Embryo aged approximately 7 weeks
9 week old embryo from ectopic pregnancy

Bioethics - Basics that Every Christian Needs to Know

D.W. Legg 2009/10/23

This delicate subject is one that can easily be forgotten about. It is easy for churches not to teach on the subject of bioethics for fear of needlessly upsetting people. Also, whereas evangelicals used to be very clear, certain and even vociferous on the subject in the wake of 1967 Abortion Act, we have been worn down over the intervening decades. We may even have become complacent, so what follows is hoped to be a gentle but urgent reminder of some basic biological and theological facts.

1. Life Begins Before Birth
It is clear from Scripture (and common sense) that an individual life begins well before birth. King David speaks of himself as being a real person with a relationship with his God even as early as conception:
Psa. 22:10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.
Psa. 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

The infant, John the Baptist, was responsive to Jesus:
Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, ...

The Christian's duty is therefore to protect the unborn:
Prov. 31:8 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves".

The reason that human life is precious is because it was created for fellowship with God and to 'image' God.  The Bible views the desecration of God's image extremely seriously:
Gen. 9:6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

Unborn humans, though very young, bear the image of God. And out of love for God's image, we should protect the unborn, perhaps by supporting organisations such as LIFE and CARE.

2. In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) Wastes Embryos
Even embryos are individual human beings, according to Psa. 51:5.  They will never fulfil their potential, by imaging god as per Gen. 1:27, if they are not allowed to grow into babies and be born.

Sadly many Christian couples are not able to conceive their own children in the womb in the normal way.  They enter an IVF programme, not really understanding that their spermatozoa (sperm) and ova (eggs) will be used in a laboratory to create new individual human beings.  This fact is disguised by these new human beings often being called 'embryos'; it hides that fact that each one is an individual human life.

Because the process of planting embryos back into the mother's womb is unreliable, IVF clinics fertilise a large number of ova, creating a large number of embryos.  As soon as the mother is pregnant, some or all of the remaining embryos are not needed.  Eventually they are destroyed.  By starting IVF, Christian mothers are actually guaranteeing that some of their own children will be destroyed.  However, other, ethical, infertility treatment is available.

3. The 'Morning-After Pill' Destroys Embryos
Normally, an ovum (egg) is fertilised inside the mother, becomes an embryo, and proceeds to implant itself in the wall of her womb.  The implantation process takes a number of days.  So, during this time, it is possible for an unimplanted embryo, that has already become a new individual human being, to be destroyed by means of chemicals.  This is what the so-called 'morning-after pill' does.  This pill is specifically designed to act as an abortifacent, (or abortifacient) by preventing the newly conceived embryo from implanting in its mother's womb.

There is a danger that a Christian woman or girl, frightened at the thought of being pregnant, might take the morning-after pill in the belief that it is a contraceptive, whereas it actually destroys a newly conceived embryo.

There are other so-called contraceptives that are really abortifacents (or abortifacients) , that is they destroy embryos, for example the IUD 'Intrauterine Device' (sometimes called 'the coil').

4. The Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill Sometimes Destroys Embryos
'The Pill', as it is known, normally functions as a contraceptive, that is, it prevents conception from occurring, preventing an embryo from being created.

However, sometimes 'the pill' acts to prevent the newly conceived embryo from implanting itself in the mother's womb.  This means that it dies.  There are claims that this may not be true, but pill manufacturers actually rely on this abortifacent (or abortifacient) mode of the pill to make it reliable.  See Reference [1] below and also the appendix below.

The progestogen-only 'pill' (or mini-pill) can also work by preventing implantation.

As with IVF, ethical alternatives to 'the pill' are available: http://christian.org.uk/pdfpublications/contraceptionguide.pdf

Non-Internet Reference [1]: Fundamentals of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Volume 1, Obstetrics, Derek Llewellyn-Jones, 4th Edition, 1986, Page 157: 'The hormone also affects the endometrium so that it becomes 'out of phase', should ovulation occur despite the oestrogen. This prevents the fertilised egg from implanting.' (Note the use of the word 'egg' instead of 'embryo' or 'child'.)

Appendix - An Illuminating Interview with a Drug Company
from http://www.epm.org/artman2/publish/prolife_birth_control_pill/Birth_Control_Pill_Abortifacient_and_Contraceptive.shtml
"On March 24, 1997, I had a lengthy and enlightening talk with Richard Hill, a pharmacist who works for Ortho-McNeil's product information department. (Ortho-McNeil is one of the largest manufacturers of the Pill.) I took detailed notes.

Hill was unguarded, helpful and straightforward.  He never asked me about my religious views or my beliefs about abortion. He did not couch his language to give me an answer I wanted to hear...

I asked him, "Does the Pill sometimes fail to prevent ovulation?"  He said "Yes."  I asked, "What happens then?"  He said, "The cervical mucus slows down the sperm.  And if that doesn't work, if you end up with a fertilized egg, it won't implant and grow because of the less hospitable endometrium."

I then asked Hill if he was certain the pill made implantation less likely.  "Oh yes," he replied.  I said, "So you don't think this is just a theoretical effect of the Pill?"  He said the following, which I draw directly from my extensive notes of our conversation.

"Oh, no, it's not theoretical.  It's observable.  We know what an endometrium looks like when it's rich and most receptive to the fertilized egg.  When the woman is taking the Pill, you can clearly see the difference, based both on gross appearance - as seen with the naked eye - and under a microscope.  At the time when  the endometrium would normally accept a fertilized egg, if a woman  is taking the Pill it is much less likely to do so."
[Quotation solicited by William F. Colliton, Jr., M.D., FACOG, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University Medical Center]

Download a free MP3 containing the full talk given at Ashford Congregational Church in 2009: http://www.leggweb.e7even.com/bioethics_talk_with_slides.mp3 Just right-mouse on the hyperlink and save the contents as an MP3 file. This MP3 file can then be listened to on most computers, or it can be copied onto MP3 players, iPods etc.

Download the accompanying PDF slides: http://www.leggweb.e7even.com/bioethics_slides.pdf

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