Despite Attempts to Explain it Away, Human Life Begins at Conception Not Birth

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 16, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Despite Attempts to Explain it Away, Human Life Begins at Conception Not Birth

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by Paul A. Byrne, M.D.
June 16, 2008 Note: Dr. Paul A. Byrne, a Neonatologist, is Director of Neonatology and Director of Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Ohio. Dr. Byrne is also a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics University of Toledo College of Medicine and the past-President of the Catholic Medical Association. Opinion and editorial articles like this one do not necessarily reflect the views of

A proposed amendment to the state constitution of Colorado states, "The terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization." This is not quite true. Life on earth for every person begins with conception. (The words "human person" and "human being" are always interchangeable.)

How did this misconception get started? Perhaps it was several years ago, when the word "pre-embryo" was misapplied to development from the zygote (one cell stage) to implantation in the uterus. In reality, facts about conception do not change by inventing a new word like "pre-embryo," or by giving a false meaning to conception and even by trying to protect life by using a word like fertilization.

To counteract false proposals such as "pre-embryo," some have responded by changing the words to indicate that a new human life begins at fertilization. This is not accurate. Fertilization refers to a process of making a thing fertile, as what happens to a non-fertile hen’s egg when a rooster is in a barnyard. This activity initiates a new chicken. Fertilization is a biological term that can be applied to reproduction of beasts that can indicate a new individual beast.

Evolutionists claim that human beings evolve from beasts. There has never been a human person evolved from any beast. Evolution from lower forms is bothersome and false. Is it modern evolutionism to claim the IVF test-tube-product to be a person?

Life for every person begins with creation by the Creator. (Cf. CCC, 327; 296.) The reference to creation is prior to time. Life is the substantial fact of the existence in time. Human time begins with Adam and Eve. The living person is visible. The soul is the life of the person. It cannot be seen because it is spiritual.

Not long ago a magazine article wrongly stated:

"Life is a continuous thread connecting each generation to the next. A new human person appears on this thread at fertilization because at that point a new organism with unique DNA comes into existence."

While the author can make this case for beasts and brutes, the physical actions and activities of reproduction in beasts are different from creation and procreation of the human person.

The person is created; the body is formed using the sperm and egg. The person created is first visible or manifest as a zygote. The zygote within the body of his/her mother has immediate effect on the mother manifest by Early Pregnancy Factor (EPF). EPF is made by the embryo but found in the mother’s blood already when there are only two cells. Thus, we can know that this new person is present within the body of his/her mother immediately after conception. Every person since Adam and Eve, including Jesus, has lived within the body of his/her mother.

Zygote is the name given to the one-cell stage of many species of organisms. Embryo is applied to the stage of development between zygote and fetus for many types of organisms — e.g., chicken, mouse, etc. The nomenclature of zygote and embryo has no meaning about species, type, or kind of organism.

The person on earth is always a spiritual-corporeal (soul-body) unity. The human person is unique (separate), irrepeatable (one of a kind), made in the Image (substance) and Likeness (nature) of God. The human person is an individual substance of a nature rational. Human life cannot exist in animals or plants, nor can it be grasped in terms of merely biological categories. The life (soul) is in all cells, tissues, organs, and systems of the living person on earth. When cells, tissues, and/or organs are separated, there can be activity of the individual cells, tissues and organs.

The power to begin life is not in the sperm and/or ovum. Only God can create a person. With the concurrence of God, the body is formed by taking up, allotting, and aligning the needed components of the sperm and egg. Life is the substantial fact of the soul-body unity manifest already in the zygote. The formation of the body at the instant of conception manifests the person created by God. "The body and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine" (Pope John Paul II Feb 20, 1980).

Those who claim that a person begins at fertilization are not using the correct term or referring to the correct process. Sperm and ovum have the activities of individual cells, but they cannot be a cause of liberty or a rational soul. Fertilization is a physiological activity in beasts and plants, but this is not enough to understand human creation and procreation. A dictionary can help:

"Fertile" comes from the Latin, fertilis, to bear, produce. Fertilization: 1. The act or process of rendering fertile. 2. The process by which the pollen renders the ovule fertile. 3. The act or processing of fecundating the ovum. Fertilization can properly be applied to reproduction in plants and animals. This is in contrast to the word "conception," which brings in something more than simply physical, e.g., idea, notion, spiritual, soul.

