“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name…”An excerpt from the Magnificant song of Mary. These are the words on my lips this day, the 10th day of the third month of the year 2014. I had never been admitted in any hospital, at least not since my conscious age. The closest to admission I remember was a one evening stay at our high school sanatorium because I had a high fever. This is because I had kissed a malaria causing mosquito. But on 12th February 2014, I was. There was nothing wrong with me. At least not at the point I was being told I was being admitted. My baby was not kicking. Doctors call it distress. I took myself to see the doctor and well, I was taken out of hospital 3 days later. Within those three days, I was on put on IV, Fetal Monitor, Antibotics, Steroids and muscle relaxing medication (read salbutamol/nifedipine) and on discharge, some more tablets of the same. The problem was, I was on preterm labor, and it was not going to be good for my baby to be born then. The baby had to be safe and pregnancy maintained by all means.

This brought me to think about one of the contentious issues discussed and argued about by pro-lifers and pro-choicers. The issue of when life begins. And well, from my experience, my pre-born child was so important I had to go through all that to make sure it is safe and protected inside the womb until the time which it is healthy enough to be let into this world. So a baby inside the womb is that important. If it was not then, the doctors and nurses would have bothered much, or would they?

In one of my biology classes I learnt that the basic unit of life is a cell. My basic argument is we cannot explain when life begins because that which begins life is already alive, that is, the male and gamete cells. However, scientifically, we can define when human development begins. According to one prominent embryology text, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, by Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persuad (7th Edition; Publ. Saunders, p. 16), ‘‘Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell, a zygote in a process called fertilization. The result of this union is the production of a Zygote, a new and genetically unique organism, or fertilized egg, initiating prenatal development.  It starts out as a single cell and then divides several times to form a ball of cells called a Morula. Further cell division is accompanied by the formation of a small cavity between the cells. This stage is called a blastocyst. The blastocyst reaches the uterus on roughly the fifth day after fertilization and adheres to, the endometrial cells of the uterus in a process called implantation. Rapid growth occurs and the embryo’s main external features begin to take form. This process is called differentiation which produces the varied cell types (such as blood cells, kidney cells, and nerve cells etc). So if the basic unit of life is a cell, according to my biology, then the zygote and blastocyst are stages of human life that eventually develops to a human being. Dr. Robert George in his quote says “In human reproduction, when sperm joins ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism with unique DNA. This organism is a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species. Readers can consult any of the standard human-embryology texts, such as Moore and Persaud’s The Developing Human, Larsen’s Human Embryology, Carlson’s Human Embryology & Developmental Biology, and O’Rahilly and Mueller’s Human Embryology & Teratology.”  

From another point of view, a scientific textbook called “Basics of Biology” gives five characteristics of living things; these five criteria are found in all modern elementary scientific textbooks: Living things are highly organized; All living things have an ability to acquire materials and energy; All living things have an ability to respond to their environment; All living things have an ability to reproduce and; All living things have an ability to adapt. According to this elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte.  From this moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species).  Non-living things do not do these things.  Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her. In an article entitled Life Begins at Conception by Jon E. Dougherty, at Catholic Education Resource Centre, he argues that life begins at conception not at birth. For those who believe life begins at birth, he explains that birth is simply one stage of ongoing human development. He further argues that barring death by natural causes, everyone has the potential to eventually become a senior citizen and that we humans are never “fully-developed.” We’re not born “complete”; we grow, change, mature and age constantly, which means we’re always “developing,” and we develop though the first nine months of our lives attached to a “host” — our mothers. To further this argument, prolife physicians in http://www.prolifephysicians.org/lifebegins.htm argues that the preborn human being may be dependent upon the mother for nutrition; however, this does not diminish his or her humanity, but proves it. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2270-2271, Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. I remember my Gynecologist telling me before admission that the tragedy of his profession is that two lives are always under his care at all times and must always be his concern at whatever point of gestation. It is this basic principle of honor, respect and more so love of the unborn that drives both mothers and doctors to have regular checks in the course of the 9months of gestation in prenatal care. It is the same basis that traditionally, a pregnant woman was put on special diets and denied some foods and activities that were deemed harmful to the unborn. It is this basic factor that I was on medication and am still on total bed rest to ensure that my baby is okay and no activity whatsoever can jeopardize its life and chance to become a citizen in its own time. It is on this basis that today I sing with Mary the magnificent, because by the graces and goodness of good, I have reached the window of + or – 2 weeks within which the baby is term meaning fully mature and ready for the world.  

For those who still argue that life begins at birth, I have no words. I only have a conviction that human development begins way before even the mother of the child knows there is someone beautiful, unique and consecrated by God growing inside of her. Prenatal care is just one of the simplest and basic evidence but scientifically much more can be established, if only we would be willing to look for the facts. I conclude by quoting Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”. It is the responsibility of the parents especially the mother and any other relevant parties who can, for instance doctors, nurses or midwives to ensure that purpose with which each human being is created comes to be.