Questions on Abortion: How do we distinguish between a living and a non-living human?


(Bryant Tanadjaya) #1

Hi everyone!

I’ve recently come across a conversation concerning abortion. Now, I’m not very experienced in this field because most people in Indonesia (where I’m from) do not talk about this. But I’ve recently talked about it with a friend of mine and I believe he’s (non-verbally) agreeing with me that taking a way a human life is wrong, but he asks how I distinguish between a living and a non-living human.

I asked my friend (who’s also a Christian) concerning this and she said that if the brain is no longer functional then we would consider a human dead. She also said that life begins at conception when a fetus develops a unique genetic code different from his/her parents. However, if the functioning of a brain is how we distinguish between a living and a non-living human, wouldn’t a fetus at conception be considered non-living since it hasn’t developed a functioning brain yet? Moreover, we often ascribe consciousness to “being alive” and yet a fetus does not have this (yet).

How should I respond to my friend, and does the Bible have anything to say about this?

Thank you in advance for the responses! God bless you all!

(SeanO) #2

@imbryant First and foremost, I think this is one of those topics where we need to be especially careful to extend respect, grace and compassion for those who disagree with us. There are people who have had abortions and need healing - the last thing we want to do is come across as condemning.

That said, I find this entire business about trying to identify ‘when’ a fetus becomes truly self-conscious to be an attempt at evading the real issue. Whether or not the fetus is self-conscious when it is killed, it would inevitably have grown to become self-conscious. It is as if you got in a time machine, went back into the past and murdered someone in order to prevent their descendants from being born. Well, if you did that, whose murder would you be responsible for? Just the one you killed or all the others as well?

I think the Biblical perspective is three fold:

  • we are made in God’s image
  • only God has the right to give or take a life
  • sacrificial love is more important than self-preservation or ‘quality of life’

Here are a few articles you may find helpful on this topic:

Malcolm Muggeridge - The Humane Holocaust

No one could have put the matter more cogently and authoritatively than has Dr. Leo Alexander, who worked with the Chief American Counsel at the Nuremberg Tribunal:

Whatever proportion these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitudes of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually, the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted, and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which the entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude towards the non-rehabilitable sick

The sanctity of life is, of course, a religious or transcendental concept, and has no meaning otherwise; if there is no God, life cannot have sanctity. By the same token, the quality of life is an earthly or worldly concept, and can only be expressed legalistically, and in materialistic terms; the soul does not come into it. Thus a child conceived in conditions of penury, or with a poor heredity, or against its mother’s wishes, or otherwise potentially handicapped, may be considered as lacking the requisite quality of life prospects, and so should not be born. Equally, it follows, at the other end of our life span, that geriatrics unable any longer to appreciate what this world has to offer in the way of aesthetic, carnal and egotistic satisfaction, in other words, by virtue of their years losing out on quality of life, should be subjected to euthanasia or mercy-killing, and discreetly murdered.

On this basis, for instance, Beethoven would scarcely have been allowed to be born; his heredity and family circumstances were atrocious, a case history of syphilis, deafness and insanity. Today, his mother’s pregnancy would be considered irresponsible, and as requiring to be terminated. Dr. Johnson, when he was born, was scrofulous, and already showed signs of the nervous disorders which plagued him all his life. He, too, under present conditions, would probably not have been allowed to survive. Indeed, a good number of the more notable contributors to the sanctity of life, like Dr. Johnson, would have failed to make the grade on qualify of life, the supreme example being the founder of the Christian religion. Imagine a young girl, unmarried and pregnant, who insists that the Holy Ghost is responsible for her pregnancy, and that its outcome, according to a vision she has been vouchsafed, would be the birth of a long-awaited Messiah. Not much quality of life potential there, I fancy, and it wouldn’t take the pregnancy and family-planning pundits long to decide that our Saviour, while still at the fetus stage, should be thrown away with the hospital waste.

