When Does Human Life Begin?
There is a tremendous consensus in the scientific community about when life begins. This is hardly controversial. If the claim were made that life was discovered on another planet, for example, there are well-defined criteria to which we could refer to conclusively determine whether the claim was accurate. How do scientists distinguish between life and non-life?
A scientific textbook called “Basics of Biology” gives five characteristics of living things; these five criteria are found in all modern elementary scientific textbooks:
1. Living things are highly organized.
2. All living things have an ability to acquire materials and energy.
3. All living things have an ability to respond to their environment.
4. All living things have an ability to reproduce.
5. All living things have an ability to adapt.
According to this elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte. From this moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species). Non-living things do not do these things. Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her.
Furthermore, that life is unquestionably human. A human being is a member of the species homo sapiens. Human beings are products of conception, which is when a human male sperm unites with a human female oocyte (egg). When humans procreate, they don’t make non-humans like slugs, monkeys, cactuses, bacteria, or any such thing. Emperically-verifiable proof is as close as your nearest abortion clinic: send a sample of an aborted fetus to a laboratory and have them test the DNA to see if its human or not. Genetically, a new human being comes into existence from the earliest moment of conception.
At the average time when a woman is aware that she is pregnant (the fifth to sixth week after conception), the preborn human being living inside her is metabolizing nutrition, excreting waste, moving, sucking his or her thumb, growing, and doing many other things that non-living things just do not do. 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.) At 40 days after conception, brain waves can be read on an EEG, or an electroencephalogram. (Dr. H. Hamlin, Life or Death by EEG, JAMA, Oct.12, 1964, p.113.)
Medical science already refers to a spontaneous heart rhythm and the presence of brain waves to determine whether someone is alive at the other spectrum of human existence. In simplistic terms, if an organ donor is in an automobile accident and is on life support in a hospital, the physician cannot “pull the plug” and donate the patient’s organs to others unless the patient is “brain dead” and his heart is not beating on its own. If the medical community maintained consistency with this generally-accepted medical definition of human life, then we would condemn every abortion after the time when the average woman discovers she is pregnant. Every abortion, by the generally-accepted standards of medical science, aborts an innocent human life.
One of the most amazing photographs I have ever seen is of a surgery being performed on a 21 week-old fetus named Samuel Armas. The boy is having surgery performed in utero for his spina bifida. In the photograph, the unconscious boy’s hand is poking through the surgical incision in the uterus and is resting on the finger of the surgeon. You can see the photo at http://www.michaelclancy.com/. The picture paints a thousand words that my mere words cannot match, but allow me to draw attention to the obvious fact that the surgeon is performing surgery on one living human being who is residing in the womb of another living human being.
“Yeah,” the pro-choice attorney rebuts, “but is it a person?”
In Roe vs. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun noted, “The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus‘ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment.”
According to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, a person is “a human being.” Attempts to render an entire class of human beings as “non-persons” based upon arbitrary qualities such as age and place of residence in order to discriminate against them is immoral and unjust. History is full of infamous examples of governments legalizing the discrimination of an entire class of human beings by rendering them “non-persons.” Jews were rendered “sub-humans” in Germany in the 1940’s and colonial slaveowners bought and sold Africans as “property.” As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court in 1857 ruled that Dred Scott, a black slave, was not a “person” with rights but the “property” of his master. Was the Court wrong then? Of course! The Supreme Court of 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide with its Roe v. Wade decision was just as immoral and unjust. They dehumanized an entire class of human beings in order to legitimize wholesale discrimination against them. Abortion may go down in history as the greatest human rights abuse of all time.
As our nation’s founding documents make clear, the right to life is God-given and inalienable. The right to live cannot be legitimately usurped by men. No man, no government has the right to deprive one of life or liberty without a trial by jury, regardless of skin color, age, stage of development, level of dependence upon others for survival, or place of residence.
Abortion results in the death of an innocent human being. It is immoral and unjust when evaluated in the light of the law of the land (our founding documents) and the divine commandment that forbids taking the life of an innocent human being (Exodus 20:13).