We each began life in this very way
My readers know by now that I was raised in a devout LDS home. I was taught from my youth about the Purpose of Life. This post for my blog will tackle the topic of life, death, abortion and about the topic of when life starts and ends. I hope I can get through it without writing an entire book on the topic.
When Does Life Start?
Anyone with a basic understanding of biology knows that human life basically starts with life. An egg and a sperm “get together” and start dividing cells till a baby is eventually born. But that is not the entire story. A cluster of cells can divide into two or more individuals that can be born as twins or more. These cells can then be “born” as two individuals nine months later.
Religious tradition has it that when a child is “born”, it can then be named and celebrations are had to show that a new life has entered the world. I know of no religion that traditionally believes that a new life has started prior to the time that the child leaves the mother’s womb. A miscarried baby has no legal status, no name is typically given and genealogy lists exclude that child other than by mention of a possible entry of a “still-born” or miscarried child.
Fertilization happens inside the fallopian tubes of a woman. Some people want our laws to reflect that “personhood” begins at the instant that fertilization happens. If this is true, then roughly 50% of ALL deaths happen prior to the implanting of a newly fertilized egg, because this is how many fertilized eggs do NOT implant in the uterus.
Rather that rant and rave about when a fertilized human egg becomes a “person”, for the bulk of this post, I want to discuss the relationship between the “purpose of Life” and compare this to different ideas on when human life begins.
Women and Eggs
For example, few would consider the destruction of either a sperm or a human egg to be anything like “murder’ — because there are simply so many that could never become born using any kind of a medical or scientific standard. When women are born, they contain all the possible eggs inside their ovaries. This amounts to roughly 1-2 million immature eggs (called follicles). Beginning at birth, these eggs start to die through a process called atresia. By the time a woman matures sexually, only about 400,000 of these eggs remain. With each menstrual cycle about 1,000 of these eggs die off and one lucky little egg matures and is released as a mature (but unfertilized) egg or ovum.
Over the course of a woman’s life only about 400 will survive as mature eggs, with one being released during each menstrual cycle on the average. Theoretically each of these eggs could be fertilized and eventually be born as a baby (assuming that any woman could endure such an experience).
Men and Sperm
For men, (the other half of the donation to the chromosome set for babies), the number are even more astronomical. About 85 Million sperm are produced each and every day in each testicle — beginning at sexual maturity. With each ejaculation, about 200 – 600 Million sperm cells are released. The rest die and are absorbed into the male body.
Getting the Egg and Sperm Together
When a human sperm and egg combine (fertilization), cell division begins, but they are not yet anywhere close to being able to sustain the growth that is needed to become a baby. During the next 5-6 days, the fertilized egg begins division and is referred to as a blastocyst.
“Once the embryo reaches the blastocyst stage, approximately five to six days after fertilization, it hatches out of its zona pellucida and begins the process of implantation in the uterus.
In nature, 50 percent of all fertilized eggs are lost before a woman’s missed menses. In the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process as well, an embryo may begin to develop but not make it to the blastocyst stage — the first stage where those cells destined to become the fetus separate from those that will become the placenta. The blastocyst may implant but not grow, or the blastocyst may grow but stop developing before the two week time at which a pregnancy can be detected. The receptivity of the uterus and the health of the embryo are important for the implantation process.” [reference]
Roughly a week after fertilization, the blastocyst (more correctly, about 50% of the blastocysts, since this many do not survive to this point) will attach itself to the uterus. At this point, still a great percentage of embryo will not “make it” and will stop developing for one reason or another.
Quick Summary Of Conception, Life and Death Up To This Stage (One week) Of Development
- Only a VERY, very small percentage of female eggs survive to be fertilized
- Only a VERY, very small percentage of human sperm survive to fertilize an egg
- Only a VERY, very small percentage of fertilized eggs develop sufficiently to become a viable embryo in the uterus
- NONE of the lost “life” to this point is considered to be a human “death”.
