If you listened to Ron Reagan, son of the late President
Ronald Reagan, as he addressed the Democratic National Convention, you
heard him make these remarks about stem cell research:
…imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing
drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your
cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A
hit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell’s
nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed
into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells
containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue
By the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this
process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens
in the laboratory at the cellular level.1
What Reagan is actually describing here is a technique
known as "therapeutic cloning." Remember Dolly the sheep? She was produced
as a result of "reproductive" cloning:
This kind of cloning involves taking the nucleus of a body (somatic)
cell and introducing it into an egg cell which has had its nucleus
removed. The resultant cloned embryo is then implanted into a uterus to
bring it to birth.2
The only difference between reproductive cloning—which
results in the birth of a live sheep, or potentially in the future a live
human being—and therapeutic cloning, is what happens to the embryo:
Therapeutic cloning, also called "embryo cloning," is the production
of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to
create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be
used to study human development and to treat disease. Stem cells are
important to biomedical researchers because they can be used to generate
virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Stem cells are
extracted from the egg after it has divided for 5 days. The egg at this
stage of development is called a blastocyst. The extraction process
destroys the embryo, which raises a variety of ethical concerns. 3
A publication from the Family Research Council reveals
that "[t]herapeutic cloning is sometimes referred to as the ‘clone and
In Vitro Fertilization
The National Institutes for Health publication "Stem
Cell Information" reveals another source for embryonic stem cells:
Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from
embryos. Specifically, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos
that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro—in an
in vitro fertilization clinic—and then donated for research
purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from
eggs fertilized in a woman’s body. The embryos from which human
embryonic stem cells are derived are typically four or five days old….5
The White House "Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fact
Sheet" expands on this theme:
Embryonic stem cells are derived from excess embryos created in the
course of infertility treatment. As a result of standard in vitro
fertilization practices, many excess human embryos are created.
Participants in IVF treatment must ultimately decide the disposition of
these excess embryos, and many individuals have donated their excess
embryos for research purposes.6
Fetal Stem Cells
A third source for the embryonic stem cell is what is
known as the "fetal" or "germ" cell. These are extracted from the ovaries
and testes of aborted fetuses.7
Are the Embryos Human Beings?
So the most urgent question before us is when does life
begin? Because if it begins at fertilization, the embryo, even in the
pre-implantation stage (called a blastocyst) is still a human being. That
would mean Ron Reagan’s remarks were, at best misleading (the embryo is
killed before it can reach the fetal stage). At worst, it is a deliberate
attempt to cover the truth.
Becky Davis, Paul Riccio and Meika Hashimoto make some
important points in their article, "Ethical and Public Policy Issues
Concerning Stem Cell Research":
Erik Parens of the Hastings Center [states] that, "… It is ultimately
(if not immediately) in everyone’s best interest to be as clear as
possible about the facts. One of those is that ES cell research
cannot be done without destroying embryos.…" Human embryonic stem
cells (hES) are obtained from embryos. Embryonic germ cells (hEG) are
derived from the developing fetus. Stem cells created by somatic cell
nuclear transfer (SCNT) require an enucleated oocyte and in vitro
fertilization requires both egg and sperm.…8
But if nothing except time and incubation9
separate the embryo from the live-born baby, where, along the line from
conception (fertilization) to live birth does the embryo become a living
human being? Below, we give an extended quote from our book The Facts
on Abortion, in which we address the evidence for when life begins.
The reader is urged to consider this information carefully.
What does modern science conclude about when human life
The scientific authorities on when life begins are
biologists. But these are often the last people consulted in seeking an
answer to the question. What modern science has concluded is crystal
clear: Human life begins at conception. This is a matter of scientific
fact, not philosophy, speculation, opinion, conjecture, or theory.
Today, the evidence that human life begins at conception is a fact so well
documented that no intellectually honest and informed scientist or
physician can deny it.
In 1973, the Supreme Court concluded in its Roe v.
Wade decision that it did not have to decide the "difficult question"
of when life begins. Why? In essence, they said, "It is impossible to say
when human life begins."10
The Court misled the public then, and others continue to mislead the
Anyone familiar with recent Supreme Court history knows
that two years before Roe V. Wade, in October 1971, a group of 220
distinguished physicians, scientists, and professors submitted an
amicus curiae brief (advice to a court on some legal matter) to the
Supreme Court. They showed the Court how modern science had already
established that human life is a continuum and that the unborn child from
the moment of conception on is a person and must be considered a person,
like its mother.11
The brief set as its task "to show how clearly and conclusively modern
science—embryology, fetology, genetics, perinatology, all of
biology—establishes the humanity of the unborn child."12
For example, "In its seventh week, [the pre-born child] bears the familiar
external features and all the internal organs of the adult.... The brain
in configuration is already like the adult brain and sends out impulses
that coordinate the function of other organs…. The heart beats sturdily.
