We present results from our 'bioethical field studies', which explore and compare the views of experts, patients and the general public on the beginning of human life and the status of the preimplantation embryo in Germany. Using a qualitative and quantitative multi-method approach, we found crucial differences in the categorization of the beginning of human life within the expert group (representative samples of human geneticists n=104, ethicists n=168, midwives n=294, obstetricians n=147, paediatricians n=166), and between expert and lay samples (IVF couples n=108, high genetic risk couples n=324, general population n=1017). The majority of lay respondents as well as paediatricians and obstetricians chose nidation, the moment when the implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterus takes place, as the crucial boundary that marks the beginning of human life, whereas the majority of (female) human geneticists, ethicists and midwives voted for conception as the decisive point in time. The views of all groups on the status of the preimplantation embryo differed from the assumptions underlying German legislation (Embryo Protection Act). Religiousness and religious affiliation, gender, attitudes towards disabled people, post-material values and a present desire for a child were identified as independent factors influencing attitudes towards the preimplantation embryo in the population sample. The results are discussed within a broader philosophical and social science perspective of constructivism versus essentialism, proposing a truly interdisciplinary approach to such bioethical core issues as new reproductive technologies and the status of the preimplantation embryo.