A Historical Test

Simply from the standpoint of abortion’s potential impact upon history, test your
knowledge of historical figures by considering the following four situations:

  1. A preacher and wife who are very, very poor already have 14 kids. Now she finds out she’s pregnant with the 15th. They’re living in tremendous poverty. Considering their
    poverty and the excessive world population, would you consider recommending she get an abortion?
  2. The father is sick with sniffles (syphilis), the mother has TB (tuberculosis). Of four
    children, the first is blind, the second is dead, the third is deaf, and the fourth has TB.
    She finds she’ pregnant again. Given the extreme situation, would you consider
    recommending abortion?
  3. A white man raped a 13 year old black girl and she got pregnant. If you were her parents, would you consider recommending abortion?
  4. A teenage girl is pregnant. She’s not married. Her fiancé is not the father of the baby, and he’s very upset. Would you consider recommending abortion?

In the first case, if abortion was chosen, you have just killed John Wesley, one of the great evangelists in the 19th century. In the second case, if abortion was chosen, you would have killed Beethoven, one of the greatest composers of all time. In the third case, if abortion was chosen, you would have killed Ethel Waters, the great gospel singer. And if you chose abortion in the fourth case, you would have murdered Jesus Christ!

C. S. Lewis - Good Goal Wrong Way

Lewis points out that evil is generally done in pursuit of something that in and of itself would be good. For example, in the context of abortion, we want young women to have a good life - to be educated and free from unnecessary burdens. That is a good goal. But abortion is a twisted means of attempting to get to that end. It may seem to us that this young woman could never succeed or be happy if she had this child at this age, but who are we to say? And what right do we have to take a life? And why are we exalting this one individual’s happiness over the life of another?

If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons—either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it—money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way .

You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind of action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness . And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted…

And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite , not the original thing. Lewis, Mere Christianity

(Bryant Tanadjaya) #3

Thank you for your response! The articles helped out and helped provide new insights. However, gonna play the devil’s advocate here for a bit…

Personally, I do think that it’s important for us to be able to answer them when a fetus becomes alive. The reason being that these people don’t see it as a murder because they don’t see it as taking away a life since the fetus isn’t alive. Moreover, the argument for taking away potential life hasn’t really worked on my peers because they’re not alive yet. The analogy with going back in time and murdering someone’s ancestor is different because you’re actually murdering a life human whereas in this case, again, they define the early stages of the fetus as being non-living. Furthermore, if the argument of potential life is made then the same thing can be said of sperms that can potentially create life as long as the necessary conditions are met (similar to fetuses).

Just putting out these thoughts here that I know some of my friends would argue for.

(SeanO) #4

@imbryant As the Wired article notes below, from a secular perspective there is no easy way to answer the question of when a fetus is alive. The author suggests the mother decide. But the article makes the argument that it is clear the fetus, in contrast to the sperm/egg, is a living organism seeking to grow and preserve itself, even before fully capable of functioning.

What might be helpful is to enumerate possible approaches to determining what it means for a fetus to be alive, critique each one and then ask a simple question.

  • is wanted by the mother
  • has reached a certain stage of development / possesses certain discernible properties
  • has a certain mental capacity

A critique:

  • determining the value of the fetus by the current emotional state of the mother is unwise for multiple reasons - women have abortions and then later regret it. Why? Because our point of view / emotions change with time and situation. They are not a stable means for making a decision. In addition, this definition of what it means to be ‘alive’ is unstable - if we have to be wanted to be alive there are surely many adult humans who do not qualify.
  • who gets to decide this arbitrary cutoff point? Isn’t that a terrible amount of power to give any individual or government?
  • the argument from mental capacity is dangerous because it can be extended and is arbitrary - let us say that only those capable of doing geometry are really alive. Or perhaps a child only really has a mental capacity that is meaningful once they are four or five, so that their parents have the power of life and death over them until that age.

A Question: Doesn’t it terrify you that we are trying to determine that point before which we may safely dispose of one of our own kind by disqualifying them from the category ‘human’? Shouldn’t we be moving in the opposite direction and giving the fetus the benefit of the doubt?

