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“Please Let Me live”

Abortion: The Right to Live – Some considerations on the bioethical issues at the beginning of life

by Dr Alex Tang

 

1.                  Introduction

A mother is expecting her sixth child. She is physically and emotionally exhausted by the demands of her large family. The home is over-crowded and she is living at the poverty-line level. It will be financially impossible to have another mouth to feed. The mother is the sole breadwinner (her husband has abandoned the family). Another baby will ruin the family.

A teenager found that she is pregnant. Being unmarried that will be severe stigma on the good name of her family. She is also emotionally not ready to bring up a baby.

An expectant mother contracted rubella (German measles) during the first trimester of her pregnancy. The doctors told her that her baby will likely to be born blind, mentally retarded and with heart problems.

A pregnancy is the result of a rape (or incest). Continuing the pregnancy with add to the emotional tragedy. The child will be an unwanted baby.

An expectant mother is a busy executive in a multinational corporation. Having a baby now will slow her climb up the corporate ladder.

These real-life problems seek abortion of the unborn foetus as a solution. What is the Christian response?  The debate on abortion has been raging since the early church. It is still going on because it is a complex issue. John Stott wrote that abortion have medical, legal, theological, ethical, social and personal aspects.[1] It often involves painful personal dilemmas. It is one of the difficult questions we Christian has to face if we are to be the ‘salt and light’ of the world.

1.1               Definition

A medical dictionary defined abortion ‘as the premature expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception- of the embryo or of a non-viable foetus’. Embryo refers to the first eight weeks of gestation after fertilisation of the ovum by the sperm. Foetus refers to the embryo after eight weeks until birth. Abortion can be a naturally occurring process. It was estimated that 50% of all conception occurs in abortion because for some reasons, the embryo was non-viable. In this paper, we shall limit our discussion to abortion involving a normal viable embryo or foetus, if left to the natural process will be delivered as a full term baby.

Abortion on demand is not available in Malaysia. Abortion can only be performed for medical reasons as provided in section 312 of the Penal Code and its has to be certified by at least two doctors. 

In Singapore abortion is available on demand. It even allows teenage girls to procure abortions without their parents’ knowledge. In Britain, abortion was illegal until the Infant Life (preservation) Act of 1929 provided that abortion was admissible if it is to save the life of the mother. This was further liberalised in the 1967 Abortion Act. By 1983 over 2 million legal abortions had been performed since the 1967 Act was passed and by 1995 over 4.5 million. In the United States, in January 1973 in Roe v. Wade case, the United Supreme Court declared by seven votes to two that it is constitutional for a woman to choose to have an abortion done on her during the first three months (first trimester) of her pregnancy and during the second and third trimester if the pregnancy affects her physical or mental health. This ruling opened a floodgate for abortions to be performed in the United States. The premise behind the ruling is that a woman has a right to decide what is to be done to her body and that includes an ‘unwanted’ foetus. This is usually described a ‘pro-choice’. ‘Pro-choice’ means a woman has total rights to decide what is done to her body.

 

1.2               Techniques of abortion

Most abortions are done during the first three months of pregnancy. There are a number of ways a fetus can be aborted. I have not included the herbal or other manipulations done by traditional healers and back-street abortionists.

1.2.1          Vacuum aspiration

This is used for pregnancies up to 12-14 weeks. In this technique, the cervix is dilated and a tube connected to a suction apparatus was inserted. The fetus was sucked out into a jar. The foetal body parts were examined to ensure totally removal.

1.2.2          ‘D & C’-Dilation and Curettage

This is the most popular technique. The cervix was dilated and a ‘curette’ was inserted. The walls of the womb were scraped until the foetus was cut into pieces and removed.

1.2.3          Toxic solution

In this technique, a hyperosmolar solution, usually saline was introduced into the womb by means of a needle. The saline kills the foetus that will then be expelled naturally through the vagina. This is usually used in pregnancies of 12-16 weeks.

1.2.4          Hysterectomy

This is similar to Caesarean section by which the foetus is removed through an incision in the womb. Unlike Caesarean section, the foetus is left to die.

1.2.5          ‘D and X’ – Dilation and Extraction

This is done in late stage pregnancies when the foetus is fully formed and is too strong for dismemberment by the above mentioned techniques. Here the foetus was manipulated into a breech position and labour induced by a drug, prostaglandin. The baby was partially delivered feet first until the head remains in the womb. Then the doctor creates an incision at the base of the skull and a suction catheter inserted. The brain is then sucked out through the catheter, causing the skull to collapse and then the now dead baby was removed from the womb by pulling on the feet.

