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2006-05-08

Fetal Brain Development: Myths and Disinformation

In her discussion on the NYT article I blogged earlier, Jill of Feministe says:

An interesting thing about growing up and living in the United States for your entire life, as I have, is that you really do believe all the things that Americans say about America. You believe that the United States is one of the most progressive countries in the world. You believe that we're at the forefront of technology, of women's rights, of human rights. You believe that people here have access to the best and most comprehensive medical care and information.

Then you find out that you were sorta wrong. And that's a fantastic disappointment.

I can already here the conservatives saying, "But look at how good you have it! You could be living in Iran!" Sure, and women in Iran could be living in Afghanistan. See how lucky they are?

The insularity of the USA makes it easy for their leaders to tell they're world leaders in every field when that is simply not so - they're the richest, sure - that doesn't mean they provide their citizens with the best. And particularly what US citizens don't get the best of is sex education at the most crucial time - pre-teen and teen years. And the anti-choice/contra-contraception activists want it to stay that way, and they deceive people in order to carry out their agenda.

This is a good jumping off point for me on a particular piece of anti-choice misinformation that's been bugging me for a while. As in the quote below about the 43-day-old-fetus from the NYT article on Contra Contraception:

A December 2004 report on federally financed abstinence-only programs conducted by the office of Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, charged that the major programs presented misleading information about health (one curriculum quoted in the report stated that "condoms fail to prevent H.I.V. approximately 31 percent of the time"), state beliefs as facts (the report cited a curriculum that refers to a 43-day-old fetus as a "thinking person") and give outmoded stereotypes of the sexes.
Another post I recently read on a website called ProgressiveU.org, posted by a purported high-school student CrystalJ, gives here reasons for believing abortion is wrong (fine, don't have one), where she also argues that science supports her view (misspellings hers, italics emphasis mine):

There are also many medical arguments against abortion.

One argument is the definiton of life and death. Death is looked at there being no heartbeat, but when you really think about it, once a child is formed in the womb, you will here thier heartbeat by 18 days old. You may say no death is described as when there is no brain waves. Babies have functioning brains at 40 days old. The unborn child also feels pain as early as 8 weeks old. The fetus also has a genetic patterns different from the mother and a set a fingerprints all to its self.

Now, having done a fair amount of university biology, I knew that this fetal-brain claim was entirely bogus, and I thought I could maybe add a nice little debunking of this factoid to my pseudoscience series. But Google showed my my plan was unnecessary, because Margaret Sykes (previously of about.com) has already written the article, and although it pains my hubris, she's done a much better job than I could have.
The assertion is made over and over again that "fetal brain activity" has been observed or "fetal brain waves" have been measured at 40, 43, or 45 days, or at 6 weeks after fertilization. You can find the claim in "pro-life" and sometimes even nonmedical pro-choice literature. Sometimes a reference is cited, but most often not. This false information has passed into the general understanding about fetal development and is simply stated as fact. It is however a factoid instead, which is the name for a statement repeated often enough that people accept it as truth, though it's not.
Sykes digs through the generations of pamphlets citing other pamphlets to find the original science on which the factoid is based, and comes up with a cite from a 1964 AMA convention speech transcript (not a research paper at all) published in the JAMA arguing for brain function rather than heart function to determine cessation of life, and a 1982 letter (not a peer-reviewed paper) published in the NEJM. As Sykes says, "no original research is being described here, which makes it dishonest and misleading to quote it as the source of a claim".

The quotes used by 'pro-lifers', when laid out in formal cite form, certainly do look impressive to anyone not in the habit or reading the original paper to evaluate a scientist's conclusions:

At only 40 days after fertilization electrical waves as measured by the EEG can be recorded from the baby's brain, indicating brain functioning47, 48.

47. Hamlin, H. (1964), "Life or Death by EEG," Journal of the American Medical Association, October 12, 113.


Brain function, as measured on the Electroencephalogram, "appears to be reliably present in the fetus at about eight weeks gestation," or six weeks after conception.

