When Is an Unborn Baby Alive?
When Does Human Life Begin: Two Contemporary Viewpoints
When does life begin for the unborn? Humankind has been debating this question for millennia. Two viewpoints dominate the contemporary conversation. One is the medical or scientific position. The other is the Evangelical Christian or the so-called biblical position.
I want to present both the medical and the Evangelical Christian positions so that the differences become crystal clear. You may wonder how I can discuss both sides of this issue accurately. First of all, my bachelors degree is in Biblical Education. I spent ten years in full-time ministry as well as four years at a reputable, evangelical university. Second, I have been involved in healthcare as a laboratory professional for twenty-seven years.
The Evangelical Christian or Biblical Viewpoint
Let's first look at the Evangelical Christian position on when life begins. Evangelicals nearly across the board concur that life starts at what they refer to as the moment of conception. They believe and teach that the Bible supports this point of view.
I will list the verses from the Bible which Evangelicals use to make this point. The italicized portion is what I will be discussing.
- Isaiah 49:1-"Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother's womb he has spoken my name."
- Jeremiah 1:5-"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
These are the most common verses quoted when an Evangelical Christian attempts to show that the Bible teaches life begins at the moment of conception. The only mention in these verses regarding the time life starts is that it occurs in the womb. Nothing more.
I'll state it again very clearly. Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:5 do not teach that life begins at a so-called moment of conception. They only say that life begins in the womb with no reference to a specific time.
Here are more biblical references which Evangelical Christians use to defend the position that life begins at the moment of conception. As you read these verses, ask yourself what each says about the exact time life begins.
- Genesis 1:27-"So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
- Genesis 25:21-22-"Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her [womb]..."
- Psalm 139:13 and 15- "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth."
- Psalm 22:10-11-"From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God."
- Luke 1:15-17-For he [John the Baptist] shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
- Galatians 1-15-16-"But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.
These verses are crystal clear. Life, according to the Bible, begins in the womb. Beyond that, there is no reference regarding the exact moment life arises.
Anyone who claims that these verses say life begins at a so-called moment of conception is forcing a meaning on the biblical text that it does not contain.
The Medical or Scientific Viewpoint
Now let's move on to the medical or scientific position regarding the time of the beginning of life.
Conception is a process that runs from the introduction of sperm into the woman's body to the implantation of the fertilized egg on the uterine wall. When an Evangelical Christian uses the word conception, they are referring to the specific step of fertilization.
The four steps of conception are as follows:
- Sperm Transport-Sperm must be deposited and transported to the proper place in the fallopian tubes.
- Egg Transport-The ovaries must release the egg for transport to the proper place in the fallopian tubes.
- Fertilization and Embryo Development-Sperm and egg must unite.
- Implantation-The fertilized egg must be implanted on the wall of the uterus of the woman's body to have any hope of survival.
When an Evangelical Christian says that life begins at conception, they mean life begins at fertilization, the third step of a technical definition of the word. The product of fertilization is a single cell called a zygote.
The Zygote and Blastocyst Stages
The single-celled zygote goes through a series of divisions called mitosis. At the end of this process, it has become a highly organized group of cells called a blastocyst. Only at this point do cells begin to organize into two groups. One group is destined to become the placenta and the other, the fetus. The difference between the two is nearly indecipherable.
While the zygote/blastocyst waits to implant on the uterine wall, something else happens. Fifty percent pass naturally from the woman's body. They cannot survive. If fertilization is the beginning of life, then half the human race has died before being born.
The blastocyst is now in the uterus waiting for changes to occur in the uterine wall, a period of about seventy-two hours. During this time, the blastocyst does not receive any nourishment directly from the mother.
Approximately one week has now passed since fertilization took place.
When the uterine wall is ready, the blastocyst sheds its outer covering and moves toward the uterine wall. This is the moment when implantation occurs.The blastocyst reaches out with trophoblast cells and sinks them into the uterine wall. This is the source of adhesion.
The placenta begins forming, and the blastocyst is fed directly by the mother. Without this moment of implantation, the mother's body will most certainly flush the blastocyst.
The only chance a blastocyst has to survive is to implant itself on the uterine wall. Without this step, life is impossible.
The Sculptures "Threatened Family," of the Exhibition "Traces of Humanity" in Munich
The Future of the Debate About When Life Begins
Evangelicals have taken references from the Bible to be their guide regarding when life begins. Some medical professionals agree with those in the Evangelical Christian community that life begins at the moment of fertilization.
Medical professionals and scientists don't always agree among themselves on the exact moment when life begins, but their efforts at defining that moment are grounded in observation and scientific study.
I have written this article for two reasons. First, I believe it is essential for Evangelical Christians to look closely at the biblical references they quote to support their position that life begins at fertilization. Those verses state that life begins in the womb, but they are far from the contemporary Evangelical position. It is, in fact, possible for anyone who believes life begins at any point before birth to lay claim to the same biblical references.
My second reason for writing this article is to describe how science can show us the detailed stages of the development of life. They have proven this to us, at least. If a zygote, which is the stage before the blastocyst, were to be placed against the uterine wall, it would, without question, wash out of the woman's body. But the blastocyst, given the same opportunity, can and often does, take hold and live.
There is a qualitative difference between the zygote and the blastocyst, a distinction that may very well hold the answer to this contemporary issue.