Beginning of Human Life

January 16, 2006 | 56 comments
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When does human life begin? This phrasing of this question as it is commonly stated is imprecise and can be misleading. Let’s look at some more precise questions.

When does an individual human being come into existence?

In the biologic sense, this is the point at which a viable human organism first exists, which is the human embryo. Ordinarily, the human embryo comes into existence immediately at fertilization. The human embryo is an organism that can grow and develop, given the proper environment. It is also uniquely human. It will not grow into a rat or an iguana. A human organism is a human entity is a human being.

The fact that some human embryos will die within days does not change the fact that they were human embryos, human beings, for those few days, anymore than the death of a child with a genetic abnormality in the first few days or years of life changes the human beingness of the child up to that point in time.
The fact that some human embryos will spontaneously divide to form twins, or two human beings, doesn’t change the fact that there was one human entity, one human being prior to that time.

When does a woman become pregnant?

As a practical matter in medicine, pregnancy is still defined clinically as beginning actually approximately two weeks prior to conception, as dated from the beginning of the last menstrual period. However, it has been recognized in medicine for many decades that the biological beginning of pregnancy is fertilization, the uniting of the sperm and the ovum.

But around 1973, some medical organizations began defining pregnancy as beginning at implantation, or when the early embryo implants into the inner lining of the womb. (Implantation in the womb normally occurs 5-9 days after fertilization.) This was a deliberately calculated redefinition of the beginning of pregnancy, motivated probably by the development of in vitro fertilization and by wide use of methods of contraception that can act after fertilization, such as the IUD or hormonal methods. But as a distorted view of reality, this definition has many problems. One is that the embryo begins to interact with the mother biochemically and hormonally almost immediately from the moment of conception (fertilization), long before implantation. Another is that there are pregnancies that involve the embryo implanting somewhere outside the womb. These are known as ectopic pregnancies. Most of these occur in the fallopian tubes and most lead after some weeks to the death of the embryo and can be dangerous for the mother. However, some ectopic embryos implant in the abdomen outside the fallopian tubes and uterus and do survive, even to birth (by surgical procedure). Absurdly, these pregnancies and births are never pregnancies at all according to the definition that pregnancy must begin in a mother’s womb. Because of its arbitrariness and logical incoherency, the definition of pregnancy beginning at implantation has never been universally accepted in science. Most embryology textbooks still define pregnancy as beginning at conception (fertilization).

One might object that defining pregnancy as beginning at fertilization has a logical problem in modern medicine. What if fertilization occurs outside the body, as in vitro fertilization? Or what if a human embryo is created through somatic nuclear transfer (cloning) and then transferred to a woman’s body? The answer to this is really quite simple. While ordinarily the woman is first pregnant at the moment of fertilization, in the more general case she is pregnant at the moment that a human embryo enters her body. In the process of in vitro fertilization, at the moment the embryo(s) is (are) transferred to her womb, she is pregnant, whether or not implantation occurs and the pregnancy is maintained.

In summary, although the existence of an embryonic or fetal human organism and the state of pregnancy are closely related, they are not identical. In the future, it may become possible to maintain a human embryo through stages of development that now ordinarily only occur in the woman’s body. (Research in “artificial wombs� is currently active.) Pregnancy is the state of having a live human embryo or fetus in one’s body, whether it enters there in the beginning or sometime later, or whether it is implanted in the womb, somewhere else in the body, or not yet attached.

When does a human person first come into being?

Here is where the crux of the matter lies and where distinctions might be made. When people argue that human life does not begin or exist prior to implantation (or a certain level of fetal development or birth), they cannot logically argue that a developing organism does not exist or that it is not biologically part of the human species. What they can, perhaps, coherently argue is that this organism does not yet have the moral status of a human person. So the questions then are, What is a human person, and when does a human organism become a human person? Many answers have been made to these questions, including viability outside the mother’s womb, the point of the mother’s decision to accept the pregnancy (which implies a possibility of it going out of existence if she changes her mind), certain levels of neurologic development of the fetus, certain levels of self-awareness of the fetus or child. My own opinion is that any definition that subdivides human beings into human persons and human non-persons (or potential persons) is highly morally suspect at best.

Finally, for Latter-day Saints, when does the spirit enter the body?

For Latter-day Saints, who believe in the premortal existence of the spirit, this question is of interest. There is no official Church doctrine on when the spirit enters the body. In the past, a number of prophets and apostles have given various opinions about when the spirit enters the body, including the time of quickening (when the mother feels movement), or just before birth. (Most if not all of these opinions preceded modern understanding of embryology.) My own opinion (purely my own opinion, I emphasize), is that the spirit begins an association with the body from the moment of fertilization. However, it’s important to note that if it is shown that the spirit “enters� the body at some point later on, it does not necessarily follow that the human embryo or fetus prior to that point of development has a moral status equivalent to that of a sperm or an egg, which can be treated purely instrumentally, as biological building material. Whether or not the human embryo is a person in a particular sense, it deserves our respect as a human being, an entity that should not be treated as an instrument for the use of others.

