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Is the human embryo sacred or something special ?

John Wyatt is Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics and a devout Christian.
Here is what he writes about the human embryo:
"At one level the embryo is just biology, a collection of genetic information and cellular machinery. But at the same time it is a physical sign of an immaterial or spiritual reality, even a sacrament of a hidden covenant of creation. A sign that God is bringing forth a new being, a god-like being, a unique reflection of his character, a being to whom he is locked in covenant commitment. (...)
"we have to recognize that not every embryo is destined to develop into a person. More than 50 per cent of all human embryos fail to implant in the uterus or miscarry at an early stage of pregnancy. Studies indicate that the majority of these embryos have major chromosomal anomalies which are incompatible with life."

How is it possible to make these two perspectives compatible? - On the one hand, the human embryo is something sacred, the beginning of a god-like being, on the other hand more than 50 percent of these "sacred beings" are routinely destroyed before they can develop into a child, killed not by wicked abortion doctors, but by nature itself, or - because after all God himself is responsable for everything that happens in nature - by their Creator.

What I cannot understand is how Professor Wyatt can reconcile sacredness and mass-destruction. I am pretty sure that the vast majority of those "pro-lifers" who fight against abortion do not know that more than half of all human embryos are destroyed naturally, without external interference, but our Professor of course is aware of that fact. To me, this is one of the points where biology and religion collide (at least if you agree with Prof. Wyatt that God's covenant with humans starts with conception, and not at a later stage in the fetal development.)

So what do you think? Is the human embryo sacred or something special (inherently and essentially different from, say, a mouse embryo)? If yes: why? Or do we need a supernatural dimension in order to distinguish human and mouse embryos in a moral sense?

Matias 8 Sep 21

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We're clearly not opposed to killing our own species. We kill criminals. We kill people we perceive as enemies. We choke up a bit when confronted with the idea of killing innocents. And we have a natural predisposition for protecting children. But we have no leg to stand on if we claim we are unwilling to kill. The point is, we are happy to kill if we feel it is justified. So any so-called sacredness is out.

The question becomes "Is it justifiable?" Whether killing a microscopic blob of cells or killing a 250 lb. blob of cells, it's still killing. The bottom line is that 'deciding when to kill' is a decision adults have to make sometimes, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us. We murder the food we eat. We murder our own kind when we feel they are not fit to live among us. We murder those who are trying to murder us. And a growing contingent of us feel that murder of the unformed is justified in the preservation of the formed... that we should be willing to suffer that discomfort in the service of granting half our species the right to body sovereignty.

It is Nature's way that not all potential life is granted a full lifetime. As responsible adults we must stop passing the buck to gods or selective-sacredness, and shoulder our unpleasant duties. We should never approach them frivolously, but when two values we respect are mutually exclusive, we must try to make responsible choices, rather than pretend we can remain innocent bystanders.

Like there is no God, there is no objective right and wrong. There is only whatever you personally hold to be of value. I don't like killing innocent, potential humans. I like even less assuming that I have some God-given (if not God, then from whom?) right to force a woman to manage her body in some way that suits me. NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

None of us can authentically claim to be "right". We can only claim to have preferences that we are willing to stand by, and I stand by a woman's right to choose.

skado Level 8 Sep 21, 2018


Your use of the word "we" or we're" is incorrect. Some condone Capital Punishment, many do not.

That’s right. So what’s the best procedure for resolving issues people disagree on?

@skado Best procedure? I don't know what the best procedure might be, that question brings in many different philosophical avenues. The current procedure is democratic State by State decision. Maybe not the best. Personally I always thougth Catital punishment was unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment be simple definition. What coud be more cruel than taking one's life, and Capital Punishment is not used often, so it is unusual.


If the joining of a sperm and egg is somehow a sign of a spiritual reality or a sacrament of sorts (however he's defining that), I have to wonder whether he believes the same for chickens and pigs, whose embryonic development is so similar to that of humans, and if not why not. He seems to have no basis for his claim except that he believes in the supernatural. That seems to be justification enough for him, but I need reasons backed by science or strong logic (not theology or metaphysics). I've never heard a sufficient argument to support such spiritual-reality assertions.

Well stated! Humanocentric hubris is behind all of this 'specialness' and 'sacred' nonsense. And when in our evolutionary history was this designation achieved? Were our hominid ancestors endowed with the same 'sacred spark' that we inherited? How many millions of years have we been 'special?'


It is very special. Especially when stir fried & served with a nice bordeaux.

Not fava beans and a nice chianti?

@pnfullifidian No mate, that's for dining on Xtian Babies ONLY I'm afraid....LOL.

@Triphid My reference was to Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter in his now-famous Silence of the Lambs line.


I have many thoughts on this.

