Judge OKs Wrongful Death Suit Over Test-Tube Embryo

This is a fascinating story from the Boston Globe:

All Alison Miller and Todd Parrish wanted was to become parents. But when a fertility clinic did not preserve a healthy embryo they had hoped would one day become their child, they sued for wrongful death.

A judge refused to dismiss their case, ruling in effect that a test-tube embryo is a human being and that the suit can go forward.

Though most legal specialists believe the ruling will be overturned, some in the fertility business worry it could have a chilling effect, threatening everything from in vitro fertilization to abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

"If the decision stands, it could essentially end in vitro fertilization," said Dr. Robert Schenken, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Few doctors would risk offering the procedure if any accident that harmed the embryo could result in a wrongful death lawsuit, said Schenken, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

A couple of things: first, I think the judge was absolutely right in his decision. I have argued before that it can be scientifically established that the "fetus" is a living human being. Macht, our friend at Prothesis Blogspot in an entry dated Wednesday Feb. 2, 2005, entitled "When Does Human Life Begin" located a webpage that lists textbooks that support the idea that life begins at conception. Consider the following:

The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:

"Zygote: this cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

Human Embryology:

In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. ... Fertilization takes place in the oviduct [not the uterus]... resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point. (p. 1); ... "These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development. (p. 17).

Human Embryology & Teratology:

Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed. (p. 5); ... Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with a secondary oocyte or its investments ... (p. 19); ... The zygote ... is a unicellular embryo. (p. 19); ... Thus the diploid number [in the zygote] is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity. (p. 20); ... ... The embryo enters the uterine cavity after half a week, when probably at least 8-12 cells are present. (p. 23); ... The embryonic period proper ... occupies the first 8 postovulatory weeks (i.e., timed from the last ovulation) ... The fetal period extends from 8 weeks to birth. (p. 55)

It only makes sense. The product of the coupling of two human beings can only be (absent some strange mutation) another human being. The embryo or fetus (whichever you want to call it -- I prefer baby) is alive from the moment the sperm and egg meet, and in most cases (absent interference by us or a failure to attach to the uterus), the embryo/fetus/baby will grow to be a post-natal baby. The mother is not making it grow -- it grows on its own because it is alive. Thus, if you are being honest, there is no way around the truth that the embryo/fetus/baby is a living human being.

Second, I do think the decision will be overturned for two reasons. First, the decision by the judge seems to undermine the reasoning of Roe v. Wade about viability. Justice Blackman, the author of Roe, reasoned that since academics and scientists could not agree when life began, the court would not take up that argument and simply look to "viability" as the starting point for legal protection, i.e., when can the embryo/fetus/baby survive on its own outside of the womb? By deciding that the embryo is a living human being who can be the victim in a wrongful death suit, this judge seems to have decided contrary to Justice Blackman that we can adjudicate when life begins.

Second, and more importantly politically, the decision by this judge if affirmed would threaten the abortion industry, the in vitro fertilization industry, and the budding embryonic stem cell research industry. That's several billions of dollars of money being generated that could be severly impacted if the embryo/fetus/baby is actually provided the rights of a living human being that we ought to be providing to it. I would bet that judges (who by and large appear to support these industries) will not allow this decision to slow up the wheels of "progress."


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