J. Goldenring, "Development of the Fetal Brain," New England Jour. of Med., Aug. 26, 1982, p. 564
Sykes dissects the misuse of these citations (both should strictly mention the status as convention proceedings/letters rather than research papers), showing that both of these opinion pieces incorrectly summarise science that is now either discredited or obsolete (and always refers to "electrical activity" rather than "brain waves"), then goes on to detail what medical science actually does show about the development of a functioning human brain:

When people, including physicians, talk about "brain waves" and "brain activity" they are referring to organized activity in the cortex. While no embryo or fetus has ever been found to have "brain waves," extensive EEG studies have been done on premature babies. A very good summary of their findings can be found in Pain and its effects in the human neonate and fetus," a review article (often cited by "pro-lifers" writing about fetal pain, but not about brain development) by K.J.S. Anand, a leading researcher on pain in newborns, and P.R. Hickey, published in NEJM:

"Functional maturity of the cerebral cortex is suggested by fetal and neonatal electroencephalographic patterns...First, intermittent electroencephalograpic bursts in both cerebral hemispheres are first seen at 20 weeks gestation; they become sustained at 22 weeks and bilaterally synchronous at 26 to 27 weeks."
The irony of citing Hamlin and Goldenring as anti-abortion apologetics is that both of them mentioned fetal brain activity casually and tangentially in any case - both opinion pieces were arguing for the wider acceptance of the EEG as the final arbiter of the death of the individual, as without a functioning brain the body is just a collection of tissue. Indeed, Sykes notes that this is the crux of the point the anti-abortionists are arguing in their promulgation of this factoid:

all authorities accept that the end of an individual's life is measured by the ending of his brain function (as measured by brain waves on the EEG), would it not be logical for them to at least agree that individual's life began with the onset of that same human brain function as measured by brain waves recorded on that same instrument? (in Willke's Abortion: Questions and Answers)

The trouble is that there is no scientific basis for the "functioning brain at 40 days" claim, no matter how often the factoid is repeated.

As a secondary matter, I note the mythologising process at work in the way the factoid has developed. The original overclaims by Hamlin and Goldenring drop the scientific exactitude of "electrical brain activity " for the more vernacular "brain function" and "electrical waves", and this allows some who read it and lack the proper knowledge of the widely varying types of electrical activity recorded by EEGs to make an unjustified leap, and thus the myth of early fetal "brainwaves" is born.

CrystalJ, the highschool student referenced above, cited Kerby Anderson's Arguments Against Abortion as the source of her claims. Anderson wrote:
Physicians now use a more rigorous criterion for death: brain wave activity. A flat EEG (electroencephalograph) is one of the most important criteria used to determine death. If the cessation of brain wave activity can define death, could the onset of brain wave activity define life? Individual brain waves are detected in the fetus in about 40-43 days. Using brain wave activity to define life would outlaw at least a majority of abortions.
Anderson provides no references for his fetal brain waves claim. Notice then how CrystalJ leaps from "individual brain waves" to "functioning brain" in her summary of the medical arguments.

ADDENDUM: Anderson's argument also totally misunderstands what a "flat EEG" is. A brain-dead person with a functioning heart/lungs/brainstem will still show electrical activity in the brain, but they won't show the particular "brainwaves" that are characteristic of the higher cortical functions of cognition. So the whole EEG isn't "flat", just the part of the EEG profile that shows a thinking person is using that brain tissue.

These people believe the factoid that has been passed down and grown ever more dramatic as it goes. They really do. They don't mean to tell falsehoods (at least most of them don't know any better), but that's what they're doing. If only they understood that a large number of pro-choicers also base their abortion beliefs on neurological maturity of the fetus, they just use actual facts to do it instead of factoids.

