Does Life Begin at Conception or Fertilization? The Answer Could Make a Huge Difference

Bioethics   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Nov 16, 2018   |   7:13PM   |   Washington, DC

A new book by a well-known Kenyan leader and biomedical researcher brings up difficult questions about when life begins and how society treats human beings at that earliest stage of life.

“Bioethics of Medical Advances and Genetic Manipulation” by Kenyan Supreme Court Justice Isaac Lenaola and Professor Marion Mutugi keys in on the terms “fertilization” and “contraception” to discuss protections for human life, Standard Media reports.

Unborn babies are protected under Kenyan law. Unlike in the United States, the African nation’s laws recognize that human life is valuable from the moment it begins. However, the authors wondered if even their country’s laws are fully protecting unborn babies.

“… the statement (life begins at conception) is vague since conception can either refer to fertilization or implantation,” they wrote.

Fertilization – the unification of a male sperm and female egg – is the moment when a unique, individual human life forms, according to dozens of scientific sources. At that moment, the unborn baby already is a living, growing human being with his/her own unique DNA, which determines gender, eye color and other traits.

However, some define conception, which many also use to describe the moment when a human life forms, as when that life implants in his/her mother’s womb.

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Lenaola and Mutugi explain why the two terms are important in their book:

Contraceptives such as the use of uterine contraceptive devices, often referred to as coil, as well as emergency pills stop the next stage of conception which is implantation. At this stage, the fertilised egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus and grows into a foetus.

Lenaola and Mutugi say that if life begins at fertilisation, abortion of an embryo discovered to be deformed would be considered as murder and the culprits can face the law over the act.

“Furthermore, an embryo fertilized in vitro (controlled environment outside the body) would be considered ‘alive’ and discarding it is murder,” adds Lenaola and Mutugi in their new book.

The writers present Kenya as standing on shaky ground when it comes to assisted reproductive technologies often referred to as test tube babies. “…unwanted embryos are injected with a chemical that stops them from growing…it obviously poses an ethical issue related to beginning of life,” reads the book

“It follows that if life begins at fertilisation, stopping the embryo from growing like in the case of test tube babies is equivalent to murder,” it reads.

It was this distinction that prompted Hobby Lobby and other religious employers to fight the Obamacare HHS mandate, which requires employers to cover all forms of contraception, including types that may cause abortions, in their employee health plans. These religious Americans fought courageously to keep from being forced to pay for drugs and devices that could stop a human life from implanting in the womb.

All Americans should be aware of this distinction, too, and understand that human life does begin at fertilization.