Assuming that fertilization and implantation all go perfectly, scientists can reasonably disagree about when personhood begins, says Gilbert. An embryologist might say gastrulation, which is when an embryo can no longer divide to form identical twins. A neuroscientist might say when one can measure brainwaves. As a doctor, Horvath-Cosper says, “I have come to the conclusion that the pregnant woman gets to decide when it’s a person.”

Maureen Condic, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah, points out that embryos are living human beings “precisely because they possess the single defining feature of human life that is lost in the moment of death — the ability to function as a coordinated organism rather than merely as a group of living human cells.” Condic explains the important distinction between individual body parts and whole human embryos overlooked by Mollenkott: “The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner.”15

From conception forward, human embryos clearly function as organisms. “Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells [e.g., a severed hand] do nothing like this under any circumstances.”16

(Billie Corbett) #5

Hello Imbryant,

To answer your question, the embryonic heart begins to beat at 21 days after conception. This is weeks before a woman is aware of being pregnant.
To reverse this question, when does the medical profession pronounce the death of a living person? Usually, when their heart has stopped beating permanently.
Without a beating heart…there is no life. (“For the life of the flesh is in the blood,” Lev. 17:11)
As a woman, I would like to add to this discussion.
Over many decades, I have been involved in the prenatal care of a large number of young women. I am pretty qualified experientially when it comes to pregnancy, labour and birth.
Added to this experience, I have many female friends and acquaintances.
Over a life time of being a woman among women…there is something I have consistently observed. When a woman has had an abortion…it seriously affects her mental health…permanently there after.
A woman may function fairly well, after an abortion, but, if you know what to look for, this painful experience seeps through all over the place, within her life…post abortion.
Women have to sublimate this experience to continue functioning normally. Yet, their grief finds its way out. It sabotages relationships, it pulls them into using numbing substances, it makes them work nonstop, it creates serious mental health breakdown (of course…within a pro abortion culture…having had an abortion is never factored into these women’s mental health issues).
I know women who aborted…and then, their regret and grief, subconsciously drove them into midwifery practise. They saw no relation to their emotional state regarding their abortion and their choice to become midwifes. Yet, if you listened to their conversation these two things were inexplicably linked together…
A long time ago, I was in a therapy group. During a group session another woman was talking. I remember the light bulb moment for me…as I made the connection between this woman’s in group off handed comment during a previous group session…saying, she’s had an abortion in her younger years, (she was now middle aged), and the unexplainable behaviour that brought her into therapy. I know for certain the therapists didn’t make the connection…Why? Because abortion isn’t seen as having any long term affect on women.
Well, I know…anecdotally this is a big fat lie. (There is no way social and medical scientists are going to study this either, because the consequences of the study would undermine women’s belief in abortion as an option for an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.)
Whether it is proven by “science” that abortion has permanent life long affects on a woman’s mental health…I know for certain it does.
Abortion is not an option…but, because we are fallen, sinful creatures…we lie successfully to ourselves that it is.
I have seen teenage girls talked into abortion…without any discussion about the cons. (Like later infertility. Often times, the cervix has been damaged during an abortion and cannot bear a pregnancy past a certain stage of gestation. They are never told…they are miscarrying because they had an abortion. )
For now, this will be enough said.
Thank you for your question.

(Matt Western) #6

I think this is actually a fairly good argument and might be a good discussion point for questions.

It’s interesting to me because it seems to tie directly back into the big question ‘what is the purpose of human life?’

A Christian would say because all are created in God’s image, the individual has infinite intrinsic value. The value does not come from what a person does, but rather what a person IS.

Is a secular worldview saying that if an individual cannot DO something useful, then that person has no value. A possible follow up question might be ‘who has the objective knowledge and moral authority to decide what this useful skill might be’…

I also have asked this question of an atheist - surely as we as a society get more advanced technologically we should be doing more clever things to preserve life; we spend trillions on advanced weapons and ever cleverer ways of destroying each other.

We as a society also spend billions of dollars looking for, and get so excited at the possibility that life may have been possible on Mars but we just throw precious life away in the womb. It’s actually very sad.