When Human Life Begins

 

Human Life – Beginnings and Intrinsic Value

Meshing of Faith & Science

Person Defined

Human Life – Beginnings and Intrinsic Value

Those of us older people were taught from the Baltimore Catechism in grade school. As we prepared for First Communion we were asked the question:

WHY DID GOD CREATE ME? 
Answer: To love Him and serve Him.

Society and culture has changed but the truth remains that we are created by God, body, and soul.  No one else can create a human person; science tries but it uses the basic tools of fertilization of a human egg and but it cannot even pretend to know how to truly create a person.

“Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. So God made man, in the image of God He made him, male and female He made them.” (Genesis 1:26,27).

Did the Trinity make them instantaneously or did man have a gestation period? We don’t know, but we do know that a human person is unique; unlike other creatures we are created with a soul and a free will. Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God.[1]  In this way we are made in God’s image and no one has a right or ability to take this away from any person at any stage. In Genesis a second version of man’s creation in Chapter two proclaims, Then God formed man out of dust from the ground, and breathed in his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7)

The Orthodox Study Bible gives us this commentary on the passage, “God formed Adam’s body out of dust from the ground. The breath of life is the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life (Nicene Creed). God breathed the breath of life into man’s body, and he became a living soul. Therefore, Adam was a living soul because he possessed a body, a soul, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.[2]

“Thou shalt not slay the child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. For everything that is shaped, and his received a soul from God, if slain, it shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.” ,-7:3

Our Byzantine Catholic faith affirms that a human person is created at the moment of conception. The Gospel of Saint Luke has two commanding examples. The first is the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel of John the Baptist to Zachariah that  he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:15), as he was when Elizabeth greeted the Godbearer (Bohorodicen), the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Belief of personhood at the time of conception is fortified even more literally at the Annunciation. At the moment of the Virgin Mary’s commitment, Let it be done to me according to thy word (Lk 1:38) the Word was made flesh. (John 1:14)

 

 

Meshing of Faith & Science

There is no conflict between theology and science regarding the beginning of a person.  “Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception). “Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of
their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”[3]  Similar quotes are listed at this website: http://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html

To comprehend the controversy surrounding embryonic research, artificial contraception and arbitrary political decisions regarding abortion and “reproductive rights” one must understand the distinction between conception and implantation of the fertilized egg in the womb. This subject be discussed in other subjects on this website regarding stem cell research.  For the sake of simplicity, definitions used are from the web encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_gestation for these two key terms:

Conception:  The sperm and the egg cell, which has been released from one of the female’s two ovaries, unite in one of the two fallopian tubes.

Implantation: The fertilized egg, known as a zygote, then moves toward the uterus, a journey that can take up to a week to complete, at that point it is implanted in the uterus (womb).

One can easily understand why a Christian believes that a human person is created at conception, rather than implantation. Otherwise all of our scriptural references, troparia, and hymnography would be erroneous regarding the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos (September 8) and belief in the two natures of Christ.  We would be schizophrenic to try to separate our deep Faith from secular and political beliefs.

 

Person Defined

Human life is a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.[4]

 

 

[1] The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos Ware, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1998, p51

[2]The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Copyright 1982, Used by permission. All rights reserved

[3] Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2

[4] EVANGELIUM VITAE (The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II, 25 March 1995