  1. The fetus is a parasite until it can survive on its own outside the body.
  2. Those that can't take care of themselves should be protected.
  3. It's just a cluster of cells, no sense of being.
  4. How do we know there's no sense of being?
  5. When can the fetus feel pain?
  6. Abortions should not be used as birth control.
  7. Why can't abortions be used as birth control?
  8. Woman's body, woman's choice.
  9. The father should have a say too.

Ultimately, I am pro choice, but it's a conflicted stance. I base my decisions on science alone, but there's so much we don't know about the human body. To answer the question, no a fetus isn't special. It's biology.

@Deiter Unrelated and you're stirring the pot. The topic at hand is abortion.

Look up the definition of parasite. A fetus in no way fits that definition. Using your "logic" since a new born can't live on it's own it is OK to kill it.

@Bobby9 The difference between a newborn and a fetus is that a fetus is a potential human and a newborn is an actual human. The rights of actual humans clearly supersede those of potential humans. Unless you believe in souls, which I do not, a human's individuality is determined by the makeup of her/his brain, and until that brain is as developed as it's going to be, you don't have a complete human. Until a child is born, its rights should be subordinated to those of its creator/host, i.e., its mother.

@dan325 OK, so what, my comment delt with the use of the word parasite. As a "p.s." the fetus in questin is a human fetus, and what you say is "clearly" is not clear at all. Certainly you are aware there is MUCH controversy about abortions. FYI I am not arguing against abortion, I am pointing out you don't make a very good case.

@Bobby9 Definition of parasite: Parasitism is a symbiotic relationship between two organisms, wherein the parasite benefits at some expense of the host.

@Bobby9 So, it's not clear to you that the rights of actual humans should supersede the rights of potential humans? (That's the only statement I made where I used the word "clearly." ) Are you saying that the second a human egg becomes fertilized (a potential human), it should have the same rights as its parents and every other actual human being?

@Alimacbean You left out a word, "benefits solely" is the definition.

@Alimacbean, @dan325 Obviously the second an egg is fertilized it is a potential human. What other potential exists? I made no assessment of rights.

@Bobby9 Benefits "solely"? Not according to my dictionary. On the other hand, who cares? What point are you trying to make?

@dan325 What is not according to your dictionary?

@Bobby9 You sure seemed to be making an assessment of rights. If you weren't, what was your point other than to quibble over the definition of "parasite"?

@dan325 Not a quibble, it was not used properly

@Bobby9 You said that @Alimacbean left out the word "solely" (benefits "solely" ) in her definition of parasitism. I think her definition was accurate, and so does my dictionary. And, once again, who cares?

@dan325 My dictionary disagrees with your dictionary and there is no question that my dictionary is better than yours.

@Bobby9 I'm sure you meant to say your dictionary is "clearly" better than mine.

@Bobby9 I've been pregnant and and taking all emotion out of it, I can tell you the fetus is absolutely a parasite. Not all parasites are bad. Plus, you can't assert to know what you can't experience.

@dan325 Perhaps

@dan325, @Alimacbean Gee, I never knew I could not get pregnant, not that, that has anything to do with the subject. Irrespective of your feelings it is not a parasite.

@Bobby9 Whatever you say, dear. I'm going to leave and talk to the adults now.

@dan325 Good, it is time you left the children's table, but I understand that everyone can't make regular progress. Your smugness reveals your ignorance.


An embryo is sacred to the person who wants a child. To someone who does not, no, it is not sacred.

Sacred was a poor choice of words, making the original question a non-starter.

@Bobby9 Agreed.


Any Embryo is simply just that, it is collection of cells with an as yet indeterminate purpose awaiting the effect/s of hormones to " kick-start" the processes that will determine what it will, hopefully, eventually become.
To ask if something is " sacred, " in my opinion, implies that it should be considered as a " Loan" or " Gift" from some Supremely Higher Entity BUT it is not and never has been, there are only the Forces of the Natural Universe and the effects they can have or not have that determine what will be and what will NOT be, nothing more, nothing less.
A womans body is HER own property, what happens within that body as in pregnancy, etc, is HERS and HERS alone to determine and NO-ONE elses what-so-ever just as is the body of a man as well.
Unfortunately, the only thing we have NO control over body-wise are diseases, injury and death, BUT in the case of OUR own death WE should have the choice to chose how, when and why we die and it NOT be determined by some Arcane, Arcaic Superstitions and belief system imposed upon us.


If god treats zygotes with so little consideration, how can they be holy? We share 97% of our genetic information with every living creature on earth. Not just mammals, either. Birds fish bugs, all of it. The difference between a mouse embryo and a human enbryo is 3% give or take.


Nothing is sacred. Life is precious not sacred.
Think about it; if life was sacred there would be no death.


If it's immoral to remove an embryo, then all cancers are also sacred.