Elder Boyd K. Packer stated

We do not know all about when a spirit enters the body but we do know that life, in any form, is very precious. While we are given power to generate life and commanded to do so, we have no license to destroy it.
Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Fountain of Life,” BYU 18-Stake Fireside, 29 March 1992, p. 4

In the 1995 Proclamation on the Family, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve state:
We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

I conclude that mortal human life is a sacred trust from God from its beginning through natural death, regardless of when the spirit enters the body. Based on these considerations, I have made the personal decision as a physician that I will do nothing to deliberately interrupt the processes of human development at any of its stages.

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56 Responses to Beginning of Human Life

  1. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I’m generally inclined to agree with you (or at least to think that you might be right and that in prudence therefore I should treat humans as human from conception).

    But I have a few questions:

    How does twinning, which occurs after conception, affect your views?

    How does, I forget the name, the process in which two human embryos naturally combine into one, affect your views?

    How does the high rate of spontaneous miscarriage early in pregnancy affect your views (though I understand that a percentage of these miscarriages are of egg-sperm products that defectively combined such that a viable embryo never ensued)?

  2. Joseph Stanford on January 16, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Adam, I thought I dealt with most of these questions in the post, but I will try again.
    If a spirit is associated with an embryo from the moment of fertilization (as is my theory, and I recognize it is purely a theory):
    1) If one spirit is associated with an embryo, there is nothing to say that another one can’t “join” at the point of twinning.
    2) The process is the forming of a chimera. (One organism that has cells originating from two different embryos.) If there are two embryos that each had a spirit associated, and they joined together, there is nothing to say one spirit couldn’t “leave” at that point. This would be similar to a spirit leaving an embryo because it died.
    3) As you say, there is a substantial rate of early pregnancy loss prior to or soon after implantation, usually unrecognized by the woman. (The medical term for this is “early pregnancy loss”- although it contradicts the attempts in medicine to define implantation as the beginning of pregnancy- one of the results of the attempts to deliberately redefine the beginning of pregnancy has been a confusion of contradicting uses of terms within medicine itself.) No one really knows the exact rate. Some people claim that it may be as high as 70%, but I think that is pretty questionable. At any rate, as you say, many of those embryos are in fact not viable genetically. Whether they have spirits associated with them, who knows? But it is entirely plausible that some of the loss may be of genetically viable embryos and be due to environmental exposures, and that someday we will figure out how to prevent some of them. Analagous to the situation of a high rate of infant death in centuries past that was an inevitable part of life then but we would no longer accept as normal.
    I realize that there are some difficulties to the theory of a spirit being associated with an embryo from the moment of its formation, but I don’t see any of them as insoluable, and it seems to me that there are many more difficulties with trying to designate some later point of human development at which the spirit “enters” the body.
    Meanwhile, the exact point at which the spirit enters the body is in fact irrelevant for the understanding that embryos are human beings that deserve respect and should not be used as instruments at the whim of others.

  3. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    “My own opinion (purely my own opinion, I emphasize), is that the spirit begins an association with the body from the moment of fertilization.”

    It seems that this position commits one to believe that, in the case of miscarriage or stillbirth, that entity will:

    –be in big trouble if it is being carried by a woman not sealed to a man, since we don’t do temple work for miscarriages and stillbirths, then that spirit will be forever outside of any sealing line

    or

    –will need to be ‘reincarnated’ (is there be another word to use here? I don’t want to be pejorative, but I can’t think of another word) so that it can be either BIC or sealed

    If there is some third option I haven’t thought of, please let me know. But, barring that, it seems theologically unsustainable to think that a spirit is tied to a fetus from the moment of conception.

    “Based on these considerations, I have made the personal decision as a physician that I will do nothing to deliberately interrupt the processes of human development at any of its stages.”

    I’m wondering how you reconcile your position with the Church’s mildly pro-choice stance (i.e., that abortion is permissible in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life). I also wonder if you would perform an abortion for a woman in that situation–and would it matter if the woman in question was an LDS woman who had prayed, fasted, attended the temple, counseled with her husband and Church leaders and felt sure that that was God’s will for that pregnancy?

  4. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Julie in S.,

    I’m not sure I’m following you. I understand that the church currently doesn’t do temple work for miscarried children, but is there any reason to think that the work could never be done? I thought the Church didn’t do the work just because its unsure of the status of children before birth, not because it was convinced that they aren’t people.

    Anyway, what’s the alternative? Sure, its unpleasant to think that *currently* stillborn and miscarried children aren’t sealed to their parents, but is it any better for the parents to think that their miscarried children aren’t really children at all? I am intimately acquainted with people who’ve taken comfort from the thought that they might get their miscarried children back some day.