When the shapers of public policy and health education fall for such factoids as well, then you get the situation which so disappointed Jill when she first came up against the true facts: the richest country in the world does not provide "the best and most comprehensive medical care and information" to its citizens. Given the attitudes displayed by various politicians in Canberra regarding the RU486 debate, we need to be vigilant that our citizens are provided with the best standards of care and information as well.

UPDATE 19th May 2006: my sitemeter shows that this post has become the #1 entry page for people coming to the blog from a search engine, using variations on 'fetal brain waves', 'fetal brain development' and 'fetal brain 40 days'. Commentor "worldpeace and aspeedboat" over at Moment to Moment was moved to pedantry (a favorite hobby of mine own) over spelling fetal vs. foetal and fetus vs. foetus, so I'm going to add those more Commonwealth spellings here purely to widen the hits on search engines, as obviously people are looking for the information. Besides, I agree the 'oe' spelling looks more elegant.

33 comments:

harry said...

Ok, so just say we do choose presence of brain waves as indicative of life. So what? I can't recall anyone from the pro-choice side saying foetuses *weren't* alive.
It is surely a completely moot point as to when a foetus starts showing brain waves.

tigtog said...

It should be, but that's not how the anti-abortion folks see it, and that's not how their misinformation sells it.

I see I dropped an important point along the way that needs clarifying - the brain activity argument is about when is living tissue a *person*. I agree that there's no argument about the tissue being alive except as some sort of pro-life strawman, but since the advent of EEGs society has mostly adopted a standard that says that living tissue isn't enough to make a living person - the brain function that makes that person an individual has to be there too.

The whole point of the factoid about a "functioning brain" in a 43-day fetus is to cast the fetus as a thinking individual who surely doesn't deserve to have those thoughts snuffed out. It's a pretty common anti-abortion argument that needs to be countered with the science.

tigtog said...

Esprit d'escalier: currently the standard is that it's fairly easy to access an abortion up to 16 weeks gestation, and only a bit harder up to 20 weeks largely because of the well established science regarding brain function. Absent medical complications of the pregnancy, it's pretty hard to get an abortion after 20 weeks.

If the anti-abortionists convince enough voters that fetuses have thinking brains at only 43 days post-fertilisation, then the laws to restrict abortion to that period start being agitated for. Which is tough luck if your menses are irregular so you don't realise you're pregnant right away, or if you live remotely and can't manage to get to a clinic within the timeframe.

Anonymous said...

Have you read "The Ethical Brain", by Michael Gazzaniga? He was a Dubya appointee to the National Science Counsel, I believe. Anyway, his book is fascinating, and among other topics, really covers in-depth what brainwave function in fetuses actually compares to. According to him (and again, Dubya appointee, so he's probably not an Evil Liberal Academic) the human fetus at 13 weeks' gestation has brainwave activity comparable to that of a sea slug. Now, given that sea slugs don't think, it's fair to say that at neither 43 days' gestation or 13 weeks' gestation could a fetus possibly be considered to have a functioning, thinking brain.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link for the book, and it was the President's Council on Bio-Ethics, actually.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932594019/sr=8-1/qid=1147079110/ref=sr_1_1/104-3240965-7766346?%5Fencoding=UTF8

Raincitygirl

raincitygirl @ gmail . com

Jennifer said...

That's really interesting (although I try not to get into these debates) - worth knowing the facts for if I do.

tigtog said...

Raincitygirl - thanks for the link. I've heard of Gazzaniga, and I've certainly heard the sea slug comparator a bunch of times. I'll have to chase that up.

Jennifer, I can totally understand that, I'm not that keen on getting into the irresistible force meets immovable object type debates, either. I still think it's important to correct flagrant disinformation when I can, which is what I'm attempting to do here. I think it's valuable for the unswayed middle ground.

harry said...

tigtog,

"The whole point of the factoid about a "functioning brain" in a 43-day fetus is to cast the fetus as a thinking individual..."

