Over the summer we learned that by a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court of Canada denied a severely disabled child the right to sue his mother for injuries received in a car crash before he was born. I am not in a position to discuss the rights or wrongs of the court’s decision but I do strongly reject the reason given for the decision. Here is a quote from a newspaper article on the story: “The judges said they had no power to control a pregnant woman’s behaviour.”
The obvious implication is that the preborn baby is not human. If a woman killed her baby one minute after its birth, would the judges have no power to control her action? This, of course, brings us back to the vital question, “When does a baby become a human being and therefore a person?” So, I decided to do some research on the question, not from a religious but from a scientific point of view. As I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, I have to depend on the expertise of those who are, so the rest of this article will be a series of quotations from people who have studied the question and have the authority to speak or write on it scientifically. If you already know all the answers, I suggest you skip on to the next article!
When does human life begin?
The most distinguished scientific meeting of recent years that considered this question in depth was the First International Conference on Abortion, held in Washington D.C., in October 1967. It brought together authorities from around the world in the fields of medicine, law, ethics and social sciences. The first major question considered by the medical group was, “When does human life begin?” Their unanimous conclusion (19-1) was as follows: “The majority of our group could find no point in time between the union of the sperm and the egg, or at least the blastocyst stage, at which point we could say that this was not human life.” They continued, “The changes occurring between implantation, a six-week embryo, a six-month fetus, a one-week child and a mature adult are merely stages of development and maturation.” (This quotation is taken from Handbook on Abortion by Dr. J.C. Willke.)
Some More Quotations
“It is now of unquestionable certainty that a human being comes into existence precisely at the moment when the sperm combines with the egg. When the sperm and egg nuclei unite, all the characteristics, such as colour of eyes, hair, skin, that make a unique personality are laid down determinatively.” Dr. H. Ratner, Report April 1966.
“From the moment a baby is conceived, it bears the indelible stamp of a separate distinct personality, an individual different from all other individuals.” Ultrasound pioneer, Sir William Liley, M.D. 1967.
“The birth of a human life really occurs at the moment the mother’s cell is fertilized by one of the father’s sperm cells.” Life magazine, “Drama of Life before Birth,” April 1965.
“A baby who has just been born is not brand new; he already has a life story. Human life begins when the sperm of the father enters the ovum or egg of the mother.” The Life Cycle Library for Young People.
“When the sperm and egg fuse, the newly-formed cell has conferred upon it the degree of Homo Sapiens, with all the rights and privileges pertaining.” (Note, “Rights and Privileges.”)Peter Amenta, Ph.D. Professor of Embryology, Hahnemann Medical School.
“I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at conception. I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence, from conception to adulthood, and any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes the termination of a human life.” Dr. A.M. Bongioanni, professor of obstetrics, University of Pennsylvania.
“After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into existence. This is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.” Dr. Jerome Lejeune, genetics professor at the University of Descartes, Paris. He discovered the Down syndrome chromosome.
“It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.”Professor M. Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School.
“By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic.
“I oppose abortion. I do so, first because I accept what is biologically manifest – human life commences at the time of conception – and secondly, because I believe it is wrong to take an innocent human life under any circumstances.” Dr. Landrum Shettles, pioneer in sperm biology.
A Brief Glance at History
I thought it might be a good idea to conclude with a brief look at medical history in relation to the question of abortion.
Hippocrates was a Greek physician, who lived from 460 to 377 B.C. He was referred to in ancient times as “Hippocrates the Great.” Aristotle in his Politics referred to him as “The Great Physician.” Until recently he was known as “The Father of Modern Medicine.” The reason this man was so revered in medical circles is that the Oath, which bears his name, was the foundation of medical morals and ethics for more than two thousand years. And, although Hippocrates himself may not have actually formulated it, until very recent times it was an honoured custom for every doctor to take this oath – and keep it!
The Oath is rather long and involved, so I shall give just the salient points: “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked or to suggest any such counsel. Furthermore, I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce an abortion.”
In 1948, this Oath was repeated, in essence, and its values enshrined in the “Declaration of Geneva,” by the World Medical Association. The Declaration says, in part, “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception. Even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.”
So even by pagan standards, the raison d’etre of the doctor’s vocation was, from the very beginning, to care and cure but never to kill. It is a sad commentary on the present state of medical morals that it can be statistically proven that the most dangerous place to be today is in a mother’s womb!
P.S. I challenge any Canadian doctor to state that the baby in the womb is at any stage not a human being.