When Does Human Life Begin?

When Does Human Life Begin? Scientific, Scriptural, and Historical
Evidence Supports Implantation

Preview - Chapter One


When Does Human Life Begin?

Scientific, Scriptural, and Historical Evidence Supports Implantation

John L. Merritt, MD

J. Lawrence Merritt, II, MD


Table of Contents

Chapter 1   Introduction: When Human Life Begins                                                    1

Chapter 2   Ancient and Christian History:  In the Ancient Greek and Roman World  9

                   In Christian History                                                                                 14

Chapter 3   British and American Culture                                                                  27

                   In America                                                                                              29

Chapter 4   The Biology of Life’s Beginning                                                             33

                    Mitosis                                                                                                  33

                    Meiosis                                                                                                 34

                    Imprinting                                                                                             38

                    Genetic Identity                                                                                    40

                    Blastocyst Viability—and Implantation                                                  41

Chapter 5   The Biblical Evidence:  The Breath of Life & Life in the Womb             45

                    Breath of Life                                                                                      47

                    Life in The Womb … in Utero                                                              50

Chapter 6   Blood … The Key                                                                                 55

                   Blood: The Missing Link in Life’s First Breath                                      58

Chapter 7   A Compelling Case for Implantation                                                     63

Notes and References:                                                                                           67

Additional Resources                                                                                             76





Chapter 1 


When Human Life Begins

The Problem:

“Life begins at conception.”

“A woman has a right to choose.”

Choice … Abortion … but what about Life?

As we begin the second decade of the 21st century, one of history’s greatest debates continues to passionately divide Americans and people worldwide. This dispute has been ongoing in hundreds of societies throughout recorded history. This book provides an in-depth review of that debate. More importantly, it offers a convincing solution that brings reason, clarity, and support through clear and compelling scientific, scriptural, and historical evidence. This evidence clearly demonstrates that human life begins, not at fertilization, but shortly after implantation of the blastocyst into a mother’s uterus. This occurs on day eight after fertilization, when the mother’s blood begins to provide the breath of life to the implanted blastocyst.

While abortion is the primary focus of this debate, arguments spill over into the areas of stem cell research and contraception. At the crux of these issues is the ultimate question:

When does human life begin?



The answers given are often nebulous—fraught with emotion, conflicting opinions, historical uncertainties, and general confusion. With all the information at our fingertips in today’s digital age, from science, to scripture, to history, and to ethics, it is unfortunate and somewhat sad that we have continued in confusion. Although some have personal opinions based on political, theological, and social agendas, most have based their conclusions on what they have been told or personally deduced. Since there is such a massive and varied spectrum of information known, or unknown, some think it is natural that these seemingly never-ending varied positions should be acceptable in our pluralistic societies.

In contrast, we submit this state of confusion and indecision should not be accepted as conclusive. We, the authors of this book, contend that there is much information across a variety of disciplines that is generally overlooked and frequently not considered. A definitive conclusion is possible.

In fact, there is clear, and compelling, scientific and scriptural evidence that human life begins shortly after implantation of a blastocyst, on day eight after fertilization.

Our scientific evidence focuses on the critical biology, genetics and epigenetics, and timing of implantation when the mother begins nourishing the blastocyst with her life supporting, replenishing blood.

The scriptural evidence is based on the God-given “breath of life,” given to all as the cardinal definition of life as a living soul, a nephesh chaya (in Hebrew). But this breath of life is distributed by the blood and thus, the recurring theme of scripture is “the life is in the blood.”

The following book chapters present a history of ancient and modern philosophies and examine how they have led to today’s misconceptions regarding both pro-life and pro-choice political positions. 

The understanding of human life’s origin at implantation, when the life-giving blood of the mother first provides the “breath of life” to an implanted blastocyst—now a true embryo—now a “living soul”—will provide clarity and focus for evidenced-based deliberations in personal, social, political, and moral decision making.

We aspire to present this information in a way that encourages all—scientists, biologists, theologians, historians, educators, activists, politicians, and the general public—to reach an





evidence-based, informed consensus regarding when human life really begins.

…there is, in fact, clear and compelling scientific, scriptural, and historical information that is generally overlooked and frequently not considered.


By defining when human life begins, with clear and consistent evidence-based reasoning, we will provide a framework for personal and collective resolution of these often confusing and controversial issues.

The lack of a clear consensus, or even consistent reasoning, from experts in the theological, philosophical, political, and scientific communities is remarkable. In each of these communities there is wide diversity of opinion. A need for clarity is cited, but clarity remains absent. These disparate views are reliant on tradition and personal agendas, often with little scientific, historical, or ethical basis. Inflammatory language misquotes of sources, and inconsistent terminology fan the flames of emotion and mistrust. This situation only complicates ethical and social policy decisions. Oliver recently (cynically, but truthfully) stated, “If life is only what we say it is, and begins only when we say it does, then we can say anything we like, and we will never be wrong.”1 As a result, there is a host of divergent opinions, quoting from historical practices, traditions, public health needs, political agendas, or scientific and medical promises in order to defend their conflicting positions.

The continuing lack of consensus from experts in the theological, philosophical, political, and scientific communities is remarkable.


Various groups have also used specific time points in the biology of human development to distinguish and defend their idea of when life actually begins. They highlight a variety of different embryological events, such as: gastrulation (formation of the germ layers), first heartbeat, the quickening (first notable movement), recognizable human body shape, neurulation (the first appearance of a nervous system), and first brain waves. Other clinical time points include: viability (when the fetus could survive outside the womb), birth (delivery




from the uterus), the first breath of air, and finally to specific time marks following delivery at 40 days, 80 days, 90 days, 120 days, 15 weeks, 28 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months. Table 1 provides a summary list of these and other various proposed events (or biological “landmarks”) throughout history, beginning with fertilization (fusion of the sperm and ova).