1.2.6          RU 486 with prostaglandin

In 1991, it was licensed for use in the United Kingdom. It is not available in Malaysia. RU 486 can be used during all three trimesters. It produces an abortion by destroying the lining of the womb. It is often used with prostaglandin, a drug that facilitate labour and the evacuation of the abortus from the womb.

1.2.7          ‘Morning after’ pill

This pill contains a high dose of oestrogen, which makes the lining of the womb unsuitable for implantation of the fertilised ovum. It is effective if take within 72 hours after sexual intercourse.

            There are many techniques to abort an embryo or a foetus. Some techniques are relatively safe while others have certain dangers. What is important to note is that these techniques are readily available and can be done by any competent doctor. Hence there are demands from pregnant women for abortion for whatever reasons because of the easy availability and the safety of the procedures. Virginia Mollenkott wrote, “Every time a woman gives birth, she undergoes the equivalent of a major operation, whereas getting a legal abortion is seven times safer than giving birth.” [2]  A pregnant lady can check into a hospital or a clinic in the morning, have an abortion done and be home in the afternoon in time for tea.

 

2.                   Basic Positional Response to Abortion

There are many confused responses to abortion. Many people look to their spiritual leaders for guidance. Unfortunately many spiritual leaders themselves do not have the answer. The theologians’ stand may be different from that of the doctors who profess evangelical faith. A rape victim may think differently from a busy female executive.

The responses of various people to the emotive issue of abortion can be categorises into four basic stands:

2.1               Abortion is never justified.

There are people who believe that abortion is never justified whatever the circumstances. Proponent of this stand believes that the foetus is a human being and there is no justification whatsoever in allowing the killing of a human being. The Roman Catholic Church has denied allowing any abortions to be done, even those to save the mother’s life. Some conservative Christians also held to this view. The consideration here is of the sanctity of human life.

2.2               Therapeutic abortions.

The second group of people believe that only in one special circumstance is abortion allowed. That is if the abortion will save the mother’s life. This group also held to the view that the foetus is a human being, but a potential human being. When weighed against the life of the mother, who is a realised human being, can be sacrificed. Many conservative Christians have this view.[3] The abortion done here is called therapeutic abortion because it is used to saves lives. Consideration here is of the value of an individual.

2.3               Justifiable or ‘hard cases’ abortions.

The third group also held the view of the second group concerning the value of the foetus and the mother. However they have extended the justification to include victims of rape, incest or congenital abnormalities in the fetus. They consider these circumstances as ‘hard cases’. The consideration here is of  compassion.

2.4               Pro-choice view of abortion.

This group feels that the mother has the right to choose and that society, government and religious authorities have no right to interfere. The foetus is considered a part of her body and she has a right to decide what is to be done to her body. While some recognise the foetus as a potential human being; others regard it a lump of cells, equivalent to a tumour. As doctors remove tumours from her body, abortion is likened to be removal of a tumour. The consideration here is of the rights of an individual to choose.

            The first three groups are often called ‘pro-life’ and most evangelical Christians and Catholics will be included into this group. The last group and by far the largest group are called ‘pro-choice’. Unfortunately dialogues and attempts to understand each other’s views has not been successful. This have lead to ‘pro-life’ protests who often ends with violence with ‘pro-choice’ groups, fire bombing of abortion clinics and even murder of a doctor who performs abortion.

 

3.                   The Church Response to Abortion

The Church has always being pro-life working from the principle of the sanctity of human life, value of an individual and compassion. But within the Church itself, there are different views about abortions, different reasons to reject abortions and different tolerant to those members to seek abortions.

3.1               Abortion and the Early Church

The Early Church existed in the intellectual climate of the Greeks. In this period, it was generally agreed that the physicians were against non-therapeutic  abortion. The Hippocratic Oath specifically forbids the giving of a pessary to cause abortion. However social and philosophical ethics (especially those of Plato and Aristotle) endorsed it and abortion was widely practised. The Alexandrian Jewish position, which was influential in the Jewish world at that time viewed abortion as immoral and punishable.[4]

The earliest specific written references to abortion were those in the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. The Didache declared “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction”. Similarly in the Epistle of Barnabas, the section “Thou shalt love thy neighbour more than thy own life”, the foetus is seen, not as part of the mother but as a neighbour.[5]

Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215) in his Prophetic Eclogues argued that foetus has a soul and is a living person.[6] Tertullian (ca 160 – ca 240) one of the most eloquent apologists in the west considered the foetus as a human being though still dependent on the mother.[7]

After the ‘Christianisation’ of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the practice of abortion increased in the church. According to Epiphanus of Cyprus (ca 315-ca 403), pagan influence in the church was the cause of the increase.[8]

In 305 AD, the Council of Elvira became the first Christian body to enact punishment for abortion and five major Church Fathers – Basil, Jerome, Ambose, Augustine and Chrysostom – commented on the practice.[9] The earliest Christian ethics seem to be consistently against abortion.

3.2               Abortion and the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church has consistently held the view against abortion. It held that at the moment of conception when the sperm fertilised the ovum is the time a human being is born. This is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church today. Since abortion is the destruction of the product of conception, there is no difference from the destruction of an adult. Both are considered murder.

The destruction of the foetus is allowed only if it is the result of a foreseen but unintended consequence of another procedure, for example, removal of the uterus with a foetus inside. This is the doctrine of double effect.

3.3               Abortion in Evangelical churches

Though strongly pro-life, the church today is deeply divided polarised on their views on abortion. These view ranges from absolute prohibition to allowing abortion to save the mother’s life to allowing ‘hard cases’ that include rape victim, victim of incest, abnormal baby. ‘Hard cases’ are open to abuse, as the criteria tend to be plastic. Added to this theological potpourri is the militant ‘pro-lifer’ that would resort to violence to impose their views on ‘pro-choicers’. Because of this lack of consensus of the church’s view on abortion, the church was not too effective in influencing the society’s view on abortion. In Singapore where there is a growing Protestant movement, there is hardly any dissent at the government’s policy to make abortion available on demand. Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop has rightly observed that the Christians has lost the opportunity to make any impact on society because of their lack on consensus on major issues.[10]

4.                   Abortion and the Bible.

The Bible has surprisingly made no reference to abortion. It does not given an answer to the most crucial aspect of the abortion issue- when is the fetus considered a human being? Attempts has been made to cite evidence that God consider the fetus to be fully human by referring to Psalm 139, Job 3:11, Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:39-44.

John Stott made an ingenious argument by using Psalm 139. Firstly, using verse 14, ‘for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’, he concluded that the psalmist is already aware at his conception – creation. Secondly, in verse 1 ‘ you have searched me’ (the past), verse 2-3, ‘ you know when I sit and when I rise ..’ (the present) and verse 10,’your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast..’(the future).There is continuity. And thirdly, the whole Psalm 139 spoke of communion between God and the psalmist. John Stott concluded that these three words (creation, continuity, communion) gave us the perspective to see that the fetus is already a human life, though not yet mature have the potential of growing into the fullness of humanity.[11] The point he made was that the beginning of human life is found in the pre-natal period and there is continuity from life before and life after birth.

"Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?”

Job 3:11 (NIV). Job 3:11 is a metaphor. It sheds no light on whether the

status of the foetus Job. It is a retroperspective view as it is the adult Job contemplating

his circumstances.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set

you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)

Jeremiah 1:5 is more about God calling of Jeremiah to be his prophet.

Luke 1:39-44 is about when Mary and Elizabeth met, both being pregnant. Elizabeth’s baby (John the Baptist) ‘leaped in her womb’ in respond to the presence of Mary’s baby (Jesus). The case was made here that Luke uses the same word brephos of an unborn child (1:41,44) as he later uses of he new-born baby (2:12,16) and of the little ones whom people brought to Jesus to be blessed by him (18:15). It is difficult to conceive of a principle by one Greek word.

The Scriptural passage,to which both proponents and opponents appeal to in the current debate, is Exodus 21:22-25.

