The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Abortion, Part 2: What Is It?

It is my firm belief that human life begins at conception. I’ll explain why I believe that in this post, but it’s on that premise that I oppose the practice of abortion.

After all, if that premise is not true, then the abortion debate is much ado about nothing. But if it is true, then abortion is nothing less than government-sanctioned, premeditated murder. To put it bluntly, abortion is either the equivalent of brushing off skin cells, or it is the equivalent of shooting your next door neighbor.

There’s a big difference there, so figuring out exactly when human life begins is important.

The Scriptural Argument

As I mentioned in the introductory post to this series, I’m a Christian, and that influences my views on abortion. I think Scripture clearly teaches that life begins at conception, and frankly, that alone would be enough for me (though I think there are other arguments as well).

There are a lot of verses that I could reference and a lot of points that could be made, but I’ll narrow it down to just a couple.

First, the same Greek word, BREPHOS, is used in the New Testament to describe an adolescent child (2 Timothy 3.15), a newborn child (Luke 2.2), and an unborn child (Luke 1.44). New Testament writers didn’t seem to make a distinction between children before and after birth.

Like the Greek of the New Testament, the Hebrew of the Old Testament makes no distinction between an “infant” and a “fetus.” The Hebrew word, GEHEVER, is used over 60 times in the Old Testament, usually to refer to an adult male (Psalm 34.8, Job 3.23, Psalm 125.7). But in Job 3.3, this same word is used to refer to an unborn child at the moment of his conception.

I think an even stronger argument concerning the beginning of life comes from the incarnation of Jesus. Concerning the incarnation, the Bible teaches that the Son of God emptied Himself, became flesh, and dwelt among us (Philippians 2.5-8, John 1.1-14).

The question then arises, “at what point did the Son of God become flesh, and begin His life as a human?” There’s only one answer that makes sense: Jesus didn’t begin His humanity on the night He was born in Bethlehem; the Messiah of the Jews and Savior of the World became flesh at the point that the Holy Spirit caused Mary to become pregnant (Luke 1.35)!

The Scientific Argument

Science is certainly not my area of expertise, and I won’t pretend otherwise. Certainly there are scientists and doctors who would argue that life doesn’t begin at conception, but many of them argue that it does.

And consider: the day before an infant is born and the day after an infant is born, the infant is almost identical in terms of development. The significant difference is in terms of environment (out in the world as opposed to inside the womb).

A few years ago, I had to write a paper on Embryonic Stem Cell Research for an Ethics class, and I came across this article which suggests that we can more clearly determine when life begins by comparing it to when life ends. I would suggest that you take the time to read the article, but the author, who is a professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, points out that:

Death occurs when the body ceases to act in a coordinated manner to support the continued healthy function of all bodily organs. Cellular life may continue for some time following the loss of integrated bodily function, but once the ability to act in a coordinated manner has been lost, “life” cannot be restored to a corpse-no matter how “alive” the cells composing the body may yet be.

Applying that same definition of life, it’s clear when life begins:

From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances.

The Common Sense Argument

If life doesn’t begin at conception, then when does it begin? Other “starting lines” seem arbitrary:

Is life determined by viability? An infant isn’t a person until it can survive outside the womb? That’s problematic, because with advances in medicine, that date continues to change. For that matter, if humanity is determined by how well someone can survive, a lot of toddlers, people in nursing homes and paraplegics are in trouble—are they less human than the rest of us?

Does life begin at birth? That seems like more of a concrete dividing line, but if that’s the case, why are there restrictions on late-term abortions? And why does Barack Obama not support the lives of infants who survive abortion attempts and emerge from the womb living (For the record, I’ve pointed out before that at least Obama is consistent on this issue—if it’s okay to abort an infant right before birth, it should also be okay to let the infant die immediately afterwards.)?

It seems that our gut tells us that humanity begins prior to birth. Consider the following example. When a couple who is pro-choice and has no problem with the practice of abortion decides to start a family and conceives, their view of the unborn changes dramatically. No longer is a fetus just a bundle of cells; instead, it is an unborn infant. It is considered to be a member of the family and the parents plan for it accordingly. They get excited when it moves and are concerned about its health. They don’t wait for the moment of birth to bestow personhood upon it!

So what do we make of this inconsistency? Is life determined by the feelings of the parents? Is an unborn infant a human only if the parents consider it to be so, only if it is wanted? This is the most ludicrous position of all, but it’s the position where many end up.

