Personhood "Language" 2008 - 2011

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright October 2, 2011
Reproduced with Permission

With "personhood" bills and amendments exploding around the world in warp speed, perhaps it is time to step back and carefully examine in general some of the "language" being used in many of them.Although probably designed with all good intentions and genuine concerns, what many people don't realize is that, in dealing with legal "language", the courts are usually required to interpret the "language" in any such bill or regulation that becomes law as "exclusionary". That is, if a law formally defines all bears as "brown", then that law would not apply to any bears that happen to be "black" or "white". Similarly, the use of sloppy, sentimental, "popular", or scientifically erroneous definitions in a bill would accomplish little of what most supporters imagined, but instead would constitute "legal loopholes" that would allow much of which they had thought had been prohibited by the passing of the law or regulation.

And it is not enough to pass a new law or regulation; it is just as important to check out any already existing laws and regulations that use erroneous "language" in their formal definitions that would render the newly passed laws as void when challenged. This includes already existing laws that bear on both the beginning and the end of life issues. Additionally, every term within a legal definition must also be accurately defined in any new law or regulation.

The issue is also not just about legal "language". Once such language becomes popular, or used in conferences, articles, books, sermons, etc., then the average person is essentially being mis-informed about such important life and death decisions that they might become involved in themselves. Such mis-information would then preclude them from forming a "correct conscience", which in turn would constitute a false "starting point" for their own personal ethical decision making and choices.

Examples of "loophole language" in many current "personhood" initiatives includes the following terms and phrases: "fertilization", "conception", "in the womb", "prenatal", "abortion", "cloning", "stages", "pre-embryo", "functions", "species", "zygote", etc. The list is really endless, being constantly expanded and imaginatively recreated as needed. Such efforts have been going on for decades now for sure. But to help advance the current level of awareness and understanding about this global rush of "personhood" initiatives, allow me to briefly explain examples of "language" currently being used that would constitute legal loopholes if such initiatives were to be passed into laws or regulations (see suggested careful "language" below, as well as a short list of articles with extensive scientific references for documentation).

Legal Loophole "Language":

1. The phrase "at fertilization" is ambiguous and scientifically erroneous. "Fertilization" is not a single event, but rather it is a biological process that takes place over time. During the process of fertilization there are various and different points in time that some have argued is when a new sexually reproduced human being begins to exist - e.g., at the beginning of the process, in the middle, or at the end. Thus any "language" used in a law would have to be specific as to when during the process of fertilization a new human being begins to exist. To simply say human beings begin to exist "at fertilization" is to leave the door wide open for interpretations by "experts".

Some proponents of genetic engineering, for example, are arguing that a new human being begins to exist at the end of the process of fertilization, with the formation of the "zygote" - as some textbooks simplified for students unfortunately claim. But that would "justify" the use of the human embryo already existing before the formation of the zygote in destructive and reproductive research. However, according to the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development, a new sexually reproduced human being begins to exist as the "primitive embryo" at the beginning of the process of fertilization, with first contact and penetration of the sperm and oocyte [see Stage 1 of the Carnegie Stages at:]. As that new human embryo begins to develop, he/she forms an "ootid", and then only after that does the human embryo form a "zygote".

It is also not just the "46" chromosomes and genes that define a human organism, but all the constituents within the cells of the organism - including the single-cell human organism. In fact, some human beings have more or less than "46" chromosomes but they are still human beings who should be equally protected by law. And there are some non-human animals that also have "46" chromosomes in individuals of their species! Further, in many human beings their individual genetic constitution can change or be altered due to inherent errors in crossing-over, or external insults such as radiation or disease.

Note that the Carnegie Stages were instituted in 1942, based on international scientific research since at least the 1880's (Wilhelm His et al)and updated every 2-4 years since then by the international nomenclature on human embryology, consisting of about 20-25 human embryologists from around the world (see more references below). You can't get more objective than that. But beware of false "Carnegie Stages" making the rounds, as well as other related efforts to define "stages" in false scientific terms.