- Virtually ALL of the lost “life” to this point is the result of either “chance” or “God“, not planned parenthood of any kind
With this said, I will let these fetuses continue to grow while I move on to my next related topic relating to these…..
LDS Belief In The Eternal Purpose of Mortal Life
In order to see at which point in the development of new (human) life it becomes in the least bit possible for mortal life to have fully met the conditions of its existence, I now turn to those who feel that they know why life exists. These are generally going to be LDS authorities, but other religious leaders will also be used since many religious leaders feel that they know the seriousness of human life and the penalties for stopping human life — as in abortion, murder or somewhere in between.
Like all religious leaders, the LDS leaders claim that there is “something” special about human life that is not present in non-human life. Human life involves both a physical body and a spiritual body. These two together are a “soul”.
D & C 88:15 And the and the are the of man.
The LDS teaching manuals stress the simplicity of the “Plan of Salvation”. Typically they will say, “Why did we come to earth? (To obtain a physical body, partake of necessary ordinances, learn, strive for perfection, keep the commandments, and be tried and tested.)”
Note that there are six separate and important parts of a mortal life on earth:
To obtain a physical body
Partake of necessary ordinances (like baptism)
Strive for perfection
Keep the commandments
To be tried and tested so that we can return to our Heavenly Father
In the LDS view, we need a physical body as an essential part of God’s plan. Due to Adam’s transgression, even though we have a body, we will not have the power to return to God unless Jesus Christ freely gave his sinless life. for us. After we have a physical body, then we also need to have necessary ordinances. Those who cannot be baptized, however (because they are too young, die without knowing Christ or otherwise do not accept Christ in mortality) will have this ordinance work done for them in LDS temples. This includes those of other religions and those who never hear of Christ during their mortal life. [For the holocaust controversy related to this issue, click HERE]
Spirit Children Need Mortal Bodies
Since God gave “spiritual birth” to all human spirits, each one now needs a mortal, physical body in order to fulfill the eternal plan made in heaven. Even though only 2/3 of God’s spirit children were valiant enough to gain mortal bodies, all of these billions and billions of spirits need bodies to go into so that they can experience mortality and learn to follow Jesus’ commandments — to see if they will “obey” God while out of His presence. These spirit children stay in a “Pre-Existence” until they can be born and receive the breath of life, as mentioned in Genesis 2:7.
Does the biological condition of a fertilized egg (zygote) or a blastocyst qualify for the condition of having a mortal body? Well, certainly, it is mortal — in that it can and will eventually die. But it does not yet (according to LDS doctrine) become a person, until it is born and has breath — and no spirit has entered into it to reside and not leave.
Should this fertilized egg, blastocyst or embryo never be born, I can not see how any interpretation of the scriptures (particularly by LDS leaders) could claim that the spirit body has now forfeited its chance to mature to an adult mortal. Since getting to the stage of being born happens much less than 50% of the time [and since this is caused most often by hormones, poor genetic development or other inherent physical development problem] the still-awaiting spirit children simply remain in a waiting stage for their turn on earth. This status of a yet-to-be-born baby as NOT being inalterably assigned to a body till it is born is confirmed by the LDS scripture, The Book of Mormon. It claimed:
“And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
“Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
“Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given. [3 Nephi 1:12-13]
From this scripture, it can be concluded that the Christ child, who was about to be born, however would not be permanently assigned to this body until “tomorrow” — when he would be physically born. This is the same way that the rest of the spirits are to be considered, if you believe in this LDS scripture.
In the LDS tradition and religion, the “spirit children” awaiting to be born will get their chance to be born, no matter what we do. Their opportunity to get a mortal body will not be stopped simply because a spontaneous abortion happened because of innate deformities, malformed eggs in a uterus or other problem. [If this WERE the case, then MOST spirit children would never get the breath of life that happens at birth, nor would they live long enough to be tried, tested, tempted or baptized. This would then stop the purpose of life in the first place.]