Conclusion

There’s much more to be said, but the point of this post was to put forth reasons why I believe human life begins at conception, and why, therefore, the issue is an important one. There are more arguments that could be made, but I think I’ve said plenty.

At this point, I’m still laying the foundation for later posts and not really anticipating a lot of disagreement from most of my readers, but if you do take issue with something I’ve said, let me know.

30 Comments

  1. I appreciate your dedication on this issue, but I need some clarification on one of the facts you’ve presented.

    It’s my understanding that Obama voted the way he did on the Born Alive Infants Act because there were already protections in Illinois law for those who were already born, and he viewed the legislation at that time as a covert attempt to pass through more stringent legislation. It wasn’t that he was against protection for infants who were born alive.

    That’s my understanding, but I admittedly haven’t read the speech he made at the time.

  2. I just can’t shake the feeling that Conception is just as arbitrary as any other starting place. And I’m not sure how I got to that point :-/

  3. Hey John, thanks for the comment.

    (1) I wish I could explain exactly what Obama’s reasoning was in opposing the Born Alive Infants Act, but the fact is that he has changed his reasons so many time that I don’t know what to tell you.

    This article lists several differing reasons he has given:
    http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2008/01/top-10-reasons.html

    (2) That article was written back in January, before he was called out for his opposition to the Act during debates.

    During one of those, he stated that he would have voted for the Act in Illinois if it would’ve contained the same wording as the Federal version. Just one problem with that—Obama had actually prevented his sub-committee from adding the federal wording.

    http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2008/02/obama-and-infan.html

    (The end of the article, after the “Postscript” heading, addresses this, but the whole article is interesting.)

    (3) And what if his real argument was the one you mentioned in your comment? Since this practice was being allowed (letting these “Born Alive” infants die from exposure), apparently whatever protections were already in place for Born Alive infants weren’t enough. Doesn’t that indicate that further legislation was necessary and pretty much shoot down his argument?

    (4) I’ve said all along that I think that Obama is being more intellectually honest and consistent than other Pro-Choice politicians by taking the stance that he has. It’s just that his intellectual honesty and consistency leads to a grisly and morally reprehensible outcome.

  4. Colby,

    I’m not sure how you got to that point either, but respectfully, it doesn’t seem arbitrary to me at all.

    (1) From a physical standpoint, a human being receives all his/her genetic material at conception, when the sperm and egg join to form the zygote.

    Physically, when did I “start being me”? It seems logical that I started being me at the point when all the elements necessary to produce me came together—conception.

    (2) From your comment, it doesn’t sound like you have your mind made up, but I’ll go ahead and ask.

    When do you think life begins? It clearly begins somewhere.

  5. I’m proud of you, Luke. Stay with this. America, in her history, has committed three — and only three — truly heinous crimes. The first is the enslavement of black people after 1776, and the subsequent Jim Crow laws after we “freed” them in 1865. The second is the forced removal (and even in some cases, extinction) of Indians from their land.

    And the third is the legal murder of 40 million of our own unborn children since 1973. This is why abortion is a deal breaker. It is not simply “just another issue,” anymore than Auschwitz was just another issue.

    As for the suggestion that conception is an arbitrary point, in actuality, it is anything but. There are only two clearly defined, bright-line moments in the entire human gestation process. One is conception and the other is birth. Everything that happens in between is vague and shadowy. For instance, “viability” has steadily occurred earlier and earlier in the process, as our medical technology has improved.

    You have already pointed to the absurdity of arguing that life begins not until birth. Other evidence could be cited as well. Scriptures such as Jeremiah 1.4-5 and Psalm 139.13 demonstrate conclusively (to the Christian, at least) that the development of an unborn child is God’s work.

    The latter passage even declares, “You wove me in my mother’s womb.” I think of Jesus’ words: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Incidentally, anyone who thinks that abortion does not involve a violent “putting asunder” would do well to visit http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/pictures.html. Warning: your heart will be broken.)

    Having established that human life must begin before birth, the only other clear-cut moment we could point to is conception. But let us suppose for a moment that were still confused as to whether or not an unborn child is really a human being. Let us suppose that such a decision really was above our paygrade, as was claimed by our president elect.