"If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (NIV)

This passage can be understood in different ways. Firstly, the passage may imply that the Bible makes a distinction between a fully human life (the mother) and the life of a foetus. This verse can be taken to mean a foetus is not considered to be a fully human person and is therefore of less inherent value than an already born person. Thus the death of a fetus merit a fine while the death or injury to the mother called for the application of lex talionis (life for life, eye for eye,… etc). However, it must be noted that the foetus does have value, even though it is less than that of the mother.[12]

Secondly, the passage may be interpreted the way as Jack Cottrell has done. He concludes that verse 22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth. Thus causing a premature birth will merit a fine but death of injury to the premature baby or the mother will merit the lex talionis.  Thus he concludes,’..the life of the fetus is valued just as highly as the mother, and the lex taliois principle applied to both..’[13] R.C.Sproul has came to the same conclusion.[14]

To support this view, R.C.Sproul quoted the work of:

“Dr. Frame also examines the verb yatza, found in Exodus 21:22. The term means ‘go out’ or ‘depart’. Yatza is normally used to describe ordinary births (Gen 25:26, 38:28-30, Job 10:18; Jeremiah 1:5, 20:18). The only possible exception is the use of yatza in Numbers 12:12; Again, the Hebrew has a more accurate term for miscarriage and spontaneous abortion: shakol (Gen 31:38, Exodus 23:26, Job 2:10, Hosea 9:14, Malachi 3:11). The proper interpretation, then of the phrase weyatze’u yeladheyla in Exodus 21:22 would not be an induced miscarriage nor the death of an unborn child but an induced premature birth of a living child.

 

Finally Dr. Frame examines the term ason (injury) in verses 22 and 23. Had the writer intended to refer only to the woman, lah meaning ‘to her’ would have been added. The harm then refers to the woman, to her prematurely born child, or to both’”[15]

Regarding the various interpretation of the passage, Gareth Jones wrote,

“I regard this as slender basis on which to build a whole theology of the foetus. The biblical writer was dealing with the regulations within a covenant community, and his primary concern at this junction was with the nature of the punishment to be inflicted for injury following accidents or fighting. He was not dealing with the status of the foetus as such, nor with its importance relative to that of an adult human life. This passage deals with unintentional abortion brought about by personal conflict.

          There are even greater difficulties in applying this passage to the status of the embryo and early foetus. The miscarriage at the heart of Exodus 21:22-25 must have been of a relatively well-developed foetus, perhaps six months or older. Had the miscarriage been that of an embryo of just a few days’ or a few weeks’ gestation, the woman would probably not have been aware of her pregnancy, let alone of her miscarriage. To extrapolate from the miscarriage of an older foetus to the status of an embryo a few days old involves a major leap, which has to be justified on grounds of legitimate biblical interpretation. I do not consider that such justification exists.”[16]

 

The Bible, while silent on abortion, teaches about man and woman being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man bears the image of God (imago dei) because God blew his breath or nephesh into man and that man has a role as co-creator. It also implies a foetus bears the image of God. Donald Lake wrote,

“ While I maintain that the image of God is present in the fetus (as is nephresh), it is not something static. Rather, it is dynamic. It develops through one’s life. The image of God refers to the total human being, shape and form as well as his role in creation. Consequently, the image of God is something that a human being grows into rather than simply is.”[17]

What is implied is that the foetus has the image of God (imago dei) and yet also it is in the process of becoming. A New Testament analogy is that we are to ‘conform’ into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29-30). It is present at spiritual birth yet also takes a life long process of growing into maturity. Donald Lake concludes, “Consequently, abortion is wrong not just because the killing of the foetus is destroying the image of God, but rather because abortion prevents the image of God from being fully manifested!”[18]

 

5.                   Current Discussion on Abortion: Personhood and the Right to Live

The debate on abortion continues both in the United States and in other parts of the world. But the nature and premise of the discussion has changed over the years. Where once Judeo-Christian traditions were the foundation of discussion, it has now changed to a pragmatic materialistic post-modern foundation. Where once the discussion was based on the value of an individual, it is now centred on the rights of an individual (personhood), or the lack of it. Christians has to continue to take part in this discussion or be marginalised. In this post-modern world, the voice of Christians must be heard loud and clear.

What then is a person? Robert Joyce describes  “ a person is essentially a being that is naturally gifted (not self gifted) with capabilities or potentialities to know, love, desire, and to relate to self and others in a self-reflective way. The person is- not by self but by nature- able to be aware of who he or she is and able to direct his or her own self in accord with this nature. ‘(italics author’s)[19]  Joyce went on to emphases that the stress is on the person being ‘a natural being and not simply a functional being'.  The implication is that a developing fetus is a natural being but not a functional being. It will then be reasonable to conclude that personhood begins at conception.

A human organism has the inherent potential for personhood if it is allowed to develop, with the necessary nourishment and stimulation; it will develop into a human being. Thus an unfertilised egg, or a spermatozoa, or a liver cell do not have the inherent potential for personhood. A fertilised ovum, on the other hand, with the right condition will in time develop into a human being.

