So, in my first post about the Manhattan Declaration, I said this:
In the sanctity of human life section, I fully agree that life is sacred. Here's the thing - they never deal with the crux of the issue in my mind, which is "when does life begin?" They condemn stem cell research, and yet if you believe (as many Christians do) that life begins at implantation, then stem cell research in no way messes with sacred life. Are we drawing conclusions before we have fully investigated our own presuppositions?And you all asked:
"Do they condemn all stem cell research? Not just embryonic? I don't really know much about this, but I believe the Catholic stance is that adult stem cell research is fine - go for it."
"I've never heard anyone, much less "many Christians", suggest that life begins at implantation. Could you point me to sources for this, or were you basing it on personal experience?"
Well, the declaration decries a government that is pro-abortion and also decries embryo stem-cell research. So yes, adult stem cell research is fine. The focus here is on the beginning of life and embryonic stem-cell research.
Here is what we people of faith agree on. Life is sacred and we are pro-life.
What we do not all agree on is where life and personhood begin.
If life begins at conception, then hormonal birth control is a very, very questionable process at best. This, unfortunately, is not much talked about in the Protestant world, mostly because I think it's inconvenient. However, if we are willing to picket abortion clinics and work so hard against abortion, we must consider this issue if we are going to be consistent.
PresterJosh asked who believes life (or, more particularly, personhood) begins after implantation. I think most people haven't heard it actually defined as such, and (to Troy's comment) actually implantation is not what you described, because it is not at the beginning of the third trimester. Implantation is when a fertilized egg implants in the womb. This is about 7-10 days after fertilization. If a fertilized egg does not implant, it is naturally flushed out of the system and pregnancy doesn't happen. This natural failure happens with about 50% of naturally fertilized eggs (read about the process here).
Why do I think this is a commonly held idea? Well, it was taught as a viable option in a Developmental Psychology class that I took in college (a conservative Christian college at which I was not allowed to go to theaters or dance - so this was no liberal agenda!). The professor never revealed his opinion on what is true, but taught several different views about the beginning of life and the problems and natural conclusions you come to with each one. I came out of the class convinced that implantation made the most sense, which I'll detail in a minute. I came back to question this view when I was debating whether or not I could with good conscience vote for Obama in the elections - abortion was the primary moral question I had to deal with. Conception as the beginning of life is held so strongly by so many that I had to go back and reexamine my views. I have not come to any conclusion, nothing seems like it is clear and firm to me. I have talked to pastors, teachers, doctors, and professors.
I also know this view is held by others, not just my college professor. In fact, today as I was writing I came on a new post on the Jesus Creed blog addressing stem cell research that seems to take the view that personhood begins at implantation, for some of the same reasons it was presented to me. I'd encourage you to go there and take a look.
Here are some of the arguments against conception or for implantation, as they have been taught to me:
Twinning: If, at conception, you have a complete, individual human life, then what do you do when this life.... suddenly becomes two lives? Identical twinning happens after conception - which would seem to me to say that it is not yet an INDIVIDUAL. As RJS says on the Jesus Creed blog: "In the morula stage each cell contains the potential to become not only an individual, but more than one individual. I don't think that this potential constitutes a person."
If at conception you have a human life, then over 50% of people die within the first week of life. I can say that God is sovereign over this process, then it could be that He just wants it that way. It seems like a bit of a moral issue, though, if we consider that pregnancy is sacred and meant to lead to life... that the majority of the time it leads to death? With implantation, this is not a problem. For this point, let me quote this article from Reason Magazine:
John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed... In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.
So millions of viable human embryos each year produced via normal conception fail to implant and never develop further. Does this mean America is suffering a veritable holocaust of innocent human life annihilated?...Does that mean that if we could detect such unimplanted embryos as they leave the womb, we would have a duty to rescue them and try to implant them anyway?
Genetic Code does not mean Life:
The primary biological argument behind conception being the beginning of life is that conception is when the complete genetic code (DNA) is formed through the joining of the sperm and egg. I question whether this is consistent. Genetic code is present long after death, yet we still consider the person and their life to be gone. The question is not when the genetic code is present but when a PERSON is present with the genetic code.Differentiation:
At a very early stage of human development, all cells of the embryo are identical, but unlike adult cells are very flexible and carry within them the potential to become any tissue type, whether it be muscle, skin, liver or brain.
This cell differentiation process begins at about the time that the embryo settles into the uterus. In terms of the inner workings of the cell, this involves two main control mechanisms. On the one hand, the genes that keep the embryo in their fully potent state are turned off, and at the same time, tissue-specific genes are turned on. By activating a certain set of genes, the embryo can make muscle cells. By turning on a different set, these same immature cells can become liver. Other gene sets are responsible for additional tissues. - (from Science Daily)
The Necessity of Implantation:
Scientists and doctors can "create" a conception in a petrie dish by joining an egg and sperm. Implantation, though, they cannot recreate. No amount of medical and scientific expertise can re-create the atmosphere of a woman's womb and allow a baby to grow. In order for pregnancy to occur, the fertilized egg needs the perfectly formed atmosphere of the uterus.It is only after this point that pregnancy tests work. It's only at this point that the body revs up chemically to change the woman's body for pregnancy.
And... therein lies my current dilemma. I don't know, but I'd like to play it safe. Can I ask a country to play it safe with me when the whole thing seems convoluted? Truthfully, I'd rather wish the national government wouldn't rule anything on it, and that they'd stick to their main jobs - our economy and our defense. This should be a state government issue.
*** Since I wrote this post, I've had a number of discussions with people who argue that the pill is safe and does not cause abortions. I have been stating that IF you believe that life begins at conception, the pill is sometimes an abortificant and should not be used. For a well-researched and updated argument on this, pastor and author Randy Alcorn recently put an book online for all to access.