When does life begin?
We know that many who read our blog are facing a crisis pregnancy, and it can be hard to face the facts surrounding the beginning of life. We want to answer this question from our clients with truth and compassion.
When does life begin?
A question that for years was easy to answer, but today get's broken down into arbitrary scientific definitions, metaphysics or philosophy and religious worldviews. But is it really that complicated? Fortunately for us, we have so much scientific advancement in the area of biology that we can definitively say that human life begins at conception (fertilization).
At fertilization, an individuals unique set of DNA is created. This DNA is a human signature that has never existed before and will never be repeated. Although life is a continuous process, all the substance of this human life, all its nature or essence is ordered in that 1 cell, all of its ultimate capacities are present at the moment of conception. Nothing will be added to the new organism except nutrition, and it will continue to grow and develop until death occurs due to injury or illness.
But isn't there some gray area here?
Some claim that life begins at the first heartbeat, others say when the fetus officially looks like a baby, and still others believe that the first breath after birth is the beginning of life. Many believe that the prenatal stages of human development really come down to being a part of the woman’s body, like other organs in her body. The argument may even take a turn towards - “it’s just a parasite” so is the beginning of life really a subjective answer? No. The evidence is clear that a separate and distinct human life begins at conception. All human life begins as1 cell and matures over time.
What further confuses the issue is when a woman is diagnosed as pregnant verses when the human life began. Pregnancy is defined by the embryo attaching to the uterine wall. However, this does not negate that the stages of human development had already begun a process of growth.
All the substance of this human life, all its human-ness is ordered in 1 cell - the zygote. This human life does not share the same genetic code as the mother, making it a separate life from her own. Yet a body part, like your appendix, does share the same genetic code with the body of the one in whom it resides. A body part is actually defined by this shared genetic code. Even though we understand that the argument about a fetus being a parasite is more emotionally charged than an actual argument, it is important to address that a parasite is a different species entirely, and a woman’s immune system would attack it, verses a fetus, where a woman’s body undergoes specific changes to provide nourishment and protection to the growing life inside her.
An interesting fact about the human development is that many of the processes that began in the womb, continue for many years beyond birth. Take for instance the stage as an embryo. In this stage the organs, specifically the brain begins to develop, but this process is not completed until an individual is approximately 25 years old. The rapid growth and development during the fetal stage continues well into the early childhood and then excellerates again in adolecence for a final stabilization in adulthood.
This "gray area" is really not gray at all. Every stage of development from conception to death is all human. No matter what stage of development, no matter how small, no matter the look or the capabilities, we are always speaking of a human life.
"But just because it's human, doesn't mean it's a person."
The very word, "person" is defined as an individual human being. The two words (person and human) are interchangeable in the the english language. However, what most people mean when they connect person with personhood is actually a more metaphysical or philosophical concept of something humans attain, develop or project, rather than something that humans inherently are.
In our culture, a huge contributing factor in the confusion of fetal personhood is rooted in the philosophy that we must pursue our true “self”, known as existentialism (or the belief that existence -physical life- precedes essence - the true me) We see this worldview in almost every cultural cliché like: “Follow your heart” or “You can be whatever you want to be”. Disney movies are a good example of this. This pursuit of the “essential self”, causes confusion in how we see a human that can exist (prenatal infant) but, as we perceive it, has not yet exercised their will to become/discover their essential self and without that, can they really have value? (Our answer is yes, but to that point later.) Now, if existence precedes essence, we must ask how does one exist? The answer from this existential philosophy is typically, by accident or random results of evolutionary processes. All life existence according to this worldview is just chaos in motion, time and chance acting on matter. With this premise it’s pretty much impossible to lay a foundation for morality at all because it becomes a battle of the opinions. If personhood is dependent on exercising your will to become your “true self” an argument can easily be made to remove personhood from anyone and everyone, yourself included. The biblical worldview - which we hold at Hope Pregnancy Center - gives us an ultimate standard, by which we can say that there is sanctity in human life. All human beings are created by a God who is Holy - which is to say that He is set apart, a cut above us, so beyond us in every way and absolutely perfect - It's His character that is the standard of what is right, good and just. He created us in his image, meaning we are spiritual persons created body and spirit in the likeness of the great spiritual and personal God.
God righteous and just; we have a conscience
God is sovereign; we have a will
God is love; we have the capacity to love and be loved
God is all-knowing; we have minds.
God is all-powerful; we have some power.
God is unchanging; we have character stability
God is eternal; we are immortal.
Because of these attributes that we "image" it brings dignity and worth to all human beings. When human persons have intrinsic moral value because a Holy God created them in His image, there is equality and inclusivity no matter the size, level of development, environment, or dependency. As history has unfortunately taught us through slavery, the holocaust, and even the oppression of women, every time an argument is made to seperate the human from their personhood, millions die and suffer. The same is true of abortion or the intentional ending of life in the stages of prenatal development. When a human being comes into existence, at the moment of conception the human nature of their person and all their physical, mental and emotional potential (whether realized or not) exists at that moment. That person grows, develops and undergoes numerous changes. The very human nature of a prenatal person directs and informs these changes like what eye color, and what hair color, the shape of their bodies, how they will gain weight and so on. All of that information is present at the moment of conception.
For clarity I’ll use an example from Francis J. Beckwith; A cat, has a certain nature, and the capacity to develop the ability to purr. It may die as a kitten and never exercise that ability, but it does not change the fact that it is still a cat because it posses a certain nature.
A human being who lacks the ability to exercise their will and pursue their “true self” (either because she’s too young or suffers from a disability) is still a human person because of her nature. The very fact that she has lacked the ability to exercise her will makes no sense unless we all assumed the fact that she was indeed a person.
What about me? I might be pregnant?
When you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, it's important to understand the facts about our human existence and beginnings, and also understand all the options that are available to you. We do not minimize the weight of the decisions you have in front of you, and we respect everyone for their right to be the one to make those decisions. We are here to offer truthful information that so many have been desperately seeking in a world that packages every message in a pretty little marketing bow. We want to make sure that every woman is empowered with truthful information, delivered compassionately, with understanding and empathy. We are here to listen to your story, and walk the road ahead with you, during pregnancy and beyond. If you would like to talk to someone, you can Schedule a consult here. You are not alone.