    If so, we would still have no choice but to oppose our current wretched policy of abortion on demand! Since we could not determine whether or not we were actually taking human life, we could not morally justify taking the chance.

    To revisit your delightful analogy, it would be like putting one bullet in a revolver, spinning the chamber, and then firing it at your neighbor. Even though there is only one chance in six that you are actually going to kill someone, innocent human life is simply too sacred to take such risks.

    Don’t let up on this, Luke.

  6. I too am having a hard time deciphering his various reasons for voting against the act. I get the impression that his vote boiled down to the act being a redundant and unconstitutional piece of legislation. I think I can understand his reason for shooting it down in committee on those grounds, because there’s no point in voting on redundant legislation in the first place. Obama’s confusing and inconsistent remarks on the issue don’t help me sort all of these things out, but that’s what I’ve gathered.

    I guess it’s just frustrating for to see that particular vote dishonestly taken out of context on a regular basis as an attempt to evoke a purely emotional response from voters. That type of argument perpetuates the cross-talk we’ve seen on this issue for decades now, a discussion that has seemingly gotten us nowhere on this very complicated issue.

    Your point #3 is a good one, and I probably didn’t put that well in my comment. Regardless of where we draw the line to separate “person” from “not a person,” those who make it to “personhood” should not be left to die. Hopefully a “clean” bill to protect people from dying needlessly would easily pass through any state legislature. I guess one of our problems has been defining every term I used in that last sentence.

  7. Jared,

    Thanks, and great comment.

    Your second paragraph in particular is a partial foreshadowing of some of what I’ll talk about in a future post.

  8. John,

    (1) I’m not trying to argue semantics here, but you say things like “I get the impression that his vote boiled down to…”

    I think it’s extremely unfortunate that you find yourself having to try to sift through Obama’s responses and piece together some kind of coherent, consistent defense for his votes. The thing is, that’s all you can do (“you” in the general sense) when Obama hasn’t been able to do so himself.

    (2) I’m with you on ripping things out of context to excessively evoke emotion, but let’s look at this in black and white: what was the original context and in what context would Obama’s opposition to this Act be acceptable?

    Leaving living, breathing human infants uncared for to die is not civilized behavior, period.

    Considering that, Obama’s opposition can only be justified (to my mind) if, as you suggest, the Act was truly redundant, no different from the Federal version (even though Obama himself said he would not have opposed the Act had it been identical, but we already discussed his inconsistencies on that point).

    So what was the difference in the Federal and Illinois versions? The Illinois version had the additional wording that a “homo sapiens” fully emerged from his mother with a “beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles” should be treated as a “‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child’ and ‘individual.’”

    In the original context of his vote (i.e., before he was running for President and had to answer to people who couldn’t understand his actions), Obama said:
    “Whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the Equal Protection Clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a—a child, a 9-month old—child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it—it would essentially bar abortions, because the Equal Protection Clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an anti-abortion statute.”

    In other words, he couldn’t support the Act because it ascribed humanity to the infants in question, and that would weaken the ground that abortion stands on.

    Now, I agree that that evokes an emotional response in me, but shouldn’t it?—Obama, by his own words, denied humanity to the infants in question.

    That’s outrageous.

  9. Thought you might appreciate William Lloyd Garrison’s words, from the opening edition of the Liberator, published in 1831:

    “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”

  10. You’ve offered some challenging thoughts, and my position has been evolving lately anyway (moving further to the right), although I won’t say I’m totally on board with everything you’ve said at this point.

    I’ve still been reluctant to assign “dealbreaker” status because of the issue’s complexities and my lack of understanding of them, so I’m looking forward to reading more of what you have to say.

    One thing I hope is that you’ve considered the difficulty of actually reducing the number of abortions, which would require not only the overturning of Roe v. Wade but some sort of federal law banning the practice (since overturning Roe would simply move it back to the states), not to mention that there are other conceivable ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies (and thus abortions) that would not require a federal ban. You’re quite well-versed on this issue, and I’m relatively certain that you’ve taken these things into consideration.

    Overall, good work, and keep it up.

  11. Luke,

    phenomenal post and excellent responses!

    jared,

    Loved your perspective! Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. Jared,

    Thanks for the Garrison quote.

  13. Justin,

    Good to hear from you; thanks for the support.