  5. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Adam, I’m just sketching out possibilities and their implications. If you want to maintain the position that the spirit is inseparably linked to the fetus from the moment of conception because you think that all miscarriages will eventually be sealed, that’s fine with me, just be willing to accept the implications.

  6. J. Stapley on January 16, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Dr. Staphord, I find it highly disengenous to label an embryo as a human being. As you note, unlike our creation ex nihilo believing friends, the issue is different for us. The question about life is not one conception, but one of eternal geography. When does a spirit bind to a body inso much that when that body is destroyed the spirit goes to Hell/Paradise? As Julie mentions, the only evidence that we have to this is birth (proxy work being proscribed for stillbirths and misscairages). Moreover, there is a tremendous body of folk belief that you will have to subvert to assume anything else (though I am typically a big fan of folk-belief subversion). And Adam, the Church has championed many views regarding babies without mentioning pre-birth organisms…

  7. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Fair enough, Julie in S. Except you left off the possibilities and implications of thinking that unborn children didn’t have souls.

  8. Kim Siever on January 16, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    “As a practical matter in medicine, pregnancy is still defined clinically as beginning actually approximately two weeks prior to conception, as dated from the beginning of the last menstrual period.”

    I’ve never understood this calculation, given the number of women who do not ovulate that close to their last period (the 10% of women who have PCOS for example).

  9. tracy m on January 16, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    I am probably ignorant on this subject, but doesn’t a stillborn or miscarried child still fall within the “Under 8″ umbrella, therefore has an E-ticket to the CK?

  10. Mike B on January 16, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    Julie M. Smith: “it seems theologically unsustainable to think that a spirit is tied to a fetus from the moment of conception.”

    I wonder if that’s why Dr. Stanford stated that he believes there is an association from conception, not that the spirit is tied to that body.

  11. Anonymous for this post on January 16, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    I recognize that Dr. Stafford may well be right, and I know that some women receive great comfort in thinking that all their miscarriages (even very early, unperceived ones) may someday be their children to raise in the Millennium. However, from personal experience I believe that, at least in one case, the spirit destined to come to our family had not yet entered its body, and came to us very soon after in a body that resulted in a live, normal delivery. For many years I have had the impression that our family is complete, but If I’m wrong, I will certainly be happy to welcome other children into our eternal family in the future!

  12. Jeremiah J. on January 16, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Julie M Smith: “it seems theologically unsustainable to think that a spirit is tied to a fetus from the moment of conception”

    This claim seems to rest on two questionable assumptions:

    1) That the spirit being tied to the body does not admit of degrees. We often think of the spirit entering the body in a very crude way, somewhat like popular culture might imagine demonic possession or control of inanimate or dead things. But what prevents us from understanding the union of spirit and body generally mapping onto what we normally understand as human development? In a broad sense newborns and young children are very much dominated by the bodily, and it makes a great amount of sense to say that people become more spiritual as they grow older. This idea is complicated by the Christian valorization of childhood, but only somewhat.

    2) That current Church policy on abortion is a straightforward expression of some deep truth about the value of the unborn and our duties toward them. It may be, but it may not be. In Catholic teaching the status of the unborn is the subject of an enormous amount of church teaching, pages in papal encyclicals, etc. In Mormonism we have a *policy*, with very little theological explaination. I see a lot of pro-choice saints doing with Church policy on abortion what pro-choice Americans do with Roe–trying to make an aspect of the status quo as set-in-stone as possible, in lieu of actually talking about how we can make legal/moral sense of it or about whether it’s right.

    The church at one point winked at the practice of buying and selling human beings, in a fairly official way (see D&C 134:12), in the course of a discussion about inalienable human rights. If we eventually find out that the Church’s implication that those concieved because of rape can be in some cases killed is not the full glorious truth about human dignity, I don’t think that this new understanding will be ‘theologically unsustainable’.

    Jospeh Stanford: On the whole I’ve been very pleased by your contributions here over the past couple of weeks. I picked up and read your original First Things article after a talk on birth control I heard at Notre Dame. I wasn’t then and am not now ready to embrace all your conclusions but I was quite proud to see that a Latter-Day Saint was taking these life issues seriously in an intelligent and informed way. Your example has helped disabuse me of my creeping worry that we as a people are averse to moral thinking.

  13. J. Stapley on January 16, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    tracy m, they would, but baptism isn’t the only ordinance done by proxy. Families must also be sealed together if not born in the covenant.

    A recent comment at Splendid Sun by a neonatologist on this topic was quite enlightening to me.

  14. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    J. Stapley–

    Thanks for that link–it is a wonderful comment.

