More Evidence that A Baby in the Womb is Fully Human

Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)

Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)

Dr. Jermoe L. LeJeune was the brilliant geneticist who first demonstrated that there is a link between certain diseases and corresponding chromosomal abnormalities. While testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in 1989, he said:

To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a matter of metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.

Almost thirty years have passed since he made this statement, and the scientific evidence continues to support it.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote about a study of twins in the womb. The study indicated that social interaction takes place prior to birth when the opportunity arises. Later on, I wrote about another study that indicates that if our understanding of brain networks is correct, babies actually think about the future while in the womb!

I recently learned about a new study that adds even more evidence to the ever-growing pile which indicates that babies are fully human while they are inside the womb.

To appreciate what the study says, however, you need a bit of background information. Experiments that have occurred over the past 20 years indicate that newborn infants have a preference for images that look like faces. In fact, the image doesn’t even have to be a face for a newborn to be interested in it. The image just has to have the proportions of a face. Even a triangle of dots with two dots at the top (representing eyes) and one dot at the bottom (representing a mouth) is more engaging to a newborn infant than the same image turned upside-down so that the “eyes” and “mouth” are in the wrong place compared to a face.

One question, of course, is when does this preference begin? When the baby first sees his or her mother? When the baby is first born? Before the baby is born? Until recently, it was impossible to answer that question. However, Vincent Reid and his colleagues figured out a way. They took advantage of the fact that light travels through a mother’s tissues and into the womb. Not a lot of light makes it through, and the mother’s tissues distort it. However, the way light travels through such tissues is very well understood. Reid and his colleagues used this understanding to determine what pattern of lights to shine on the mother’s skin so that, when it reached the baby in her womb, it would look like a triangle composed of three dots.

They then took ultrasound images of 39 babies inside the womb and analyzed how the babies responded to the patterns of light as they were moved across the mother’s skin. They found that the babies inside the womb had pretty much the same response as babies outside the womb. They weren’t interested in following the triangle when it was arranged with two dots on the bottom and one dot on the top (relative to the babies’ position). However, when the triangle was arranged like a face, the babies turned their heads to follow the triangle’s movement. As the authors state:

These results indicate that the fetus in the third trimester is more likely to engage with stimuli featuring an upright face-like configuration when contrasted with an inverted configuration. We therefore conclude that postnatal experience is not necessary for the emergence of a preferential visual system for face-like stimuli.

As far as I am concerned, this is just one more piece of evidence that shows how unscientific it is to claim that a baby isn’t human while it is in the womb. Behaviors that are exhibited from the moment of birth (such as a preference for face-like patterns) are found in the womb when scientists look for them. There is simply no scientific reason to suggest that babies inside the womb are somehow “less human” than babies outside the womb.

Please note that it is not healthy for a baby in the womb to receive a lot of extra light. The lights used in this study were very dim and were calculated to be noticeable to the baby, but not bright. You should never shine lights on a mother’s skin to “stimulate” a baby.

4 Comments

  1. John D. says:

    Super interesting. In High School we were taught that humans were the only “animal” born without any inherent instincts – that we had lost them all in the evolutionary process. I remember thinking how useful it would be being born already knowing how to walk, or swim, etc. Later on I read that Noam Chomsky argues that language must be innate as the myriad of complicated grammar rules and subtle nuances involved in things like tone and inflection are too far too dizzying for infants to learn by simple observation alone.

    What you’ve posted above alludes to DNA / life being a learning powerhouse complete with preferences, ideas, instincts and maybe even some of the capacity for the trades of our forefathers (woodworking, writing, etc). It’s probably also safe to say that, even before the brain develops, cells are storing memory from the outside world. I don’t know if there is any credence to the tales of organ recipients recalling memories of the donors, but if it could be proved that the soul exists throughout the body and blood then maybe secular abortion advocates would get away from their current reasoning.

    At any rate I do think the most common sense answer to any pro-choice advocate is to pose the question of when a child is no longer a choice. They all have different answers, and I think pointing that out helps to prove that the only real answer is “never.”

    Here’s a thorough secular attempt – http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2013/10/03/when-does-a-human-life-begins-17-timepoints/

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for the link, John. Her reasoning for #14 being the definition of human life is rather strange. As she says, that will change dramatically when technology changes. Also, there are people who cannot live “where humans survive” due to immunodeficiencies, etc. Does that mean they aren’t human, either? The obvious answer is #4, because that’s when a new genome is formed.

  2. John D. says:

    Yeah.. I thought it a little strange that she knowingly chose the most arbitrary position. She must not think too much of the philosophical high ground. I think a lot of people are ok with less than water tight moral positions. If gender is now pliable, why not everything?

    I thought one of the commenters brought up a good point…

    “The real point of contention is not in defining when life begins, but in defining when moral and/or legal rights ensue.

    And no, the debate is not about a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Just as my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose, a woman’s right to choose abortion ends when that right violates the rights of another person…

    And anyway, isn’t the point at which a fetus can survive much earlier today than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago? Doesn’t it seem likely that as technology advances that point will continue to be earlier and earlier? Is it all that far-fetched to imagine a time 20, 50, 100 years from now when an egg can be fertilized and grow to full “babyhood” (for lack of a better term) completely outside the womb?

    At some point along that timeline into the future, doesn’t the question of when life begins become a matter of some arbitrary, academic, definition, and therefore for all practical purposes moot? How close are we to that point right now? Have we already passed it and we just don’t know it yet?

    The real question, the most important question, the question that will never become moot, the question for which the matter of when life begins is really just a proxy, is the one that David Gaw suggested; “When do rights ensue?”

    My personal opinion is this: We are all created equal. And while we will probably never EVER really know, outside of some definition that we ourselves rationalize, when life actually begins, we DO know the exact instant at which we are created, and it is in that moment when our rights ensue. “

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