Recent discussions on abortion have moved into the area of personhood and the right to live. This discussion has serious implications for the moral permissibility of abortion and infanticide. There are three theories, which can be summarised as follows:

(a)          Only beings with a developed capacity for conscious self-reflective intelligence has a right to live.

(b)          Beings with either a developed capacity   or a ‘natural potential’ for conscious self- reflective intelligence has a right to life.

(c)          All members of the human species have a right to life, whether or not there is a potential for conscious self-reflective intelligence.

These theories can be labelled respectively as the actuality principle, the potentiality principle and the species principle.[20]

 

5.1               The Actuality Principle

This is the most radical principle and most hotly debated at the present time. This principle holds that an individual possess a right to life only when that individual possess self-awareness and self-reflective intelligence.  This view is notorious because of the group with no right to live it will include fetus, infants and the irreversibly comatose. The implication of this principle can be summarise as follows:

Possessor of a right to life

 

Non-posessors of a right to life

children

 

foetuses

adults

 

infants

the reversibly comatose

 

the irreversibly comatose

the less severely retarded

 

the severely retarded

 

 

 

In this principle, there are no one ‘harmed’ in an abortion because the foetus is not a person and thus has no right to life. No one has a right to come into existence; they only have a right to remain in existence.

5.2               The Potentiality Principle

The potentiality principle endorse the concept that it is wrong to kill what will naturally and in due course will develop into a person. The potential is taken into consideration.

The implication of the principle is as follows:

Possessor of a right to life

 

Non-posessors of a right to life

foetuses

 

the irreversibly comatose

infants

 

the severely retarded

children

 

 

adults

 

 

the reversibly comatose

 

 

the less severely retarded

 

 

5.3               The Species Principle

 The species principle declares that human life is rendered inviolable by virtue of membership in the species Homo sapiens. Thus those who have the genetic code for a Homo sapiens will automatically have a right to life. A fertilised ovum will be included into this category.

Implication to this theory is:

Possessor of a right to life

 

Non-posessors of a right to life

foetuses

 

 

infants

 

 

children

 

 

adults

 

 

the reversibly comatose

 

 

the irreversibly comatose

 

 

the severely retarded

 

 

the less severely retarded

 

 

This theory is attractive because the Bible states that humans are unique, not because of their self-awareness or other special abilities but that they bear the image of God (imago dei). Thus membership in the human race confers a right to life.

The Bible is silent on the status of a foetus but there are lots of references to persons. The basis of the Christian faith is a personal relationship of a transcendent yet immanent God with his created creatures who are persons.

The three theories are interesting. Obviously, all Christians will have problem with the theory of actuality because using the criteria of personhood, it has excluded foetuses, infants, the irreversibly comatose and severely retarded from having a right to live. Most Christian thinking falls into either the potentiality theory or species theory.

The potentiality theory allows for the developing of a foetus into an adult human. It implies development. Some potential may never be realised, for example in a severely retarded child. It also implies a hierachy of values, a fully developed human has more value than an embryo or a foetus. The adult has more value because it is more of a person than an unborn foetus. This allows abortion to be done to save the life of a mother or in some ‘hard cases’.

The species theory states all members of Homo sapiens have equal value. In that case, the unborn foetus has equal value with the mother. Here there is no room to choose. One cannot sacrifice one for the other.

 

6.                   Christian Alternative for Abortion

If the Church can made a stand against abortion, but it must be ready to help those to whom abortion seems to be the solution to their problem. The biblical mandate of helping our neighbours and protecting the weak and the defenceless are never so important as in the abortion issue. Our neighbours are often the frightened pregnant mothers seeking a way out of their quandary. The weak and the defenceless are the foetuses. No other group of individuals are as weak and defenceless as the foetuses.

6.1               Education

The Church must be in the forefront of education concerning sexual education. There must be continual emphasis of avoiding pre-marital sexual relationships especially amongst the teenagers. There must be teaching on the type of contraceptive methods used.

6.2               Adoption

For unwanted babies done out of wedlock, rape, incest or other reasons, adoption is an option for carrying the baby to term. There are many couples who are unable to have children and the Church has a role to help them.

6.3               Love and Compassion

Counselling, love and compassion should be given to those who are seeking abortion or have had abortion. There are many Christians who have deep wounded because of a performed abortion. These wounds need to be healed.