The stomach produces digestive juices. The liver manufactures blood cells
and the kidneys begin to function by extracting uric acid from the child’s
blood.... The muscles of the arms and body can already be set in motion.
After the eighth week… everything is already present that will be
found in the full term baby."13
This brief proved beyond any doubt scientifically that human life begins
at conception and that "the unborn is a person within the meaning of the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments."14
In fact, prior to Roe v. Wade, nearly
every medical and biological textbook assumed or taught that human life
begins at conception. That human life begins at conception was an accepted
medical fact, but not necessarily a discussed medical fact. This is why
many textbooks did not devote a discussion to this issue. But many others
did. For example, Mr. Patrick A. Trueman helped prepare a 1975 brief
before the Illinois Supreme Court on the unborn child. He noted,
We introduced an affidavit from a professor of medicine detailing 19
textbooks on the subject of embryology used in medical schools today
which universally agreed that human life begins at conception… those
textbooks agree that is when human life begins. The court didn’t strike
that down—the court couldn’t strike that down because there was a
logical/biological basis for that law.15
Thus, even though the Supreme Court had been properly
informed as to the scientific evidence, they still chose to argue that the
evidence was insufficient to show the pre-born child was fully human. In
essence, their decision merely reflected social engineering and opinion,
not scientific fact. Even during the growing abortion debate in 1970, the
editors of the scientific journal California Medicine noted the
"curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows,
that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or
extra-uterine until death."16
Even 25 years after the abortion revolution that
politicized scientific opinion, medical texts today still often assume or
affirm that human life begins at conception. For example, Keith L. Moore
is professor and chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University
of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. His text, The Developing Human:
Clinically Oriented Embryology, is widely used in core courses in
medical embryology. This text asserts:
The processes by which a child develops from a single
cell are miraculous.
Human development is a continuous process that begins
when an ovum from a female is fertilized by a sperm from a male.
Growth and differentiation transform the zygote, a single cell... into a
multicellular adult human being.17
The reference to the "miraculous processes in a purely
secular text is not surprising. Even a single strand of DNA from a human
cell contains information equivalent to a library of 1,000 volumes. The
complexity of the zygote itself according to Dr. Hymie Gordon, chief
geneticist at the Mayo Clinic, "is so great that it is beyond our
In a short nine months’ time, one fertilized ovum grows into 6,000 million
cells that become a living, breathing person.
Further, medical dictionaries and encyclopedias all
affirm that the embryo is human. Among many we could cite are Dorland’s
Illustrated Medical Dictionary, Tuber’s Cyclopedic Medical
Dictionary, and the Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine,
Nursing and Allied Health, which defines the embryo as "the human
young from the time of fertilization of the ovum until the beginning of
the third month."19
In 1981, the United States Congress conducted hearings
to answer the question, "When does human life begin?" A group of
internationally known scientists appeared before a Senate judiciary
The U.S. Congress was told by Harvard University Medical School’s
Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, "In biology and in medicine, it is an
accepted fact that the life of any individual organism reproducing by
sexual reproduction begins at conception...."21
Dr. Watson A. Bowes, Jr., of the University of Colorado
Medical School, testified that "the beginning of a single human life is
from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter—the
beginning is conception. This straightforward biological fact should not
be distorted to serve sociological, political or economic goals."22
Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni of the University of Pennsylvania
Medical School noted: "The standard medical texts have long taught that
human life begins at conception."23
He added: "I am no more prepared to say that these early
stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the
child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty... is not a human being.
This is human life at every stage albeit incomplete until late
Dr. McCarthy De Mere, who is a practicing physician as
well as a law professor at the University of Tennessee, testified: "The
exact moment of the beginning [of] personhood and of the human body is at
the moment of conception."25
World-famous geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune, professor of
fundamental genetics at the University of Descarte, Paris, France,
declared, "each individual has a very unique beginning, the moment of its
Dr. Lejeune also emphasized: "The human nature of the
human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention,
it is plain experimental evidence."27
The chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics at
the Mayo Clinic, Professor Hymie Gordon, testified, "By all the criteria
of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of
He further emphasized: "now we can say, unequivocally,
that the question of when life begins… is an established scientific fact….
