The Sanctity of Human Life
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The Sanctity of Human Life

January 17, 2021 | Gregg Caruso


Today we are beginning a series in the book of Nehemiah. Chapter 1 begins with Nehemiah’s heartache when he heard that God was not being honored in the city of Jerusalem where the presence of God was to be treasured, anticipated, and celebrated. 

Because of Nehemiah’s great love for God and his great love for his fellow Jews he experienced a holy discontent and an intensifying passion for God’s fame and renown to be re-established in the city and in the people. 

Nehemiah was so stirred by his love for God and people that he was compelled to leave the comfort and security of the palace where he worked for the King to step into the brokenness of the people of Jerusalem – just like Jesus did for you and me, leaving the comfort and perfection of heaven to step into our brokenness and sin—living the perfect life that we could not live.

Nehemiah stepped out of his own comfort zone to become an agent of restoration and renewal, which is the same calling for every active intentional follower of Jesus.

The NT equivalent to Nehemiah’s passion is the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22:37-40, which becomes the foundation for the Christian’s life.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Everything else flows from our call to love God supremely and then to love people completely.

God desires to use His people and His Church to bring about restoration and renewal. Let’s take Nehemiah’s perspective and address the very controversial and sensitive issue in our culture today—the sanctity of human life.

Our National Sanctity of Human Life Day is the third Sunday of the New Year and the date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1984.

This issue of the sanctity of human life has been a very divisive issue in our nation. There are a variety of opinions—probably even in those who will read this.

  • Some would say abortion is wrong all the time, no matter what.
  • Some would say they are personally opposed to abortion, but the final choice should be left to the mother.
  • Some would say it’s wrong but permissible under certain circumstances.
  • Some would say it should be legal up to a particular point in the pregnancy.
  • Some would say that it should always be legal and that it’s not morally wrong.

In addition to being a divisive issue, it’s also a very sensitive issue. There are probably people who will read this who have either HAD an abortion or who have HELPED (or been complicit in helping) someone obtain an abortion.

Abortion has touched my life twice. When I was in high school, I helped a friend obtain an abortion (I was not the father). She told her parents she would be at a friend’s house for the weekend and another friend and I drove her to a clinic where the abortion was performed. Another time a girl I was dating told me after-the-fact that she had chosen to abort our baby. At the time I was relieved.

For many women (and men) who have chosen abortion along the way, there can be a lot of sadness, guilt, and shame that never seems to go away. Some might even be reading this and have had an abortion and no one in your life is aware of it.

Here is my thesis statement for this blog post: “If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion in necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate.”  –Greg Koukl [1]

Two Bible verses to keep in mind as we consider the sanctity of human life:

  • “The Lord hates [the] hands that shed innocent blood.” –Proverbs 6:16-17
  • At the same time God loves the guilty and the broken: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16 (emphasis added)

God is a God of mercy, restoration, and renewal. The issues surrounding the sanctity of human life are complex, but as we look to both Scripture and science, I think we will find that the issue itself is not complex.

There is just one question that we need to answer: “What is the unborn?” Other ways to ask the same question include, “When does life begin?” Does life begin at conception?  Does life begin at the second trimester? The third trimester? Does life begin at birth?

If the unborn are NOT human, abortion is no big deal. An abortion would be no different than having a cyst or a tumor removed. And if the unborn ARE human no justification is adequate.

Here’s a way to think about it…What if you’re driving on the street and you see what looks like a baby blanket on the street ahead of you and there’s a bulge underneath the blanket. Could you be held legally liable and accountable if you ran over the blanket and there WAS a baby underneath? (Sorry for the gruesome word-picture.) The answer, of course, is yes—if you COULD stop you SHOULD stop or face legal consequences. 

If the unborn are not human, it must be conclusively proven that they are not. It would not be unreasonable to apply the same standard to this issue as we apply in our court system. Pro-choice advocates need to be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a baby in the womb is NOT a human being.

As we engage this issue, I would like to share some verses to see what the Bible has to say. I would also like to make mention of some scientific breakthroughs that seem to be helping the general public to make better sense of this controversial and sensitive issue. (And let me be clear that the scientific arena is NOT my area of expertise so my comments will be more general.) Finally, I want to cite a few verses and thoughts regarding how to have a compassionate conversation with someone who has a very different viewpoint than yours. The verses, as well as my comments, will be applicable to other areas of disagreement in our church and culture—including theological issues as well as in our current political brokenness.

Let’s take them one at a time:

Scripture

  • “…Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). The unborn are known by God and have been set apart for a purpose.
  • “For you created my inmost being you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. 15 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. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16, emphasis added).
  • John the Baptist “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15).

When Elizabeth and Mary met when they were both pregnant two things happened: 1) Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (1:41) and “The baby leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). What we have detailed in the above passage is a distinct human person that is cognitive in the womb, which makes Ephesians 1:4a even more poignant: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”

It certainly seems clear from Scripture that God sees the unborn as human beings, created in God’s image and created by God’s hand, and the unborn are to be treated as such. They are to be prized and protected.

