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Harder than finding needle in hay stack

08:20 PM August 21, 2013

After a seeming endless and arduous debate in Congress,  the Reproductive Health Law is now in the hands (or minds) of our Supreme Court justices.

The central issue is whether or not the law violates the constitutional provision on the right to life.

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Everyone knows that finding an irrefutable answer to the question of when life really begins is probably more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. There can be as many answers to this basic question as there are personal beliefs, biases and convictions.

From a scientific and medical perspective, human life is not just any kind of life because a scientist can grow cells in the laboratory—even the fertilization of a human egg by a sperm cell—but hardly anyone will call that fertilized egg in the test tube human life already.  Real human life starts when such existence and its progression to slowly take human form, as God naturally planned it,  has been initiated—and that point is at the time of implantation on the womb of the mother. As a physician, this is what I would describe as a self-sustaining life due to organized, synergistic, self-regulatory functions that define a “human being.”

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At fertilization by a sperm cell, the fertilized egg becomes a zygote.  Without uterine implantation, the zygote and all unfertilized eggs or ova, as well as the millions of unsuccessful sperm cells undergo  natural self-destruction  or programmed death called apoptosis. This is as natural as skin cells dying and shedding, or locks of hair falling. There is nothing “murderous” about this. Hence, in the absence of self-sustaining functions—which would only start after implantation in the mother’s womb—the zygote remains an “inanimate” object, and should it fail to be implanted, say due to contraceptive means, no life can be deemed terminated.

If the prolife or anti-RH position is there is “life” at fertilization, how do you identify such natural “life”?  Is mere in-vitro or test-tube fertilization without uterine implantation, already the beginning of life? Even without contraception, the fertilized egg or zygote can fail to get implanted in the womb, or die shortly after implantation in an infertile or unreceptive womb. And this happens countless  times every day. Do we consider this as death of a human being already?

Miscarriages or premature fetal expulsion merit some religious ritual or blessing for the fetus which has failed to thrive and survive to maturity because he or she is already considered a human being. If a fertilized ovum or zygote is already considered a human being, then should not a couple seek a “religious blessing” for a failed pregnancy after copulating during the woman’s ovulation or after a failed in-vitro fertilization? This is, of course, absurd. But many of the arguments being raised in the revived debate on the RH Law have already transcended the limits of absurdity.

—RAMON F. ABARQUEZ JR., MD, MD, EFACC, FPCC, FPCP, emeritus professor, University of the Philippines College of Medicine; academician,

National Academy of Science and Technology,

[email protected]

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TAGS: congress, Legislation, opinion, reproductive health, RH law
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