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Journal of Perinatal Medicine

Official Journal of the World Association of Perinatal Medicine

Editor-in-Chief: Dudenhausen, Joachim W.

Editorial Board Member: / Bancalari, Eduardo / Greenough, Anne / Genc, Mehmet R. / Chervenak, Frank A. / Chappelle, Joseph / Bergmann, Renate L. / Bernardes, J.F. / Bevilacqua, G. / Blickstein, Isaac / Cabero Roura, Luis / Carbonell-Estrany, Xavier / Carrera, Jose M. / D`Addario, Vincenzo / D'Alton, MD, Mary E. / Dimitrou, G. / Grunebaum, Amos / Hentschel, Roland / Köpcke, W. / Kawabata, Ichiro / Keirse, M.J.M.C. / Kurjak M.D., Asim / Lee, Ben H. / Levene, Malcolm / Lockwood, Charles J. / Marsal, Karel / Makatsariya, Alexander / Nishida, Hiroshi / Ogata, Edward / Papp, Zoltán / Pejaver, Ranjan Kumar / Pooh, Ritsuko K. / Romero, Roberto / Saugstad, Ola D. / Schenker, Joseph G. / Sen, Cihat / Seri, Istvan / Vetter, Klaus / Winn, Hung N. / Young, Bruce K. / Zimmermann, Roland

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Scientific and religious controversies about the beginning of human life: the relevance of the ethical concept of the fetus as a patient

Asim Kurjak1 / Jose Maria Carrera2 / Laurence B. McCullough3 / Frank A. Chervenak4

1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical School, University of Zagreb, Sveti Duh Hospital, Zagreb, Croatia

2Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Institut Universitari Dexeus, Barcelona, Spain

3Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA

4Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, USA

Corresponding author: Asim Kurjak Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Medical School University of Zagreb Sveti Duh Hospital Sveti Duh 64 10000 Zagreb Croatia Tel.: +385 1 3712317 Fax: +385 1 3745534

Citation Information: Journal of Perinatal Medicine. Volume 35, Issue 5, Pages 376–383, ISSN (Online) 16193997, ISSN (Print) 03005577, DOI: 10.1515/JPM.2007.088, August 2007

Publication History

Published Online:


In this paper we show that the question, “When does human life begin?”, is not one question, but three. The first question is, “When does human biological life begin?”, and is a scientific question. A brief review of embryology is provided to answer this question. The second question is, “When do obligations to protect human life begin?”, and is a question of general theological and philosophical ethics. A brief review of major world religions and philosophy is provided to answer this question but has no settled answer and therefore involves irresolvable controversy. The third question is, “How should physicians respond to disagreement about when obligations to protect human life begin?” and is a question for professional medical ethics. A review of the ethical concept of the fetus as a patient is provided to answer this question. Physicians should manage the irresolvable controversy surrounding the second question by appealing to the ethical concept of the fetus as a patient. It is philosophically sound, respectful of all religious traditions and the personal convictions of patients and physicians alike, and clinically applicable.

Keywords: Beginning of human life; ethics; fetus as a patient; individual conscience; professional conscience; religion

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