Science, Embryonic Autonomy, and the Question of When Life Begins

Read the opening of this article by Ana Maria Dumitru about “embryonic autonomy” over at Public Discourse — it is simply amazing — and devastating for those who support abortion:

A new study demonstrates that human embryos autonomously direct their own development from the very earliest moments of life—even when they are not in their mothers’ wombs.

When does life begin? According to the United States Supreme Court, a number of politicians including President Barack Obama, and a variety of other sources, there is still much debate in the realms of science and medicine as to how to answer this charged question. A popular deflection is to say something like “It’s above my pay grade to answer that,” or “If scientists are still debating this, who am I to speculate?”

The truth is that science already has answered this question, loud and clear. It’s really pretty simple. You take an egg from a female and a sperm cell from a male. The sperm penetrates the egg. And now you have one cell with the complete amount of genetic material needed for everything a human could ever want to do.

Even this may not be enough to convince skeptics. A few months ago, I was debating the issues of when life begins and the autonomy of the early embryo with some of my colleagues. I was surprised to hear that they still rely on the party slogan: “Early on, it’s just a clump of cells.” In the lab where I work, we study cell division. As scientists, my colleagues must concede that embryos are made up of living cells, but they don’t accept the embryo as a living organism. If the early embryo is “just a clump of cells,” then you can justify abortion. By this logic, it’s not an autonomous being, and it’s definitely not a human person yet. It’s just a few cells growing in the mother’s body, and so the mother can choose to get rid of those cells if she wants to.

Read more: Public Discourse