Human organisms begin to exist at fertilization

Bioethics 31 (7):534-542 (2017)

Abstract

Eugene Mills has recently argued that human organisms cannot begin to exist at fertilization because the evidence suggests that egg cells persist through fertilization and simply turn into zygotes. He offers two main arguments for this conclusion: that ‘fertilized egg’ commits no conceptual fallacy, and that on the face of it, it looks as though egg cells survive fertilization when the process is watched through a microscope. We refute these arguments and offer several reasons of our own to think that egg cells do not survive fertilization, appealing to various forms of essentialism regarding persons, fission cases, and a detailed discussion of the biological facts relevant to fertilization and genetics. We conclude that it is plausible, therefore, that human organisms begin to exist at fertilization – or, at the very least, that there are grounds for thinking that they existed as zygotes which do not apply to the prior egg cells. While this does not entail that human persons begin to exist at this point, it nevertheless has considerable significance for this latter question.

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