2. Note that in natural normal human reproduction between a man and a woman, fertilization takes place in the woman's fallopian tube - not in her uterus. Therefore the phrases "in the womb" or "prenatal" would refer only to the new living human embryo who has already implanted in the woman's uterus (about 5-7 days post-fertilization); it would not refer to the new living human embryo who is still in the woman's fallopian tube trying to travel toward her uterus to implant. Such language in a law would therefore still allow for the use of abortifacients, embryo flushing, etc.

3. Not all human beings are reproduced or begin to exist by means of "fertilization" (sexual reproduction; fusion of sperm and oocyte). Many human beings begin to exist by means of asexual reproduction - those who are both reproduced asexually in vivo, as well as those who are reproduced asexually in vitro. Human asexual reproduction means a new human embryo is reproduced without the use of sperm and oocyte. For example, one or two of every set of naturally occurring human monozygotic (identical) twins/triplets begin to exist within the woman's body (fallopian tube) up to a week or longer post-fertilization. Repeat: Other than the first twin, the later twin or triplets do not begin to exist at "fertilization" at all, but by means of a different reproductive process, and up to a week or more after fertilization. Those natural identical twinstriplets would not be covered by such legal "language" as "fertilization".

Identical twins/triplets could also begin to exist post-fertilization outside the woman's body (in vitro) in IVF/ART and other laboratories and "infertility" clinics. Indeed, "twinning", one of many kinds of human cloning techniques, is an artificial reproductive technique that is used in some IVF/ART clinics to treat "infertility", especially when the woman has few healthy oocytes left to fertilize. "Twinning" is also used to asexually reproduce new human embryos for purely destructive research purposes. "Twinning" also goes by the names of "embryo multiplicatioon", "embryo splitting", "blastomere separation", "blastocyst splitting", etc.

4. There are many different kinds of asexual reproductive techniques used to reproduce new human embryos without the use of "fertilization", and those new asexually reproduced human embryos can be used for reproductive as well as destructive research purposes. For example, in the scientific literature one can find the use of asexual reproductive techniques such as pronuclei transfer, mitochondrial transfer, DNA-recombinant gene transfer, the use of artificially created genes, chromosomes, nuclei, and many other genetic engineering and cloning techniques. Additionally, although the same "intention" or "purpose" might be involved - i.e., to reproduce a new living human embryo - the biological/biochemical/genetic functions or mechanisms of each of these asexual reproductive techniques are distinct from each other, as well as distinct from the sexual reproductive process of fertilization. Perhaps the language of "fertilization" might protect sexually reproduced human embryos in vitro, but they would not protect any asexually reproduced human embryos in vitro - including "twins" and other human embryos cloned or genetically engineered, for either research or for reproductive purposes.

5. The term "abortion" no longer refers to the intentional killing of unborn human beings who began to exist by means of "fertilization". In fact the term "abortion" must now refer to the intentional killing of both sexually and asexually reproduced human beings. Because some human beings can be, and have been, asexually reproduced artificially in "infertility" clinics, those experimental asexually reproduced human embryos have been implanted into women's uteruses for reproductive purposes. If "abortion" were to refer only to those innocent living human beings who began to exist by means of "fertilization", then the abortion of any and all asexually reproduced human beings would not be covered by that law or regulation.

6. The term "fertilization", like the terms "in the womb" and "prenatal", does not always mean "conception". Many professional medical and scientific societies, as well as many state laws here in the U.S., have already legally defined "conception" as "implantation for decades, thus automatically leaving all human beings still within the woman's fallopian tube legally unprotected. The term "conception" has been formally rejected by human embryologists as well as by the international nomenclature committee on human embryology as "unscientific" and "misleading".