Table 1: Historical Developmental Milestones

Proposed as the Beginning of Life.

   Fertilization – sperm-ova union

   Zygote – single cell stage

   Mitosis – two cells in 12 hours; into four cells in 24 hours

   Morula – 16 or more cells

   Functional genotype development, methylation

   Blastocyst – inner cell separation and continuing division

   Blastocyst – adherence to uterine endothelium

   Implantation of blastocyst

   Reciprocal chemical exchanges between embryo and mother

   Blood interaction of hormones and nourishment

   Gastrulation – appearance of primitive streak

   Separation into embryonic germ layers

   First heart beat

   Vital organ development

   First brain waves

   Human form characteristics – eye, limb development

   Quickening – maternal detection of fetal movement

   Viability, with technologies

   Viability, without technological support

   Birth, first breath of air following delivery

   Nursing of the newborn infant

   Circumcision of the male infant at 8 days following birth

   Naming of the infant at 8-40 days, 3-6 months of age

   Weaning of the infant at 6-9 months of age


The argument over when life begins includes an interesting array of contributors. On one side, there are conservative authorities such as the Pope; the Roman Catholic Church; Christian fundamentalists and the evangelical right; social conservatives, most Republicans; many Democrats; many Hindu and Buddhist followers; and the orthodox Jewish community. Together they advocate for a legal position that life starts at fertilization (the union of the sperm and egg) as are assuming that fertilization is “conception” and is the beginning of life.



This position imposes many implications on abortion, stem-cell research, and contraception issues. The fertilized human egg, before implantation into the mother’s uterus, is called a zygote. The advocacy of a human life beginning at conception is referred to as the personhood of the zygote.2, 3, 4 As conservative voices continue to rise, and claim a scriptural foundation for their fervor, they offer no clear and compelling scriptural evidence in support of life beginning at conception or for the personhood of the zygote. Texts used are usually broad and non-specific, requiring eisegesis (reading one’s opinion into the text). We will address these later in this volume.

Ethicists refer to advocacy of a human life beginning at conception as the personhood of the zygote.


On the other side, abortion rights advocates include many traditional Protestant communities, liberal Catholics, some moderate Republicans, the majority of Democrats, feminists, the political progressive left, most Conservative and Reformed Jews, most Muslims, secular humanists, the non-religious, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Supreme Court.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on abortion in 1973, establishing a precedent for future rulings in lower U.S. courts. But the Court, in so doing, deliberately sidestepped the question as to when human life begins. The product of this omission was a decision, regarding abortion restrictions, in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case resulting in an arbitrary and consequent legal opinion that a fetus’ life and value must, for practical purposes, reach “a compelling point.” This point would be that of viability—when the fetus could survive outside the mother’s womb, but the Court did not specifically state when such a point actually occurs (additional details follow in Chapter 3).15, 16, 17, 42

The U.S. Supreme Court deliberately sidestepped the question as to when human life begins.





The Roe vs. Wade decision drew the first line in the sand as the end of the first trimester (12 weeks). This is still surprising, since in 1973 viability was from 24 to 28 weeks, based on the capabilities of medical care and technology in 1973. The decision gave individual states the authority to restrict abortion after the first trimester, but left guidelines for allowing abortion after that point if the continued pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life or health. Significantly, this included her emotional and social health.17, 18

Other 20th century attempts to provide a scientific basis for political and social decisions were not limited to the controversial U.S. Supreme Court. Addressing not abortion, but embryonic research, across the Atlantic the government of Great Britain charged the Warnock Committee with setting up rules to regulate such research.18, 36, 43

In Great Britain the Warnock Committee adopted a policy that human life begins 14 days after fertilization, a time called gastrulation, when the “primitive streak,” the precursor to the central nervous system, appeared.


The Committee scientifically addressed the question of when human life begins. After much input and deliberation, the Committee adopted a policy that human life begins 14 days after fertilization, a time called gastrulation, when the primitive streak (the precursor to the central nervous system) appeared. The reason for selecting this time was that after gastrulation, spontaneous division of the blastocyst to form twins (known as twinning) was not possible. The Commission reasoned that the embryo, after gastrulation, might unequivocally be termed an individual, not a twin. Thus an individual, a person, existed at this point, and consequentially a sacrifice of the embryo for scientific research should be limited. One may conclude, that on the surface, this reasoning may be attractive. Similarly, few could argue that the Warnock Committee in Great Britain had a much more firm scientific foundation than the U.S. Supreme Court’s “practical” compromise, although its focus was not on abortion, but on fetal cell and stem cell research and is much less well known.17, 41

The inability to arrive at a definitive consensus to such an important question has recently been underlined by the publication of a report by the President’s Council on Bioethics in 2008.




The President’s Council on Bioethics in 2008 called for a deeper understanding of the foundations upon which we build our answers to life’s most challenging questions


In the commissioned volume, including an address to the President, the Council stated, “These essays make it clear that there is no universal agreement on the meaning of the term, human dignity.” But then reported that, “An appreciation of the variety of these views is critical….” The Council then called for “a deeper understanding of the foundations upon which we build our answers to life’s most challenging questions.”

This book, we submit, will present important and compelling evidence that has not been regarded or reported, that when considered, will provide fundamental answers to this most challenging question: When does human life begin?

We will in this book answer that question, by presenting compelling evidence that human life begins shortly after implantation of a blastocyst, on day eight after fertilization, when a mother’s blood first gives the “breath of life” to the new human life, thus becoming a “living soul.”




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