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Samuel Farr, M.D. 1787

Samuel Farr, M.D. 1787


Oct 29, 2009 / By: Jeffrey Jones
Category: Miscellaneous

In 1787 Samuel Farr, M.D., challenged the long-held notion that life begins sometime after the beginning of pregnancy. It was a common belief that life began at "quickening," when fetal movements were first felt by the woman. But in his Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, he wrote:

"With regard to the state of the life of the child, the following question requires to be decided: At what time may a foetus be supposed to begin to live? To answer this, we must consider, that conception is made in the ovarium of a female after coition with a male, when the subtile aura of the semen hath so far penetrated into the germen, which may be supposed to contain the outline of the future man, as to produce a turgescence and motion of its circulating humours. At this time, it may be said, that life begins, i.e. immediately after conception. Hence those seem to err: 1st Who would persuade us, that the foetus acquires life when it is so particularly active, that the mother becomes sensible of its motions. 2d. Those who think that life does not begin till the seventh or the fourteenth day, or even till a month after conception. And 3d. Those who suppose that a foetus, as long as it continues in the womb, where it does not breath, cannot be called a living animal. The whole depends on our ideas of life and animation, and the act of generation to create it. If generation be the cause of animating the rudiments of the future being, and if that animation be construed to be understood by what is meant by life, then it must certainly begin immediately after conception, and nothing but the arbitrary forms of human institution can make it otherwise (pp. 23-24)."

And in reference to the abortion of embryos, he wrote:

". . . with respect to abortions, or the destruction of those unborn embryos which were never brought into the world: and indeed as such beings might live, and become of use to mankind, and as they may be supposed from the time indeed of conception, to be living animated beings, there is no doubt but the destruction of them ought to be considered a capital crime (p. 69)."

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