            The issue of abortion is a good opportunity for the Church to be engaged with society and

the State. There are many frightened pregnant women seeking help. The Church should

be there to meet this need.

7.                   Other issues related to Reproductive Technology

7.1               Contraceptive

There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. Some Christians have problem with the idea of contraception because of the God’s command to be fruitful and to populate the earth (Gen 2).  Basically contraception can be divided into the following categories:

7.1.1          Methods that prevent conception

Methods that prevent conception include ‘coitus interruptus’, rhythm methods, barrier methods, the pill, Norplant and sterilisation.

‘Coitus interruptus’ and the rhythm methods may raise some concern as it interferes with the natural consequences of sexual intercourse. In the rhythm method, couples may have to abstain from sexual intercourse during certain period and the admonition of 1 Corinthians 5:7 may have to be considered.

Barrier methods usually raise no concern. In the use of the pill, it must be noted that some pills that contain only progesterone are likely to allow ovulation to occur but prevent implantation. This is considered abortion.

7.1.2          Methods that prevent implantation

Methods that prevent implantation are intra-uterine devices (IUD), morning-after pills and RU-486. All these methods entail abortion as it prevents the embryo to implant unto the lining of the womb.

7.2               In vitro Fertilisation (IVF)

 For a couple to have a baby, the husband must be able to produce adequate amount of healthy sperms and the wife must have a healthy ovaries to produce enough normal ovum (egg), patent fallopian tubes and a normal uterus. If any one of these factors is missing, the couple will be unable to produce children. Who once barrenness was considered to be a curse, one to be bore stoically, there are now technology to help these couples to produce children.

7.2.1          Sperm donation

If the husband cannot produce adequate amount of sperm or have abnormal sperm, sperm donation is possible. A donor’s sperm is used to fertilise the wife’s ovum by direct insemination (AID) or by outside in a ‘test tube’ and then transferred into the wife’s womb.

7.2.2          Egg donation

If the wife is infertile, a donor’s ovum can be fertilised by the husband’s sperm in a ‘test tube’ and then transferred to the wife’s womb.

7.2.3          Embryo donation

If both the husband and wife are infertile, it is possible to get donor’s ovum and sperm, fertilise it in a ‘test tube’ and then transfer it into the wife’s womb.

7.2.4          Womb donation – ‘surrogate motherhood’

If both the husband and wife are fertile but the wife’s womb is do damaged that she cannot bear children, it is possible to fertilise the wife’s ovum with the husband’s sperm, and transfer the embryo into another woman’s womb. The woman becomes a ‘surrogate womb’.

The technique of in vitrio fertilisation (IVF) followed by embryo transfer was first developed in the United Kingdom by Dr Robert Edwards, a Cambridge University physiologist and Dr Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologist. Their first ‘test-tube baby’ was Louise Brown who was born in 1978.

These technologies have been helpful to many infertile couple. What is of concern to many Christians is what to do with the spare embryos. Often, many ovum and sperm are used so that as many fertilised ovum is produced. Then one or two is selected for transfer to the uterus. What happens to the rest? If we are to hold to the idea that personhood starts at fertilisation or conception, then we are left with the issue of what to do with these extra little persons. Presently most spare embryos are frozen and stored. Some are discarded or used for research.

That becomes an ethical issue. Should spare embryo be discarded or destroyed? That will be abortion. Should spare embryos be used for research?

A recent alternative to IVF is GIFT (Gamete Intra Fallopian Transfer). In this case ovum and sperm, after being mixed, are immediately transferred to the end of the fallopian tube, where conception takes place as normal. Many consider GIFT to be preferable to IVF. Technically, it is simpler and cheaper. Ethically, it precludes the production of ‘spare’ embryos for research.

7.3               Cloning

The technology for the cloning of a human being is presently not available but it soon will be. There have been tremendous advances made since the production of the sheep clone, Dolly. Dolly was cloned using a non-reproductive cell, that is, not a sperm or an egg. The genetic material for the clone was obtained from an adult sheep cell’s nucleus. This cell nucleus was inserted into an egg whose nucleus was removed. The egg was then stimulated to divide. It ultimately developed into a mature sheep identical to the original sheep.

The potential for organ donation and replacement, replacement of individual lost in death, and selection and creation of a ‘super race’ of identical individuals can become a reality. Again the Bible is silent on this. Does being co-creator with God includes manipulating with our own genetic code?  Is a clone a person? Does it have rights like other human beings? Would cloning make human clones, instruments to be exploited?  These are some of the questions the Church will have to face soon.