    All–

    I want to make clear that I am not, on this thread, staking out any ground to defend because I am not sure myself about some aspects of this issue. My comment #3 was an effort to see if Joe accepts some of what I think are the logical conclusions of his position, or if he finds a way around those conclusions somehow. I am also very curious to read his answer about performing an abortion.

  15. obi-wan on January 16, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    We do not know all about when a spirit enters the body but we do know that life, in any form, is very precious. While we are given power to generate life and commanded to do so, we have no license to destroy it . . . Elder Boyd K. Packer

    Except in cases of rape. Or to save the life or health of the mother. Or in self-defense. Or when serving your country. Or when you really, really need the brass plates. Or . . .

    Dr. Stanford is being very selective about the doctrinal basis for his “preciousness of life” argument (as he is, so far as I can tell, with the doctrinal basis for all of his claims so far).

  16. JKS on January 16, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Is anyone else bothered by crime dramas that include mistakes like “The victim was 7 weeks pregnant” and then detectives seem to think that meant conception took place 7 weeks earlier and question likely father-to-be suspects based on her movements 7 weeks ago, as opposed to a more likely 5 weeks ago.

  17. Howie on January 16, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    From a doctrinal standpoint, I have a hard time believing that an embryo or a fetus is the equivalent of a live human being that has been born. In Mormon doctrine, murder is the 2nd worst possible sin. Abortion is a sin; a very bad one at that. However, it is nowhere near as serious as murder. A murderer needs 1st Presidency approval to be baptized, and it is rarely granted. A person who has had one or multiple abortions needs only Stake (or Mission) President approval to be baptized, which is almost always granted. If an embryo or fetus is the equivalent of a human being, why does it seem so much “easier” to repent of abortion than murder??

  18. Daylan on January 16, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Dr Stanford,

    You have enlightened us with your views about the beginning of life, but what about your views concerning the end of life, or rather if it’s ever ok to ‘over-sedate’? If a spiritual confirmation has been received is a priesthood blessing to ‘release’ the person from this life morally different than medically helping a person leave this life?

  19. JKS on January 17, 2006 at 12:07 am

    Joseph Stanford,
    I guess it was easier to think of “life” starting, in some degree, at fertization before I thought about how many fertized human embryos are discarded by a woman’s womb without her realizing she is pregnant. With, or without, birth control options, this can happen, theoretically, monthly. When thinking about this, I have to admit that unless I am infertile (like the friend of a friend whose fertilized eggs never stayed implanted) I cannot view the loss of these days-old, unknown embryos, as difficult for me as a miscarriage at 8 weeks pregnant, or a loss of a child after birth.
    I used to also think I wouldn’t go for in-vitro if it meant potential fertilized eggs that were never implanted in me. I had decided intrauterine insemination was as far as I would go.
    But, in reading what you have written, I cannot feel that I am pregnant until an egg implants–even if the math always adds weeks to that (but it adds weeks both to implantation, or to fertilization).
    I think the biggest line I draw, except for birth, would have to be at implantation. I feel that once it has implanted, I am pregnant, I have a certain obligation to it….more than before implantation. Birth, of course, also changes the level of obligation even more than before birth (I agree with life of mother arguments for abortion as well as emergency medical protocol for pregnant women).

  20. Clark on January 17, 2006 at 1:20 am

    “Whether or not the human embryo is a person in a particular sense, it deserves our respect as a human being, an entity that should not be treated as an instrument for the use of others.”

    You made the above comment after making the valid point that even if a fertilized egg doesn’t have a spirit it doesn’t follow that it “has a moral status equivalent to that of a sperm or an egg, which can be treated purely instrumentally, as biological building material.”

    I can agree to that. Yet when you make the further claim that it is a human being that seems to be much more difficult to claim. Would it not be closer to a part of a human being? Say like a heart or liver? Surely we don’t merely have two choices: as instrument or as human being. That seems a false dichotomy.

  21. Michael L. Umphrey on January 17, 2006 at 1:35 am

    If all creatures have spirits, someone once asked me, what happens to the soul of a planarian flatworm when it is cut in half, and each half lives?

    I only said I didn’t see why spirit should exist with more crisp boundaries than flesh. Lines are notoriously hard to draw in life. When, after her blood ceases flowing in my veins, do I become truly separate from my mother?

    Both the sperm and the egg were alive and in some sense human before the fertilization. Something happens at fertilization, but maybe what happens isn’t such a momentous thing compared to what had happened before and what will happen later.

    If each creature has a spirit, does each cell in my body have a spirit? In their totality they are in some sense me, but they are also quite independent of me in important ways. Are there billions of little spirits coming and going as the cells that make up me become alive, do their business, and then die?

    When, exactly, does a person die?

    I’ve been with many people when they died (I run a volunteer ambulance in a rural area), and it’s a process–the first thing to go is alertness and the higher expression of personality, but some anaerobic processes continue for hours after the breathing has stopped, after the heart has stopped, and after brain activity has ceased. . .

