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WHEN DOES HUMAN PERSONHOOD BEGIN?

Belief 2: It happens when blood appears in the embryo

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Background:

A person can experience a relatively minor injury, and suffer the fatal process of exsanguination -- the complete loss of blood. Their body may appear almost entirely intact and yet the person would lie dead in a pool of their own blood. Ancient peoples would have noted this. Blood would come to be viewed as the life force, or as a fluid that contains the life force. Early religions, including Judaism, assigned magical power to animal and human blood. Thus, from the time of Moses, Judaism required special precautions whenever an animal was slaughtered for food. See Leviticus 17, below. Because of its magical properties, people were forbidden to consume an animal's blood.

The Christian faith group, the Jehovah's Witnesses, takes this prohibition one step further and interprets Leviticus 17 as also banning blood transfusions, even if they are necessary to save a person's life.  

When interpreting this passage, a case can be made that "life" begins not at the time of fertilization or conception but when blood first appears in the embryo, at about 20 days following conception. Since surplus embryos in fertility clinics are generally deep frozen shortly after conception, this interpretation would remove any ethical barrier to stem cell research using frozen embryos.

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The text of Leviticus 17:1-14:

This passage from the Hebrew Scriptures discusses ritual animal sacrifice at the time of Moses. God forbids ancient Hebrews from consuming blood and states that the life force is either:

bulletIn the blood (as in verse 11), or
bulletThe blood itself (as in verse 14).

The passage is ambiguous:

bullet1: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying ..."
bullet10: "And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people."
bullet11: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."
bullet12: Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. ...
bullet14: "...it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
bullet[Emphasis ours; quotation is from the King James Version]

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Rationale:

The following is an open letter to President George W. Bush, written shortly after his re-election in 2004-NOV. The author, Doyle Doss, suggests that human personhood begins only when blood becomes present in the embryo. Thus, he feels that it would be ethical to extract stem cells from pre-embryos and embryos, and to use those cells in therapeutic cloning, as long as no blood is present.

We assume that blood first appears at the time that the human embryo's heart begins to beat. (We are confident that we will receive a flood of Emails correcting us if this is not true.) This occurs at about 18 to 21 days after conception -- before the embryo develops limbs, a head, a brain, etc. It is about 1/12" long, the size of a pencil point. It most closely resembles a worm - long and thin and with a segmented end. More details.

Allowing for a four-day safety factor, the cutoff date for ethical stem cell research using the blood criterion might be ethically set at 14 days. This happens to be when the embryo develops a "primitive streak." The streak eventually develops in to the embryo's brain and central nervous system. Some suggest "...that an embryo should not be regarded as a unique individual before this point," 1 because it can spontaneously split into two embryos with identical DNA, and lead to the birth of identical twins. Fourteen days is also longest interval that an embryo can be maintained in culture. Regulations in many countries cite 14 days as the limit for scientific research.

The author suggests in the following essay that "...a bloodless embryo could be made available for research without incurring the wrath of God because of the shedding of innocent blood, since no blood is shed....the use of a bloodless embryo in research to give hope and perhaps eventually cures to debilitating illnesses should be encouraged and supported..."

It appears that the author's use of the term "life" in this essay is similar to the term "human personhood" as used elsewhere in this web site.

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When Life Begins? . . .An Open Letter to the President

In memory of Christopher Reeve

Dear Mr. President,

Embryonic stem cell research is dependent on the question of when is there life, as well it should be, for no one wants to commit murder. So this question of when there is life is basic to a furtherance of embryonic stem cell research and its possible medical benefits to our ill and aging population. I ask you, Mr. President, and the greater Christian community, and those who believe the Bible to be the inspired unfailing Word of God to prayerfully and diligent seek the truth of these words: "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11).

I understand the Christian Faith to be based on blood:

bulletThe blood of Abel crying out from the ground and being heard by God is the first mention of blood in the Bible.
bulletThe first shedding of blood may have been by God when God provided skin coverings for Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the Garden.
bulletGod "passes over" the homes which have blood sprinkled on their doorposts and lintels in Egypt before the Exodus.
bulletGod teaches Moses the shedding, spilling, and sprinkling of blood as ritual sacrifices necessary for the atonement of sins and the purification of the priests and accessories for the tabernacle.
bulletFor thousands of years the Old Testament portion of the Bible chronicles countless blood sacrifices before and upon the altar of God in both the tabernacle and the Temple at Jerusalem.
bulletAnd the prophets, speaking for God, gave many dire warnings of serious repercussions because of the shedding of innocent blood.

All this bloodshed, according to many Christian theologians, was necessary to "teach" the importance of shed blood for the remission of sins. This teaching culminating in the sacrifice of the Blood of Yeshua of Nazareth upon a cross, as so skillfully depicted by Mel Gibson in "The Passion of the Christ."

The idea of Christianity is, as I understand it, Mr. President, that by accepting the blood sacrifice of the Christ as a personal substitute for one’s own sinfulness, a person becomes reunited in their relationship with God and receives a new life based on this shed blood because, as the Bible teaches, "the life is in the blood" and "there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood." So you, Mr. President, and millions of others, are Christians because of the life that is in the blood. It would seem to follow, that if there is no blood then there is no life.

My point being, Mr. President, that there is no blood in an embryo until many days after conception, and if there is no blood, and "the life is in the blood," then it would seem to follow that until there is blood there is no life. If this is true, then a bloodless embryo could be made available for research without incurring the wrath of God because of the shedding of innocent blood, since no blood is shed.

Mr. President, please do not mistake my intent. I do not condone murder nor wish to create a permissive climate for murder. If "the life is in the blood," then an abortion of a fetus with blood is murder and a government by the people and for the people should have no active or supportive role in murder. But if "the life is in the blood," then the use of a bloodless embryo in research to give hope and perhaps eventually cures to debilitating illnesses should be encouraged and supported by the same government.

In my opinion we may not have one without the other. If this rationale is correct, that "the life is in the blood," and we permit embryonic stem cell research on bloodless embryos, we must also end government participation in abortions involving a fetus with blood, for that fetus, by this rationale, has life.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your personal and prayerful consideration of this matter.

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Site navigation:

Home > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Basic facts > Human personhood > here

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Reference used:

  1. Nancy L. Jones, "Human cloning-embryo style: Deliverance or captivity?," The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 2001-NOV-28, at: http://www.cbhd.org/

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Preamble copyrighted © 2004 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Letter copyrighted © 2004 by Doyle Doss
Originally posted: 2004-OCT-09
Latest update: 2007-JAN-17
Author: Doyle Doss, PO Box 2, Fortuna, CA, 95540.
Copyright restrictions: Doss' letter may be reprinted and distributed in its entirety only.

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