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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heartbeat at 18 days?

While on a recent trip to Florida, I saw a number of billboards, saying that an embryo had a heart at 18 days of age.

I could not find this ad campaign on the Internet, but I found a web page, which makes this claim, among others: "18 days after conception the baby's heart is beating." The organization's web site indicates that this is an Irish pro-life organization. (By September 28, 2013, this web page had been removed, which is hardly surprising, considering the nearly four years since I saw it.)
Both the web site and the billboard campaign show a picture of a fetus, not an embryo. (The human becomes a fetus at eight weeks of pregnancy.) So does the heart really beat at 18 days?

The Wikipedia article on prenatal development is a good source for answering this question. It's a little confusing, because it gives both the age of the embryo/fetus and the gestational age, which is the time since the last menstruation.

According to that source, "Primitive heart tube is forming. Vasculature begins to develop in embryonic disc." at 20 days after fertilization, not 18 days. (Vasculature means the blood vessels needed for circulation.) The heart begins to beat between 22 and 28 days after fertilization. However, the first sign of a working circulatory system is later than that, at between days 29 and 35.

The billboard campaign, and the web page, seem to be wrong. The heart doesn't begin to beat until later than 18 days after fertilization, and it doesn't really start to function until even later than that. Besides, the graphic in both the web page and the billboard show a fetus, probably at least 12 weeks old, not an embryo at all.

There are reasons for arguing that unborn human entities should be protected, and I won't consider the validity of those reasons here. But, even if those reasons were completely uncontroversial arguments, that would not excuse the use of distortion in support of protecting embryos or fetuses, and that, unfortunately, is what the pro-life community has done, in the two instances described, and, I'm afraid, in other cases.

Thanks for reading. See here for a more comprehensive view of my thoughts on abortion.


Keetha Broyles said...

I so agree with you.

Amy said...

That's really strange. I've only seen ones that say that it's at 24 days (and I've seen a number of them) - I've never seen ads, signs, etc. saying 18 days.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, ladies.

Amy, the 18-day claim may not happen often, or I'd have found more cases on the web, but there were a lot of those billboards in Florida.

George said...

Hope you enjoyed my part of the country, Dr. L. I've seen those billboards, too. I'm with you. Distortion of facts ruins any chance of persuasion.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, George.

I knew that I wasn't making those billboards up.

We did enjoy Florida.

Anonymous said...

This past weekend I saw a billboard in Central Florida saying "A baby's heart begins to beat 18 days after conception".

So I thought...... seriously? That sounds like a load of crap to me

... and it was ....

According to , the heart hasn't even begun to DEVELOP until the 5th or 6th WEEK (30-35 days).

According to , the heart begins to form on Day 31.

I appreciate both sides of this argument (ProLife vs ProChoice) However, what I don't appreciate is misleading information.

LYING is wrong, no matter the reason.

What these people are doing is WRONG!!!

Martin LaBar said...

I agree, anonymous, and, of course, that was the point of my post.


Deborah Hafer said...

Yes I seen the billboard too that says its 18 days that the heartbeat starts. But still at 22 to 28 days that is still a life you are taking at that time. So sad.

Deborah Hafer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Deborah Hafer.

I guess you are right, but that doesn't excuse using misinformation in this campaign, which is apparently still going on. The misinformation was not just with when the heartbeat starts, but, in the billboards I saw, using a picture of an embryo that was much further than 18 days, perhaps even a fetus.

I'm afraid that some of this misinformation is conscious -- they know it's not true. At least someone, in an organization big enough to pay for putting up billboards over several years, should know.

Thanks again.

John Winske said...

Those untrue signs are still up. I guess it is never tol late to lie.

John Winske, Lakeland, Florida

Martin LaBar said...

Amazing, and sad. Thanks, John Winske.

Ryan said...

Your post got me curious as well and perhaps this is an original source that contributes to the discussion. I've not found anything cited that to support a beating heart at 18 days, but I did find this from Loyola University that shows the heart tubes forming at 18 days and the heart beating at 22.

It's important for people to consider what dating process their information is using. Some use Last Menstrual Period (LMP) while others use the date of conception which provides different ages for the same baby. This allows the possibility for two different answers that appear to be contradictory to actually be accurate when considering their different starting points.

