Since an unborn child cannot live independent of its mother, is it life?

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Since an unborn child cannot live independent of its mother, is it life?

Here the second part of a discussion I’m having with a family physician who is wrestling with extremely important questions about the value of the unborn child’s life. I thought you’d enjoy watching our conversation.
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Having answered your question about what the Bible says about the unborn child, specifically, and about human life, generally, I’d like to respond to a second part of your first paragraph under “On the question of abortion.”
There, you say, “But isn’t a child something different from its mother, and as soon as that genetically different entity exists, isn’t that life?  Perhaps – but it can’t live separately from its mother, so is it really an independent being, a ‘life’?”
I think you are absolutely correct that at conception a “genetically different entity exists.” And, I agree with you that this “entitiy” is life. He or she is life, a being, a human being. As we discussed last time, this tiny human being carries, the Bible tells us, the “image of God” and is of inestimable value to Him.

Embryology, genetics, and medical textbooks throughout virtually the entire span of the last century (and even before have agreed that a unique human being is formed at conception, and that this is the beginning of pregnancy.

In the 80’s, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine uniquely and, in my view, disturbingly defined pregnancy as beginning at implantation. Many understand this to be for political reasons, and not scientific ones.

So, agreeing with you that the unique human being begins at conception, the question arises as to whether another human being has the right to end the life of the newborn child. To that end, those who support the forceful taking of the life of the unborn, and who would also defend the right to life of the unborn child (understanding that there are those, like Peter Singer at Princeton, who do not), use four basic arguments to try to morally differentiate the unborn from the born.

You have pointed out one of these four. As you say, “. . . but it can’t live separately from its mother, . . . is it really an independent being, a ‘life’?”
My answer is an unequivocal yes.
Before I share with you my logic, let me add to yours the three other conditions that are used to attempt to justify the taking of an unborn child’s life without his or her consent:

  1. Size — can we really ascribe value to someone so very, very small? Someone smaller than the period at the end of this sentence?
  2. Level of Development — can we really ascribe value to someone so undeveloped?
  3. Environment — can we really ascribe value to someone living as a “parasite” (their word) in a woman’s womb?
  4. Dependency — which you have already mentioned.
Pro-life advocates use this “SLED” acronym, developed by Scott Kluesendorf, to help us remember the logic used to demonstrate the speciousness of each of these arguments for abortion:
S — Size

An unborn child is smaller than a newborn. A newborn smaller than an infant. An infant smaller than a toddler. A toddler smaller than a child. But are large people “more human” than small people?

Men are generally larger than women, does that mean they deserve more rights? Is Shaquel O’Neal more of a person than feminist Gloria Steinem simply because he is larger?

Clearly size isn’t the issue. Like Dr. Seuss wrote in “Horton Hears A Who,” . . . “I’ll just have to save him, because after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

L — Level of development

True, the unborn are less developed than newborns, but this too is morally irrelevant. A newborn for that matter is less developed than a toddler. A toddler is less developed than an adolescent. An adolescent is less developed than an adult. Is a child of four, for example, less of a person because she has not yet developed sexually? No! We speak of all as equally human.

It follows, then, that the ability to perform human functions is not a necessary condition for human personhood. Rather, a person is one with the natural, inherent capacity to give rise to personal acts — even if she lacks the current ability to perform those acts.

People who are unconscious do not have the present capacity to perform personal acts. We don’t kill them because of it. Nor should we kill the unborn.

And, at the end of life, when cognitive development declines (or disappears), are our Alzeheimer’s patients less of a person than our other patients?

Under the “level of development,” some who argue to justify killing the unborn child argue that “it is not self aware, and therefore, not fully human.” (their words) But, it seems to me that if self-awareness and intelligence define us as human beings, that means those who are more intelligent have the right to exploit those of less intelligence. Obviously, this is not the case.

E — Environment or location

True, the unborn is located in a different place, but how does a change in location suddenly change a non-human entity into a human one?

Did you stop being human when you walked from your house to the car? From the kitchen to the den?

Clearly, where one is has no bearing on who one is.

A child in the incubator of her mother’s womb is no less a child then the one being sustained by neonatal technology (and the same will be true once we begin to utilize artificial wombs).

We don’t stop being human simply because we have a different address. Does location have any bearing on who you are? Do you stop being yourself if you change locations?

Changing location does not stop us from being who we are, be it traveling from one city to another, or eight inches down the birth canal.

D — Degree of dependency (your original point)

Does the ability to live independent of anyone or anything contribute to humanity? Is every person who depends on medication for survival less human than those who are not? If viability is what makes one human, then all those dependent on kidney machines, heart pace-makers and insulin would have to be declared non-persons.

To me, there is no ethical difference between an unborn child who is plugged into and dependent upon his or her mother and a kidney patient who is plugged into and dependent upon a kidney machine.

Siamese twins do not forfeit their right to live simply because they depend on each other’s circulatory systems.

Some people believe that a pre-born baby “becomes” a human being when it is capable of surviving outside of the mother’s womb without artificial support.

Yet there are people who depend upon insulin, heart pacemakers, and diabetes medication, and without these supportive measures, these people would not survive. This does not make them less human than us.

When we put a person under general anesthesia, they are neither conscious nor dependent, they are neither self aware nor able to act independently. Yet we consider them fully human. Why would we not the unborn child?

To sum up, we can see, then, that the unborn child differs from a newborn one in only four ways — size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency — and none of these differences are good reasons for disqualifying it as fully human.
And none of these reasons justify, in my mind, the termination of his or her life without his or her consent.
In future notes, I’ll address some of your excellent points and questions. I don’t expect us to agree, but I appreciate our being able to disagree agreeably.
Dr. Walt


  1. Janet Tunstall says:

    I agree! Anything that bears the image of God should not be tampered with. The Bible does not address abortion; therefore, I will live in the Word.

  2. Sheryl Oder says:

    One obvious fact that I did not notice in your reply has to do with the same dependency of the newborn. A newborn baby cannot survive without its mother or another caregiver. Does that mean a newborn is not life?

  3. Dr. Walt says:

    Sheryl, you rock and you get it. Dependency does NOT equal humanity. In fact, Jesus teaches that His and our dependency upon His Father is what results in real life. Dr. Walt

  4. Manny says:

    I commend you, Dr. Walt, for your insightful analysis.
    I think it is important to realize that claiming that human life begins at some other point after fertilization (conception) is essentially an arbitrary claim. There is no logical or scientific reason to believe that a fertilized ovum is not human and that it suddenly becomes human at some later point.
    God bless!

  5. Dr. Walt says:

    Well said, Manny.

  6. Jeff says:

    It is amazing how many people can’t deny or soundly argue against these points. Unfortunately, these individuals continue to side-step the life question and bring it back to women’s rights. Anyone who actually believes the constitution means what it says knows that it does not say anything about women’s rights to privacy in that specific capacity. Rather, 8 supreme court justices attempted to sew distinct sections of the constitution together to reach that conclusion. If we have accepted the arguments that Dr. Walt has suggested, then we know that a human embryo, fetus, baby, child, adolescent, adult, elder is a life. If people would sit down and read what our founders did, they would realize that natural rights are those which are possessed by single human in a natural environment which do not infringe on the rights of others. This fundamental principle is right out of John Locke’s writings. Logically, since all human life is equal, then the rights of the unborn invalidate those of others. The logical conclusion is concise and clear, based on science and Lockean principles.

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