    Does the spirit come and go in an instant?

    Maybe, sometimes, but this would be so unlike many other processes in life, such as waking up. . .

  22. sarebear on January 17, 2006 at 4:53 am

    I am not sure if I should mention this, but what about the recent case of a, pardon the term, it is rather . . . unpleasant, but, a parasitic head?

    There was a baby born, Egyptian, with a conjoined head and beginnings of a chest.

    She was very much a fighter, and successfully survived separation surgery (about which, the parents and doctors consulted their religious leaders, as there are all sorts of implications and issues).

    She is still going strong.

    They shared half a brain, and each had a separate half, but there was never any question of there being survivability for the third, partially formed triplet (this is the term I will use, out of respect for the family and the tragedies involved). They showed some video, and the triplet could suckle, and blink, but felt that I saw no liveliness in those eyes; no spirit. I am not saying that there wasn’t one; but I just didn’t FEEL the way I did when seeing the other’s eyes. And, I admit, that perhaps could be because of the way in which they were discussing the situation, the terms they used, and the natural discomfort with considering the “needed” separation, which would absolutely result in death for the triplet.

    I know it is a sensitive issue and topic. These are real people. They named the triplet before burial. My heart breaks at all the difficulties involved. But I did have thoughts and wonderings about this, as I watched, because it seemed more just, more “easy” on the heart, to consider that perhaps the triplet was not . . . a separate entity? Not that we can know; God will sort everything out, and has.

  23. sarebear on January 17, 2006 at 4:56 am

    I must add an addendum; I did not, in any way, wish any particular either/or on the situation. I was just enumerating some of why I feel I myself may have had some difficulties viewing their experience.

  24. Matt Evans on January 17, 2006 at 9:10 am

    “Dr. Stanford is being very selective about the doctrinal basis for his ‘preciousness of life’ argument (as he is, so far as I can tell, with the doctrinal basis for all of his claims so far).”

    Obi-wan, would you please outline the doctrinal basis for your competing “life isn’t precious” argument? To my knowledge there’s no brand of Mormon doctrine teaching that the church’s positions on self-defense, military service, or exceptions to abortion deny the core doctrine that life is precious, and I’ve observed that those positions are almost always justified precisely because they are believed to protect “precious life” in the long term, thereby highlighting the centrality of our doctrine regarding “preciousness of life.” I don’t understand what you meant to say here.

  25. Matt Evans on January 17, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Howie,

    I believe all human organisms are human beings, and because embryos are independent human organisms, I believe even young human embryos are human beings in the full sense. I do not, however, think abortion is the moral equivalent of murder. The reason is that it’s a fact of nature that if a pregnant mother refuses to care for the baby, the baby, due solely to it’s circumstances and regardless of the will of the mother, will die. The analogy I like to use is to being stranded in the freezing woods with an infant. If I fail to carry the baby to safety the baby will die, but I don’t think that someone failing to carry a baby to safety, especially if their strain compared to what mothers endure through pregnancy, is guilty of “murder,” even if they knew the baby would die.

    Clark,

    Joe will hopefully correct me if I misstate the scientific consensus, but here’s what I understand from my reading:

    Egg and sperm cells are considered to be “parts” of other organisms, but when they combine to create an embryonic cell, biologists consider the embryo to be a distinct organism because it can, unlike any other cell, orchestrate its own development and, ultimately, reproduce. That distinction is what biology uses to distinguish “organisms” from “parts of organisms.” For that reason biologists wouldn’t consider the embryo to be “part” of the mother, like her liver, but a separate and distinct organism living inside her.

  26. Adam Greenwood on January 17, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Thanks, Jeremiah J. That is almost word for word what I would have wished to have written.

    Let me address the murder/abortion point. Now, as it happens I am mostly convinced that abortion means killing a person. I also believe most abortions are unjustified killings. But I don’t think having an abortion is the same as murder. Here’s why. Morally speaking, murder has two components. First, there’s the objective part–is a person killed, unjustifiably? Second, there’s the subjective part–does the killer unjustifiably *mean* to kill a person? And that second part is where I have to think that abortion isn’t murder. We live in a society that argues that abortion isn’t killing because unborn babies aren’t human. Or, even articulate Latter-day Saints will argue that unborn babies have no souls. Under those circumstances, we cannot say that in an abortion everyone *knows* that a killing is involved. Which is why I treat abortion differently than murder, just like the church.

    Julie in A.,
    I’m sorry if I overinterpreted you. Carry on.

  27. Jeff on January 17, 2006 at 11:58 am

    Sarebear:

    Just wanted to share a quote that has helped me mentally grapple with similar issues/situations:

    “After the Fall, natural law had far-reaching sovereignty over mortal birth. There are what President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., called “pranksâ€? of nature, which cause a variety of abnormalities, deficiencies, and deformities. However unfair they seem to man’s way of reasoning, they somehow suit the purposes of the Lord in the proving of mankind.”

