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When, exactly, does life begin? (10/13/2013)
From: Finbar McMullen, FSC

I chuckle when otherwise intelligent people ask the question: “When does life begin?” These individuals must have put their brains in their back pockets and sat down. Squish! The egg is alive; the sperm is alive; and the zygote begins to grow as soon as they merge. It is alive and it is human; it is not a dog. Any questions? I think the real question in their minds is when does the fetus become a person? First, a little diversion. Among Catholics the concern has, for many centuries, been just when is the soul formed? Back in the Thirteenth Century, Thomas Aquinas used philosophy to solve the problem in a way that satisfied people. He taught that the soul could not be present until the body had developed enough for the soul to operate in it, the idea being that the soul operated through the brain. I do not have a clue as to if he had figured out when that happened. Early in the Seventeenth Century the Council of Trent adopted his position and made it the formal teaching of the Catholic Church. So it has been until two years ago when the people in Rome proclaimed that the soul was present from conception. Perhaps they just acted in ignorance, but this and the attempt to claim personhood at the moment of conception are just ploys to enhance their position against abortion. Granting of personhood is already being conferred on a fetus to a limited extent. If someone does harm to a pregnant woman with the intent to cause the death of her fetus, that person can be charged with intentional homicide. If the death is a result of carelessness, the charge could be reckless homicide. I do not know if this is the practice in all states, nor do I know at what stage of the pregnancy that this would kick in. One thing that is clear is that there is a definite move to grant personhood to a fetus. The problem now is to decide just when this right should be conferred. This is a legal situation, not a religious one.

Both of these positions run into a problem when it comes to what can happen in the uterus. When the zygote undergoes cell division, it forms a round ball called a blastula, at the eight cell stage. It normally divides again to form a 16-cell blastula, and so on. But sometimes it plays a trick and forms two eight-cell blastulae, giving rise to identical twins. This can happen again to form quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, etc. So, which of these new blastulae does the original soul, or person hook up with? The further along it gets, the more complicated the problem becomes, albeit just a theoretical one.

There could be a solution to the “when” problem, but this would infuriate both sides of the debate, since neither would accept anything less than 100 percent of what they want, much like the Republicans are now behaving. Brain waves can be detected at 21 days. My guess is that this 21-day window, along with the “morning after” pill would eliminate over 50 percent of all the abortions that are performed after this 21-day period. We live in a messy world that never was anything but messy. There never was a time of pristine innocence when everything was perfect. Forget about ever trying to get back there. It is just an idea. People being how we are, sometimes a bad decision is the best we will ever get.



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