It might also be prudent to note that although the term "conception" might have special religious meaning for many, the religious use of the term is in fact often erroneously understood. For example, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception" does not refer to how the Blessed Virgin Mary was biologically reproduced - whether either sexually or asexually. Rather, it refers to the doctrine that Mary's immaterial soul was created by God without the stain of original sin. That is, Mary's soul was "immaculate", without sin. In fact, if you think about it, "fertilization" was never involved in Mary's case at all.

7. As those who have been following these and related issues are becoming aware, the erroneous "scientific" definitions used as legal loopholes in legislation and regulations concerning the beginning of life issues can also be transferred to issues at the end of life - and have been. This phenomenon appears to be increasing. Thus, the "right to privacy" has been used to try to justify euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Or, if one is not legally a "person" at the beginning of life (because one is asexually reproduced, one was a "pre-embryo", etc.), then one is likewise not a "person" at the end of life - and therefore euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, etc., are still "legal" for those unfortunate human beings. In reverse, if one is not a "person" at the end of life because one is "brain dead" (and therefore euthanasia, etc. are legal), then it has been argued that the early developing human embryo is not a "person" until the brain is formed - and thus before that time they can be aborted, killed, used in research, etc.

8. Consequently, many prolife organizations have recognized the importance of using very careful and scientifically accurate "language" in any legal documents and regulations to protect all (not just some) innocent living human beings, and consider the following "language" at least a good effort in order to prevent any legal loopholes. This language would hopefully legally protect all innocent living human beings, both sexually and asexually reproduced, both in vivo and in vitro, at the beginning, middle and end of their lives (at least, until new "legal loopholes" go unnoticed):

Legal Definition of Human "Person" and Human "Personhood"

Person: applies only to all living human beings from the beginning of their biological development as human organisms - regardless of age, race, sex, gender, capacity to function, condition of physical or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of sexual or asexual reproduction used, whether existing in vivo or in vitro.

Personhood: is the legal recognition of a human being's full status as a human person, that applies to all human beings, regardless of age, race, sex, gender, capacity to function, condition of physical or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of sexual or asexual reproduction used, whether existing in vivo or in vitro.

Definitions of "Biological Beginning" in Human Sexual and Asexual Reproduction

"In human sexual reproduction (i.e., the immediate use of human sperm and human oocyte) -- both in vivo (inside the body) and in vitro (outside the body) -- the biological beginning of a new human being/organism occurs when a human sperm makes contact with the protective covering of and fuses with a human oocyte. Examples include normal natural sexual intercourse, and artificial sexual reproduction in IVF/ART research laboratories and infertility clinics."

"In human asexual reproduction (i.e., without the immediate use of human sperm and human oocyte) -- both in vivo (inside the body) and in vitro (outside the body) -- the biological beginning of a new human being/organism occurs when the status of the DNA in a mere human cell or cells is regulated or reversed back to that of a new human being/organism. Examples include naturally occurring human identical (monozygotic) "twinning" within the woman's fallopian tube and/or uterus, and artificial "twinning", pronuclei transfer, somatic cell nuclear transfer, germ line cell nuclear transfer, and other genetic engineering and regenerative medicine research techniques in IVF/ART research laboratories and infertility clinics."

Definitions of Other Terms Used Within The Major Definition:

In vivo: within the body (including the fallopian tube and the uterus).

In vitro: outside the body, e.g., in IVF/ART and other research laboratories and infertility clinics.

Human Being: any human organism, including the single-cell human embryo, who possesses a genome specific for and consistent with an individual member of the human species, regardless of age, race, sex, gender, capacity to function, condition of physical or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of sexual or asexual reproduction used, whether existing in vivo or in vitro.

Human Genome: the total amount of nuclear and extra-nuclear DNA genetic material in a cell that constitutes an organism as an individual member of the human species - including the single-cell human embryo.

Human embryo: all human beings during the first 8 weeks of their biological development, including single-cell human embryos from the beginning of their biological development.

Human fetus: all human beings from the beginning of the fetal period of their biological development (the beginning of 9 weeks) through birth,

Suggested Irving Articles Documenting The Science And "Personhood":