When Does a Newly Born Child Become Viable?
Human babies are totally helpless at birth. It will be several years before they can live on their own. Many infants are born with absolutely NO chance to live more than a few minutes, hours or days. Many have genetic deformities that are un-fixable. I cannot believe that such infants have met the full purpose of being born when such a situation exists. I do not have the wisdom, however, to suggest how such things are handled by any God.
Does ALL Life Have a Soul?
We know that feelings and emotions are not unique to humans. Other animals and birds feel pain, grief, sorrow and loneliness. Why do we have to treat human life as so unique as to fantasize that only humans have the spark of something special that no other species has? We have so much more in common with other life that trying to strain to find our differences seems to me to be an exercise in futility. Research into stem cells is showing us more and more that EVERY cell of EVERY living organism can be copied into an infinite number of identical organisms. This means that whenever you bleed, the living blood cells that then die are in the millions, yet we don’t conceptualize them as human individuals.
We have a particular fondness for animals that are our pets — or that look like us. This does not stop some humans from raising animals only to be eaten. Other animals are raised only to be abused.
Just this past week, not more than 40 miles from my home in Idaho, there were three people who were murdered by an as-yet unknown killer. In the yard were found 64 dogs along with considerable evidence that the dogs were being raised for the sole purpose of fighting each other. [LINK] Why do some people treat life so casually? In my thinking, we should show reverence for all life, not just humans (or human embryos).
I have to wonder what in the world is happening with our reverence for life. The phrase, “Reverence For Life“, was initially coined and discussed by the theologian/physician/philosopher named Albert Schweitzer. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his philosophy about reverence for life. [Interestingly -- and ironically -- an LDS conference talk was given in 1985 by Russell M. Nelson with this title, but not only failed to credit Albert Schweitzer for the plagiarism of the famous term, but also talked exclusively about abortion -- thereby twisting its meaning to the world.]
As Albert Schweitzer discussed the phrase, Reverence For Life, he described its meaning in this way:
“Reverence for Life is a philosophy that says that the only thing we’re really sure of is that we live, and want to go on living. And this is something that we share with everything else that lives – from elephants to blades of grass. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and nothing else, neither race nor colour nor religion nor sex, should be more important than this one deepest, most extraordinary thing connecting us.
The whole world, indeed the whole universe, has evolved to give us life – you and me and the rest of the living world.
But only humans are aware of all this. This is some responsibility. Because we also have the ability to neglect, to destroy, to cause suffering and death. And indeed some suffering and death is inevitable. Even vegetarians can only survive by eating some living thing.
Reverence for Life is not some cranky and impossible commandment. It just says we must be aware of what we’re doing.
We must take responsibility for what we do when we harvest a crop of grain, when we eat the bread that’s made from it, when we grill a steak, when we kill a dangerous insect.
The key is awareness. Which makes us more alive.
For life is extraordinary. Every scientific advance tells us this. We now know the billion to one chances ever since the Big Bang that have enabled life to develop and then to survive on this planet, and the extreme rarity of it in the universe. More than ever, we have good reason to feel reverence for it.”
Now, These Are My Thoughts
We can eat meat — by grilling a juicy steak. We can swat a nuisance fly or mosquito — thereby ending its life. We can kill game — by hunting or by raising animals for food. But we need to be MUCH MORE AWARE of what we are doing and show more compassion and reverence for ALL life. We are all related. Humans are extremely important in the scheme of things, but we are not so supreme that we can forget or mismanage other life here on earth.
If we mistreat animals, abuse the wonderful life around us FOR NO OVERWHELMING REASON, we are doing something very bad. Nuff said.
Human babies are not to be considered “being born” till they are born — and breathe. It is not murder to have an abortion, but it is wrong (exactly HOW wrong, I have no idea). Abortions should be the decision of the woman and her doctor, not politicians or religious zealots. Abortions should be safe, available and RARE.