It is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at
the moment of conception."29
At that time the U.S. Senate proposed Senate Bill 158,
called the "Human Life Bill." These hearings, which lasted eight days,
involving 57 witnesses, were conducted by Senator John East. This Senate
Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception
marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive
and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on
this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.30
In 1981, only a single scientist disagreed with the
majority’s conclusion, and he did so on philosophical rather than
scientific grounds. In fact, abortion advocates, although invited to do
so, failed to produce even one expert witness who would specifically
testify that life begins at any other point than conception.31
Many other biologists and scientists agree that life
begins at conception. All agree that there is no point of time or interval
of time between conception and birth when the unborn is anything but
Professor Roth of Harvard University Medical School has
emphasized, "It is incorrect to say that the biological data cannot be
decisive…. It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human
life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm join to form the zygote,
and that this developing human always is a member of our species in all
stages of its life."32
In conclusion, we agree with pioneer medical researcher,
Landrum B. Shettles, M.D., Ph.D., that, "There is one fact that no one
can deny; human beings begin at conception."33
Again, let us stress that this is not a matter of
religion, it is solely a matter of science.
Scientists of every religious view and no religious view—agnostic, Jewish,
Buddhist, atheist, Christian, Hindu, etc.—all agree that life begins at
conception. This explains why, for example, the International Code of
Medical Ethics asserts: "A doctor must always bear in mind the importance
of preserving human life from the time of conception until death."34
This is also why the Declaration of Geneva holds
physicians to the following: "I will maintain the utmost respect for human
life from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my
medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity."35
These statements can be found in the World Medical Association Bulletin
for April 1949 (vol.1, p. 22) and January 1950 (vol. 2, p. 5). In
1970, the World Medical Association again reaffirmed the Declaration of
What difference does it make that human life begins at
conception? The difference is this: If human life begins at conception,
then the process of harvesting stem cells, like abortion, is the killing
of a human life.
To deny this fact is scientifically impossible.37
How has modern technology shown that human life begins
Recent developments of medical technology such as sound
imaging and fetoscopy have permitted us to look into the womb and observe
fetal development even from the point of conception. In terms of what we
knew before, the difference is like observing a person’s reflection in a
pond compared to observing his reflection in a mirror. Modern fetology has
given us an amazing and incredible look at the growth of the tiny
individual in the mother’s womb.38
Dr. Bernard Nathanson discusses how advances in modern
technology caused him to radically alter his pro-abortion beliefs. Once
known as "the abortion king" because of his prominence in the field and
his presiding over 60,000 abortions,39
he is today a vocal opponent of abortion because recent scientific
advances in fetology forced him to accept the fact that the fetus was
really a living human being:
Ultrasound technology has been really the apparatus
which has put the window in the womb. This was the first time we really
could see the baby. Up till that time we never could. I mean, X-rays
were static. You couldn’t really use X-rays to prove or disprove much of
anything about the fetus. But ultrasound gives us these very clear,
precise pictures, allows us to stimulate the child, see how it breathes,
see how it moves, see how it swallows, see how it urinates, see how
Now, there’s been a new advance in this ultrasound
technology which is known as transvaginal sonography. It’s very
exciting. [Before] the pictures were great, but they don’t compare to
these pictures—it’s valuable for very early pregnancies.
We can see the gestational sac—the little sac of the
pregnancy at two weeks following fertilization now with transvaginal
sonography. [We] can see the heart beginning to beat at around 3 [to]
3-1/2 weeks now. So this has pushed back or updated a great many of our
data about the unborn baby.
And I don’t doubt that there are new technologies coming
even now; for example, color ultrasound which is going to give us even
clearer, more vivid pictures and increase our knowledge about the unborn
The reason why modern science has come to the conclusion
that human life begins at conception is because sound imaging and modern
fetology have supported this judgment dramatically.41
Every scientific law known (e.g., biogenesis—that is, life comes only from
life) and every scientific fact (e.g., at conception a genetically new and
unique human individual exists) demands this conclusion.
All of this is why the origin of human life cannot be
defined at any other point (e.g., viability) than conception.
1 Ron Reagan’s speech at the
Democratic National Convention, http://www.newsday.com/news/politics/dnc/ny-reagan-speech%2C0%2C6776940.story?coll=ny-top-span-headlines.
2 Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Stem
Cell Research, Cloning & Human Embryos (Family Research Council,
801 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001), p. 4.
