Subscribe via RSS Feed

Confession of a Former Zygote

September 6, AD 2012 4 Comments

Election season increases opportunities to practice patience, especially when I stroll through Facebook posts.
Recently, I read a quote from a Jon Stewart segment back in April. It postulated that “if killing a zygote is murder, wasting semen should be murder.” The quote connects to a news story about Democrat Constance Johnson, Representative of Oklahoma City, who wanted to add “every sperm is sacred” to the personhood amendment. The original amendment would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. This added line by Representative Johnson was an attempt to exaggerate. She tried to show that if a fertilized egg is a person, why not go further down the chain of production and personalize sperm?

McKay, Davison and Koshland (he developed a similar definition using PICERAS as an acronym) have come up with seven principles to determine if something is living (in reference to all living things):

  1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature.
  2. Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.
  3. Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
  5. Adaptation: The ability to change over time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism’s heredity, diet, and external factors.
  6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion; for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism), and chemotaxis.
  7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms.

Using the above criteria, sperm cannot do all these things, whereas a zygote can. At least, all can agree that new life has formed. Though the zygote is dependent on its nutrition from the mother, it is still acknowledged as a new life has formed.  Therefore, it is also untrue for women to say this new body growing in her is her body. Nobody argues that a woman has right to her own body, but she cannot claim a right over someone else’s. Whereas the mother fulfills these seven principles of a living organism, so does the zygote on his or her merit.

Some people imagine a zygote and sperm are equal in value because they are small. If you took a microscope that could magnify to the point of DNA, you will find there is not a difference between a post-womb and a pre-womb person’s genetic makeup. In just seven short weeks, the first stage of human life grows.  That is why a zygote is worth protecting: it grows into a baby, which grows into an infant, which grows into a toddler, which grows into a talker-backer (I mean, a child), which grows into an adolescent, which grows into an adult. The zygote is Stage 1 for humans.

In comparing sperm and a zygote, we can find many differences. Let’s take a look at the smaller picture.

What is the difference between sperm and a zygote?  Here are a few:

  •  23: number of chromosomes in a sperm vs. 46: number of chromosomes that make up a zygote
    (guess how many chromosomes make up a human person)
  • Physical qualities of sperm: head with long tail vs. Physical qualities of zygote: small ball developing and splitting into more cells
  • Place of origin sperm: male gonads vs. Place of origin zygote: Sperm and egg meets in fallopian tubes en route to womb of woman

Now, back to the “sperm is sacred” part: Is this an accurate statement? Yes. The mind game wants to conclude saying that zygotes are sacred but sperm are not. But that is a false dichotomy. Rather, like many things Chestertonian, it is a both/and conclusion rather than one or the other. Both are sacred, but that does not mean both are the same.

Sperm are sacred in a similar fashion to gardening, and how crops are sacred. Gardens and crops produce things needed to help sustain life. It is not by accident that sperm and semen and gardening and crops are linked. “Sperm” goes back to the Greek word “speirein” which means “to sow.” Biologically, semen is a related term to sperm and comes from a Latin word of the same spelling that means “seed.”

However, discarding the former kills a Stage 1 human person (murder is determined by accountability) and the spilling the latter may not kill a person but it does commit the sin of onanism; that is, wasting the seeds that contributes to sprouting new life in the fertile soil science calls “the womb.” Are sperm sacred?  The answer can be better settled with another question, “How important is the proper care and production of the food we eat?”  Fertility is not just a word used for soil and farming, it is also a sexual reproduction term.  This idea stretches back to the imagery of the Creation story which takes place in a garden and Adam was given two commands: till the soil and be fruitful and multiply.

Here is a computerized example of the process of fertilization so as to visualize.

Are there topics you are finding hard not to comment on via Facebook? Do you try to dialogue with others on these topics? Does it affect the relationship with that Facebook friend given it is not some anonymous poster? Have you ever been timid in responding because our knowledge is not politically correct?



Filed in: Bioethics • Tags:

About the Author:

J.Q. lives in the country of Texas with his wife Denise, a Southern Belle from Trinidad and Tobago, and his three children. He holds two graduate degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, an MBA and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Having taught for five years in Catholic education, he now works in the construction industry in Victoria, TX. He is a parishioner of Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Parish in the Diocese of Victoria.