The term ‘human life is sacred’ means that since every person is made in the image of God, life itself is a gift from God – it is holy and sacred. It is because man is made in God’s image that men, women and children are set apart from the rest of creation, and life is given a unique value and sanctity. Human life is precious and should not be destroyed and God has a plan for every single one of us. All Christians and even most non-Christians hold this view on life. There are many occasions that suggest to us that human life is something precious and valuable which should be celebrated.
For example, at the celebration of the birth of a new baby, the determination we have to preserve life through medication and operations and the sadness and despair we feel when someone we love dies, no matter what their age. Down through the centuries and in the Bible from the Old Testament through to the New Testament the sanctity of human life is underlined. The responsibilities that Christians have to defend life are also emphasised. In the Bible, it says that it is wrong to murder. This is one of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, Jesus did not talk specifically about abortion, but we can, however, look at his actions and draw some conclusions about abortion. He cared for people who were unwanted (such as lepers) or who were sick and had little hope of recovering (such as the woman with the haemorrhage). He also cared a lot for children, such as Jarius’ daughter. Jesus set an excellent example for how Christians should behave – we should care for each other, rather than destroy each other. Because traditional Christian teaching places the highest value on human life, it naturally condemns abortion.
The Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament states: “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born. ” Didache In modern times, however, there are various issues that are threatening the sacredness of human life – abortion and euthanasia being such examples. If abortion can become readily available to people, they may become more promiscuous. Because of this, some fear that human life may be counted too cheap if an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy can be ended.
There is a similar debate when euthanasia is seriously considered as a solution to suffering, old age, and mental or physical handicap. Some people worry that life may be ended too easily under the pretext of being merciful. There are also, however, some people who believe abortion and euthanasia can be morally justified in certain circumstances. Today the sanctity of human life is being continually challenged and threatened, in particular, by abortion. An abortion is the intentional and deliberate killing of an unborn baby, known as a procured abortion.
A miscarriage is also the loss of a baby before birth, but which is unintentional – miscarriages occur naturally. There are also many medical reasons as to why miscarriages can take place. Contraceptives are methods that enable a couple to have sexual intercourse without risking the chance of a child being conceived. Some methods cause abortion after conception has taken place, for example the coil or the morning after pill. The coil is a hook-like device, which is placed inside the woman’s womb. It prevents the lining, in which the baby will grow, from forming.
If a fertilised egg enters the womb, it cannot find anywhere to embed itself. For this reason, the coil is believed to be an abortive method because it causes a fertilised egg (a potential human being) to be aborted. The morning after pill, for example RU 484, is also considered to be an abortive method. It prevents nourishment from the mother reaching the child, causing its death.
In 1967 the British Parliament passed a law which stated that it was no longer a criminal offence for an unborn child to be aborted by a doctor, if two doctors agree on either of the following two conditions: ) That to carry on with the pregnancy would involve a greater risk to the life or the physical or mental health of the mother or of her existing children than if she had it terminated. 2) That there was a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer serious physical or mental handicap. However, the Act contained a clause allowing account to be taken of the woman’s ‘actual or reasonably foreseeable environment’, and this allowed doctors to interpret the act in such a way that a great variety of social, financial or emotional problems could be considered as justifying abortion.
In the main, most abortions are carried out on healthy babies of healthy mothers for social, economic or emotional reasons. The result is abortion on demand. Although abortion is not mentioned in the Bible, from its earliest history the Church consistently opposed it: “Thou shalt not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is already born, for everything that has been shaped by and has received a soul from God, if it is slain, shall be avenged. ” Apostolic Constitution (written in the fourth century) In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah compares a mother’s love for her child with God’s love for his people: So the Lord answers, ‘Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her own child, I will never forget you.
Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hand. ‘ ” Isaiah 49:15 – 16 The Catholic Church teaches that deliberate procured abortion is a serious sin in all circumstances. In Catholic theology, human life is said to begin at the moment of conception. From that moment, it is sacred and everyone should try to protect it: “Human life is sacred – all men must recognise that fact. ” Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 1968 The Second Vatican Council declared: Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
” Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 51 There are some occasions, however, when an operation carried out for the purpose of curing a life-threatening disease (for example, cancer) might kill an unborn child. The Church teaches that these are permissible and necessary, but an operation to take away the life of an unborn child is wrong. Many people believe the Catholic Church to be the main opponent against abortion, but in fact, many other Christian Groups are firmly opposed to abortion as well: In the bible in the witness of the Christian commission from its earliest days down to this present century we see a continuous and united witness to the sanctity of human life in God’s eyes and the responsibility and duty laid on God’s people to defend that life. ”
Anti-Abortion organisation, SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) A leading Protestant theologian stated his views on abortion very clearly: “Abortion is worse than killing a man in his own home. ” John Calvin, 1509-64 Some Christian denominations today, for example Protestant Churches do not give a very clear teaching on abortion.
