Why the Department of Health and Human Services should stop saying life begins at conception

Source: Los Angeles Times

BY Richard Paulson

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft of its latest strategic plan, which will guide the agency from 2018 to 2022. Near the top of the document, the agency presents its mission statement: HHS activities “cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception” (the emphasis is mine).

This is a religious definition of life, not a scientific one. Health and Human Services is a government organization. Its actions should be evidence-based, not faith-based, and this decidedly unscientific language should be eliminated from its strategic plan.

As an infertility specialist, I witness human fertilization in the laboratory every day. The human egg is a single living cell and it becomes a one-cell embryo if it successfully combines with a live sperm. No new life is formed — the egg and the sperm were already alive — and fertilization is not instantaneous. Nearly 48 hours pass from the time sperm first bind to the outside of the zona pellucida, the human eggshell, until the first cell division of the fertilized egg. The two newly formed cells then have the potential to give rise to a human being, but only if they are appropriately nurtured so that they continue to divide and then successfully implant in the uterus.

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