The Beginning of Life
Before we can argue whether abortion is ethical or unethical, we must determine when human life begins. There are two approaches to explaining when humans come to be, biological and theological. Through these methods we will learn that life starts from the moment of conception.
First, we will explore the biological answer to this complicated question. Webster’s Dictionary defines life as, “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, and reaction to stimuli.” Biologists believe that all living things have these capacities in common; therefore, biologists believe life begins from the moment of conception. Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth of Harvard University Medical School states, “Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception” (Just). From the moment a person is conceived, their genes have formed to mold the physical traits of the person. Within days, the brain and heart begin to develop. At eighteen days, less than three weeks, the heart starts to beat. At this moment, the mother may not suspect that she is with child. Not only has the heart started beating, but he also has developed a stomach, lungs, intestines, and eyes. At forty days, the five parts of the brain are developed, thus forming a central nervous system. Around three weeks after conception, limbs are developed, and at six weeks digits have formed. The baby, then, begins to suck his thumb. Next, the baby starts moving instinctively. Next, the baby begins to respond to touch. “At about 9 weeks, in response to a touch on the sole of his foot, he will curl his toes and bend his hips and knees to move away from the object” (Just). Eleven weeks is when all of the baby’s body systems are working. The child can swallow, breathe amniotic fluid, and acts as if he is crying. By the sixteenth week, the sex of the baby is evident. These first four months are when most abortions occur. At the same time, biology dictates that the baby is alive during the entirety of the first four months.
As has been noted, science states that life begins from the moment of conception. Now we will explore when theological doctrine and law in general states that life begins. First, many states consider a fetus a human life. In Memphis, Tennessee, Eric Laquinne Brown was given a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter because he killed his unborn child. In Little Rock, Arkansas, Erik Bullock and three acquaintances were convicted of capital murder for the murder of his unborn child. Numerous cases of people being convicted of murdering an unborn child have been reported across the United States. Therefore, numerous lawmakers, judges, and jurors feel that a fetus is a living being. Many respected religious officials agree. Jessee Jackson stated, “Anything growing is living.” Because a fetus is growing, it must be living. Jackson also states, “It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman, and the Holy Spirit.” This view of life is common for most people of Christian faith. One verse gives Christians insight into God’s creation of man. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Psalms 139:13 and 16 reveal that God knew us and created us in His image before our conception. The belief that life begins at conception is not only a Christian belief. It is also a belief that is shared by other religions as well. Buddhists consider a fetus as a being that can achieve enlightenment; therefore it is a living being. Hinduism states that a fetus is a life with consciousness; therefore it must be protected. Hindus teach reincarnation and that the soul is reincarnated at the moment of conception. Islam also teaches that the moment of conception is when life begins. Respect for life is law in Islamic religion. Judaism teaches that all life including that of a fetus is blessed. With all of these religions, the preservation of life is sacred. To all of these religions only their God can decide when to take life away. Many people argue that life means the completeness of a being. To them we are not alive until we are born. Once we are born we are complete. “If completeness were the criteria for taking life we would all be dead. If you can justify abortion on the basis of emotional incompleteness then your logic could also lead you to killing for other forms of incompleteness – blindness, crippleness, old age” (Jackson). Biology and theology both agree, life begins at conception; therefore a fetus is a living being.
Jackson, Jessee. “How We Respect Life Is The Over-Riding Moral Issue.” Right to Life News (Jan 1977).
Just The Facts. 6 April 2007. < http://www.justthefacts.org/clar.asp>.
“Life.” Def. Webster’s Dictionary. New and Expanded ed. 1993.