...that can't survive outside the mother's body (ie another defining line of a foetus attaining human status would be when it has the ability to live a non-parasitic existence.)
I don't see how they're thinking they are winning points with the brain-activity one.

tigtog said...

Harry, I entirely agree with you about the silliness of the argument, even if their factoid were true.

However, they're not trying to convince us pro-choicers, they're trying to convince the middle ground and particularly the god-ridden US legislature.

I find cutting an emotive argument off at the knees with the snickersnee of fact ends things more quickly than slapping each other with philosophical arguments does.

Then they have to set up the next straw-man for us to knock down.

The Inoculated Mind said...

Good post. I just wrote one about the same general topic of misinformation about contraceptives, if you're interested: http://www.inoculatedmind.com/?p=40

I would also like to lend everyone a simple argument to defeat the semantics of the "Life" term that anti-abortionists use. "Life never ends and begins again. It continues."

tigtog said...

Thanks for dropping by, Karl, and for the link to your post. They do love playing fast and loose with the ambiguity between precise science jargon and fuzzy common usage, don't they?

Kevin T. Keith said...

all authorities accept that the end of an individual's life is measured by the ending of his brain function (as measured by brain waves on the EEG)


This is particularly ironic, because of course the "pro-life" community, in the US at least, has been virulent about opposing brain-centered criteria for death. There are still a number of US states that legally do not recognize even whole-brain death as legal death, and more that do not recognize higher-brain (cortical) death. If we could get the right-wing to agree that "the end of an individual's life is measured by the ending of his brain function", that in itself would be a step forward.

I suggest this quote should be more widely publicized!

This also exposes the inconsistency in the right-wing position - the same inconsistency they wrongly accuse pro-choicers of: they rely on (bogus) "brain wave" arguments to establish fetal personhood, but deny brain death as a criterion for legal death. The liberal ethics community, on the other hand, has been consistent in accepting the lack of organized cortical activity as indicative of the lack of personhood in both fetuses and "post-born" individuals, almost since the use of such evidence became practicable.

Kevin T. Keith said...

Oops. I should have said, more correctly, that in fact no US states accept higher-brain death, without accompanying death of the brainstem, as legal death.

tigtog said...

KTK, there does seem to be a legal reluctance to rely purely on the absence of higher cortical activity as the criterion: obviously brainstem death is incontrovertiblly a brain no longer functioning at all, and jurisprudence likes incontrovertible.

According to the Australian Museum's DeathOnline pages, it's the same here and so far challenges to consider upper brain death alone have been unsuccessful. though as the AM points out:
"history suggests that our current definition of death is far from permanent."

A functioning brainstem doesn't do a human much good without functioning heart/lungs, of course.

And I can't believe I let this one slip by me: at 40-43 days the developing prenatal human is still an embryo, not even a foetus yet(for those who haven't thought about this for a while, here are pics of embryo developmental stages)

The anti-abortionists only talk about foetuses because by Carnegie stage 23 (about day 56) the developing sprog starts to look pretty human - before then embryos look kinda alien. And at the end of the embryonic stage the brain is essentially just the ventricles around which undifferentiated brain tissue is beginning to accumulate - it's far from organised or functional in any way, and won'te be for quite a few weeks yet.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you check out this article.

http://brainmind.com/FetalBrainDevelopment.html

"It is now well established that the human fetus is capable of some
degree of behavioral complexity. In fact, as early as the 9th week of
gestation the fetus is able to spontaneously move the extremities,
head, and trunk (de Vries, Visser, & Prechtl, 1985). It has also been
suggested that the near term fetus may be endowed with some degree of
cognitive capability (e.g., Hepper & Shahidullah, 1994; Kisilevsky,
Fearson & Muir, 1998). Cognition has been inferred based on alterations
in fetal heart rate (FHR) and habituation to airborne sound (Kisilevsky
& Muir, 1991), response-declines to vibroacoustic stimuli (Kisilevsky
et al., 1998; Kuhlman, Burns, Depp, & Sabagha, 1988), and what appears
to be neonatal preferences for the maternal voice as well as melodies
and stories presented up to six weeks prior to birth (DeCasper & Fifer,
1980; DeCasper & Spence, 1986; DeCasper, Lecanuet, Busnel,
Granier-Deferre & Maugeais, 1994; Lecanuet, Granier-Deferre, & Busnel,
1989)."

tigtog said...

