When does life begin? It is an age old question that science has yet to answer. Scientists understand the processes behind human reproduction. They can tell you step by step exactly what happens from the moment an egg is fertilized all the way through birth, but science has yet to claim that "life begins here." The reasoning behind this is simple. Determining what makes a set of cells a living organism is a complex process and a living organism must display certain characteristics at the moment of observation to be declared alive. Many pro-life activists believe that life begins at conception, which they define at the moment of fertilization. Those activists pair that belief with the desire to pass 'personhood' amendments, which would bestow human rights towards all fertilized eggs. Not only would this rush to define life fly in the face of science, it would be very dangerous and have widespread consequences that are often ignored.
All living organisms must display certain characteristics in order to be considered living. They must have the ability to grow; maintain their internal environment at a constant state (called homeostasis); respond to outside stimuli; display a distinct cellular organization; metabolize chemical energy; have the ability to reproduce as a species; and the have the ability to adapt to their environment.
To put it bluntly, a zygote is not a living organism. A zygote does not exhibit the key characteristics which all living organisms must have in order to be considered alive. Here are two examples to show what I mean. A living organism must respond to outside stimuli. A zygote cannot and does not respond to outside stimuli. Once formed through fertilization of the oocyte, the zygote starts the process of cell division and begins to develop into a morula and eventually a blastocyst. During this process it travels through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. The zygote does not move on its own accord and instead is guided through the fallopian tubes via tubal cilia lining the tube. Any outside stimuli on the zygote has no effect on the zygote itself. It cannot respond to outside stimulus because it is nothing more than a clump of cells without any organizational structure or set of systems able to respond to outside stimulus.
A living organism must display organizational complexity at the cellular level. A zygote does not display organizational complexity until it develops into a blastocyst and implants into the uterus. Once implantation has occurred, the embryo begins to rapidly grow and starts the process of differentiation, where different organs and body structures begin to form. The key here is that it is not until implantation occurs that we start to see organization complexity.
This is why scientifically you cannot claim a zygote is a living organism. Is it alive? Sure, so are the cells in my heart, but a living organism? Not so much.
What is troubling about the push to designate life as beginning at the zygote stage of development is the consequences that such an action would have. If so called ‘personhood’ amendments are passed, which would bestow human rights to zygotes, the impact of such a law would truly shake the nation.
The most common form of birth control used today is the birth control pill. The pill has many forms, of which the two most common forms use either a two drug or one drug formula. The main mechanisms of action for both forms of birth control pills is to prevent ovulation and reduce the ability of sperm to penetrate the cervix and travel into the upper genital tract. These two mechanisms prevent fertilization. It is also believed that a secondary mechanism of action for the pill is to thin the lining of the uterine wall which helps prevent implantation. That secondary mechanism of action is very important.
Should a zygote be declared a living human being, the secondary mechanism of action of the pill would have to be deemed a method of 'murder' because it would prevent a living human being from implanting and thus develop into a full grown adult human. This is the same argument used against the use of Plan B, which is simply a high dose version of the single drug birth control pill. Even though the primary mechanism of action for Plan B is to prevent ovulation (as it is with normal birth control pills), Plan B is believed to have a secondary mechanism of action which prevents implantation. This secondary mechanism of action is what pro-life activists claim makes Plan B nothing more than a forced abortion. The problem is, regular birth control pills can act in the same way.
Declaration of zygotes as living human beings would also have a drastic effect on the medical procedure known as in vitro fertilization. In virtro fertilisation works by fertilizing multiple oocytes outside of the human body and allowing the zygotes to develop into blastocysts. From there, a physician evaluates each blastocyst and selects the most viable among them for the embryo transfer procedure. Anywhere from two to a dozen blastocysts will be transferred into the uterus with the hope that one will implant and continue development. Since in vitro fertilisation involves the creation of multiple zygotes, of which most never even have the chance to develop into a living human, the procedure itself would either have to be drastically altered or made illegal should zygotes be declared living human beings. Likely, any alteration to the procedure which would preserve 'all human life' under that definition would make the procedure too cost prohibitive and lower its success rate drastically which is already far less than 50%.
These are just two examples of where the declaration of zygotes as living human beings, which is what so called 'personhood' amendments attempt to do, would have a drastic impact on the nation today. Most people that push this viewpoint do not fully comprehend the consequences of such an action and will remain ignorant. Certainly, the idea that, "Republicans want to take away your birth control" is something that most pro-life supporters vehemently reject. Yet as shown above, if you take the proposed 'personhood' amendment to its logical end, that is exactly what such a proposal would demand. This sort of ignorance is only part of the problem.
In my view the most dangerous part of the problem are the people and politicians who know exactly what a 'personhood' amendment means when taken to its logical end. It is those people that know that their proposal would eventually mean the elimination of birth control pills and in vitro fertilization procedures. These are the politicians that really scare me, because they have a hidden agenda and rely on the ignorance of others to gain support for their policies and then once those polices are passed they plan to use them to push their own hidden agenda on the masses.
We must not allow so called 'personhood' amendments to pass. The declaration that zygotes are living human beings is not only counter to science, which has not determined when "life begins," but it would also have drastic consequences that would change the world we live in today.