Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Conception as Fertilization: A Reading of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012

Human ovum examined  fresh in the liquor folliculi.
by Alan S. Cajes

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RPRHA) or R.A. No. 10354 “recognizes and guarantees the human rights of all persons” (Sec. 2) pursuant to the duty of the State to “equally protect the life of the mother and life of the unborn from conception” (Sec. 12, Art. II, 1987 Philippine Constitution). It defines an abortifacient as “any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb or the prevention of the fertilized ovum to reach and be implanted in the mother’s womb upon determination of the FDA” (Section 4a).

The RPRHA also defines modern methods of family planning as “safe, effective, non-abortifacient and legal methods, whether natural or artificial, that are registered with the FDA, to plan pregnancy” (Sec. 4(l)). In Sec. 9, the law mandates the National Drug Formulary to “include hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe, legal, non-abortifacient and effective family planning products and supplies”. The same provision emphasizes that the concerned offices “shall not purchase or acquire by any means emergency contraceptive pills, postcoital pills, abortifacients that will be used for such purpose and their other forms or equivalent.” In Sec. 19, the FDA is mandated to “issue strict guidelines with respect to the use of contraceptives, taking into consideration the side effects or other harmful effects of their use”.

First Point: The RPRHA recognizes that life begins at fertilization and equates conception with fertilization.

That there is an ongoing debate on the question of when life begins is true. But the law concedes that conception is fertilization. This is quite clear in the provision that excludes abortifacients among the family planning products and supplies. Abortifacients include those drugs or devices that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum. This view is different from that which equates conception with implantation.

Conception as implantation is prevalent in the medical community, at least in the United States: “Pregnancy is established when a fertilized egg has been implanted in the wall of a woman's uterus. The definition is critical to distinguishing between a contraceptive that prevents pregnancy and an abortifacient that terminates it. And on this point, federal policy has long been both consistent and in accord with the scientists: Drugs and devices that act before implantation prevent, rather than terminate, pregnancy.”[1]

However, this understanding of conception as implantation is not clearly shared by other states, which equate conception with fertilization. A study pointed out that: “At the state level, however, definitions of pregnancy—generally, as part of larger measures enacted to regulate abortion or prescribe penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman—vary widely. Some of these laws say that pregnancy begins at fertilization, others at implantation. Several use the term "conception," which is often used synonymously with fertilization but, medically, is equated with implantation.[2]

In brief: “According to both the scientific community and long-standing federal policy, a woman is considered pregnant only when a fertilized egg has implanted in the wall of her uterus; however, state definitions of pregnancy vary widely.”[3]

A statement from the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists will help answer the question: When is a woman pregnant?

“To be sure, not every act of intercourse results in a pregnancy. First, ovulation (i.e., the monthly release of a woman's egg) must occur. Then, the egg must be fertilized. Fertilization describes the process by which a single sperm gradually penetrates the layers of an egg to form a new cell ("zygote"). This usually occurs in the fallopian tubes and can take up to 24 hours. There is only a short window during which an egg can be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur during that time, the egg dissolves and then hormonal changes trigger menstruation; however, if fertilization does occur, the zygote divides and differentiates into a "preembryo" while being carried down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. Implantation of the preembryo in the uterine lining begins about five days after fertilization. Implantation can be completed as early as eight days or as late as 18 days after fertilization, but usually takes about 14 days. Between one-third and one-half of all fertilized eggs never fully implant. A pregnancy is considered to be established only after implantation is complete.”[4]

In other words, fertilization occurs when the male sperm combines its DNA with that of the female egg. Its process is completed in about 18 hours and results in a zygote. The zygote will mature as it travels to the uterus. After about 6 days, the zygote becomes a blastocyst, which, in the process of implantation, attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. Accordingly, implantation “can be prevented by regular use of birth control pills or by taking emergency contraception pills.”[5]

Second Point: The challenge is determining which of the modern methods of family planning are safe, effective, non-abortifacient and legal.

Under the RPRHA, the allowed modern methods of family planning are those that are safe, effective, legal and prevent the union of the male sperm and the female egg or those that suppress ovulation and inhibit sperm penetration. The law, therefore, prohibits drugs and devices that prevent implantation, i.e., disallowing the formed zygote to attach itself to the lining of the uterus.

The problem, of course, is that at least one combined oral contraceptive has other “possible mechanisms” that “may include…endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation.[6] According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Food and Drug Administration–approved contraceptive drugs and devices act to prevent pregnancy in one or more of three major ways: by suppressing ovulation, by preventing fertilization of an egg by a sperm or by inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine lining.”[7]

This problem is compounded by other claims stating that the use of “birth control pill before or after a pregnancy is confirmed will not abort the fetus. Oral contraceptives don't cause miscarriages because they do not have any effect on a fertilized embryo. Birth control pills — generally made of estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone) — essentially prevent pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation and/or causing the cervical mucus to thicken. It is also unlikely that taking the pill will have any effect on fetal development.”[8]

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

James the Great: Patron of Laborers

by Alan S. Cajes

The Municipality of Batuan (my hometown) in Bohol, Philippines is celebrating the feast of Saint James the Apostle on July 25. Saint James is the Patron of Laborers. He is the brother of Saint John the Evangelist. 

Saint James was the first of the Apostles who suffered martyrdom in AD 44 after preaching the Gospel to the dispersed Jews. Like Simon Peter, Saints James and John were given special names - Sons of Thunder - for their fiery temper and evangelical zeal. He, like Saints John and Peter, had the rare privilege of witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus, who spoke to Moses and Elijah, as the voice of God spoke from a cloud. 

Saint James's representation as Santiago Matamoros (the Moor-slayer) shows him riding a horse and holding a sword. This is a “symbol of the fight between Christianity and Islam and the reconquest of Spain from eight centuries of Moorish rule before 1492". Legend has it that James the Great “appeared to Christian troops fighting Moorish army at the Battle of Clavijo in 844”. This view is now rejected as “thoroughly controversial”. - Quotes from Sophia Deboick, The Enigma of Saint James (2010)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why we need proper waste management?

by Alan S. Cajes

Waste is a resource that is thrown away somewhere because society does not know how to use it. It can take the form of a damaged, broken, defective, extra or unnecessary material produced by a manufacturing process.

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