Time to talk about the embryo


Sir, – Patsy McGarry (Opinion, August 10th) suggests that it is time we talked about the embryo rationally. I would like to point out a couple of logical fallacies in his article.

He says: “A sperm is not a human being, an ovum is not a human being. Together they do not make up a human being.” This is what is called the fallacy of composition. It occurs when we claim that because the constituent elements of a whole have a certain characteristic then the whole itself will have the same characteristic. It is like saying “Man A is not happy. Woman B is not happy. Together they will not be happy.” But maybe they will make each other happy. You can’t disprove that an embryo is a human being by the simple fact that its two constituent parts before conception are not.

Then he claims that “as many as 70 per cent of embryos may never make it”. To imply from this that the embryo is not a human being is a non sequitur, ie it does not follow. When, in the past, child mortality was far higher than today, it did not make children at that time any less human.

He rhetorically asks why embryos lost before implantation are not marked in a ceremony. Obviously because we can’t know when this has happened.

Moreover, would anyone who has experienced a miscarriage say that what they have lost was not a human being? The fact that, in the past, miscarriages were ritually ignored and disposed of as waste, as he claims, says more about our own lack of humanity than of those who were lost. – Yours, etc,


Research Officer,

The Iona Institute,

Dublin 2.