If new cells (cancer) are created because of a mutation (which is out of our control) then those are equally sacred, and cannot be touched. Add in anything else that surgeons can remove: bad valves, imperfect anatomy, failing organs, in-grown toenails, the list is endless.

In every hospital in the world, in any moment, people are having their "god-given" cells re-arranged and/or removed by modern medicine.

Why is it that when a man chooses to deposit HIS cells into a woman, they're suddenly "SACRED"????

If they're so bleating SACRED, then he should have kept them TO HIMSELF!!!!


Get your bible out of our vagina and shove it up your ass!

zesty Level 7 Sep 26, 2018

There are many things that you and I don't agree on, but I love your take on this! Well said!

@dan325 🙂


Thought experiment:

You are visiting a fertility clinic. A fire breaks out on one of the theatres, and is rushing towards the oxygen tanks. When it reaches them, the entire place goes.

You are in a corridor. On one side is a cooler containing 50 frozen embryos, immersed in liquid nitrogen and ready for transport. On the other is a baby, screaming in terror. You have only got time to rescue one, and if you hesitate, everyone dies.

Who do you choose?

The child. Right of the living. The other is only potential.

@Ingi ex-motherfucking-actly.


I love to flip the tables on this topic. Is an embryo any more sacred than a woman's life? Because when abortion is illegal that is exactly what is being communicated.

OwlRN Level 4 Sep 21, 2018

If a woman's life is in immediate danger due to pregnancy, then it becomes a case of "self defense" to abort the fetus... that I think is clear to most every one except die-hard religious... and they are not in the majority thankfully.

@TheMiddleWay it's not just about that. When abortion is illegal women have and will take matters into their own hands. They have for generations. And in this case, that frequently meant interventions resulting in maternal death. I'm not talking back alley doctors, I'm talking women at home using what they have so they wouldn't have kid #10

Also, this mentality is evident now. Hospitals are so baby focused, they have almost forgetten about Mom. We have an increasing maternal death rate in this country, especially when looking at race.

@OwlRN @TheMiddleWay
I have to say I am tired of men or the religious deciding what is best for women’s health. I have had two abortions because it’s my prerogative to choose not to bring a being into a world to suffer, and it’s my prerogative not to have kids. I don’t have to explain how the pregnancies happened (make an educated guess) nor do I have to justify why I did it. It’s my body and my agency and no one, especially a male, or a religious twonk, has a say in either my sex life or my reproductive rights. Women don’t need a special health reason to justify abortion. They will have an abortion if they don’t want a child and they don’t have to justify that decision to anyone - not even a doctor.

"I have to say I am tired of men or the religious deciding what is best for women’s health."
I'd get used to it. We live in a country where everyone gets to decide what is best for everyone else, regardless of sex, color, or creed. If you don't like men commenting on women, then maybe women shouldn't comment on men, blacks shouldn't comment on whites, immigrants shouldn't comment on citizens. Thankfully we life in a country where you can comment about me and I about you.

"It’s my body "
Do with your body as you please. Unfortunately, an embryo is not your body. Check the DNA if you doubt it. The science of DNA wasn't used in the original Roe v. Wade and may be a factor to consider going forward insofar.

@TheMiddleWay What country do I live in? The country of my residence doesn’t give a man a right or agency regarding my will or my body. There is something very wrong when a committee on women’s heath does not have one female committee member.


People don’t decide for each other - the law is the benchmark on what can and cannot be done legally. Right now abortion is legal and men are sore about it because they do not feel in control. The fact is, whether women decide to have a child or not, is not controllable by men. If we have an “unwanted” child, men are powerless, if we abort legally or illegally, men are powerless. It simply a decision you do not and will not ever have the privilege of making, as you do not carry the child and it’s unconnected to your bodies.
DNA is therefore utterly irrelevant factor to women’s ability to control their body and it’s functions, including whatever is in our uterus. If something is in my uterus, only I get to decide -the male and the embryo itself has no power physically to do anything about the decision.
The only relevance DNA has is whether we like the father or not, and whether we want his genes to continue with ours. The other decisive factor is whether or not we want to be tied for life to the male in question. We may decide he is a risk to the unborn child itself, or is unable to support its life financially.
We get to make these decisions irrespective of the law, what men think, because only the female side has the agency to continue or terminate.
The lack of power men feel in this situation makes them uncomfortable and they struggle over our reproductive rights. It’s an unwinnable struggle.

I could also make mincemeat of your arguments regarding erroneous connections to freedom of speech and power relations, but my thumbs are tired and I have cat puke to clean up.

@kozmic ?


People who claim to be scientists are supposed to view things with a sense of reason. These religious scientists make a mockery of their own profession and they make me sick.
We live on a space ship with finite resources. We have stretched those resources to the point of endangering future generations of humans and killed off thousands of species of non-human species. That is immoral. Trying to moralize our extreme, exponential population growth is the height of hypocrisy and arrogance (and extreme fear).
No, nothing about any part of any human is special and tying mumbo jumbo words onto our existence changes nothing.

