July 27th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

TRADE: Sugar industry study backs failed policies, not new solutions

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

ICC: a clarification (letter)

It's a cruel world ... (letter)

Welfare equity? (letter)

Islam and Australia (letter)

COMMENT: After Cheryl Kernot - character is important in public life

ASIA: Hong Kong: deflation and Big Brother

BIOETHICS: It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

COMMENT: Liability insurance and the abortion industry

COMMENT: How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

BOOKS: 'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read

COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

EDITORIAL: The maternity leave morass

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Telstra sale splits minor parties - but will it be enough?

Government should act to secure super savings

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Empty vessels at the old corral / Short-termism

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It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

by David Perrin

News Weekly, July 27, 2002
One of the major arguments about the killing of human embryos to obtain their stem cells for use in medical experiments is "where does human life begin?"

Recently, Senator Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Family and Community Services, admitted she was confused about the matter. She said that there was a wide range of views on the issue in the community

Those that wish to use human embryos, claim that human life does not begin at fertilisation but at some time later. Whilst this is convenient to their argument, it is wrong!

Both science and religion have defined human life as beginning at fertilisation.


Recently, Dr Anthony Fisher, Professor of Bioethics at the John Paul Institute for Marriage and Family, produced an article with all the scientific evidence for The Bulletin magazine. Unfortunately, for Bulletin readers the evidence was left out.

Current leading scientific texts all confirm that human life begins at fertilisation. These include:

"Individual life begins with conception by the union of gametes or sex cell ... Growth and development continue thereafter ..." (Brookes & Zietman, Clinical Embryology, 1998).

"The beginning of the development of a new individual is the fusion of ... sperm and ovum ... The result of this fusion is the formation of the first cell of the new individual, the zygote." (Hamilton & Mossman, Human Embryology).

"Conception: 1. The beginning of pregnancy, usually taken to be the instant that a spermatozoon enters an ovum and forms a viable zygote. 2. The act or process of fertilisation." (Anderson et al, Morsby's Medical, Nursing & Allied Health Dictionary, 2002).

"The formation, maturation and meeting of a male and female sex cell are all preliminary to their actual union into a combined cell, or zygote, which definitely marks the beginning of a new individual." (Arey, Developmental Anatomy).

"An egg is programmed to form a new individual organism when activated by a sperm ..." (Alberts, Molecular Biology of the Cell).

"Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilised ovum…

"The time of fertilisation represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual." (Carlson, Patten's Foundations of Embryology 1996).

Moore and Persaud's Clinically Oriented Embryology, Sadler & Langman's Medical Embryology, O'Rahilly & Muller's Human Embryology & Teratology, Moore's Essentials of Human Embryology, Sweeney's Basic Concepts in Embryology, all defined human life as commencing from fertilisation.

Recent medical breakthroughs

Dr Richard Gardner, an embryologist at Oxford University has recently demonstrated that the process of shaping the human body begins at the moment of conception. Which side of the embryo will form the back or head of the embryo are set out in the hours and minutes after the sperm and egg unite to form the new human being. Clear evidence that human life begins at fertilisation.

The Nature journal reports: "What is clear is that developmental biologists will no longer dismiss early mammalian embryos as featureless bundles of cells - and that leaves them with some work to do."

Cloning of human life

A further problem must be defined because in cloning of human embryos, there is no fertilisation or conception of sperm and egg as happens in sexual intercourse or in the petrie dish with artificial reproductive technology (IVF). With cloning the new human life commences without the male sperm but when the modified female egg is stimulated to start the cells reproducing from a single cell.

Scientists are already cloning humans but these have not yet progressed to the birth of a live child.

Be truthful

For Senator Vanstone, and those like her, they may not accept the religious view that human life begins at fertilisation but the scientific and medical evidence is overwhelming. No scientist places fertilisation and conception at different times.

Those that wish to allow human embryos to be killed to obtain their stem cells for medical research cannot rely on medical texts because they all define life as commencing at fertilisation. They should be honest enough to admit that if Parliament approves of the use of "spare" human embryos for destruction, then their position is unethical and not supported by science.

  • David Perrin

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