From Catholic Stand
By Briana Huddleston
Western society has progressively embraced secularism over time. Two big problems have been created as a result: authentic faith has been (and continues to be) divorced from science, and moral objectivity has been written off as non-existent. These two points rear their ugly heads in the biggest battle of the 21st century: upholding and defending human life.
Secularist flawed logic manifests itself whenever you ask a pro-abortion person when human life begins. One might say it begins after the baby has a heartbeat and brainwaves. Others will say that a baby isn’t alive until after the child is born. Each person has a different answer for when they personally think life begins.
But can a matter like human life actually be subjective? No pro-abortion person would disagree that a human being is objectively dead when they no longer have any animation, brain activity, or functioning organs. If everyone agrees that death is objective, then it logically follows that life is also objective. Science can help us determine objectively when life begins.
The Criteria for Life
Many pro-abortion activists argue that science has never determined the criteria for when life begins in the human person. This argument is demonstrably false. Biology (the study of life) defines eight characteristics that all living things share and that can be objectively verified. The Miller & Levine Biology text says that all living things are made up of cells; have a universal genetic code; obtain and use materials and energy; grow and develop; have the ability to reproduce; respond to their environment; maintain homeostasis; and change over time. These are the characteristics of life.
All of these qualifiers are present in plant life. Scientists also do not hesitate to say that there is a possibility of life on other planets for this reason. So when are all of these characteristics present in the human person? Biology tells us that all of that all eight criteria are traced back in the human person to the moment of conception.
Let’s go through them in summary fashion.
Cellular Anatomy and Genes: Fertilization occurs when sperm and egg cells fuse together at conception to form the human zygote (also known as the human embryo). It is a single cell which contains genes from both the mother and the father. The chromosomes from the mother and father come together in the nucleus and the embryo is given a unique set of DNA from its parents (Miller & Levine, 824).
Metabolism and Growth: Metabolism is defined as storing and using materials and energy. By the time the embryo receives its DNA, it is already metabolizing. ATP is a process that takes place in the cell which helps it store and transfer energy (Miller & Levine, 40). The embryo uses this energy to undergo mitosis, or cell division.
Reproduction and Response to Stimuli: Sometimes during the pre-implantation phase, the embryo will split apart. Two genetically identical embryos are produced in asexual reproduction. The two identical embryos are called identical twins. Embryos respond to stimuli during this process. The cell releases a soluble factor referred to as “paf”, which activates blood platelets (O’Neill, The Role of Paf in Embryo Physiology, 2009).
Homeostasis and Change: Homeostasis is defined as the internal and chemical conditions that help an organism maintain a stable internal environment. It begins from the very moment of conception and does not end in the human person until death. Change is constant in the embryo from fertilization to implantation. Once the embryo is fertilized, particles on the outer layer of the egg are triggered by the sperm to form a protective barrier. The barrier prevents any other sperm from attaching to the egg. From then, the embryo is constantly growing and changing and maintaining its inner environment, which does not stop throughout the entire pregnancy.
The Church and LifeScience clearly vindicates the truth that human life starts at conception. Church teaching is therefore in unison with science. The 1987 Instruction from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae, indicates that
From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. To this perpetual evidence … modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, the program is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man, this individual man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its great capacities requires time … to find its place and to be in a position to act. (DV, I.1)
Our Christian DutyIt is our duty as members of the Church to defend the Gospel of Life from the moment a human being is created until their natural death. As time progresses, the conscience and hearts of the world will wax cold. When talking with a pro-abortion person, it is helpful to point out to them that science has indeed objectively laid down the criteria for human life. In this case, science works in harmony with faith and does not contradict it because it cannot (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159).
In the famous words of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, “It is the Church’s hope that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love” (EV, 6).