When does life begin?

Scientists who work on embryonic stem cells usually extract them from five-day old embryos. These embryos are left over after couples receive in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Often, only one embryo out of ten created by IVF is actually implanted into the mother and the remaining ones are disposed of. Sometimes the ‘spare’ embryos are donated to medical research.

To decide whether research using embryos is right or wrong, you need to ask yourself: when does life begin?

Picture of a fertilised egg

Day One: the sperm has just gone into the egg.

People think very differently about this complicated matter. Some people believe a life begins when the sperm and egg meet, others when the embryo has begun to form, and others do not believe that a five-day old embryo is a human life at all.

One example is the Catholic Church which believes that life begins when the sperm meets the egg at conception. The Catholic Church has strong opinions regarding abortion and believes that it is wrong to end a life in this way. The Church also disagrees with any research that uses embryos.

Picture of two sisters with their newborn baby brother

When does life begin?

In contrast, some people believe that the benefits of stem cell research outweigh the costs of destroying a five-day old embryo. They also think it is wrong to compare the value of this early stage embryo to the value of a child.

Others say that if an embryo is going to be destroyed anyway, it makes more sense to make beneficial use of it.

This issue will not go away for as long as embryo research is carried out. You will hear the question: ‘when does life begin?’ time and time again.