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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reality Check

Since I moved to Dallas, I have had the occasion to listen to a much greater variety of radio on my morning drive to work. Among the host of new commentators available, one Mark Davis is clearly prominent. Though virtually unknown north of the Mason-Dixon line, Mr. Davis is a libertarian commentator who is rather popular in North Texas. His name enters the discussion because one of his positions is as common as it is absurd – the idea that human life does not begin until implantation.

According to Mr. Davis, the “implantation of the fertilized egg” (sic) is the beginning of human life, but not of the human person. Rather, implantation is when the “building blocks” first become available. A human person emerges only weeks later in the process. As a result, Mr. Davis is four-score in support of abortion “during a very narrow window” of pregnancy.

Mr. Davis’ position fails on a number of levels, and it is worthwhile to consider how complete a failure it is.

From a biological viewpoint, Mark Davis is simply out of step with the science.

First, as I’ve pointed out in detail elsewhere, it is never the case that a fertilized egg implants in the womb. Only embryos are capable of implanting in the womb.

Second, the redefinition of pregnancy occurred only after science discovered how to manipulate embryos in Petri dishes. Prior to developing that skill in the mid-1980's, science had always considered pregnancy to begin at conception. The definition of pregnancy changed not because the reality within a woman changed, but because the skill set of a scientist who happened to be standing near the woman changed.

Third, embryologists - the men and women who actually study embryos - universally reject the implantation definition. The only people who accept such an absurdity are people interested in taking a newly conceived, rapidly growing little one and tearing her to pieces.

But the biological arguments are boring. Let’s consider the other problems the implantation definition creates.

From a moral perspective, the statement that pregnancy begins at implantation and that personhood follows afterwards creates all kinds of moral problems.

For instance, if pregnancy begins at implantation, then it is not clear why the act of sex would create responsibility in any man having sex.

After all, while the woman has no control over whether or not she releases an egg, she does normally control who may release sperm within her. The man likewise controls in whom he releases his sperm.

So, if pregnancy begins at conception, then the act of sperm release creates responsibility. Since both persons are equally involved in when and where this release occurs, both bear equal responsibility in what happens as a result of that release. In this scenario, sex creates equal responsibilities towards the child in both partners.

But, if pregnancy begins at implantation, the scenario is different. The man cannot control when implantation occurs. The woman, however, through the use of various drugs and chemicals, can control when and whether implantation occurs. Thus, responsibility for the resulting pregnancy is no longer equal, rather, it resides entirely with the woman. Given this scenario, it is not clear that sex creates responsibility in the man at all.

If sex does not necessarily create duties in the man towards a future child, then redefining the biological reality necessarily obliterates fatherhood. Fathers conceive children. They bear responsibility towards children. According to the new definition, men do neither.

With the new definition, men can never be considered fathers. This definition insists that children are created by gestation, not by the act of having sex. Men do not gestate. In fact, they never do more than have sex. Thus, by this definition, men do not create children. Men are not fathers.

Indeed, one could make a strong argument that an IVF lab technician is much more of a biological parent than a man having sex can ever be. After all, the conception event can take place hours, even days after having sperm release. But if pregnancy is predicated not on sperm release, but on implantation, then the dynamic has changed.

An IVF lab technician is actually directly involved in the conception of the child – he or she actually combines the egg and sperm. That technician makes sure the fertilized egg grows into an embryo suitable for implantation. That technician might even place the embryo in the womb, ensuring implantation. The one who conceives a child and/or helps it grow is called a parent. It is difficult to see why the IVF technician is not a parent.

But the biology has been redefined. Today, sex doesn’t create children. Gestation does. Redefining the biology necessarily redefines the morality. Because the new definition focuses on implantation, not sperm release, the act of sex – the act which is intended to release sperm – becomes a peripheral act, both physically and morally.

Mark Davis doesn’t understand this. Unfortunately, he has a lot of company.


Rhys said...

He's at least a few steps above planned parenthood, who believe life begins at birth, as soon as the umbelical cord is cut.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, it is interesting to note that the Planned Parenthood position is nearly identical to that of Orthodox Judaism and those who adhere to astrology - life begins at first breath.

In this respect, US law is an implementation of Jewish moral law. Rather interesting, given the enormous support the Orthodox Jewish community gives us in other areas of conservative morality.

Patrick said...

Now, scientists are working on drugs that would allow a woman to go through her whole life without ever having to release an egg, the ultimate borth control drug, much less have any of the hormonal effects of her period. It is being proclaimed as the true equlization of men and women, apparently to the detriment of both.

Science is currently outrunning peoples ability to understand the advances, much less have any moral/ethical issues with their choices. This is especially obvious when you follow the arguments of people who stand behind embryonic stem cell research. I think most people simply don't want to understand, because then they may feel some level of responsibility for their viewpoints and choices.

OMM said...

I posted as OMM at on the issue of the embryo [pre embyro pending implantation] and am not clear where you stand on the recent presidential veto

OMM said...

steve, the other day i was in one of holiday inn express franchise outlets and one side of the bedside table was a copy of gideon's and the other side of the bed was a brown plastic bag with many planned parenthood distributed and labelled condoms of four color choice.

patrick, women have at birth some 5000 eggs stored at birth and thus to prevent the release of this would be hormonal upset on a wholistic scale and thus the impact has yet to be seen what the subtle obvious short term long term effect would be on the overall woman from ALL aspects

what if a pill was invented so man would not have wet dreams when young?

Jordan Potter said...

[pre embyro pending implantation]

Sorry, you're using Orwellian Newspeak. "Pre-embryo" is a term recently invented by those who like to kill embryos in order to use their stem cells in Mengeleian experiments. An embryo that hasn't implanted yet is not a pre-embryo. It can't implant at all unless it's reached embryo stage. Please use only scientifically accurate terminology when discussing experimentation that takes nascent human life.

Patrick said...


I was just watching a local news broadcast where the commentator was discussing the difference between RU486 and Morning After Pill argument. He made the statement "even science cannot determine when an embryo is alive." Someone tried to correct him with, "no, only when they become a person." His reply was, "Most scientists leave it up to the individual to decide those type of questions." And a NOW representative said, "the majority of Americans would agree with that statement." The media (most peoples info source) is even worse at non-scientific terms that slant the argument even as they say they aren't.