Op-Ed

Lots of missing people if a zygote is really a person

Dr. A. Patrick Schneider II, in his attempt to claim “personhood” for a fertilized egg, is the one who actually ignores science in his April 4 commentary, “When life begins: Science ignored.” Here is what, to use his expression, “science really says.”

Fertilization is the process in which a spermatozoon and ovum (egg) fuse, with the resultant entity designated a zygote. Conception, which is the onset of pregnancy, begins when the zygote, which has now developed into a blastocyst, implants in the endometrium of the uterus; typically occurring approximately seven days after fertilization. Biomedical science estimates that nature aborts about 55 percent of all fertilized eggs (zygotes) before they can be implanted in the endometrium, likely due to genetic abnormalities.

Understanding reproductive science creates significant, actually insurmountable, problems for those, like Schneider, who want to proclaim that once fertilization occurs a “person” exists. Accepting their premise of a “person” existing at fertilization forces one to acknowledge that over half of such “persons” die, spontaneously aborted, without, ironically, anyone, (including the “mother”) ever knowing they existed.

Defining the results of fertilization as a “person” leads to a further problem. Subsequent to fertilization, the zygote can divide, forming twins, triplets, even quintuplets and sextuplets. Theoretically, the “person” claimed to have been created at fertilization has been cloned; one “person” becomes multiple “persons.”

If one defines a person not at fertilization but at conception, a similar problem exists. Twelve percent of these “persons” will be miscarried, some in the very early stages of pregnancy without the pregnant woman’s knowledge; others later, with the woman’s knowledge. We do not designate the results of such spontaneous abortions as “persons” nor grant them the respect routinely given “persons,” by naming them, providing a respectful burial or including them in our population and mortality statistics.

Schneider’s argument grants “personhood” to more than 115,000 “Kentuckians” a year who were never actually alive. Kentucky has about 57,000 live births annually. Using this statistic and data on the failure of fertilized eggs to implant (55 percent), and the rate of miscarriages after implantation (12 percent), more than 172,000 zygotes will be created in Kentucky in any given year, 67 percent of which will never be born into authentic personhood.

There are multiple religious and philosophical arguments refuting the notion that a fertilized egg is a “person,” but space is limited.

However, Schneider is correct that the development of a human begins with a fertilized egg. One can never become a living, breathing, real person, absent having at one time been a zygote.

An oak tree cannot become an oak tree absent having once been all acorn. However, looking at an acorn and calling it an oak tree is nonsensical, just as is calling a microscopic zygote a “person.”

Even absent reproductive science, plain old common sense is the strongest refutation of Schneider’s notion of “personhood.” In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed reproductive science by correctly ruling that life begins when a viable fetus, a child, is delivered by the mother.

Dr. David A. Nash is a former chair of the board of directors of Planned Parenthood of the Bluegrass, now Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky; and of the Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

At issue: April 4 commentary by Dr. A. Patrick Schneider, “When life begins: Science ignored”

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