8.                   Concluding Remarks

Abortion is a complex issue as we have seen. The Bible did not give us specific instructions about abortion. However, from the principle of Imago Dei, we conclude that the foetus has value because of the image of God and has the potential of personhood. We have seen as Christians we would be unable to accept the actuality theory but we can embrace the potentiality and species theories. This will give us the platform to engage non-Christians in further dialogue.

The Church which is the community of Christians has a great role in this complex issue. It must reach out in compassion and love. It must offer education, support and adoption as action strategy. It must engage the State once again to defend the weak and defenceless. There is none weaker and more defenceless than an unborn child.

 

Recommended Reading

 

Jones, Gareth D., Valuing People : Human Value in a World of Medical Technology (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster, 199

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Appendix 1

Peter Saunders, “Deadly Questions about Abortion, part 1 & 2”, Christian Medical Fellowship website http://www.cmf.org.uk/pubs/nucleus/nucapr98/deadly.htm

1. How can a non-sentient being have value?

We do not know that the fetus is 'non-sentient'. We do know that brain function, as measured by EEG is present in the fetus at about 6 weeks after conception and that responses to tactile sensation (skin tightening, bending, fist forming) can be observed at seven to eight weeks gestation. At nine to ten weeks the fetus squints and swallows and breathing movements begin at eleven to twelve weeks. By 16 weeks he will respond violently to stimuli that you or I would find painful. Pain is a peculiarly personal and subjective experience and there is no biochemical or physiological test we can do to tell us if foetuses (or any other persons) experience it. By the same token we lack any proof that animals feel pain, but judging by their responses, it seems charitable to assume that they do. No one would dare suggest dismembering newborn kittens (which ironically are born blind, deaf and helpless at 9 weeks gestation!).

Even if they are non-sentient the Christian view is that all human beings are made in God's image. If they lack the means to feel, think or form relationships as we do they still have dignity by virtue of the fact that they are made and known by God. Biblical morality dictates that the weak deserve special protection and in God's economy, the strong lay down their lives for the weak Even if it could be established that foetuses feel nothing, should it really make a difference to the way we treat them?

2. Don't women have a right to choose?

No man (or woman) is an island. We all value the opportunity of living in a free society, but also recognise that personal autonomy has its limits. Rights need protection but they are not absolute. They must be balanced against responsibilities. We are not free to do things, which limit or violate the reasonable freedoms of others. In human community abortion is not simply a matter between a woman and her doctor. There are others to consider; the father, any other citizens who may be affected by the decision and, not least, the unborn child herself.

Whether she opts for abortion, adoption or keeping the baby the decision will change her life forever. She needs to know that the fetus is not just 'part of her body'.

3. Won't refusing abortion simply mean those women suffer?

A common myth is that women will not change their minds about having an abortion when offered practical help and given the facts about foetal development. Many do, and pregnancy counselling organisations like CARE for Life have made a substantial contribution in helping women whose turning to abortion is simply a cry for help. But even women refused abortions do not necessarily seek them. Most unwanted pregnancies if not aborted result in wanted children. Conversely most abused children come from wanted pregnancies. Since the Abortion Act came into force in Britain in 1968 the incidence of child abuse has double.

Representatives The Royal College of Psychiatry have stated that there are no psychiatric grounds for abortion. This is in spite of the fact that most abortions are carried out on alleged grounds of damage to the mother's mental health. In fact for suicidal pregnant women abortion will increase depression and the risk of post-abortion psychosis. What they really need is proper psychiatric treatment. In some patients post-abortion psychosis can be crippling, and those who feel ambiguous about the decision are particularly vulnerable.

4. Surely we can't return to the days of back street abortionists?

The argument that 'safe and legal' abortion is necessary to stop 'thousands of women' dying at the hands of back street abortionists is ill founded. Claims about death rates have been wildly exaggerated. The truth is that, throughout the world, abortion deaths have fallen steeply in line with maternal deaths, owing to advances in medical science. According to WHO figures this trend has occurred regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal in particular countries. Ireland, which has maintained an absolute law against abortion, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world. Prior to the Abortion Act mortality from criminal abortion in Britain was very low (approx. 20 per year); compared with the 180,000 unborn children who now die annually. This was because many so-called back street abortions were performed (albeit illegally) by doctors in relatively 'safe' circumstances.

