Saturday, November 16, 2013

When does the life of a human being start?

An anxious couple walks into a room with several LCD monitors, sophisticated equipment, and a medical chair. The couple is greeted by a technician who has the nervous mother have a seat. The tech squirts a blue colored lubricant and begins to probe about. Assuming all is as it should be, a steady staccato rhythm of “squish-squish-squish-squish” is heard and begins to register on the heart monitor. Next, what seems like an indiscernible image appears on the screen, moving about. The nervous father begins squinting at the screen trying to make sense of the image. The technician begins pointing out anatomy to help the onlooking parents pick out the tiny features of their 16 week old baby. There is a leg, the other leg, a foot, fingers, there is the baby's  abdomen, the head, the heart, etc. It is a miraculous sight and one the technicians will be quick to tell you they never cease to be amazed by. For these expecting parents, this is a joyous time and the last thing on their mind is the possibility of an abortion.

But what if the situation were different?  What if the occasion where not such a joyous one? What if, for example, we were talking about a single teenaged mother who hasn’t told her parents about her promiscuity which resulted in pregnancy.  She is not ready or perhaps able to provide for her baby. What if the baby were to test positive for a physical or mental handicap like Down Syndrome? What about women who are now pregnant because they were the victim of rape or how about the mother whose life could be jeopardized if she decides to continue with the pregnancy? What if it was your own wife or relative?  Is there a situation in which the termination of a pregnancy is justifiable?

For perfectly good reasons, this is an emotionally charged topic. It is a weighty issue, so at the risk of being controversial, we are going to present a few thoughts to consider regarding the subject of abortion. In presenting these thoughts, we hope to challenge readers, regardless of their persuasion on the topic, to set hostilities aside and consider carefully the scientific and logical outworking of their position on this important issue.

We are familiar with the scientific terms that reference the stages of development for the unborn: first as a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, then fetus that grows until ultimately ready to exit the womb.  While these are perfectly good and legitimate terms to describe the development of an infant, many advocates of pro-choice insist on referring to an unborn baby in these ways.  If we call it like it is, the rational is simple to understand:  calling a developing baby a "fetus" when considering an abortion helps soften the psychological and visceral reaction that would be invoked by simply calling this life a "baby."  But the question at hand is:  When does the life of a human being start?   Is there a point when termination of life is not synonymous with the destruction of a human being?  We feel that while there are clearly philosophical, ethical, and theological implications, this is largely a  scientific question.

Those who advocate the right of abortion also play word games by choosing the term "pro-choice" instead of pro-abortion for the same reasons as referring to the unborn as a fetus.  The cause is based on a position of women’s rights; the claim being that it is the woman's body and therefore the woman's right to choose.  The difference, however, is the premise that this is a choice about the body of the mother or that of a scientifically distinct human entity, regardless of the fact that it inhabits the womb.  Because the human characteristics of a developing fetus become increasingly difficult to deny, the majority of those supporting abortion only support it during the early terms of pregnancy.  But does that make a difference scientifically? A common basis is that since the fetus is attached to the mother's body and cannot survive apart from the mother’s body, as such, it is an inseparable part of her body and therefore the mother has a right to choose. To further appease the conscience, the question has been raised around whether the fetus can feel pain or not. Further, there are those who believe that during the embryonic stage, the human baby develops with features likened to that of animals and, as such, are something less than human. This latter point was a popular position about 10+ years ago but has been almost entirely abandoned as our understanding of fetal development has improved and this has been debunked. Pro-choice advocates also appeal to the circumstantial difficulties and messy issues like those mentioned above (rape, incest, etc) in which the mother has an extenuating situation and should have the right to terminate the pregnancy. So with a few of these questions in mind, let’s consider the following points:

First of all,  the issue is not when does human life begin, but rather when does the life of every human being begin.  It is important to be clear that there is a huge difference, scientifically, between parts of a human being that only possess "life" and a human zygote, embryo, or fetus that is an actual human being. Abortion is the destruction of the latter. Destroying a human sperm or a human oocyte would not constitute abortion, since neither are human beings. A human kidney or liver, a human skin cell, a sperm or an oocyte all possess human life, but they are not human beings.  They are only parts of a human being. If a single sperm or a single oocyte were implanted into a woman's uterus, they would not grow; they would simply disintegrate.  They do not possess the necessary genetic makeup to form a human being.  However, the human embryonic organism that is formed at fertilization has all of the necessary genetic material to be a human being -- calling it just a "blob" or a "bunch of cells" is not only disingenuous but scientifically inaccurate.   There is absolutely no question whatsoever that the immediate product of fertilization is a newly existing human being that begins to grow immediately. A human zygote is a human being. It is not a "potential" or a "possible" human being. It's an actual human being with the potential to grow bigger and develop all it's capacities.

