The Corner

Politics & Policy

Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Embryos Mere ‘Marital Property’

A medical technician prepares embryo and sperm samples for freezing in Paris, France, September 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Biologically, human life begins when the process of fertilization is complete. That’s basic biology. That’s science. For example, an embryology text book tells us, (my emphasis):

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. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (p. 18)

Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.)

But science only matters if it gets us what we want. Pre-born human life has many instrumental uses or inconveniences, so we pretend that embryos are not human life.

Most recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed frozen embryos to be destroyed at the request of their mother — over the objections of their father — because they are “marital property” and the divorcing couple had agreed to destroy them in the event of divorce. In making their ruling, the embryos were called the pseudo-term, “pre-embryo.” From the Hartford Courant story, quoting the opinion:

“Pre-embryo is a medically accurate term for a zygote or fertilized egg that has not been implanted in a uterus,” the court wrote. “It refers to the approximately 14-day period of development from fertilization to the time when the embryo implants in the uterine wall and the primitive streak, the precursor to the nervous system, appears. An embryo proper develops only after implantation.”

But that’s not true. After all, the biological makeup of an embryo outside a woman’s body is no different than one that is inside a woman’s body.

So, how did the term “pre-embryo” come to be used in some medical contexts? It was a wholly ideological invention, deployed to permit us to do what we want with nascent life as if they have no greater meaning than a chunk of granite.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at this from the embryology text book quoted above:

The term “pre-embryo” is not used here [in their book] for the following reasons: (1) it is ill-defined; (2) it is inaccurate…(3) it is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the world embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) it is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was introduced in 1986 “largely for public policy reasons.” (My emphasis.)

Princeton biologist Lee Silver so admitted in his book Remaking Eden (my emphasis):

I’ll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly…for reasons that are political, not scientific.

The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what we nonmedical biologists still call a six-day old embryo [the blastocyst] and what we and everyone else call a sixteen-day old embryo [an embryo that has begun to develop differentiated tissues]. The term pre-embryo is useful in the political arena—where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now called pre-embryo) experimentation—as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office, where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients. “Don’t worry,” a doctor might say, “It’s only pre-embryos that we’re manipulating and freezing. They won’t turn into real human embryos until after we’ve put them back in your body.”

Or, to allow the Supreme Court to rule they can be tossed down a toilet (figuratively) even though one parent objects.

So, there you have it. Non-science rules!

We are so intellectually dishonest. We will do what we want to do — and then invent the language that lets us sleep at night after we do it.

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