WHEN DOES HUMAN PERSONHOOD BEGIN?
Belief 2: It happens when blood appears in the embryo
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
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
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:
||In the blood (as in verse 11), or
||The blood itself (as in verse 14).
The passage is ambiguous:
||1: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying ..."
||10: "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
||11: "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."
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. ...
||14: "...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.
||[Emphasis ours; quotation is from the King James Version]
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
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
I understand the Christian Faith to be based on blood:
||The blood of Abel crying out from the ground and being heard by God is
the first mention of blood in the Bible.
||The first shedding of blood may have been by God when God provided skin
coverings for Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the Garden.
||God "passes over" the homes which have blood sprinkled on their
doorposts and lintels in Egypt before the Exodus.
||God 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.
||For 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.
||And 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
Thank you, Mr. President, for your personal and prayerful consideration of this
Nancy L. Jones, "Human cloning-embryo style: Deliverance
or captivity?," The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 2001-NOV-28,
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.