Anonymous: I certainly agree that the near-term foetus has a functioning brain that may well have cognitive capacity. The particular claim I'm addressing in this article is alleged brain function at 40 days gestation.

Movement of the extremities at 9 weeks gestation doesn't indicate much about cognitive capacity: there are brainstem movement patterns that present in brain-injured adults too.

Without a cortex, there can be no cognition, and the cortex doesn't develop until after 20 weeks gestation. No one aborts a post-20 week gestation foetus on a whim, it is only ever done for severe medical problems either with the foetus or the mother, so I really don't see the problem either with earlier terminations or with continuing to allow late-term terminations for medical reasons.

Amanda Ferguson said...

The reason this is such a controversy for all of you is because you know somewhere inside of you that aborting a baby is wrong. It doesn't really matter when the brain waves are present (I heard my baby's heart beating at 12 weeks, which by the way is about the time when most abortions are, in fact, performed) the real issue is convenience. Is it convenient for me to have this baby right now? Oh, not really, I think I'll just go ahead and get rid of it. This is not ok..How can any of you make excuses to justify? Do you not have a conscience? Do you not believe in God? What do you think God would say about it? That's cool, you didn't really have time to be having a baby at that point in your life anyway? Go ahead and live your self-absorbed lives with your distorted ways of thinking. Abortion is murder. Your arguments about the fetus not being able to care for itself- what if you left a small child in the forest? Is that ok, since that child must not really be a human life because he/she cannot care for herself? What has this world come to?

tigtog said...

Your arguments about the fetus not being able to care for itself- what if you left a small child in the forest? Is that ok, since that child must not really be a human life because he/she cannot care for herself?

Way to demonstrate lack of reading comprehension. The issue is not that the foetus cannot care for itself, the issue is that it cannot survive at all without the attached bodily support of the mother and the mother only. No-one else can take over gestation from the mother.

Obviously, a born child, while it cannot care for itself either, certainly can survive independently of the mother as any responsible human can provide the infant with food and shelter. Totally different situation.

As to the "convenience" catchcry, gestating and birthing an unplanned child is more than just an inconvenience, it is a huge bodily life-risking sacrifice that only some people are willing to make. I was happy to make the sacrifice for my two planned children, but their births have permanently affected my health, and there is no way I would willingly go through gestation and childbirth again.

Should I be forced to risk my health again to the detriment of the children I already have?

Anonymous said...

Interesting information. I certainly don't think this is a moot point as your first poster says. Pro-Choice arguments have never swayed me because they usually talk about the mother only - privacy or "it's my body." But privacy or "it's my child" doesn't work in cases of child abuse.

I've always considered myself pro life with exceptions. I've never embraced the pro life movement because I'm not religious. So therefore to me life begins with brain function and brain function is an important issue in this debate. If brain function starts in 43 days then I would lobby my elected officials for that to be the cut off except for instances of medical problems or rape. But if it's 20 weeks then I would lobby my elected officials for that timeframe. For me, I'd like to see a peer reviewed study of the issue. I'm not satisfied by a blog by a pro choice individual, no offense, or pro life liturature being passed out by irrational individuals who aren't yet ready to embrace their roots (evolution).

Thanks for making me think about the subject. And I did find your blog through a google search about brain function and human fetuses.

Vicoprofen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen W. said...

I think you are someone with just enough information to be dangerous. Regardless of a fetus' ability to think, research tells us without a doubt that the unborn child is able to feel pain early on in gestation. This should be enough "truth" for any mother to choose life over abortion.

melissa said...

