Irving Response to Mississippi 'Personhood' Initiative

August 17, 2011 09:00 AM

By Dianne Irving, Ph.D. 

Pro-life deserves to know that formal legal definitions, such as those proposed here, are usually legally required to be interpreted by the courts as “exclusionary”—that is, only precisely what is included in the definition is covered by the law; anything not precisely included in that definition is not covered by the law. This “personhood” initiative, like so many others, will NOT protect “all unborn human beings” at all, because: 

1. “Fertilization” refers only to sexually reproduced human beings (fusion of sperm and oocyte); it does NOT include asexually reproduced human beings (without the immediate use of sperm or oocytes, e.g., monozygotic [identical] twins occurring naturally within the woman’s body, as well as those artificially reproduced in IVF and other ART laboratories for “infertility treatments” or for pure destructive research by means of “twinning” or many other kinds of genetically engineered human embryos). None of those human beings would be covered by this initiative; thus they would not be legally considered as “persons.” 

2. Since both sexually and asexually reproduced human embryos are now implanted into women’s wombs, “abortion” now includes the intentional killing of both sexually and asexually reproduced human embryos/fetuses. Therefore, this initiative would not cover the abortion of any asexually reproduced human beings (whether naturally or artificially reproduced).

3. The term “fertilization” is often confused with the term “conception.” However, (a) the term “conception” has been scientifically rejected as erroneous and misleading by human embryologists for a long time now; and, (b) since many state laws now already legally define “conception” as “implantation” (which takes place 5-7 days post-fertilization), this initiative would not legally cover either sexually or asexually reproduced human embryos while they are still in the woman’s fallopian tube. Thus those human embryos could be killed by various means, including the use of abortifacients, embryo flushing, etc.

4. Quite unfortunately, the term “cloning” is now already legally defined in many states as only somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). However, there are dozens of different other kinds of human cloning techniques, including “twinning” (used by IVF/ARTs as infertility treatments), germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT) (used by researchers like Gearhardt, et al.), pronuclei transfer (used for correcting genetic errors in sex-linked diseases), and dozens of other genetic engineering techniques. None of these other kinds of human cloning would be covered by this initiative. Also, even the usual legal mis-definition of SCNT is scientifically erroneous itself, and therefore even cloning by means of the real SCNT technique would not be covered by this bill.

5. There simply is no “functional equivalency” between sexual and asexual human reproduction, or among the various different kinds of human cloning and other asexual reproductive methods. Hopefully no trustworthy scientist wrote this part of this legal definition of “person.” Therefore, the inclusion of this phrase in the initiative would be mute, if not “rejected for vagueness.”

6. What many pro-lifers fail to realize is that there is already a history, especially promoted by secular bioethics legal teams, of securing a false definition in laws and regulations concerned with beginning of life issues, and then transferred to end of life issues—“personhood” being among the most obvious. Thus, if this initiative becomes law, then no human beings, adult or otherwise, would be legally considered as “persons” if they had been asexually reproduced. This means that euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, “brain death,” organ transplantation, use of patients in experimental research projects, etc., would remain legally valid. These are but a few of the very real and serious errors in most of the recent “personhood” initiatives currently being pursued. If only for “informed consent” purposes—much less for the correct formation of consciences—these errors should be allowed to be openly debated and corrected before such errors become institutionalized in law. 

If anyone has any questions or objections, please contact me directly. ----- Dr. Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D. 

Dr. Irving is a former bench research biochemist/biologist (NIH), philosopher, medical ethicist and professor, and has taught these subjects in universities for many years. By request, she has analyzed dozens of legal bills and documents, nationally and internationally, involving the early human embryo. Many are listed and accessible in the Irving Library at

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at

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