5. What about abortion for rape?

If life before birth has the same status as life after birth then it follows that if we wouldn't approve of infanticide in a given situation, then neither should we approve of abortion. These difficult cases must be seen in this light. Rape is a very serious crime that itself was a capital offence in the Old Testament. However pregnancy arising from rape is extremely rare; and even alleged rape is a factor in less than 1% of abortions. Furthermore in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, 75 to 85% chooses against abortion. This is because many women who have been raped believe that abortion is immoral, that the child is simply a second innocent victim, and that if they get through the pregnancy they will have conquered the rape. Giving birth in such circumstances is a display of courage, strength and honour. Abortion, by contrast, simply sacrifices a second innocent party to the crime. However one can not advocate adoption this without at the same time realising that it puts every onus on us as Christians to do everything we can to help an equally innocent (and much sinned against) mother.

6. What about abortion for foetal handicap?

Abortions for foetal handicap make up only 1.1% of the total in Britain, but over 90 are performed on infants of viable age each year. This puts the issue in sharp perspective. Whereas profoundly handicapped 26 week old neonates are (quite rightly) given every chance of survival, older babies still in utero can be legally killed in Britain for less serious abnormalities. Abortion for foetal handicap discriminates against the handicapped. This is not to deny the often-extreme hardship incurred by those who have to care for children with special needs. It's a responsibility that the community must share; but it is sheer nonsense to assert that people with spina bifida, Down's syndrome, or some worse anomaly cannot, with the right support, live useful and fulfilling lives. Even those whose anomalies are incompatible with life can make a valuable contribution to the world and to others; and they are undoubtedly precious in the eyes of God.

8. What about abortion to save the life of the mother?

Usually when the mother's life is at risk, the baby is viable and so can be saved simply by bringing forward the time of delivery. On very rare occasions it may be necessary to terminate a mid-trimester pregnancy in an emergency in order to save the life of the mother. Here we are not saying that the baby's life is less important than that of the mother, but simply (since the baby will die regardless) that it is better to intervene to save one life rather than to stand by and watch two die. In the UK only 0.013% of all abortions are performed 'to save the life of the mother' and it is even questionable whether many of these require such radical action The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin investigated in detail the 21 maternal deaths which occurred among the 74,317 pregnancies managed in 1970-1979. The conclusion was that abortion wouldn't have saved the mother's life in a single case.

 

Endnotes


[1] John Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshal Pickering, 1984,1990,1999) p. 345-381.

[2] David K. Clark, & Robert V. Rakestraw, Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 31

[3] John Stott, “Reverence for Human Life”, Christianity Today, 9 June 1972, p. 12

[4] Michael J. Groman, Abortion & the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL : Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) p. 38

[5] Ibid., p. 49-50

[6] Ibid., p.52-53

[7] Ibid., p. 55-59

[8] Ibid., p. 63

[9] Ibid., p. 64-73

[10] Everett Koop, & Francis Schaeffer,  Whatever Happened to the Human Race?  (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983). An insightful commentary of how Christian has lost the opportunity to have a strong voice in formulating government policy and influencing public opinion because of the lack of confuses on major important issues. Politicians have however capitalised on it. .

[11]John Stott “Abortion” All Soul’s Papers, 1 June 1980

[12] James K. Hoffmeier, “Abortion and the Old Testament Law”, James K. Hoffmeier, ed., Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987) p. 58.

[13] Jack W. Cottrell, “Abortion and the Mosaic Law” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 32-35.

[14] RC. Sproul, Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue  (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1990)

[15] Ibid., quoted the work of Dr. John M. Frame on this exegesis. p.197-198.

[16] Gareth Jones, Valuing People (Carliste, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999) p. 70-71

[17] Donald Lake, “A Theological Perspective on Abortion”, James K. Hoffmeier, ed., Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987) p. 90.

[18] Ibid., p. 91

[19] Robert E. Joyce, “When Does a Person Begin?” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 47

[20] Robert N. Wennberg, “The Right to Life” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 36-45

 

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O’Donovan, Oliver, The Christian and the Unborn Child (Nottingham:Grove, 1986)

Pence, Gregory E. ed., Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of Cloning Humans (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)

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Sproul, R.C., Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue (Colorado Springs, Co: Navpress, 1990)

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Stirrat, Gordon M., Legalised Abortion- The Continuing Dilemma (London:Christian Medical Fellowship, 1979)

Stott, John, New Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshall Pickering,1999)

 

 

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