Right on. Once you free yourself of belief in the supernatural, the word "sacred" has no meaning beyond helping to describe religious belief systems. Humanity's belief in its own exceptionalism is based solely on superstition and hubris.


The human embryo is neither sacred nor something special. It is simply an early stage in the development of every human organism.


Matias, this is very similar to the (very interesting) question you put out the other day on the reconciliation of religion and science. As I said then, many scientists compartmentalize their faith and practical knowledge, as humans are incongruous in thought, deed and emotion on a daily basis. The professor in this case tries to merge the two and finds himself in a logical cul-de-sac. I get what he is saying as conception is an amazing thing. It’s an incredible mathematical chance that you are you, and one spermatozoa among millions penetrated one egg, when human ovulation is a tricky thing. On the other hand it’s such a common occurrence that there are seven billion of us! Human conception is at once as mundane as shitting and as incredible as the Big Bang. In the grander scheme of the world and in a biological sense, a human embryo is not a sacred thing - it is a product of reproduction and is no higher or lower in order in the natural world than a germinating acorn or a mouse embryo. However socially the family unit, fertility and conception have taken on a meaning beyond genetics. Anthropologically insemination and pregnancy can bond kinsmenship and identity of the clan, unite or divide clans, form the basis of social cohesion and peace, claims to territory or war. Pregnancy is imbued with ritual and birth is a right of passage. That is why women’s fertility is controlled by men to this day. That is why to some people believe it is sacred - thousands of years of programming. It’s the key to survival of your group and your genes. It is logical that most of society think an embryo is sacred, and that murder is evil. It’s all tied to primeval survival. Truth be told that both conception and murder are mundane daily occurrences.

Livia Level 6 Sep 23, 2018

Well said! I totally agree.
The above quote is from the book "Real scientists - real faith. 17 leading scientists reveal the harmony between their science and their faith", and I enjoyed reading the book because it is fascinating to see how each of them manages (more or less) to "reconcile" or to compartmentalize the two sides.

@Matias I am honored that you liked my comment! I also like your questions.


No its not sacred!


It has no experiences, no memory, and can't feel pain until the 3rd trimester. Its potential parents will feel pain if there is a miscarriage. Sacred though? How can any atheist or agnostic say that it is? Any theist that says it's sacred is just guessing. If life is so sacred then why does nature shit on it so much?


It and I say it intentionally, is simply a function of biology. There is no magical properties and I apologize to those that can not conceive as it may feel differently to them.
It is no more a human that the seed that has yet to sprout and become a tree.

It is only as important as the 2 people that created it feel it is


The collision arises first with the assumption that a collection of cells is more than that. This would need to be demonstrated. Until that demonstration we should treat it as it is.
I think if you have to introduce a supernatural explanation to your argument you have already lost on a rational level. Is an collection of cells sacred? No. Or you would have to concede that a sperm cell can also be sacred and somehow nobody (that I'm aware of) seems to want to make this argument.
Is an embryo special? Yes, everything is special, so no, nothing is special. What does special even mean?
The moral status of an embryo depends on your morality. For me, moral consideration starts with consciousness. How you want to define that is another rabbit hole you might want to go down, but there is a point where an embryo is definitely not conscious and a point where it is definitely conscious. Somewhere in between is good enough for me, for now.

Dietl Level 7 Sep 21, 2018

It is not sacred because we are not sacred.


I was thinking about sex today. "Love bugs" are being pests this time of year, male and female flys conjoined by their genitals and buzzing haphazardly together.

My point is, an embryo was the best evolution could come up with, and reproduction is slightly more fun for us than for love bugs. What's cool is most mammals look about the same before 8 weeks of gestation, even a human and a mouse. The real debate is what can be mundane and miraculous at the same time? Nature has mastered embryos from before humans walked upright. Sure it's complex, but if early man connected the dots that mating = offspring, it's not as big a deal as mr professor believes.


The religious right says that the minute a sperm and an egg shake hands it is a child. Once it is born they no longer give a shit.


The existence of the pope is a clear sign that abortion is necessary.

zesty Level 7 Sep 30, 2018

“At one level the embryo is just biology, a collection of genetic information and cellular machinery. But at the same time it is a physical sign of an immaterial or spiritual reality, even a sacrament of a hidden covenant of creation”

The interesting thing about these two positions is that one is evidenced and the other isn’t.

I’ve become something of an evidence freak in the last few years as I note that much of what is wrong with the world traces back to unevidenced truth claims. Like that one above.

Most claims in this space require a leap of faith: and eventually to believe in a digital definition of human/non-human requires belief in something like a soul. Otherwise - as ever, nuance and subtlety must weigh in.


Nothing is sacred.

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