  14. @Luke: No, I don’t have my mind made up. What I find problematic is the insistance that life begins at a *point*. In my view, a zygote, the moment after conception, is not human the same way you and I are. It exists on a distinctly different plane of Aliveness. What if, instead, it gains in humanity, and therefor moral impetus, as it develops?

    That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok to destroy it, but I’m not sure it deserves the same moral weight as a breathing, crying, pooping infant.

    Another issue that’s fuzzy and annoying is the pro-choice view that a fetus is part of the woman’s body until it is born. Here’s a request for you to tackle that one in a future post.

  15. Agreed for the most part on #2. If there’s not enough support for a federal ban, I think it will be difficult to actually prevent people from getting abortions because there will be plenty of people willing to cross state lines if their state bans it.

    Obviously there are other partial solutions such as reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies by helping those in poverty and improving sex education. A ban could work alongside these other programs to reduce the total number of abortions.

    I don’t get the impression that you’re railing on Obama…there’s certainly a distinction between disagreeing with his positions and attacking the man himself. Your argument is clearly not a personal attack, although the same unfortunately can’t be said for every voice on this issue.

    While we’re making requests, I would ask that you expand on some of the ideas in this post about the difference pro-life politicians have made over the years.

    Have you, by chance, read Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner? It’s a very odd but compelling book if you like economics (or just strange research), and they caused quite a stir when they saw a relationship between recent crime reduction and Roe v. Wade. That’s certainly not a justification for legalized abortion, but it’s still interesting and somewhat related to this discussion.

  16. Can I just say something?

    Isn’t it scientifically proven all fetuses are female, and since God decided who we’d be when we were conceived, science contradicts religion. At least, that’s how I see it. So how did scientists come to the conclusion? I find it confusing.

    It’s like the fact that if God wanted us to have piercings he would have made holes in us.

    I’m just pointing something out. Nothing to do with abortions whatsoever, I know. Just ignore me if you wish.

  17. I get the impression that there is general agreement here that life begins before birth. The question becomes, should we protect it from the moment of conception, or not?

    Let us examine, for a moment, the theory that an unborn child “gains in humanity” as her body is formed. One immediate problem with this is that if it were true, we could expect the reversal at death — that a dying person “diminishes in humanity” as his body breaks down. The implication would be that a bed-bound nursing home patient would not deserve the same “moral weight” as a healthy, 20-something frisbee player.

    But, in spite of this objection, let us suppose for a moment that the “gains in humanity” thesis is true. Surely we can agree that the unborn child has gained full “moral weight” long before the full nine months of development are up; witness the number of children born premature, and not completely formed, who nevertheless survive and thrive.

    Thus we are left with the uncomfortable notion that at some impossible-to-determine point somewhere along the line between conception and well before birth, an unborn child silently reaches a tipping point, acquiring enough “moral weight” to make her destruction immoral. On Monday her dismemberment would have been permissible; but now, on Thursday, it is not.

    (Or perhaps we think that the level of guilt corresponds to the level of “moral weight” attained. On the first day of last month, her dismemberment was okay. By the middle of the month, it was wrong, but only a little. By the end of the month, it was pretty wrong. And now, it is completely so.)

    At any rate, we are still left with the notion that at some point, an unborn child reaches a tipping point, crossing the line from being not a person, to being a person. If that is true — and admittedly I cannot prove that it is not — then we obviously must protect human life at the instant it reaches that stage.

    The only problem is, of course, that we have absolutely no way of determining what that stage is. Given the sanctity of human life — and bearing in mind the fact that Psalm 139.13 says that God is weaving the unborn child together — we are, once again, left with no choice but to protect life from the moment of conception onward. To do anything else is to run the very real risk of murder.

    In short, turning the acquisition of humanity into a gray area does not help the case of the abortionist in the least. The burden of proof is on him. He must be able to prove that the unborn child he is about to hack apart is not, indeed, a human being. If he cannot do so, then what he is doing cannot be justified morally.

  18. Colby,

    (1) I now better understand what you meant by “arbitrary,” but that still strikes me as a logically untenable position.

    If a zygote “gains in humanity” as it develops, when does it become fully human? Are babies fully human? I mean, they’re not capable of speech, their hand-eye coordination is laughable and their personal hygiene is atrocious. It seems like they still have some substantial “gains in humanity” to make before they can be fully human.

    I’m not trying to be facetious. I’m just suggesting that what you’re calling “gains in humanity” is actually a misnomer for “development.”

