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When Does Life Begin?

Posted on 21 May | 0 comments
Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

When does life begin? In the shadow of the President’s announced requirements concerning birth control, and the Republican’s awkward dance of being the most “pro-life” candidate, there is a renewed emphasis on the question, “when does life begin?” Is it at conception? Or, perhaps at a certain stage of development of the fetus? Maybe it is when the sperm are injected into the vaginal canal? On the other hand, does life not begin until the baby is born? Maybe life does not truly begin until an infant can chew food, becomes mobile, or is able to poop in the toilet?

When does life begin?

Our society wrestles with clear-cut black-and-white distinctions when it comes to life. It is important to know when life begins and when life has ended. Science and religion struggle to provide such a well-defined and final answer to the question. At the same time, the legal realm seems only to add to the confusion. In some states, if a pregnant woman is murdered and the perpetrator is caught and tried, the perpetrator is tried on only one count of murder because the fetus is not considered a person. Yet, in the same state, if the woman aborts the pregnancy, she is considered to have ended the life of a person.

When does life begin?

What adds confusion to this conversation is how children are treated after birth. Our government, and our society, debates whether to provide medical care for children who have no insurance, or at what point is a parent’s neglect of his or her children considered abusive. What value are we to place on a child’s education, or his or her safety? Is a young person’s life valuable if they choose not to serve in the military or not fight in a war?

When does life begin?

Existentialism provides significant insight into answering the question concerning the beginning of life. Life begins (and ends) in relationship to the meaning it holds. As Lisa Vallejos pointed out so eloquently in a previous blog, many people live life in a state of quiet desperation and emptiness. For too many people in this world, life is meaninglessness as they go about their day with no sense of joy, or hope, or anticipation, or enthusiasm, or excitement. They live in a state of resignation, or hopelessness, or defeatism, or pain just wanting to get this day over with and behind him or her.

When does life begin?

Life begins when it holds meaning. Life begins when the individual holds his or her life as valuable, or dynamic, or hopeful, or energized, or purposeful … or any combination of these. Life begins when an individual begins to see him or herself as a complete and whole individual apart from his or her relationships with others. Life begins when the individual discovers and molds and shapes a sense of identity and purpose for his or her own life, apart from what other might expect. Life begins when the individual is able to celebrate the joys, and loves, and victories without fear of the doom and gloom squelching that joy. Life begins when the individual acknowledges that life is filled with good and bad, happy and sad, simple and complex, anger and calm, joy and melancholy; yet lives peacefully amidst these paradoxes.

When does life begin?

Life begins when an individual is able, because of his or her own sense of meaning, to bring meaning and value to the life of another—just because the other is a person in their own right. Life begins for an individual when she or he is able to celebrate the unique value, preciousness, and beauty of the other. Life begins when the individual is not threatened by the differences between him or her and the other, but rather sees those differences as an opportunity for celebration and growth.

When does life begin?

Life begins when the culture and the individual no longer need a scientific or religious declaration of the beginning of life. Life begins when the culture and the individual see the life of a 9-year-old just as valuable as a fetus. Life begins when the individual and the culture see the life of a 19-year-old is just as valuable as that of a 35-year-old. Life begins when the individual and the culture place equal value on caring for the 9-month-old child’s health and well-being, as they do on the right to own and bear arms. Life begins when the individual and the culture come to accept that money, or materialism, or power, or control are not more important than the other’s ability to earn a living wage, or provide for his or her family, or pursue an education in order to enhance his or her life. Life begins when the individual and the culture place as much importance on the well-being of the poor and the needy as is placed on the development of weapons and military strength.

When does life begin?

Life begins when we no longer need a black-and-white, clear-cut scientific or religious definition for when life begins, because both the individual and the culture have come to understand that life begins when each person has determined for him or herself the meaning and purpose of his or her life. If purpose and meaning are not present for the individual, then it matters not how science or religion define the beginning of life because a life without meaning or purpose is no life at all.

-- Steve Fehl

Read more posts by Steve Fehl

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