A few questions for the pro-abortion advocate:

1) Is a developing embryo or fetus alive?  If it is alive, what happens once the living embryo is aborted?  If something living is destroyed, it is usually called death.  If the claim is the fetus is not yet alive in the same way as say a newborn, then can we give an example of something non-living that grows and develops in complexity into the form of anything, much less a human being?  I know of no such example.

2) Is the fetus a human being?  If not, in what way is it inhuman and at what point does it become a human being?  18 days following conception, the human fetus develops a heartbeat. By day 22, the head and abdomen have formed and after only 5 weeks the human brain, backbone, spinal cord, and digestive system. By the end of the second month, the baby has eyes, lips, nose, mouth, tongue, ears, and is moving about.

These are just two fundamental questions because, if the fetus is alive and a human being, then no matter how you slice it, an abortion is the destruction of a living human being.  Why is destroying a human being once it exits the birth canal called infanticide, but if it is destroyed as a fetus, it is merely a medical procedure likened to the removal of a tumor.

In many ways, we are dealing with  willing denial of scientific reality. It is simply a matter of convenience, in many cases, so people invent ways of describing the unborn as less than human to mitigate the reality of the destruction of a human being. If the justification is a fetus can be terminated because it can’t survive outside of the womb, explain why that is different from a new born baby that cannot feed or care for itself either. How would the hypothetical lack of pain felt by the fetus during an abortion procedure make it any more justifiable.  The same reality would apply I you were to shoot a person in the back of the head.  That person would also feel no pain...but the lack of pain doesn't justify murder.

Beyond this, who among the unborn can defend their case?  They clearly cannot voice their will to live or their right to choose life . Unlike a soldier sent to battle and armed to fight for his freedom, the baby has no defense. It is amazing to me that so many who will argue for the choice of mothers to abort their baby fail to consider the hypocrisy of their failure to recognize the right to life of the unborn.  These are the same people who advocate for the rights and humane treatment of animals, yet argue passionately against the use of capital punishment for criminals convicted of heinous acts, but with equal passion, will defend the right to murder an unborn human being. Is the life of a baby no more valuable than the life of an animal or a criminal?

Mass murder is nothing new: the Chinese under Moa Ze-Dong murdered 49-78 million people, the USSR under Stalin killed 23 million, the WWII Holocaust saw 6-12 million Jews and others systematically exterminated, the Cambodian killing fields were the grave of 2 million, and the list goes on and on - and all in the last century. But in the USA alone, approximately 3,000 babies are aborted each day (about the same number as died in the 9/11 attack) or 1.3 million aborted annually. If we take into account the years since Rowe Vs. Wade, there have been more than 50 million abortions, not counting chemical and non-disclosed abortions.

What about cases where a mother’s life is in jeopardy if the pregnancy is not terminated? While this argument may have had merit at one time on an exception basis, since medical professionals and institutions are required by law to protect the life of their patients, modern medicine has made this argument almost entirely moot. Most doctors now agree that in few, if any, cases is abortion medically necessary to save a mother’s life. Generally, if the mother is endangered to this extent, aborting the baby is will make no difference in the outcome. It is estimated that fewer than 2% of all abortions are medically necessary, and even that number is debatable. In cases of incest and rape, I can only say that if a baby is conceived in this way, what is to be gained by adding to the tragedy the act of murder of an innocent human being? I recognize this is an extremely difficult and emotionally damaging situation for all of the victims. I am not indifferent to this reality nor am I suggesting they be further victimized. It is simply my belief that two wrongs do not make a right. Keep in mind, the baby had no control over the circumstances of its conception. I believe only Christ can give a person the strength to endure such a challenging ordeal.

I believe the most compelling example, from the Christian vantage point, on abortion is made clear to us in the gospel narrative when we are told of the birth of Jesus – the Christ child incarnate. We often think of the miracle of Christ and his birth as having it’s beginning at the scene of a lowly manger in Bethlehem, but we forget that 9 months earlier, Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary. The miracle of God taking on the form of a man, the incarnation, took place at the moment of conception. The baby was given the name Jesus long before his birth. The Psalms proclaim that God has knit each of us together in our mother’s womb and on that note, I pray we might consider every unborn baby as a life precious in the site of God.

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