    Certainly a zygote isn’t human in the same sense you and I are—not because it isn’t as valuable, but because it isn’t fully developed! (the same could be said for an infant, a kid, a hormonal teenager, etc.)

    (2) Eh, your request doesn’t fit into the neat outline of posts I had planned, so I’ll respond here instead (and we can talk about it more later as needed).

    I‘m not going to pretend that abortion isn’t a unique issue in that it involves the mother in a very intimate way.

    It’s also true that you and I live in a culture that places ultimate emphasis in individual rights and freedoms. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it clouds the issue here.

    If an unborn infant is human, and biblically, scientifically and common-sensically I think it clearly is, then the pro-choice argument is wrong—a fetus is not a part of the woman’s body, it is a different person, a separate body growing within the environment of the woman’s body.

    That likely won’t satisfy you, but if an unborn infant is human, it’s the clear answer. Succinctly put, an infant’s right to live trumps a woman’s right to choose.

  19. John,

    (1) I thought you might bring that up. Certainly people would cross state lines to have abortions, but that would still add a level of difficulty to it, especially if people had to travel great distances because surrounding states had outlawed it as well.

    Another thing to consider: a common phrase that we hear is “you can’t legislate morality.” That’s a stupid saying, because we do it all the time (i.e., laws against murder, rape and theft are based on moral values that are more or less universal).

    You certainly can’t make people feel a certain way, but you can influence them. Making abortion illegal (even on a state level) would place a stigma on the act that would undoubtedly cause some people to think about it twice before having one.

    In summary: outlawing abortions in Arkansas wouldn’t eliminate all abortions of people from Arkansas, but there’s no way it wouldn’t decrease them, and most likely, very significantly.

    (2) Agreed about other partial solutions.

    (3) Boo on you and Colby for your requests which don’t fit into my pre-formed plans. I’ll try to respond to your request here as well.

    The post you refer to is the one that opened this can of worms in the first place, but the main reason I posted it was to refer to the article mentioned in it.

    As a pro-life voter, it’s easy to get frustrated by the apparent lack of progress that “we” seem to make against abortion. The article I linked to just points out that pro-life legislation (primarily in the form of public funding restrictions, informed consent laws and parental involvement laws) has led to decreased numbers of abortions.

    Within the article, there are links to specific studies that the author has conducted if you’re looking for more numbers.

    The article does make the assumption that pro-life legislation was made possible by pro-life state senators, but that doesn’t seem like much of a leap to me.

    Also, while it’s true that the president doesn’t do a lot to influence the abortion issue, he does have some say, in that he appoints Supreme Court judges and signs laws.

    With that in mind, President Bush has done more to combat abortion than any other president. He’s two for two in “conservative” SC appointments, and he’s two for two in signing laws (Partial Birth Abortion Ban and Born Alive Infants Act).

    You might say that signing those laws wasn’t any great step on his part, but it’s more than Clinton did (on the Partial Birth), and likely more than Obama would do (he publicly opposed the Partial Birth ban, and we’ve already discussed his inconsistent stance on the Born Alive Act).

    I guess the point is, abortion rights have become entrenched in the 35 years since Roe v. Wade, and abortion can’t be overturned in one fell swoop. The progress that is being made may seem like baby steps, but I think that’s the only way that progress can be made.

    And those steps have been made possible by pro-life politicians.

    If you haven’t read the article in it’s entirety, I would recommend it; especially some of the later paragraphs (I would link to it here, but my html skills aren’t as good as yours).

    (4) I haven’t read that book, but I have heard of it, and it does sound interesting.

    Frankly, the correlation between crime reduction and Roe v. Wade doesn’t surprise me, but as you said, it‘s no justification.

    If I could go Jonathan Swift on you for a moment, I’d suggest we could also reduce crime rates if we put to death all of our country’s residents who are living below the poverty line. With no poor people, crime would almost certainly decrease, but it wouldn’t justify the action.

    But it does sound like an interesting book.

  20. Glowmay,

    I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think there’s any contradiction between science and religion there.

    At the point of conception, an infant already has all the genetic material it will ever have, it’s just that it’s sexual organs haven’t developed yet.

    To use another example, in the womb, a fetus may have no hair at all, but that wouldn’t prevent God from knowing that the baby would grow up to be a red head.

    I’m not sure if that helps at all or not.

