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In this blog post about Time magazine article on Down syndrome and prenatal testing, Amy Julia Becker talks about her own experience being interviewed for the article and her appreciation for the article’s balance. It's a fascitnating reading about being on the back side of an interview. But also, Becker raises a really good question. Her interest in Down syndrome is not academic. Her first child, Penny, has Down syndrome. Becker wonders about Penny’s life,

Can she live a full life without ever solving a quadratic equation? Without reading Dostoyesvsky? I’m pretty sure she can. Can I live a full life without learning to cherish and welcome those in this world who are different from me? I’m pretty sure I can’t.

I pray that that question settles deep into the souls of all of us who call ourselves Christian. If we would let that question root out our biases and inconsistences, if we took time in our public confession to reflect on this question, if we let this question prick our consciences each time we feel smug toward another person, the body of Christ would become stronger, healthier, and more loving. “Can I live a full life without learning to cherish and welcome those in this world who are different from me?”


Scientific and Biblical views on the beginning of human life

Hallo Mark,

I would like to share part of a paper I wrote when doing a course on Biblical counselling. The paper was on abortion - I think it links to the question on whether abortion by choice is valid. I would like to hear any comments.

One question that is frequently asked when dealing with abortion is when does human life begin – and is it permissible to terminate a pregnancy based on man’s understanding? Scientific as well as Biblical views on this should be considered.

Scientific views

The genetic view argues that each individual is genetically unique – therefore human life begins at fertilization. If the zygote survives, it will grow into a person with his own unique set of genes. Thus life begins at fertilization. The main objection to this view is that some zygotes fail to implant into the uterus – which implies that that a zygote that fails to implant, is not human. This is not a logical argument – the occurrence of a spontaneous abortion does not imply that the lost is not fully human – anymore that a child that develops a life-threatening disease is not fully human any longer.

The implantation view argues that life begins when the blastocyst implants into the uterine lining. Implantation occurs six days after fertilization – this suggests that the zygote can only now be called human life. Implantation however, does not make the individual more human – it only makes him more likely to survive.

The embryological view says that human life begins 12 to 14 days after fertilization – as it is not possible for identical twins to develop after this. Humanness does therefore only exist when it is not possible for twins to develop any longer. This line of reasoning fails when the development of Siamese twins is considered. Siamese twins develop after the 14 day cut-off – they may share body parts and organs, but they are still distinct persons. Humanity can therefore not be defined on the fact that twins may share body parts or not.

The neurological view argues that life begins when the brain of the fetus can generate a recognizable EEG-pattern. This is usually observed at about 26 weeks into a pregnancy. It is then assumed that the fetus can engage in mental activity. A further argument is that life begins at 20 weeks of gestation. At this time the thalamus is formed in the brain – which is involved in the processing of information and is part of a complex system of neural connections that play a role in consciousness.  However, it is not easy to perform an EEG on the fetal brain – the developing brain displays electrical activity at different stages. It can easily be argued that any kind of brain activity can signify human life.

The ecological view says that the fetus is human if it can exist outside the mother’s womb. The limiting factor is the maturity of the baby’s lungs. This presents an interesting problem – over the last century man has become human earlier and earlier due to the development of medical technology. A fetus born at 28 weeks gestation 20 years ago was considered viable – today we have the technology to support the life of a baby delivered at 24 weeks gestation. This view implies that man has the ability to ante-date life as medical technology develops.             

The birthday view argues that life begins when the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut – the short-coming is that even when a healthy baby is delivered after a 40 week pregnancy, he is still very dependant on his mother for survival.

The Biblical view

Psalm 139:13-16  “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did not see my substance, yet being unperfected; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”  In Psalm 139 personal pronouns are used indicating that God knew the Psalmist as a person before he was born. God knew him when he was made in secret – implying that his parents were instruments in the hands of God.

Jeremiah 1:4-5  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” God tells Jeremiah that He knew him before he was born – he was set apart by the LORD and considered a person before birth.

Psalm 51:5   “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David acknowledges that he was sinful even before he was born – God knows our sinful nature when we are conceived in the womb.

Luke 1:39-44 “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” Elisabeth calls the life in her “babe”. She says that he leaped for joy in her womb – exhibiting joy in the presence of Jesus Christ. 

Galatians 1:15-16  “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:” Paul acknowledges that God knew him as a person in his mother’s womb and that already at that time He had called him to preach the Gospel.

Judges 16:17  “That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” Samson tells Delilah of his covenant with the LORD. Although he broke the covenant, it was restored later when he repented. God intended for Samson to be a Nazarite even when he was in his mother’s womb.

Exodus 21: 22-24“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” Mosaic law took particular care of looking after pregnant women. In the first instance, when a mother gives birth prematurely after being injured and the baby is not harmed, a fine is levied for causing premature birth. In the second instance, should the baby die, the penalty is life for life. The value of an unborn baby’s life is no less valuable than the life of an adult.

Conclusion -    Jeremiah 13:16-17: “Give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while you look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because of the LORD’s flock is carried away captive.”

The miracle of human life belongs only to the LORD. Any human attempt to qualify life will be limited to just that – a meagre attempt to limit His Omnipotence to our restricted understanding.     

God bless,




Anje, thanks for sharing this summary. How powerfull to read these Scripture passages one after another on the priceless value of human life. To your summary of the Scientific Views, we could also add Peter Singer's view, which I commented on in my blog last week. Singer says that personhood begins with self-consciousness which doesn't happen until sometime after a child is born. Therefore, infanticide is also permissible along with abortion, as long as the child is put to death before he or she develops self-consciousness. It's deeply frightening where people go with their ideas if those ideas are unloosed from biblical principles.

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