Friday, January 24, 2014

Life Week: A Proper Conception of Life

In today's article, we're happy to feature Andrew Mullins, a Generation Joshua alumnus, member of the GenJ Leadership Corps, graduate of Georgia Tech (where he received a B.S. in Biology), and former intern in bioethics policy at the Family Research Council.

In this column, he advocates the dominant pro-life position, that life begins at conception (or fertilization), and that traditional indicators of biological life are also acceptable indicators for the beginning of personal identity. He stands in contrast to alternate theories on the beginning of personal human life (such as Ruan Meintjes's heartbeat theory from earlier this week).

Andrew Mullins
Abortion, stem cell research, artificial reproductive technology, human life - these four terms have launched passionate and divisive opinions that have led to equally passionate and divisive debates. When are we human? When does life begin? For many, this seems to be the question of the century. In certain circles,  your answer could brand you as a right-wing nut job, or a leftist lunatic. On both sides of this bioethics debate, the answer to the question of life seems to determine both your politics and ethics.

But are both sides of the debate asking the right question? From a scientific standpoint, the question of the beginning of human life is actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that it reveals the truly sinister question that those engaging in this debate should be asking.

Mainstream liberals argue that life begins at birth - and use their argument to rationalize abortion, stripping humanity of its value by calling it a fetus. Its much easier to “destroy a fetus” than “terminate a human.” Their argument ignores fetal viability and can be used to rationalize partial birth abortion and human cloning.

Others argue that life begins with the heartbeat. Basing humanity on the function of the circulatory system is not only philosophically questionable (are people with artificial hearts human?) but biologically erroneous. An infant’s blood and heartbeat is inextricably entwined with the placenta (think umbilical cord), which is tied to the mother’s circulatory system. If the mother’s heart does not beat, the baby dies. Does something “magical” occur once our sinoatrial node generates enough electrical potential to drive the pump that feeds our body with oxygen and nutrients?

Biologically, except for the life-support system that is a mother’s womb, the human embryo at conception has everything it needs to develop into a full-grown human. Totipotent genetic material is in place, along with all of the mechanics needed to regulate, repair, and methylate it. An infant’s organs, limbs, personality, hair color...- it’s all there, in the zygote. In terms of biological being, an infant is the same before, during, and after the heartbeat. As Princeton’s Robert George once pointed out, “You were never an ovum or a sperm cell, those were both functionally and genetically parts of other human beings -- your parents. But you were once an embryo…” 

The Bible resounds with the language of life at conception. Using a purely presuppositional argument, every young Christian has been told that they’ve been “knit in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Even before our forms were being crafted by extremely individual God-designed Hox genes, stem cells, and mRNA segments we, like David, were “shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Even in our sin, our human forms reflect the image of our Creator. It was this same sin, in fact, that required the ultimate conception of a Savior to destroy.

From both a scientific and Biblical standpoint, there is no question that a human being’s life begins at conception. In that case, what question remains? In short, we have been focusing on a question of biology rather than a question of ethics. Knowing that life does begin at conception, how is it to be treated? When does personhood begin? If human life begins at conception, at what point other than the origin would it “earn” the right to mature and develop?

If, as many on the left would posit, life’s value is determined by developmental maturity, one can rationalize virtually any form of abortion, eugenics, or euthanasia. It is respect for the dignity of all human life at all stages of development that defines the pro-life movement. With this conviction, what calling can be higher than supporting and advocating the preservation of all human life - be it a second, a decade, or a century old?

By Andrew Mullins


  1. This is a great, concise and scientific overview of the facts. Thank you Andrew, for clearly explaining why embryo = human.

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