In the Your Views section on June 24, Jim Finnegan mentioned the question of when life begins, and it prompted me to address my view. It is disturbing for me to read and listen to pro and con arguments debating the question because neither side seems to fully understand the true and unequivocal answer. Instead we are forced to listen to impassioned and often vigorous comments that appear to sidestep the crux of the question.
Before I became a physician, I earned both master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in the academic and research discipline of embryology during the 1950s and 1960s. A major focus of those studies dealt with understanding the origins of life in biology from conception and continued through subsequent development often beyond birth. To me and, I dare say to any embryologist, there was never any question concerning when life begins.
It is scientifically realistic and honest to recognize that life does not have a beginning but rather occurs as part of a continuum from the moment of fertilization (conception). Indeed, fertilization requires a living cell (most often the ovum in humans) produced by a living person and in the usual bisexual process, fertilized by a living sperm. In this process each cell contributes half of its genetic material (DNA) to form the embryo.
It should be clear, then, that under normal circumstances, human development originates as a "continuum of living cells" from one generation to the next and therefore should answer the question from the late Justice Harry Blackmun who stated; "When we know when life begins, we can review our decision." Life begins as a product of generations of living cells dating to back to human origins.
Roger A. Nosal, M.D.