What Is the Bible’s View?
Medical Research on the Unborn—Right or Wrong?
ON SURGICAL tables around the world, tiny human bodies are being operated on. Their hearts are still beating strongly and most of their organs are functioning. They are completely formed human fetuses, aborted from the womb of their mother.
But, when operating, the doctor deftly severs the cord that links the brain to the body “to make sure the fetus will feel no pain.” Then he quickly removes the still functioning miniature brain, lung, liver and kidneys. Or, he may leave the little body intact and keep it alive artificially for hours, possibly days. These research procedures are common in several countries where live fetuses from legal abortions are available.
Many persons are shocked to read about such seemingly callous disregard for life. But these doctors believe that they can get valuable medical knowledge not easily obtainable in any other way. One says it is unethical not to get “some useful information” before the fetuses are thrown “in the incinerator as is usually done.” Another medical authority says: “It is not possible to make this fetus into a child, therefore we can consider it as nothing more than a piece of tissue.”
Just a “Piece of Tissue”?
Is that really correct? Is this little body, even biologically, “nothing more than a piece of tissue”? Does the Life-Giver view it that way? The Bible’s view helps us to avoid self-serving rationalizations and see clearly what the real issues are.
The Bible shows that God’s view of human life begins before, not after, birth. Says the psalmist David: “You kept me screened off in the belly of my mother. . . . My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret . . . Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing, as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them.”—Ps. 139:13-16, NW; compare Leeser’s translation.
Clearly, God viewed David’s embryo as a separate entity. The Encyclopædia Britannica agrees: “The life-history of the individual, as a distinct and biological entity, begins with [fertilization].” In fact, a human embryo is so “distinct” from its mother that her body’s immunological defenses would reject it as foreign if nothing interfered. But special “trophoblast” cells and later the “placenta” protect the embryo, to keep it as if ‘screened off in the belly of its mother.’
The step-by-step growth of the embryo follows, as it were, God’s “book” of instructions found in every cell. These instructions are thought to be found in a compound called deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA for short. Of the One who created DNA, it can be said: “In your book all its parts were down in writing.”
The mixing of DNA from both parents at conception is what produces the pattern that determines physical and mental tendencies. These make that child differ from all others. This occurs even before the “parts” are formed, just as the psalm continues, “as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them.” Those ‘parts down in writing’ are not just a “piece of tissue.” The potential personality traits of each embryo are there for the Creator to see, as if in his “book.”
God’s View of the Unborn
With this background, we can see how God could say to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own; before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5, The New English Bible) Notice that God viewed Jeremiah as a separate person while still in the unborn state. He could “know” him and judge him worthy for God’s special work because an immeasurable number of Jeremiah’s potential traits had been determined within minutes of his conception!
Before John the Baptist was born, Jehovah caused an angel to say: “He will be great before Jehovah. . . . and he will be filled with holy spirit right from his mother’s womb.” That holy spirit caused John, as a six-month-old fetus inside his mother Elizabeth’s womb, to leap as she heard the greeting of Mary, just pregnant with Jesus. Would God have used the spirit to move him in this way if He considered John’s fetus to be a mere “piece of tissue”?—Luke 1:15, 41, 44.
At this time, the embryo in Mary’s womb was likely no larger than the head of a pin. But Jehovah knew what was developing in that speck of protoplasm. His spirit had supplied the “book” of instructions that would produce a perfect human having the qualities of his only-begotten Son. (Luke 1:35) How do you think God valued that just-conceived embryo? The appreciative words of Elizabeth to Mary, moved by God’s spirit, are appropriate: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!”—Luke 1:42.
God’s servants and prophets also reflected His high regard for the life in a pregnant woman’s womb. They recorded Jehovah’s condemnation upon the sons of Ammon, among others, ‘on account of their slitting open of pregnant women,’ in a war against Gilead. What happened both to the women and to their unborn offspring was taken note of by God.—Amos 1:13.
It is not strange, then, that God’s law to Moses specifically covered the life and body of the unborn child in case of accidental damage by struggling men. (Ex. 21:22-24) What about deliberate damage done by a doctor to that unborn life? He should consider seriously the principle in Ex 21 verses 23 and 24: “You must give soul for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Leviticus 24:19 to 21 says: “In case a man should cause a defect in his associate, then just as he has done, so it should be done to him. . . . the fatal striker of a man should be put to death.” As a doctor removes tiny organs and ends tiny lives, can he consider himself immune from these principles?
Do you think that a little human is any less a distinct life because it has not gone through the motions of coming out of the womb normally? Some say that such a fetus is not really a separate life because it could not survive without aid after abortion. But would you say that an astronaut is not alive because he cannot step outside his space vehicle without a space suit? That is not really the issue, is it?
Is not the real issue whether God’s law on murder can be sidestepped for the convenience of mothers unwilling to face responsibility for their actions, and doctors who want to experiment the “easy” way?2