[Whether the legal rights enjoyed by citizens in the state of Colorado should extend to embryos from the point of fertilisation will be decided by its voters on 4 November. A "yes" decision could pave the way for anti-abortion legislation. But an online poll of people with a range of nationalities and religions shows opinion varies widely on the age-old question of when life begins.
The poll was part of a questionnaire compiled by the IVF clinic Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, to see how people might view new reproductive technologies.
The Colorado ballot will ask voters whether they think an embryo becomes a person when the sperm and egg fuse. Of the 643 poll respondents, just 22.7 per cent believe this is when life begins. The most popular answer was "when the fetal heartbeat becomes detectable", garnering 23.5 per cent of answers, while "when the embryo attaches to the womb lining" got 15 per cent.
"It demonstrates that this question doesn't have a right or wrong answer," says Jackie Friedman of Reproductive Biology Associates, which will present the survey results at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in San Francisco next week.
Unsurprisingly, among Roman Catholics sperm-egg fusion won. In contrast, Jews, agnostics, atheists, Muslims and IVF recipients gave fetal heartbeat the most votes. In North America, 27 per cent chose sperm-egg fusion, 24 per cent heartbeat detection and 18 per cent womb attachment.]