  28. sarebear on January 17, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks, Jeff. That helps. It just tears the heart to think on it.

  29. Anon on January 17, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    The problem is, and I beleive that Dr. Stanford will agree, that there is neither any scientific or doctrinal basis for any one of his claims.
    The moment at which “life” begins is a purely subjective judgement and depends entirely on what one counts as “life”. There is no objective criterion for such a beleif. Some cultures don’t think that a baby counts as a human being until 100 days after birth. Some go much later than that.
    One can speculate all one wants about these questions, but it must be done with at least a little knowledge that one’s judgements are entirely historicized.
    The question must be approached from the standpoint of the larger implications of the claim. For my part, I don’t see how one can be a physician and beleive that he “will do nothing to deliberately interrupt the processes of human development at any of its stages”. Don’t I go to the doctor so that I can have moments of human development interrupted? This is no basis for an ethical argument. Sorry.

  30. Clark on January 17, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Matt (#26), I’m speaking less of the particular medical terminology than what would be entailed via our theology. The medical terminology is, of necessity, adopting naturalistic assumptions.

    If we are a spirit though primarily (assuming no esoteric interpretations of what a spirit is) then it’s hard to say that the fetus is a human being minus the spirit. It is a part of a human being. That seems the crucial issue.

  31. Tatiana on January 17, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Does the church take a stand on IVF?

  32. lyle on January 17, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Internet Security Question: Where were you born?
    Answer: Heaven

  33. Kristine Haglund Harris on January 17, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Tatiana,

    The Church used to officially discourage IVF, but now does not, except in cases of sperm donated by someone other than the father. (The Handbook, oddly enough, says nothing about donate ova, but that’s not the only place where women’s contributions are overlooked, and one assumes that they would be equally opposed to donated eggs, if they’d remembered that women are “equal partners” in the process).

  34. JKS on January 17, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Kristine,
    I think donated sperm was commonplace way before donated eggs, so that probably accounts for the Handbook statement mentioning only the donated sperm. I understood the church’s position to wisely be that they don’t comment on specific technology, since those options are constantly changing, but it should be the mother and father’s parts.

  35. Heather O. on January 17, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Anon said, ” recognize that Dr. Stafford may well be right, and I know that some women receive great comfort in thinking that all their miscarriages (even very early, unperceived ones) may someday be their children to raise in the Millennium. However, from personal experience I believe that, at least in one case, the spirit destined to come to our family had not yet entered its body, and came to us very soon after in a body that resulted in a live, normal delivery.”

    I agree. I don’t feel like babies lost in miscarriage will be sealed or raised in the millenium. Stillbirths, I think, are different, but I know women who feel both ways. I don’t know how, or even if, that can be reconciled with the thoughts put forth here by Dr. Stanford, but there you go.

  36. Kristine Haglund Harris on January 17, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    JKS, yes, I also assume that to be the case. But I get mildly (well, usually mildly) put out at the consistent male bias of church policies and publications. In fact, there have been at least a couple of iterations of the handbook since donated eggs were a reasonably common alternative. Overlooking women’s contributions in the area of reproduction seems especially galling to me.

    I shouldn’t be snide, though. Sorry, all.

  37. Ariel on January 17, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    On a different issue, I understand that Dr. Stanford does not give his patients “the pill.” After reading this article, I came to the conclusion that the reason Dr. Stanford doesn’t support the pill is because it has the potential to prevent implantation of fertilized eggs. I had heard this before- apparently it prevents ovulation most of the time, but when ovulation occurs anyway and fertilization occurs, implantation is not possible. That is contradicted by this Christian website, which discusses the issue and how it relates to various kinds of contraceptives, including several hormonal contraceptives: http://www.themarriagebed.com/pages/biology/birthcontrol.shtml

    The writers of the website used to hold the same view as Dr. Stanford (that the pill is immoral if life begins at fertilization). Now, however, they believe something different. An article they cite, found at http://www.cmf.org.uk/literature/content.asp?context=article&id=1143, states “The conscientiously taken low dose combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), Cerazette (a particular POP), the Depo-Provera injection and implant Implanon are all such effective anovulants (preventing ovulation and therefore fertilisation) that it is scientifically justifiable to conclude that they operate prior to fertilisation. The fact that they are capable of blocking implantation does not mean that they ever have to use this back-up mechanism.”

    I have no personal interest in redeeming the pill of what may be unwarranted charges- I can’t take the pill anyway. But I’d like to see what Dr. Stanford thinks of the studies this website talks about.

  38. Randolph Finder on January 17, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    In regards to #18 – The Doctor…

    [recap]To be baptised, Murderer requires 1st presidency permission (rarely granted) and a woman who has had an abortion requires Stake/Mission Presidency permission (rarely refused).