Science

Probably the greatest scientific breakthrough regarding the sanctity of human life has been the advancement of the ultrasound or sonogram with its 3 and 4D imaging—and even real-time video.

Parents can see the development of their children with their own eyes. The obstetric ultrasound is typically done at 20 weeks’ gestation and shows the active life of the child in the womb clasping his or her hands, sucking his or her thumb, yawning, stretching, getting the hiccups, covering his or her ears from a loud sound nearby.[2] 

Pregnancy Help Centers often report up to an 80% success rate when they are able to show pregnant women ultrasound images. The “product of conception” (as some abortion providers describe the unborn) is a complete and genetically unique entity distinct from its human parents. 

At conception, the sperm with 23 chromosomes unites with an egg with 23 chromosomes to form a distinct entity–the zygote that has 46 chromosomes. The zygote is a living human person with a life of its own and possesses the inherent capacity to rapidly oversee and direct its own development. 

This new single-cell human being immediately produces specifically human proteins and enzymes, and genetically directs his or her own growth and development. In fact, this genetic growth and development has been proven not to be directed by the mother[3]. The zygote contains the entire genetic blueprint that accounts for every detail of human development—sex, hair color, eye color, height, and skin tone, and even personality traits.

Finally, this new human being the single-cell human zygote is biologically an individual, a living organism an individual member of the human species.[4]

A 9th edition embryology textbook, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects states this: “The zygote and early embryo are living human organisms.”[5]

Human life is a continuum beginning at conception and ending at death. From the moment of conception human life exists and does not cease to exist until that person dies. The baby is not just a part of the woman’s body the baby is a unique human person within the woman’s body. I hope you can see the difference.

Humble Dialogue

A few thoughts regarding how to have a conversation with someone who has a very different view than yours.

This is where we can begin: Ask to hear and then listen sincerely to the person’s story. Acknowledge and empathize with where they’re coming from. When we have earned the right to speak by listening well, begin by sharing The Great Commandment (see above).

Every unborn child is our neighbor. Followers of Jesus and churches MUST also be willing to come alongside single moms or struggling couples/families who simply do not see how they can carry a baby to term and/or afford the hospital cost, let alone the cost of raising a child.[6] We cannot simply relegate this important issue to our court system. Not only is the unborn child our neighbor but so are the mother and father.

We also need both local as well as a national conversation related to one of the main objections that women have – they (collectively) don’t trust men to tell them what to do with their bodies. Women have endured various forms of patriarchy (which is anti-gospel) for literally, millennia—both outside as well as inside the Church. There needs to be a humble reckoning where the Church acknowledges this and rebuilds trust through care. And this would be true for both Complementarians as well as Egalitarians.   

Two final thoughts: Jesus taught His followers to be an alternate society in which sex, money, and power are to be used in life-giving ways that differ sharply from the practices of the broader culture. The sanctity of human life is a power issue.

The old saying, “Those with the power make the rules” is true regarding how the broader culture seems unwilling to stand up for the dignity and rights of the most at-risk of the human population—the unborn.

Along the way in our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers who do not hold or express a Christian worldview, we will hear them articulate a plethora of reasons why they find the Christian faith difficult to embrace. 

It may be the biblical sex ethic of marriage being a covenant between one man and one woman for one lifetime. It may be the Christian view of morality, which states that the sexual union of a husband and wife is reserved for the marriage covenant. It may be gender issues or because of not understanding God’s purpose in our pain and suffering. It may be because of our pro-life stance. While we cannot apologize for where Scripture is clear in these areas, what we CAN apologize for is how these Scriptures have been used as a club by some to demand that society conforms to our biblical perspective and principles, even when we have not lived-up to our own standards. Often times people outside the church do not sense a Great Commandment infused love coming from us or our churches.

In closing let me suggest to you that the questions of sex ethic, morality, the problem of pain and suffering, or a prolife stance do not address the REALLY important and essential question…

The most essential question will always be, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” If Jesus rose from the dead, then we need to humbly and prayerfully engage all that He said and then deal with the implications; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then we are free to pick and choose principles that He taught that seem right in our own eyes.

The issue on which EVERYTHING hangs is not whether or not you like or understand all of the teachings of the Bible, but whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.” [7] 

Questions for Further Reflection and for CCC Community Groups

P – Participation (get everyone involved in the dialog)

  1. Do you have any specific and repeatable steps that you take when making major life decisions?

A – Application (makes it personal)

  1. Why is it important to understand that an unborn baby is distinct from the mother?
  2. (See additional notes below) Professor Peter Singer says an individual’s human worth is based on his/her usefulness to others. How does this logic carry over to infants, the elderly, the disabled, the sick, etc.?
  3. How would you define a “meaningful life”? What is your basis for giving value to something?

