When Life Begins | Letters | Chicago Reader

When Life Begins 

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To the editors:

Weary of the "when does life begin" controversy [Our Town, May 19], my concentrated study after discussing the matter with a friendly M.D. settled it as follows:

Biologically speaking, sperm and ova are haploid forms of the human species. They join to form a single cell called a zygote. The zygote is the first stage of the diploid form, an old man or woman is the last stage. Life (characterized by metabolism, growth and motion) is present in developing sperm and ova. Therefore, life doesn't begin at conception, it is continuous.

From this standpoint, a celibate person (unless he or she is infertile) cuts off some of these continuous threads of life. This is not to blame those who are celibate--many such are admirable. But then, by the same token, doctors who cut off some of these continuous threads by performing abortions should not be blamed. Nor should women who have abortions. I know some admirable people in these categories, too.

A dogma of some religious sects maintains that a soul becomes associated with a zygote the moment it is formed by a sperm fertilizing an ovum. This dogma is not found in the Bible, the Koran, or any Hindu sacred texts. I can be sure of this without being a scholar of those texts because they were written long before van Leeuwenhoek discovered spermatozoa in 1719. Human ova and zygotes were discovered even later.

When humans develop souls or receive them is a matter of theology and depends on which religion and sect one chooses to believe. The great philosopher Rene Descartes called the soul the chose pensante, i.e. the thinking thing. Descartes was a Catholic, though not a theologian.

An embryo in the first trimester, if it has any awareness at all, has the lowest level of animal awareness.

Hank Oettinger

W. Grace

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