    What about
    a) A doctor who formerly performed abortions of all types?
    b) A doctor who formerly performed abortions of the church allowed types (R, I , TTML)?
    c) A doctor who *currently* performs abortions of the church allowed types, (R,I,TTML)
    I presume (perhaps wrongly) that a doctor currently performing abortions of all types would not be eligible to be baptised.

    Randy

  39. jean jones on January 18, 2006 at 12:05 am

    In light of this topic (of when the spirit enters the body) I’ve always thought it interesting that Christ ‘s spirit spoke to Nephi the day before his body was born in Bethlehem.

  40. Joseph Stanford on January 18, 2006 at 1:17 am

    I’m afraid I may have muddied things a bit with my own theory about an association between a spirit and the embryo from the moment of conception. Too much focus on “the moment” that the spirit “enters” or associates with the physical human being (if there is an exact moment, as was pointed out, the association may well develop over time) detracts from the main point that I am trying to make. That is that we should respect individual human life from its biologic origins. Biologically, there is a new organism at the moment of fertilization. (People can have opinions about whatever they want, but I don’t think there is any scientific coherence in trying to deny the existence of a human organism after fertilization. As I said, if you want to argue there is not a human person at that point, that is another question.) I am arguing that it is wrong to use the fact that we don’t know an exact moment of the spirit entering the body as a reason to treat embryos as biologic material with which we can do whatever we please for our benefit, ignoring the well-being of the embryonic human organism. And it is a complete coherent organism, not an organ, like a heart or a liver.

    #18- In fact I agree that abortion is not of the exact same weight as murder, but it is “like unto it.” I am inclined to think that the gravity of the moral violation increases as the developmental stage of the human being increases. I appreciate the thoughts of Matt and Adam as to why that might be the case. It may be that killing an embryo would be less weighty than killing a fetus later in development, but I think it still carries immense weight.

    #3 and 15- Being involved in any abortion for me would literally have to be a Nephi and Laban situation (1 Nephi 4:10), involving not only a compelling rationale and church endorsement, but my own unmistakeable witness of the spirit. I have had patients who were raped and continued their pregnancies (at their own choice, not of my urging), and were blessed for it.

    #19- end of life. This is a topic I am not prepared to embark on in detail here. Perhaps another time. But I have been privileged to be a physician at a number of deaths, as well as giving priesthood blessings to those about to die. Death is not always the enemy. Allowing it to happen is not equivalent to causing it to happen. There is a difference between dying and killing.

    #20 and others. So what percentage of embryos would have to survive (as opposed to dying naturally) for you to decide that there was some level of obligation? I guess I really don’t understand the logic that an increased frequency of natural loss of embryos (and noone really knows how frequent it is) means less respect and obligation towards them. I’m not an anthropologist, but I have read that there are cultural settings where there is very high infant mortality and parents don’t attach to children very much until they reach an age of 2 or 3 and are less likely to die. Perhaps that is only a natural human response, but I doubt that God looks at it that way.
    #32, 34, 35, 37, see
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2859
    #38, see
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2858

  41. jjohnsen on January 18, 2006 at 10:08 am

    “a) A doctor who formerly performed abortions of all types?
    b) A doctor who formerly performed abortions of the church allowed types (R, I , TTML)?
    c) A doctor who *currently* performs abortions of the church allowed types, (R,I,TTML)
    I presume (perhaps wrongly) that a doctor currently performing abortions of all types would not be eligible to be baptised.”

    How often are baptismal candidates questioned about what type of abortions they give? How often are they asked at all what their job description is? How often are baptismal candidates told the church’s stance on abortion before being baptised?

  42. Matt Evans on January 18, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Randy and jjohnsen,

    Performing or encouraging an abortion outside the exceptions identified by the church is a sin, and a sin for which missionaries are not able to accept confessions in a baptismal interview. A stake or mission president would have to conduct the baptismal interview for such a doctor.

  43. Anon on January 18, 2006 at 10:42 am

    ” I’m not an anthropologist, but I have read that there are cultural settings where there is very high infant mortality and parents don’t attach to children very much until they reach an age of 2 or 3 and are less likely to die. Perhaps that is only a natural human response, but I doubt that God looks at it that way.”

    If by “God”, you mean “Joseph Stanford, then you are probably right.

    The problem here is that your assertions have no basis either in doctrine nor in science. The judgement about when “life” begins is entirely a cultural construction, as you acknowledge here. The beginning of “life” depends entirely upon the criterion that is selected, but there is no objective criterion! There is no “scientific” answer to this question because it is purely a matter of subjective judgement. All cultures (including our own) make these judgements based on their perceived pragmatic effects. The argument for ethics on such a topic can’t be grounded in science because the judgement is about (historicized) practical implications, not transcendental claims to what God wants. The particular brand of cultural superiority exibited in the above quote is extremely problematic, especially since the vast majority of our own modern western culture (especially your own profession) disagrees entirely with your views here.

