When does human life begin?
The simple questions in life are best answered with simple answers. Why would God send His Son to die for us? Answer: Because He loves us. The simple questions in life are made complex by those that reject the simple, yet true, answers.
So, when does human life begin? It begins at conception.
The thing that sets us as individuals apart from the other 7 billion people on the planet is our DNA. Our chromosomes are the blueprint of who we are. Our individual chromosomes are different from anyone that has ever lived, or ever will live.
Each of us is unique. Half of our DNA comes from our mothers and half from our fathers. Prior to the moment of conception, these reproductive cells had no new story--they were just haploid cells from our parents. However, at the moment of conception, our new story, as a new individual began. This one cell will differentiate into the 40 trillion cells of an adult. All of the DNA carrying cells carry exact copies of that first cell.
However, there is one more miracle; cell differentiation. How do cells with the same copies of chromosomes divide into 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…cells and yet we are a collection of many different types of cells with many different functions? It is called cell differentiation. Cells divide, one initiates the future nervous system and the other initiates the future circulatory system. How do these dividing cells, both with exact, complete blueprint copies, know which parts of the plans to follow?
Simple questions are best answered with simple answers. The simple answer? We don’t know. But such an amazing design can only be accomplished if there is a Divine designer.
Have you ordered a DNA analysis from 23andMe.com or Ancestry.com? The science is amazing. You collect 5cc of your DNA containing saliva. You mail it to either company and they analyze your unique DNA. They compare your DNA characteristics with DNA characteristics from millions of other people from around the globe. They can go back hundreds of years, and many generations to describe your ethnic heritage and history.
I sent my DNA off to by studied. Not only did they confirm my known genealogy, but they also told me about living relatives that I did not know about. Ancestry.com does not know that my mother’s side of the family is primarily from Pennsylvania and Virginia, or that my father’s side is from Mississippi and Arkansas. Yet they placed dozens of dots on the map of individuals with similar enough DNA to mine, that they must be relatives.
These dots were all in the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas. An amazing revelation of my family history and who I am. The DNA that I submitted, and they studied is an exact copy of the DNA from that first cell formed when one cell from my mother and one cell from my father combined in the womb. The moment of conception! That is why our story, our lives, begins at conception.
"A patient is a person, no matter how small."
A patient is a person, no matter how small. We treat the pre-born as patients while they are still in the womb. When I see a pregnant patient in my office, I am following two patients. The baby shares only half if its DNA with the mother. The other half comes from the father. The mother is the life support system for the baby, but the baby is a new person.
Every mother remembers that moment of seeing their baby for the first time on ultrasound. We can clearly see the heart beating less than 28 days after conception. The blood being circulated by the heart of the baby does not mix with the blood of the mother. In fact, often the mother and the baby have completely different blood types.
There are medical conditions where the mother has antibodies that can cross the placentae and attack the blood of the baby. We test for these antibodies on the first visit. Why would the mother’s body attack the baby? Because the baby is a new individual, a new person. Just like a transplanted kidney is matched as well as possible, there is always the risk that the host will reject the new kidney. The same is true for the baby in the womb.
In Rh isoimmunization, the mother’s antibodies are attacking the blood cells of the baby. If something is not done, the baby can go into heart failure and die in the womb from severe anemia. The baby needs a blood transfusion. How do you transfuse blood to a baby in the womb? We do it through Peri Umbilical Blood Sampling (PUBS). We determine that the baby is anemic with ultrasound. We can measure the speed of blood cells passing through the Circle of Willis blood vessels in the brain and calculate the level of anemia of the baby. A transfusion is then scheduled.
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Using ultrasound guidance, a long, thin needle is guided through the abdominal wall of the mother, through the wall of the womb, and directly into the vein of the umbilical cord. O negative blood can then be transfused directly into the vein of the umbilical cord of the baby. Blood that you might have donated to your local Red Cross Blood Bank.
We have performed this procedure as early as 19 weeks gestation at our hospital. A blood transfusion, four weeks before a baby can begin to survive in even the most advanced neonatal nursery.
Recent advances in fetal therapy have gone far beyond blood transfusions. Fetal surgery in the womb is now becoming common in centers in Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, and Cleveland. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) performs over 150 fetal procedures each year. Heart surgeries on babies in the womb are being performed as early as 21 weeks gestation. Heart valve surgery, and atrial septal interventions are being performed on fetal hearts the size of a large grape. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston is now performing laparoscopic corrective spina bifida surgery before 23 weeks gestation.
The babies in the womb are clearly patients. If they are patients, they are persons, and if they are persons, they deserve our protection.
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Informed Consent Protects Pre-born Babies as Patients
Informed consent is a vital part of medical care today. It is not simply a form that you sign prior to a surgery. It is a process, whereby the risks, benefits, indications, and alternatives are reviewed before a surgery. How does surgery on a baby benefit the mother? Quite simply, it does not benefit the mother, the mother is at risk for bleeding and infection. So, who benefits?
All benefits are for the baby. This is a key concept; the baby in the womb is a patient.
According to a Committee Opinion released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (Number 439, August 2009), “Seeking informed consent expresses respect for the patient as a person; it particularly respects a patient’s moral right to bodily integrity.”
If we are performing heart surgery, spine surgery and giving blood transfusions to the pre-born while still in the womb, they are patients. And if they are patients, they have a “moral right to bodily integrity.” Abortion deprives a patient of their moral right to bodily integrity.
In the Roe v. Wade majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun, he stated the if “personhood is established, the case for a constitutional right to abortion collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment.” The pre-born are clearly patients, and if they are patients they are persons, and if they are persons, we have a moral and constitutional duty to protect them.
In Jeremiah 1:5, God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; and I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
God knew all of us while we were in our mother’s womb. He had a plan for us, and sent His son Jesus Christ to die for us, conquer death and rise from the grave for us, so that if we place our trust in Jesus we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. In return for eternity with Him in Heaven, we only have a short time to serve His Kingdom here on Earth, so that one day we will hear those words from Matthew 25:21… “Well done! Thou good and faithful servant.”
Dr. William Lile is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. He has a private practice near Pensacola, Florida, is the founder of 'Pro-life Doc’, and has produced a short pro-life teaching DVD titled "God’s Miracle of Life." Dr. Lile has served as an instructor for the OB/GYN residency programs at The University of Florida and Florida State Medical School. He graduated with a B.A. from Rutgers University and received his M.D. from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Osteopathic Medicine. He has been married to Lesley for 25 years, and together they have two children.