"Conception" comes from the Latin, Concepcio, Conceptus, from concipio, ~con, and copio, I receive, I bring together. 1. The act of conceiving; the first formation of the embryo. 2. The state of being conceived. 3. The formation in the mind of an image, idea, or notion.

To use the word "fertilization" to describe the beginning of a human being is neither precise nor proper. Conception is precise and proper to describe that the life of a person is now manifest in the conceptus, known in Comparative Embryology as the zygote.

We know from experience, precision, and accuracy that once the zygote is present within the body of his/her mother, it can be factually known that this person has newly arrived and is manifested. This is prior to implantation; conception ought not to be falsely labeled as implantation.

Procreation is a special word with precise signification and reference to the human person’s generation. We don’t know exactly how creation happened. We do know that God is Almighty and God creates from nothing in a non-extended instant. These words are not adequate to describe these mysteries. When the body is formed, time for that person on earth begins. Conception is the beginning manifestation of life on earth for a person with soul, intellect, will, and body. God, the Creator, creates life from no prior existence. Without God, no human person is created. No person since Adam and Eve, including Jesus and His Blessed Mother, has arrived on earth at any place other than within the body of his or her mother.

Abortion (including abortifacients), human embryo research, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and mixed-species chimeras involve specific claims as to when the life of a human person begins. But this question is not merely scientific because it deals with more than only sperm, ovum, etc. Science deals with empirical facts. Science is certain and evident knowledge of things through their proximate causes. The scientist knows, as to existence, that a living human organism exists when the zygote is recognized. But as to the existence of the human person or the human soul, science alone cannot judge. It cannot establish personhood unless it understands something beyond scientific research, because the zygote is a manifestation of a unique and irrepeatable person created by God in His Image (spiritual soul) and Likeness (nature).

"In vitro fertilization" uses the term "fertilization" to describe the bringing together of sperm and egg. Sperms are obtained by evil means (masturbation), and eggs are obtained via chemical and physical mutilation of the body of a woman. The activity of sperm is to fuse with an ovum. After fusion, the cell produced has DNA and chromosomes that are unique and different from the cells of both mother and father. Cell division follows, but without the body of a mother, these cell divisions are quite limited, cease, and disintegrate. With cryopreservation, cell division can be stopped temporarily, but to develop further, a mother is necessary.

[N]ow the mode of origin is not the same in all things, but in each thing is adapted to the nature thereof; animated things being produced in one way, and inanimated in another; animals in one way, plants in another (Summa, P.1, Q. 93, a. 5).

God, who is an Omnipotent Spirit, creates the human person with a rational soul immediately. Only Omnipotence can create spirit, a non-material soul, a person endowed with liberty. With the concurrence of God, the human body is formed from the material sperm and ovum. The reality of the person is evident by the visibility of the body. The soul is the life. We see life in the living person; we do not see the soul. When the formed body is present, the scientist and embryologist can then, and only then, know that the person exists. Creation is the mystery. Once alive, there is much to learn about the human person, who is for eternity.

Certainly, those responsible for the amendment to the Colorado Constitution are to be commended for doing everything they know to do to protect the life of the person from its first manifestation on earth. Those who label embryos in test tubes as persons are telling us we need to protect these "embryos." Yes, we need to protect and preserve life of every human being (person) from its conception to its natural end.

The final answer to the question of when life of a person on earth begins is from God revealed through revelation in sacred scriptures and the authoritative teaching of the Church as found in The Bible and tradition:

Psalms 139:13 — "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb."

Jeremiah 1:5 — "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

Job 33:4 — "For the spirit of God has made me, the breath of the almighty keeps me alive."

Psalms 139:15 — "When I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth." (The depths of the earth: figurative language for "The womb" — stressing not so much the darkness of the place as the hidden, mysterious nature of the operations that occur there.)

Isaiah 44:2 — "Thus says the Lord who made you, your help, who formed you from the womb:"

Isaiah 44:24 — "Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens; when I spread out the earth, who was with me?"

Isaiah 45:12. — "I made the earth, I created man [hominem] upon it. [Super eam-before all].