S – Scripture (thinking biblically is a learned behavior! 🙂

  1. Read Psalm 139. The main theme is that we are fully known and fully loved.
  2. According to 139:13-16, when did God first establish a relationship with each of us? What significance does this have for the unborn?
  3. What two similar images or word pictures does David use in vs. 13 and 15 when he speaks of God creating him? What insight do these images give you about your creation?
  4. Why does David thankfully praise God in 138:14? What does this verse tell you about how we are to view our own existence?

S – Sharing (aim for a time of honest reflection, authenticity, and transparency in a safe atmosphere modeled by you).  [Choose one of the following as a final dialogue question.]

  1. What do you think of the statement; “There can be no equal rights for all people until there are equal rights for the unborn”?
  2. How can we, as individuals and as a church, engage the larger community in respectful dialogue and activity to promote a pro-life stance?

 Additional Notes and Scientific Research

  • In 1993, ethicist Peter Singer shocked many Americans by suggesting that no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth and that the attending physician should kill some disabled babies on the spot. Five years later, his appointment as Decamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University ignited a firestorm of controversy, though his ideas about abortion and infanticide were hardly new. In 1979 he wrote, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[8] Singer’s views express the philosophical doctrine of functionalism, which is the belief that what defines a human being is what they can and cannot do.
  • American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman (who also subscribes to the philosophical doctrine of functionalism) has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.”[9]
  • Human beings develop at a much more astonishingly rapid pace than originally thought:
    • The cardiovascular system is the first major system to function. At about 22 days after conception the child’s heart begins to circulate his or her own blood, unique to that of the mother’s, and the heartbeat can be detected in ultrasound.[10] (10th edition medical and dental student textbook)
    • At just six weeks, the child’s eyes and eyelids, nose, mouth, and tongue have formed.
    • Electrical brain activity can be detected at six or seven weeks,[11] and by the end of the eighth week, the child, now known scientifically as a “fetus,” has developed all of his or her organs and bodily structures.[12]
    • By ten weeks after conception, the child can make bodily movements.
Fetal Pain

Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks.

 DOCUMENTATION:

  • Myers, 2004, p.241, para.2, “The first essential requirement for nociception is the presence of sensory receptors, which first develop in the perioral area at approximately 7 weeks gestation and are diffusely located throughout the body by 14 weeks.”
  • Myers LB, Bulich LA, Hess, P, Miller, NM. Fetal endoscopic surgery: indications and anaesthetic management.Best Practice & Research Clinical Anaesthesiology. 18:2 (2004) 231-258.
  • Smith S.  Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience.  London: CARE, 1996.
  • Fetal Homicide Laws

The debate over fetal rights is not new to the legislative arena. Every year pro-life and pro-choice advocates vie for the upper hand in this contentious issue. Legislation has defined the fetus as a person under fetal homicide or “feticide” laws such as the Fetal Protection Act, the Preborn Victims of Violence Act, and the Unborn Victim of Violence Act. Those supporting these acts, contend that both the lives of the pregnant woman and the fetus should be explicitly and individually protected. 

[1] Precious Unborn Human Persons, Stand to Reason 2014: 7. Koukl is a Christian apologist, radio talk show host, author, speaker, and the founder of the Christian apologetics organization Stand To Reason.

[2] See “Fetal Development,” MedlinePlus, accessed January 21, 2011, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medline-plus/ency/article/002398.htm; and “Your Pregnancy Week by Week: Weeks 17-20,” WebMD, accessed March 15, 2011, http://www.webmd.com/baby/ guide/your-pregnancy-week-by-week-weeks-17-20?page=2.

[3] Holtzer et al., “Induction-dependent and lineage-dependent models for cell-diversification are mutually exclusive,” Progress in Clinical Biological Research 175:3-11 (1985); also similar work by, e.g., F. Mavilio, C. Hart.

[4] Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D. WHEN DO HUMAN BEINGS BEGIN? “SCIENTIFIC” MYTHS AND SCIENTIFIC FACTS, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 1999, 19:3/4:22-36.

[5] Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects, W.B. Saunders Company, 9th edition 2015: 500.

[6] According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610. With inflation, that would be about $284,570.

[7] Adapted from Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

[8] Peter Singer. Practical Ethics, 1st ed. Cambridge University Press 1979: 122–23.

[9] Jeffrey Reiman, Critical Moral Liberalism, Rowman and Littlefield 1997: 121.

[10] Moore and Persaud, The Developing Human, 10th edition, Saunders, 2015: 350-358.

[11] The Commission of Inquiry into Foetal Sentience (CARE and The House of Lords), “Human Sentience Before Birth,” 2001: 3, 36.

[12] Marjorie A. England. Life Before Birth, 2nd edition, Mosby 1996: 9.

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