I just found this site by accident looking for info. because I am pregnant with my 4th baby. The brainwave, the heartbeat, not being able to servive outside the mother. I don't understand any of you. I am sure that %99 of woman who have abortions know what causes pregnancy, so use birth controll! I also know a lot of woman who tried their whole lives to get pregnant but couldn't they would give anything to feel LIFE inside them , while so many other woman can't get it taken out quick enough. I know someone who has had A LOT of abortions because she doesn't like the way a condom feels. I can understand woman not wanting to bring a child into the world because it was conceived through rape, and I couldn't judge her or anyone else for that matter I just don't understand how someone could have an abortion knowing that even if the baby is not "ALIVE" now one day soon it would be crying, breathing, eating, responding to love, and touch and who are we to decided that that "THING" doesn't deserve a chance at life.

Marc Bouffard said...

This is a very interesting blog, and I think that we may, in fact, be skirting what the real issue is regarding fetal neurological activity. The vast majority of organisms (excluding the jellyfish, etc.) have neurological activity; as such, it does not logically follow that we should avoid abortion based on neurological activity per se. We routinely kill organisms that display neurological activity, so what makes humans different? The obvious answer, I think is what most term "Personhood", and I think that the majority of us can agree that such a category is ushered in by distinctively human neurological activity. So what might follow (note might) is avoidance of abortion at such a time when the fetus shows distinctively human neurological activity. This is, presumably, post 40 days but some time before birth. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone has a link or access to any EEG data on the onset of distinctively human neurological activity, as opposed to any organized neurological firing (the confers pain, random movement, etc.).

Marc Bouffard said...

To refine my statement of what I'm looking for, I refer to things like sleep spindles, alpha waves, delta waves, etc. when referring to "distinctively human neurological activity". I am not simply looking for neuronal firing in the cortex (or developing cortex). I believe the data for this has already been presented.

Zenka said...

Karen W:
It's not accepted fact that fetuses feel pain early in development. In fact the opposite is true.
http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_surg.htm
"There is a consensus among physicians and researchers that the fetus is unable to feel pain until the 26th week of gestation."
This is in the third trimester. Not early in fetal development at all, but post-viability.

tigtog said...

Sorry to all of the above commenters to whom I haven't replied over the months - the blog stopped mailing me when comments arrive and I didn't realise. I've now enabled moderation and the blog is mailing me comments just fine.

When Melissa actually invents a 100% effective form of contraception, then she might have an argument about the use of birth control. It's fine for Melissa to not want an abortion for herself - nobody plans to force her to have one, and if anyone was planning forced abortions I'd be totally against it. All that's being asked is that she doesn't force other women into unwanted motherhood.

Marc, I think some of the references cited in the original article by Margaret Sykes that I summarised might help with info on sleep spindles etc. Or perhaps a paediatric neurophysiology reference text.

Lynn Moor said...

In reference to the comment about the fetus being able to feel pain, even before there is any brain function in said fetus.

Just WHO is there to feel this pain? Poke a brain-dead person and they may respond but they are not believe to feel anything. They have no functioning brain with which to feel it.

Think, people, THINK!

Anonymous said...

I was glad I found this. It helped me more than the other sites I found, esp because you were specific.

and Im sorry I just have to say this to the other people...

It’s just way too easy to get pregnant in the sense that we aren't a sexually or reproductively responsible species. If we were then there wouldn't be so many of us- and we may not have survived as a species at all. So it's very unrealistic to expect people to go against their hardwiring that gets them to have irresponsible sex that results in babies. We need to accept who we are so we can find some real solutions, instead of saying petty things like “Well then you shouldn’t have had sex.” Because there is a much bigger issue- the process of creating a LIFE.