Here's the Loyola paper -

Ryan said...

Here's a cited reference for heart beats at 21 days,

As early as 21 days after conception, the baby's heart has begun to beat his or her own unique blood-type, often different than the mother's. (Moore & Persaud, The Developing Human, p.310; Nilsson & Hamberger, A Child is Born, p.86; Rugh & Shettles, From Conception to Birth, p.217.)

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Ryan. That helps.

I mentioned the two different dating methods in the post, and it's too bad that there isn't just one, but that's the way it is, apparently.

21 days is 3 days after 18, and 3 days is a significant length of time in early development. I don't know, but suspect that just because the heart beats doesn't mean that anything like a complete circulation has been established.

Thanks for the references.

Martin LaBar said...

On January 19, 2014, a right-to-life group spoke at my church. They had some material for distribution. One such item is entitled "Milestones of early life," copyright by the Life Issues Institute, 2004. This brochure says that the heart begins to beat on day 21, and cites a clinical embryology text for this. It also says that the heart beats "unsurely at first, gaining strength day by day."

Anonymous said...

Like most redneck propaganda, the billboards are wrong. Life begins at birth. If you don't believe me, pull out a zygote at 2 months and see how long it lasts. And they wonder why the rest of the world laughs at America?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

When life begins is a political/legal, philosophical, medical and theological question, with no hard and fast answer.

The much-maligned Roe vs. Wade decision forbid abortion after viability, which would be a few weeks before normal gestation time, implying that life, in the sense of having rights, begins then.

You are right, of course. A 2 month old fetus/embryo (not zygote!) wouldn't survive long, in any circumstances. But, as far as that goes, a six month old baby wouldn't survive long, either, in the US, or anywhere else, on its own.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Respect life and the process of life. If we all did maybe we would not be so narrow-minded to loving each other. All of us LIFE Forms. If we did we wouldn't treat the process as less than a dinner,movie, music, some bang-bang...then two months later an abortion.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment, anonymous. For some reason, Blogger decided that it was spam.

I agree that we should respect life. But we should also respect the truth.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Martin. I am the anonymous above. Life is the truth. What truth do we really know. You start your blog off with scipture. But you seem to be luke warm...not the Luke from the Gospels. I am no one, with no agenda. I read the blog trail. From this vantage point it seems like you started this 18 days thing like a trip wire. 18 days, 22 days, 22 weeks...blood paths start moving to establish life at 18 days. First signs of rudimentary heart beats start at 22 days. It does really matter but not the exact time and second, who knows. The real truth is that life is Created and started with Gods Breath. That process continues with yours and every new heart around us. 22nd day...I and on my 19620 days now it is just as valuable. Each second provides for the next second...those seconds add up and you may wish to get some of them back. You can't. That is why this life and all life matters. The breaths of those that matter to you were Created by God. Your Mom and Dad...all family members... your children, if you have them. What day was your brain started? The truth is your are using it now aren't you? So give praise for the first, second, 18th...and all the other days. We as brothers and sisters need to look at life more seriously and respect it more. Enabling truth to be revealed. We would look at everyone else through a different lense. The lenses of Truth and Love. There would be less abortions, family dysfunction, sexual perversion, crime, hatred, wars, and the like. That is the Truth. God is Truth. Pure Love is the Truth. Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness...which flows from true Love is the Truth. Truth is the root of all meaningful freindships, relationships, businesses. Everyone wants to trust the people they are with and around. Otherwise it is a perverted game without truth. It all starts at the heart of your soul. What day does that start? It might be today for some of us grown-ups. today matters. Splitting hairs on when that starts does that matter? We need to do is respect the Truth not our truth...The Truth. Respect Life because it represents Truth not the truth of convience.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:7‭-‬11 NIV
Love, Peace, Grace, and Mercy to you Martin and your lovely wife.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment.

Lisa said...

I saw one of these signs yesterday and looked it up, which is how I found this post. I also read 21 days. The only thing I can think of is if by “conception” they referred to implantation, which is about 3 days after fertilization. If you count from that point, you could get 18 days. In that case it’s still a bit tricky with the wording, but at least not outright lying.