Sci/Environment

Is Sen. Rubio Disqualified for the Presidency?

Critics call him a scientific illiterate but life does begin at conception.

Is Sen Rubio Disqualified for the Presidency Gage Skidmore

Gage Skidmore

Over the past few days, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been getting flogged in the blogosphere by “reproductive justice” journalists, like MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, and tweeters in residence at the New York Times (and here) and Washington Post. What outrage did he commit worthy of 1,690,000 Google search results for the query “Rubio + disqualified for presidency”?

It is hard to convey the nature and gravity of the Senator’s misdeeds in American English, as our jurisprudence has not kept up with current norms. Essentially, he’s been charged with conduct that constitutes a doubleplus ungood thoughtcrime in the lexicon of Newspeak, the language of the bureaucrats and elites in Orwell’s Oceania circa 1984.

The two-count indictments charge that, on or about May 14, in an interview on the Sean Hannity show, Senator Rubio committed the following offenses: (1) He questioned the alleged “scientific consensus” on the causation and severity of future climate change; and (2) he raised the issue of hypocrisy by pointing out that where scientific consensus does exist—for example, that human life begins at conception—many persist in rejecting the settled science and encourage dissent.

Do the charges have any merit?

One need not dwell on the validity of a “scientific consensus” concerning the extent of future climate change. Predictions of future conditions that depend on almost infinite variables can be subjected to the scientific method (i.e., observed and measured) only after they occur. It is not possible to test the validity of projections and achieve a consensus on their accuracy decades in advance.

The verdict: Not guilty for questioning a scientific consensus on climate change.

Is Rubio wrong in pointing to a consensus about when life begins? Embryologists have long studied human reproduction and early human development. Through observation—not computer modeling—they have arrived at a consensus (indeed, likely unanimous) conclusion that the life of a new human organism begins at fertilization, when sperm and ovum unite. A few excerpts from major embryology textbooks confirm this.

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology (7th ed.)]

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Mueller, Human Embryology & Teratology (2nd ed.)]

“Zygote. This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” [Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (7th ed.)]

For those who want to delve further into this issue, Maureen Condic, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, authored a 2008 “White Paper” for the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person entitled When does human life begin? A scientific perspective.

In light of the consensus among embryologists, do Senator Rubio’s critics have any reasonable basis to condemn him for asserting that life begins at conception? An exhaustive survey (“Conceiving Pregnancy”) of a total of 73 published editions of the four major medical dictionaries in the United States found that all editions have defined conception as being synonymous with fertilization, i.e., the union of sperm and ovum resulting in a new human life. Beginning in the 1970s, however, a handful of editions attempted, at least for a time, to conform to the novel definitions of conception and pregnancy introduced in 1965 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Currently, one dictionary has consistently defined conception as fertilization, while a second switched to the ACOG definition (below). A third dictionary offers contradictory definitions and the fourth has given up on choosing sides, calling conception “an imprecise term.” No solid consensus can emerge from such chaos.