Sanctity of Life

January 8, 2011

January is recognized as Sanctity of Life Month by  those who hold to a “prolife” worldview and specifically those who oppose a  woman’s “right” to choose an elective abortion.

The basis of the  “prolife” position is largely, but not exclusively, grounded on divine
authority and the belief that human life is a gift of God.

The so-called opposing “prochoice” position does not see the fetus as possessing rights
independent of  the mother, who alone has the right to decide the fate of the fetus. This  maternal right is in turn grounded in the principle of autonomy or self-determination, which provides the mother with freedom to make reproductive choices. The prochoice position also views access to abortion as necessary for women’s complete social equality. They see reproduction as the major obstacle to  women’s competing successfully with men, and hence control of reproduction, including abortion, is necessary for equality. Any restriction of the availability of abortion is interpreted as coercing women to carry pregnancies to term against their will.

While it is seldom disputed that a conceptus or a fetus is human, there is hardly a consensus as to when a human person begins. Personhood is still a crucial and practical issue, since modern society accords a person certain moral rights, such as the right to life. General philosophical criteria for personhood include any one, a few or all of the following: rationality, consciousness, self-consciousness, freedom to act on one’s own reasons, capacity to communicate with others and capacity to make moral judgments. Some hold that only when one or all of these qualities have been actualized should a human being be considered a person (actuality principle). Others feel that these qualities of personhood only emerge gradually  in the course of fetal and early childhood development, so what counts in  defining personhood is the potential that the human life possesses (potentiality  principle). In this view fetuses and infants are recognized as having different  degrees of personhood and therefore are given different measures of right to life.

The Bible does not use specifically the words person or  personhood, but a biblical view of personhood can be established on the basis of  a Christian doctrine of the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 reads: “Then God said,  ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,
and let them rule.’ . . . So God  created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and  female he created them.” Because God exists as three persons in communion, we  also believe that human persons are created in His image to live in community.  The most fundamental attribute of being in the image of God and human  personhood, therefore, is relationality. God creates every single human person  in order to relate to him or her as Creator and, by His grace, as Father. In  response, every created human person relates to the Creator (even if it is to  rebel against Him!) and other fellow creatures. Since each human being is  created uniquely by God, every single human being is God’s image bearer, although the image is marred by sin. This is the ground for
personhood, uniqueness and the sanctity of life.

Life is sacred because God creates a  particular life for relationship between Him as the Creator and us as His  creatures. This relationship begins when a conceptus is formed as God permits a  human sperm and ovum to unite in the creation of a new unique life.  How that  life unfolds and whether all the inherent potentialities are actualized or not  do not take away the intrinsic value of that life as God�s image bearer, a human person.

The sixth commandment in the Bible (not to murder; Exodus 20:13)  carries the positive mandate of stewardship of all lives as sacred to God. This  means not that the value of life is absolute (Matthew 24:9) but rather that no life is to be taken without an absolutely and unequivocally justifiable reason.  As the Creator and Giver of life, it is God who ultimately has the sovereign right to take away life. Thus each person has a God-given source of value and dignity beyond any mere physical well-being and social utility and we must  recognize that value and dignity. Life is the fundamental and irreplaceable condition for the experience of all human values, and we have an obligation to  nurture, respect and promote the integrity of life, rather than harm or destroy it.