moment of conception, the two parents have certain obligations towards their child, and the first and most fundamental is to protect his life.

Induced abortions—and abortions that occur in the context of artificial reproduction techniques (ART), in vitro fertilization being just one—violate that obligation.  Furthermore, ART objectifies a child.  Instead of being conceived as the fruit of conjugal self-donation, he is fabricated in the laboratory—children being a “right” of the parents.

And what about the mother’s health?

It is ethically incorrect, and false, to say that a so-called “therapeutic [1]” abortion—performed under the pretext of saving the mother’s life or improving her health—will actually do so.  A mother can suffer physical and, especially, psychological, consequences from an abortion.

When pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk, the physician then has two patients and is called to protect the life and health of both.  If the physician acts accordingly, and in the process one or both die, the physician did not take a life, as neither of the deaths were intended [2].  In the case of the mother’s death, her original illness was the cause.  In the case of the child’s death, the child dies for no reason other than his inability to survive outside of his mother.

Ethics After The Fact

Abortion is, without a doubt, a gravely unethical act since it kills a defenseless and innocent person.  However, the parents who procured the abortion should not be judged, especially since ethics judges actions and not persons.

Often, the ethical criterion of full knowledge is not met, e.g. the parents do not know that what is being aborted is their child, not a clump of cells.  In other cases, the mother does not possess true freedom: she is pressured by the father, or her parents.

Undoubtedly, women who have suffered an abortion need psychological support and much love.  They do not need to be judged.  The organization Rachel’s Vineyard [3] provides a worthy model for such support.

We have to say yes to life.  We have to provide a mother with the economic means and human support necessary for her to choose life, and if she is not able to care for the child herself, show her the beauty of adoption.