Beginning of Human Life Ethics Statement
The Bible affirms that God is the Lord and giver of all life. Human beings are uniquely made in God’s image, and each individual human being is infinitely precious to God and made for an eternal destiny. The Christian attitude toward human life is thus one of reverence from the moment of fertilization to death.
Definition of human life
- A living human being is a self-directed, integrated organism that possesses the genetic endowment of the species Homo sapiens who has the inherent active biological disposition (active capacity and potency) for ordered growth and development in a continuous and seamless maturation process, with the potential to express secondary characteristics such as rationality, self-awareness, communication, and relationship with God, other human beings, and the environment.
- Thus, a human being, despite the expression of different and more mature secondary characteristics, has genetic and ontological identity and continuity throughout all stages of development from fertilization until death.
- A human embryo is not a potential human being, but a human being with potential.
Biological basis for the beginning of human life
- The life of a human being begins at the moment of fertilization (fusion of sperm and egg). “Conception” is a term used for the beginning of biological human life and has been variously defined in the medical and scientific literature as the moment of fertilization (union or fusion of sperm and egg), syngamy (the last crossing-over of the maternal and paternal chromosomes at the end of fertilization), full embryonic gene expression between the fourth and eighth cellular division, implantation, or development of the primitive streak. Scientifically and biblically, conception is most appropriately defined as fertilization. The activation of an egg by the penetration of a sperm triggers the transition to active organismal existence.
- It is artificial and arbitrary to use other proposed biological “markers” (such as implantation, development of a primitive streak, absence of potential for twinning, brain activity, heartbeat, quickening, viability, or birth and beyond) to define the beginning of human life.
Biblical basis for the beginning of human life
- Procreation is acknowledged in the Bible to be the gift of God.
- The mandate for human procreation in Genesis 1:27-28 and 9:1,7 implies that the God-ordained means of filling the earth with human beings made in His image is the proper reproductive expression of human sexuality in marriage. Human beings do not merely reproduce “after their kind”; they beget or procreate beings that, like themselves, are in the image of God. (see CMDA Statement on Reproductive Technology)
- Human beings are created as ensouled bodies or embodied souls (Genesis 2:7). Together the physical and spiritual aspects of human beings bear the single image of God and constitute the single essential nature of human life. A biological view of human life beginning at fertilization is therefore consistent with the Biblical view of human life.
- From fertilization on, God relates to the unborn in a personal manner. Between fertilization and birth, which are regularly linked in Biblical language God continues His activity in the unfolding and continuous development of the fetus.
- The Bible assumes a personal and moral continuity through fertilization, birth, and maturation.
- The Bible, the Church in all its formative Creeds and Ecumenical Councils, and the witness of the Holy Spirit attest to the beginning of the incarnation, wherein the second person of the Trinity took upon himself human nature, being conceived (“conceived” is to be understood as “fertilization;” see The Beginning of Human Life, Addendum II: Conception and Fertilization: Defining Ethically Relevant Terms) by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The uniqueness of the event and its mode does not affect its relevance to the question of the beginning of human life. From conception the Son of God is incarnate, his human nature made like us in every way. It follows that authentic human existence begins at conception or fertilization.
The Moral Worth of Human Life
- The moral worth of a human being is absolute and does not consist in possessing certain capacities or qualities—e.g., self-consciousness, self-awareness, autonomy, rationality, ability to feel pain or pleasure, level of development, relational ability—that confer a socially-defined status of “personhood” (a quality added to being). A human being consists in the entire natural history of the embodied self. A human being is a person.
- The moral worth of a human being at all stages of development consists not merely in a) the possession of human chromosomes nor b) the fact that he or she may someday grow and develop into a more mature human individual. In fact, he or she already is the same individual being who may gradually develop into a more mature human individual.
- Every individual from fertilization is known by God, is under His providential care, is morally accountable, and possesses the very image of God the creator.
- Since human life begins at fertilization, the full moral worth afforded to every human being is equally afforded from fertilization onward throughout development. Vague notions of “personhood” or social utility have no place in decisions regarding the worth, dignity, or rights of any human being.
- Because all human beings derive their inherent worth and the right to life from being made in the image of God, standing in relation to God as their personal Creator, a human being’s value and worth is constant, whether strong or weak, conscious or unconscious, healthy or handicapped, socially “useful” or “useless,” wanted or unwanted.
- A human beings life may not be sacrificed for the economic or political welfare or convenience of other individuals or society. Indeed, society itself is to be judged by its protection of and the solicitude it shows for the weakest of its members.
- Human life, grounded in its divine origin and in the image of God, is the basis of all other human rights, natural and legal, and the foundation of civilized society.
Passed by the CMDA House of Representatives
June 16, 2006