Body rights: Forgotten/unknown basics?


Thursday, June 07, 2018

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At the risk of losing gynaecologist Dr Michael Abrahams as a friend, and further irritating my wife's former gynaecologist and esteemed fellow Cornwallian Dr Errol Daley, I wish to point out a few things about which I have been reliably informed by scientists (including my wife, who is a professor of biology).

A pregnant woman's right to do what she wishes with her own body cannot be denied or determined by religious folk or by churches. We need to argue this point carefully though, and avoid certain too-popular misconceptions.

1. Beyond pardonable loose talk, the zygote is not medically/scientifically a part of the pregnant woman's body. I gather from biologists that scientifically a body part is defined by the common genetic code it shares with the rest of the body; the zygote's genetic code differs from its mother's. The zygote's gender and blood type could also be different, and it possesses separate circulatory, nervous, and endocrine systems. A pregnant woman can be fatally injured — her body dies — yet her child is delivered alive.

“…The modern science of immunology has shown that the unborn child is not a part of a woman's body in the sense that her kidney or heart is.” (Bernard Nathanson, once the leading abortionist in America.)

2. Popular blunders: Being inside or being connected to something = being part of that thing; cf being connected to a spacecraft in outer space; a mouse in a cookie jar.

3. By the way, the so-called 'navel string' or umbilical cord is produced by the unborn and is attached to, and at birth cut from, the placenta (the 'afterbirth'), which is also produced by the unborn. The 'navel string' is not attached to the mother at all!

NB: I sent the following to a doctor/lecturer in embryology for correction or verification. This is what that doctor wrote back.

“You are right. The navel string connects the placenta to the baby. The placenta is attached to the lining of the uterus. Nutrients from the mother flow into an area to which the placenta is attached. The placenta (term means cake) is discoid (shaped like a disc) and is about 15-25 cm (six to 10 inches) in diameter and 3 cm thick and weighs about 500-600 grams, ie about two pounds. The absorptive area within the placenta is about 4-14 square metres. A mature placenta holds about 150 ml (five ounces of blood), which is changed 3-4 times in a minute as nutrients are pumped into it.

Blood from the placenta flows to/from the baby via the umbilical cord. The cord contains three vessels. Two of them are arteries that take blood to the placenta. One of them is a vein, the umbilical vein. This vein carries blood from the placenta to the baby.

Most of the information here about the numbers derives from Langman's Medical Embryology 13th edition (2015). Langman's is a world-renowned text used in medical schools. It ranks among the most popular.”

So, then, a pregnant woman may have the right to do what she wishes with her own body, but that right, as such, does not affect the unborn, since the unborn is not a part of her body.

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean, Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or

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