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Reflections on Ethics 59
When Does Life Begin?

by: Margarita Carrión

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Recently in Ecuador there was a fuss about a new law the government wanted to pass: that the emergency pill (the morning-after pill) can be sold without a prescription. In that same law, there were many issues addressing sexual education in public schools.

The problems arose mainly in the religious sector; they were opposed to the pill (they say it is abortive) AND to sexual education, reasoning that if children know about sex they will want to try it.

About the pill: it prevents ovulation when it hasn’t happened yet, and in that case it would be a contraceptive, meaning it prevents conception. But when conception does take place, the pill has a second effect; it prevents implantation of the fertilized egg, which has already begun to divide before it reaches the uterus. That is not a contraceptive effect, and that’s when the problems begin.

About abortion: not even doctors agree on when life begin. There are many definitions, but I suppose anyone could have a different opinion and couldn’t be proven wrong. And if the limits of life are blurry, so is the definition of abortion.

A person is what she is because of many factors, some environmental and some genetic, and every day we learn more about these factors. But during the very first weeks of existence, a person is mainly defined by her genes (environmental factors at this time would be substances consumed by the mother, and maternal hormones), and just after the egg has been fertilized (some time before implantation) it already has all the genetic traits that define her at that time, and that won’t change for the rest of her life. I believe this is already a human being, with all the rights the rest of us have.

I think it could be all right to use the emergency pill if we have the right information, but how can we be informed, if priests and parents don’t want their children to receive sexual education.

In Ecuador the reality is alarming. Not only do we have a large population of undereducated citizens, but the lack of education is also reflected in the birth rate: in rural areas couples are having an average of 6 to 8 children. And when asked, they don’t know about birth control.

This not only happens in rural areas; in the cities the mean age at which teenagers begin their sexual life is 15 years old. Without proper information, the rate of unwanted pregnancies is very high.

I think we still have a long way ahead of us regarding these issues. When information is not available at schools, it is the parents’ job to give it to their children. For that to occur, the parents need to be informed themselves.

Margarita Carrión