  21. Jared,

    A lot of good thoughts there. I find especially compelling the discussion of “moral weight” and guilt in reference to a timeline.

  22. On the Freakonomics issue (a book which Dr. Klein has recommended to me, incidentally), I have also seen the argument that, since liberals are more likely to have abortions than conservatives, future liberals are more likely to be aborted than future conservatives. (Admittedly, it was well before this particular election that I saw this argument.)

    There would be a certain irony if the Republican party (horribly flawed defender of the pro-life agenda that it is) were to win the abortion debate, bring into the world a bunch of new baby liberals, and thereby ultimately lose the great contest for political dominance.

    I have serious doubts this would happen, but even were the Republican party to immolate itself in exchange for ending abortion on demand — after having also accomplished the end of slavery — then it can go to its death proudly.

    (Note: I deleted an earlier version of this post to edit it.)

  23. Jared,

    An ending of abortion would easily be worth the death of the Republican party. I’d take it in a heart beat.

  24. Luke, I believe that life begins at conception for the reasons you’ve stated and two more.
    1.) We are all different, one from another, because our DNA is different. DNA itself is not a life or alive, but is is a map for a living thing. A person’s DNA is created at conception. Immediately, that map begins to shape a human. How can this NOT be the beginning of life?
    2.)Luke 1:39-45

  25. Clay,

    The scripture you referenced is another good one. Really, I think the Biblical evidence is overwhelming. There are a lot of verses we could use.

    Also, I think the DNA argument is compelling as well. I was trying to make that point in one of my comments, but didn’t say it as well.

  26. Glowmay, your question was, “Isn’t it scientifically proven all fetuses are female, and since God decided who we’d be when we were conceived, science contradicts religion.”

    On this point, let’s let the scientists at the NEWTON web site operated Argonne National Laboratory under the auspices of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    The following question appears on the site:

    “I need to know if all embryos are girls at conception. I overherd someone talking about this subject and i brought up the fact that i thought that they were. Am I right or wrong?”

    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/mole00/mole00212.htm

    Three replies to the question are found on this page. The third one is answered by a scientist listed by the website as being part of “our expert staff.” His name is Tom Douglas, and his credentials are found here:

    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/scicorps/douglas_t.htm

    His answer: “Assuming that you are talking about HUMAN embryos, then the answer is no. The gender of the embryo is determined by one pair of chromosomes — XX for females, XY for males. An X chromosome is always inherited from the mother, but the father may contribute either an X or a Y. Once the egg and sperm unite, the gender is set.”

    The other two answers are in agreement, as you can see at the first link above.

    What does NOT occur until later is “sexual differentiation.” Explained at the Penn Medicine web site thusly (NOTE: these are explanatory notes for an animation which did not load on my computer):

    “A baby’s sex is determined at the time of conception. When the baby is conceived, a chromosome from the sperm cell, either X or Y, fuses with the X chromosome in the egg cell, determining whether the baby will be female or male. Two X’s means the baby will be a girl, and XY means it will be a boy.

    “But even though gender is determined at conception, the fetus doesn’t develop its external sexual organs until the fourth month of pregnancy.

    “Let’s go to seven weeks after conception. You can see from the front that the fetus appears to be sexually indifferent, looking neither like a male or a female.

    “Over the next five weeks, the fetus begins producing hormones that cause its sex organs to grow into either male or female organs. This process is called sexual differentiation.

    “We don’t know what sex this fetus is yet, so we’ll have to be hypothetical here…. Now, if the fetus is a male, it will produce hormones called androgens, which will cause his sexual organs to form like this…

    “On the other hand, a female fetus would not produce androgens; she would produce estrogens… so her sex organs would form like this…

    “Now let’s take a look at something you may have missed. At seven weeks, the sex organs of a male and female look identical. Let’s add some color to see what happens during sexual differentiation. Keep your eye on the genital tubercle.

    “See that? The genital tubercle formed the penis in the male, (pause) and the clitoris in the female.”

    The penis and clitoris are called sexual analogs (pause) because they originate from the same structure.”

    So, while sex differentiation does not occur until later in development, the sex of the baby is fixed at conception.

    http://www.pennmedicine.org/encyclopedia/em_DisplayAnimation.aspx?gcid=000110&ptid=17

  27. Robb,

    Thanks for providing the science to back up my previous intuitions.

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