If you believe that a soul always inhabits a body then of course you don’t support abortion but you need to understand that that’s your BELIEF system. Stop calling people who simply don’t agree with you murderers, that’s beyond rude and (as one might imagine) we completely resent it.
And here’s the other thing- I support abortion because I value human life, which is ironic (and frustrating) since pro-lifers are always accusing me of the opposite and touting themselves the moral ones. If I honestly believe that souls don’t exist in these early stages (for whatever my reason is) then doesn’t it make so much sense to prevent this pre-child from continuing to develop into a child? Sure, to preserve the mother’s happiness like how having a child now can prevent someone from marrying their perfect mate later, and from having their future children. And to preserve the father’s happiness and grandparent’s, previous children’s, etc. but also to prevent a child from being created and forced to live- To live in a home where she isn’t wanted, or in an abusive/negligent/unprepared home. You need to think about it, this is creating a child. Creating. When a child is created there is a risk of them going on to be depressed individuals or violent individuals-even if you do everything “right.” So why run up the risk by forcing children to exist in less-than-ideal situations that they never asked to be in. And please don’t tell me that reasonably early abortions create pre-child life-form victims. They aren’t capable of being victims. They are not children. But the ones who continue to develop and become children are capable of being victims. And so so so many of them DO become victims.

Not to mention that so many people are quick to take on the role anti-abortionist but insist that it’s not their responsibility to ensure these stranger’s children’s happiness and success. And then when the kids grow up and make bad choices they are criticized and called Bad People, often by the very one’s who insisted they be created.
And the kicker? That they usually go on to have unplanned pregnancies dysfunctional families of their own. And so do their children. And their children’s children.

sarahfanatic said...

To those of you who feel that what you are calling "brain dead" persons who may respond/react to poking and prodding, but don't believe they feel pain: as a nurse, I have followed several studies where comatose persons who responded to touch while in a "coma" and woke up later told those who were their caregivers that they could hear what was being said around them, and could feel contact, but for some reason could not respond at the time. I think this pokes holes in your argument that those who are "brain dead" don't feel anything.

tigtog said...

As a nurse, if indeed you are one, then you should be aware that there is a huge difference in detectable brain activity between someone who is in a coma and someone who is "brain-dead" i.e. there is no electrical activity recorded from the cerebral cortex at all.

Thus arguments comparing comatose people to those humans who do not have a functioning neocortex either due to injury or due to not having developed a neocortex yet are totally irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Enough of the divisive chatter already! There is so much venom on both sides of this discussion that even facts are becoming politicized. No matter what "side" you are on, can we at least agree on some basic facts?: (1) Early in pregnancy, a "fetus" is simply a mass of developing cells incapable of thought and emotion; (2) By the third trimester, a fetus is practically fully developed, has brain activity, and is increasingly viable outside the womb; (3) At all stages of development, a fetus is a living homo sapien but may not be a "person" under the law; (4) No "person" ever existed who was not once a fetus; (5) A fetus lives inside its mother's body but is not part of the mother's body -- it has different DNA than the mother, it has an independent blood supply (which may be of a type that is not the mother's), and about half the time is not even the same sex as the mother.

tigtog said...

Most of your points are fair, however, part of your 5th point is highly arguable:

it has an independent blood supply (which may be of a type that is not the mother's)

You seem a little confused. Blood supply and blood type are two very different things.

Separate and independent are also two very different things. The fetus' blood CIRCULATION is SEPARATE from its mother's, but it is not INDEPENDENT - they are still connected through the umbilical cord and the nourishment received thereby goes directly into the foetus's bloodstream, not into it's not-yet-functioning digestive tract.

The mother and the foetus are two organisms in a close symbiotic relationship. The foetus is not separate until the umbilical cord is severed.

JCMoore said...

An egg cell and sperm are both alive, a heartbeat begins at 5 weeks, brain waves at 25 weeks, and breathing at birth. Trying to decide when an embryo becomes alive or a person - is just picking a point on a continuum. Perhaps if people realized that, we could avoid some of the dogmatic arguments.

note: I enjoyed your article but had a hard time reading colored words on a black background.