  44. Matt Evans on January 18, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Anon,

    Here at Times & Seasons we take it as self-evident that all men are created with God-given rights and moral worth, regardless of their culture’s attitude towards them. It’s always wrong to treat babies (or blacks or Jews or women or anyone else) as having less moral worth, no matter what a person’s culture believes. Cultures can be, and frequently are, dead wrong.

  45. Anon on January 18, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    Matt Evans,
    Thank you for illuminating me on the official T&S position about 21st century American cultural imperialism. I didn’t realize that basically the last century of philosophical thought about subject formation, pluralism, and historicism was officially ignored here.
    I should have checked the comment policy here at T&S about “self-evident” truths, especially the ones that aren’t in the scriptures, doctrinal, or accepted by doctors.
    Excuse my ignorance!

  46. Ariel on January 18, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Yeah, because *tons* of doctors think that kids have no worth until they’re three or so.

  47. queuno on January 18, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Re #43 – Are we assuming that the last century of philosophical thought about subject formation, pluralism, and historicism is of actually any real worth?

  48. Anon on January 18, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    -Ariel, I didn’t say that they did. I said that doctors don’t agree with Joseph Stanford about when “life” begins.

    -queuno. Um, yes. Oh yeah, I also beleive that the glory of God is intellegence, that we should seek out knowledge from the best books, that we should have faith seeking understanding, that we should follow our prophet when he says “get all the education you can,” and a number of other apparently not self-evident truths…

  49. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 12:03 am

    Anon,

    If you believe that the glory of God is intelligence, as we do, then I suspect you also believe, as we do, that God loves all his children, young and old, black and white, bond and free, regardless of how their cultures view them.

  50. Anon on January 19, 2006 at 9:19 am

    Matt Evans,
    What have I said that would imply otherwise? I can even concede that God loves each and every individual sperm and egg even before fertilization. God loves puppies, trees, spiders, etc. This does not imply an ethics. Nor does it contradict my essential argument that the beginning of “life” is a cultural construct.

    The basis for an ethics about “life” cannot be appealed to by science, nor by the scriptures, because such a basis does not exist (apart from the culture in which it is produced). Just because some cultures count the first 100 days (or longer) as a part of the gestation period does not seem to me to be inherently wicked. To go to them and insist that God is angry at them because they hold a different funeral for babies who die before 100 days than for babies who die after 100 days strikes me as a really bad example of an ethical argument. Should we also go inform them that adulthood begins at 21, and not 13? And while we’re at it, let’s make sure that they have a senior discount for anyone over the age of 62.

    All cultures have their own practical logic on which ethics are built. Let’s not confuse our own cultural, historical moment with eternal truth, especially since God has not revealed anything on the subject.

  51. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Anon,

    Failing to recognize the moral worth of God’s children is immoral. We’re commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and yes, *God* defines who our neighbors are.

  52. Anon on January 19, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Matt Evans,
    What sort of actions are required for me to “recognize the moral worth of God’s children”? Does this mean that we should send US troops to all places in the world to monitor that they are “recognizing the moral worth of God’s children”? Anything less would not be recognizing it to our fullest capacity. Does it mean that I should have a funeral (ceremony, coffin, headstone, etc?) for a micarried 1 month fetus? How do I recognize “moral worth” when I see it?

    What does it mean to love our neighbor? Does it mean that we should donate all of our income beyond what we need to survive to charities? Does it mean that we should be absolute pascifists? How do I know “love” when I see it?

    Platitudes tell us NOTHING about the substance of ethics. As I already stated, I agree with these platitudes entirely (and more!), but your logic does not.

  53. Ariel on January 19, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Something smells like troll.

  54. Anon on January 20, 2006 at 8:48 am

    boohoo

  55. Heather on February 2, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    I think everyone’s comments and thoughts on the matter are very interesting. I am currently 28 weeks pregnant…. I have no more knowledge on the subject then any of you that have commented. What I can tell you is my personal opinion based on Heather’s doctrine. I look forward to the day when the veil is lifted and we will all know.

    I have to agree with the person that mentioned abortion vs. murder. While I don’t support abortion in anyway I do recognize that the church will forgive a person that has committed this sin. The church has a very different outlook on those that have committed murder.

    Again this is only an opinion but I find great comfort that my baby is in heaven right now being taught by kindred spirits that has gone on before him. My father died October 27th and it just about killed me to think that my father would never meet my firstborn. But then as I prayed and asked for comfort I was comforted with the thought that my dad already knew my son and that he was preparing him for his mission here on earth. Is it true, I don’t know and none of us will until that great day when the veil is lifted. But I sure do feel better at the thought of it.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.