Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Once Again... The Delicate Curmudgeon

The Delicate Curmudgeon has deleted one of my posts from his website on accusation of leveling gratuitous insults. I was simply responding to his allegation that "[c]onception is the beginning of life. There is no controversy over this in the scientific literature." This is false, so I proceeded to explain my point of view on the matter.

Perhaps it was my use of the word Christocrats (which is not my term--I first found it explained in Rabbi James Rudin's The Baptizing of America), or perhaps the intimation that, just like for Obama, defining the moment when life begins is above the Curmudgeon's paygrade. Seems to me it's just another case of censorship aimed at protecting the pristine ears of his many ultraconservative readers. Those of you are interested can click the Read on link to learn more about the dispute.
"It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. It is not something dependent on biblical revelation, although the Bible makes this claim as well."

Contrary to the above statement, the problem is that the definition of conception varies greatly and is largely influenced by factors such as religious beliefs, which is why the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists prefers to define pregnancy, instead of conception.

If you take the definition of pregnancy that I quoted previously* (being that conception is insufficient in defining pregnancy, since neither ovulation nor fertilization alone constitute sufficient condition for a pregnancy), then implantation is taken to be the necessary condition for the beginning of pregnancy. In this sense, not only is the question "does life begin at conception" above Obama's pay grade, but also above Dr. Groothuis's.

Incidentally, if this definition of pregnancy is accepted, then it is impossible to understand the opposition of the religious right to such contraceptives as abortifacients, if taken before the time implantation is known occurs (at least eight days after fertilization).

From a logical and a practical point of view, it makes much more sense to use the ACOG definition. But it is quite obvious that many religious conservatives are not satisfied with a scientific discussion of pregnancy, sex-ed, etc, as their true intent is to stifle a woman's free expression of her sexuality and to constrict it to an anachronistic, but Biblical, version of sexuality.

George Orwell understood very well that authoritarian regimes, such as the one that many Christocrats advocate, seek to control and circumscribe sexuality, which one might argue is the ultimate boundary of self-expression.





*"When Is a Woman Pregnant?

To be sure, not every act of intercourse results in a pregnancy. First, ovulation (i.e., the monthly release of a woman's egg) must occur. Then, the egg must be fertilized. Fertilization describes the process by which a single sperm gradually penetrates the layers of an egg to form a new cell ("zygote"). This usually occurs in the fallopian tubes and can take up to 24 hours. There is only a short window during which an egg can be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur during that time, the egg dissolves and then hormonal changes trigger menstruation; however, if fertilization does occur, the zygote divides and differentiates into a "preembryo" while being carried down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. Implantation of the preembryo in the uterine lining begins about five days after fertilization. Implantation can be completed as early as eight days or as late as 18 days after fertilization, but usually takes about 14 days. Between one-third and one-half of all fertilized eggs never fully implant. A pregnancy is considered to be established only after implantation is complete."

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.







(If the Delicate Curmudgeon has not deleted my other posts on the subject, you can find them here.)

5 comments:

Sirfab said...

Turns out the gratuituous insults were "Christocrat" and "above the Curmudgeon's paygrade", as I had surmised.

I stand by my ideas as originally expressed.

Jen R said...

The problem with your answer here is that it equates "beginning of life" with "beginning of pregnancy". I have no problem with defining the beginning of pregnancy as implantation, but that doesn't mean that there is no living organism prior to implantation. Pregnancy is a particular relationship between two (or more, in the case of twins etc.) organisms.

I went on a whole tear about this once:

http://www.turntheclockforward.org/2007/09/terminology-confusion/

Sirfab said...

Jen:

I read you post, and I understand your point. Here's what I disagree with:

1) Fertilization is a necessary, but not sufficient, pre-condition for a human being to develop.
2) There is no embryo until successful implantation has completed. This is why, in my opinion, the beginning of a pregnancy is a much more significant indicator of the beginning of life than "conception", intended simply as the fertilization of an egg.

I say this with full awareness, since my wife has a condition which prevents the implantation of fertilized eggs, which means that she cannot get pregnant by natural means.

In other words my position, and the position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is that though fertilization coincides with the potential for life, there is no human being, even in embryo form, until implantation has successfully taken place. Add to that the fact that while science can detect the beginning of pregnancy, I am not aware of any way to detect the presence of a fertilized egg (in other words, there is no way for us to detect conception as you describe it.)

This is also why I take it that no chemical birth control used before implantation begins can be said to be an abortifacient: there is nothing to abort yet, just an unimplanted zygote that may or may not implant (most likely the latter) and that cannot be detected by current scientific methods.

Jen R said...

1) Fertilization is a necessary, but not sufficient, pre-condition for a human being to develop.

Not to be obnoxious, but: define "human being".

2) There is no embryo until successful implantation has completed.

Again, this one kind of depends on your definition, but let's say you're being very strict and noting that it's a blastocyst, not an embryo, that implants. Sure, fine. But blastocyst and embryo are both stages in the life of an organism. This is like saying there's no newborn until birth has completed, or there's no adolescent until puberty has completed. True, but what's the point?

Sirfab said...

Jen, I am not sure what you mean by "define a human being". I thought that at least we had some sort of starting agreement: that which develops inside a woman's womb after successful ovulation, fertilization and implantation is the beginning of a human being.

On 2), I go back to the point I made earlier: no chemical birth control used before implantation begins can be said to be an abortifacient. There is nothing to abort yet, just an unimplanted zygote that may or may not implant (most likely the latter) and that cannot be detected by current scientific methods.

For example, I do not side with those who would have outlawed Plan B as an abortifacient, because when a woman takes Plan B she does so to make absolutely sure that an unintended pregnancy does not occur (particularly in cases in which she and her partner had taken other contraceptives to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.)

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