When life begins

I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop last night, writing for the blog and cleaning out my inbox, catching up on the newsletters piling up there. Then a young man dropped by my table to talk about laptops and then, how it happened I’m not sure, we ended up talking about religion and from there, about pro-life issues and other teachings of the Church. Suffice it to say that he was not at all sympathetic to anything having to do with the Church, Christianity or any other religion known to man. The anger and resentment boiling just below the surface of his words may have been at least partially responsible for the calm I felt during our conversation (the Holy Spirit working within me to help me; and to help him). Anger at what? Resentment toward whom? Toward his parents, society, Christianity, the Bible; religions in general, all of which he seems to hold in low esteem as systems of thought control beneath his dignity.

How I ached for him. There he sat, filled with poison, rejecting the remedy that would heal him. He spewed a litany of complaints against the Church that he could have read from any of the writings that have become so popular with certain persons who think they think but actually think very little. So familiar to my ears was his litany that I was able to recite it along with him and so anticipate the main points of his argument, which was not so coherent as it was all too common. And almost completely in error at its worst, twisted and distorted at best.

  • The Bible says to kill all gays (where does it say that?); the Church believes in the Bible, therefore the Church wants to kill all gays.
  • The Bible records that people used to sacrifice animals to appease the Deity. So the Bible recommends barbarous practices that are not suitable for modern man.
  • The Bible is full of rules but not all of its rules are worth following, so people can only pick and choose the ones they like and follow them the best they can. But in the end everything is a matter of choice and opinion so why bother?
  • Christianity seems true to me because I believe it is true. But there is no truth, only opinion and beliefs. And everyone has his own opinion and belief that suits him. (See the above.)
  • The Bible only mentions the killing of babies in the womb one time, therefore the Bible (and therefore the Church) has no foundation for prohibiting abortion.
  • No one knows when life begins so abortion is not murder. (*See note below.)
  • A fetus is not a living human being because the fetus has no mind. (Really?)
  • Taking cells or organs from a baby artificially produced to have a very limited functioning brain is perfectly moral because that baby would not be human as it would have no mind. (Again, really?)
  • Morality and ethics should have nothing to do with harvesting organs from such babies which is a biological, medical and scientific matter and would be no different from harvesting them from humans who had ceased to be humans, having ceased to have minds. (How he would determine when these unfortunate beings had ceased to have minds he could not say.)

This last point took up a large part of our discussion and stayed with me on the drive home. And, of course, I thought of something that I wish I’d thought of while undergoing his rapid-fire barrage of false accusations and unfounded assumptions. You see, when we were speaking of harvesting organs, I suggested that we establish some guidelines and define some terms. And I suggested, as I mentioned above, that at the outset we stick to terms that held scientific meaning and could be defined, measured, verified, such as using measurable brain activity in lieu of “mind” which would be impossible to measure if a person were unconscious.

“But mind is an product of brain function.”

“Is it? And even if it were, we can’t measure mind the way we can brain function. So let’s begin there, shall we? A person with no brain function is as good as dead, would you say? So you’re free to take whatever you want from him, yes?”

“It’s no different from taking organs from a corpse. And one of those deliberately produced babies would be no different either because it wouldn’t be human.”

“Because it didn’t have a mind.”


“Which we can’t measure or determine.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have a brain.”

“Because we engineered it not to.”


“Don’t you think it’s a bit creepy to be talking of engineering beings to not have brains? Like a sci-fi horror novel? Doesn’t it seem wrong?”

“Wrong? You said you wanted to keep it scientific and not bring morality and ethics into it.”

And this is where I wish I’d said what I didn’t think of until I was driving home, which is this: The issue of deciding when life begins is a scientific one; the issue of how to treat that life once begun is a moral and ethical one.

I wanted to proceed with clarity and logic, defining terms and drawing rational conclusions. He wanted to mix morality with science so as to render any rational discussion impossible. I don’t think it was so much a deliberate tactic as much as it is simply the way most people think. Or don’t think. It’s more a habit born of having these ideas pounded into them and repeating them until one day they repeat them to someone who knows better…

Someone who doesn’t fall for the tragically mistaken notion that abortion is not murder because “no one knows when life begins”.

*Note: I had mentioned during our lengthy conversation that the issue of when life begins had been settled 150 years ago, but I couldn’t remember where I’d read it. Today I did some research on the web and found some interesting articles about this. I’ve quoted one below.

“The statement recalled how in the Middle Ages “uninformed and inadequate theories” about the development of a child in a mother’s womb led some theologians to suggest that human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy.

“While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development,” the church leaders said.

However, they added, scientists discovered more than 150 years ago that a new human life begins with the union of sperm and egg, making such a biological theory obsolete.”

Quoted from The Catholic Virginian, Bishops say Pelosi wrong in TV interview


Read more about the issue of when life begins (offsite):

One thought on “When life begins

  1. Pingback: I’m a Catholic Christian, does that make me stupid? « Catholic Heart and Mind

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