4 Pacholczyk, Stem Cell
Research, p. 5.
5 National Institutes of Health,
"Stem Cell Information," http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/.
Note that this same site defines "embryo" as: "In humans, the
developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of
the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus."
7 Pacholczyk, Stem Cell
Research, p. 2; cf. Christian Medical & Dental Associations,
Stem Cell Overview,
8 Becky Davis, Paul Riccio, and
Meika Hashimoto (Scott Gilbert, ed), "Ethical and Public Policy Issues
Concerning Stem Cell Research," http://www.devbio.com/article.php?ch=21&id=258.
Parens quote from Erik Parens, "Biotechnology and Biosciences Research
Council." Accessed May 3 2002. <http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk>.
9 Incubate: To maintain (eggs,
organisms, or living tissue) at optimal environmental conditions for
growth and development. (http://education.yahoo.com
10 Lawyer Cooperative, U.S.
Supreme Court Reports, vol. 35 (1974), Roe v. Wade, 410 US
113, p. 181; 410 US 113 at 159; cf. Harold 0. J. Brown, Death
Before Birth (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1977), p. 81, cf. pp.
73-96; John Warwick Montgomery, "The Rights of the Unborn Children,"
The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, vol. 5 (1985-86), p. 64.
11 Motion filed in the Supreme
Court of the United States, Oct. 15, 1971 (Re: No. 70-18 and No.
70-40), titled Motion and Brief Amicus Curiae of Certain
Physicians, Professionals and Fellows of the American College of
Obstetrics and Gynecology in Support of Appellees, Dennis J. Horan
et al., United States District Court 1971, pp.19, 29-30.
12 Ibid., p. 7.
13 Ibid., pp. 13-14.
14 Ibid., p. 64, cf. pp. 19-20,
15 Television program
transcript, "Abortion," Chattanooga, TN, The John Ankerberg
Evangelistic Association, 1982, p. 2.
Medicine, vol. 113, no. 3 (Sept. 1970), p. 67.
17 Keith L. Moore, The
Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Philadelphia,
PA: W.B. Sanders, 1982), p.1, emphasis added.
18 Thomas W. Hilgers, Dennis J.
Horan, Abortion and Social Justice (Thaxton, VA: Sun Life,
1980), p. 5.
19 Encyclopedia and
Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health (Philadelphia:
W.B. Sanders Co., 1978), 2nd ed., p. 335.
20 The Subcommittee on
Separation of Powers, Report to Senate Judiciary Committee
S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981.
21 Ibid., cf. Richard Exley,
Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa,
OK: Honor Books, 1989), p.18; Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics:
Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, Ml: Baker, 1989), p. 149.
22 Landrum B. Shettles, Rites
of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth (Grand
Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 114.
26 The Subcommittee on
Separation of Powers, Report to Senate Judiciary Committee
S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981; cf. Richard Exley,
Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default
(Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1989), p. 18.
27 Ibid.; cf. Norman L. Geisler,
Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker),
1989, p. 149.
28 Ibid., Report to Senate.
29 Ibid., and Richard Exley,
Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa,
OK: Honor Books, 1989), p. 18.
30 Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Willke,
Handbook on Abortion and Abortion Questions and Answers (Hayes
Publishing Co., 1985), p. 40.
31 Shettles, Rites of Life:
The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth, p. 113. A
few held that life may begin at implantation. However, implantation,
while important, in no way defines life.
32 The Subcommittee on
Separation of Powers, Report to Senate; cf. Exley, Abortion:
Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default, p.18; Geisler,
Christian Ethics: Options and Issues, p. 149.
33 Landrum B. Shettles in
Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints (New York: Greenhaven Press, 1986),
p. 16, emphasis added.
34 Hilgers and Horan, p. 317.
37 But to accept this fact and
maintain that taking human life is not morally wrong is incredible. It
is even reminiscent of Nazi Germany and yet today such arguments are
increasingly accepted (e.g. Biomedical Ethics and the Law by
James M. Humber and Robert F. Almeder, page 16; cf. note 3).
38 John C. Fletcher, Mark I.
Evans, "Maternal Bonding in Early Fetal Ultrasound Examinations,"
New England Journal of Medicine, February 17, 1983.
39 Bernard N. Nathanson, "Deeper
into Abortion," New England Journal of Medicine, Nov.28, 1974,
40 Initial transcript, The
Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, Is Abortion Justifiable?
televised program, Jan.1990, p. 7.
Ethics: Options and Issues, p. 140.