The view of the Protestant Churches is that abortion is generally undesirable, but that it may be acceptable in some circumstances. It is not always clear what these circumstances might be, and perhaps for this reason a minority Protestant group – “Christians for Free Choice” – campaigns for greater emphasis on what they see as a woman’s right to make the decision to have an abortion. However, some Evangelical Christians, basing their views on the Bible, are firmly opposed to abortion. The Church of England said in a report in 1984 that: “The foetus is to be specially respected and protected”.
However, it went on to say “nonetheless the life of the foetus is not absolutely sacrosanct if it endangers the life of the mother. ” The Church of Scotland’s Board of Social Responsibility in 1987 came to the conclusion that: “Abortion has no moral justification and represents the unwarranted destruction of human life that is made in the image of God”. But it was careful to say that this was only in “the great majority of cases”. Despite the fact that their teaching is quite vague about the issue of abortion, both Churches make it clear that they believe human life is special and sacred.
Although most Christians condemn abortion, if a cross-section of Christians were asked to state their views on abortion, many would find reasons that they believe justify it. This may be because Christians today are often influenced by the society around them as well as by their faith, because there has been an increasing feminist influence in American and Western European Christianity since the 1960s, and, as I have already said, because some Christian faiths are very vague in their teachings about abortion. There are of course, some Christians who believe abortion can be morally justified.
One situation is when continued pregnancy would mean that there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman. It could be that the woman already has other children who are dependent on her and those children will be deprived of a mother if she dies. Some would say that abortion in this case is the lesser of two evils. If a woman has become pregnant as a result of rape, some believe it would not be right to expect her to continue with the pregnancy, give birth and bring up the child of the man who had violated her.
They also consider how horrible it would be for both the mother and the child when the mother has to tell her child of how he or she was conceived. Even though the option of adoption is available to her instead, the emotional strain of carrying and bearing a child conceived through rape and then giving it up is probably greater than the strain of having an abortion. If a schoolgirl were to become pregnant, she would not be able to continue with her education when the baby is born. Moreover, she would be too young to be able to cope with being a mother and it is wrong to punish her by forcing her to have a child she does not want.
Similarly, a more mature woman has her career to think about. If she becomes pregnant by mistake, she could miss out on valuable career opportunities. Christians who use these arguments to fight for abortion could say that these reasons are still defending the sanctity of human life. If continued pregnancy would endanger a mother’s life, isn’t it the mother, who may have other children that depend on her, that has a more sacred life than that of her unborn child? And why should the lives of her existing children, who will be greatly affected by their mother’s death, be put before the life of her unborn child?
The woman who has conceived through rape will be likely to suffer from severe emotional trauma. It could be suggested that by aborting the child, she will be able to overcome her problems more quickly and get her life back together again, than if she had to go through with the pregnancy and childbirth and then see the face of her attacker every day in the face of her child. Essentially, the lives of the schoolgirl and career woman would be ruined. With an unexpected child to bring up, their goals and dreams would disappear. If life is sacred, why should these women have to lose theirs for a baby they don’t want?
These women may see their lives as ruined and wasted because of an unplanned pregnancy and may end up hating the child, which will grow up feeling unhappy and rejected. Catholics and most other Christian groups will argue that abortion can never be condoned. There are a number of reasons why Catholics believe that abortion is never justifiable. First, the Catholic Church has always opposed abortion. For example, the Vatican Council II stated that “never, in any pretext, may abortion be resorted to”. Similarly, Pope John Paul II has repeatedly said that having an abortion is sinful.
He described abortion as a grave moral disorder and declared that: “The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit”. Evangelium Vitae (1995) Catholics also believe that abortion has devalued life. It has led to increased sexual irresponsibility, with some people regarding abortion as a last resort contraceptive. Its legal acceptance has resulted in a society that is becoming more favourable towards euthanasia. Abortion cheapens life by allowing the destruction of new life on the whim and decision of a few adults.
Most Catholics would also disagree that a ‘deformed’ or handicapped foetus will be unable to live a worthwhile life. In fact, medical tests are not absolutely accurate. They can only indicate a strong probability of handicap in the developing foetus and cannot be certain of the extent of handicap. There have been cases where a woman has ignored advice to have an abortion because of the likelihood of having a handicapped child and has given birth to a perfectly normal baby. In any case, even if a baby is handicapped we cannot possibly know its potential and most handicapped people seem to be happy individuals who enjoy life.
Catholics are also mindful of the emotional pain experienced by those couples who are infertile and are unable to adopt a normal baby. If those nearly four million abortions in Britain during the last thirty years had not taken place, childless couples would be happier and those aborted foetuses would have been given love, care and a chance to live. There is also a vast amount of evidence in the Bible that suggests abortion is morally wrong. Christians believe that life begins at the moment of conception and therefore, that abortion is the murder of an unborn child.
In Psalm 139 the psalmist affirms that God has created every part of a person and that this work of creation takes place in the womb. The foetus is not just a lump of disposable cells, but a unique individual life. It is true that the foetus is dependent on the mother for protection and food, but so is the newborn baby. If it is morally wrong to kill a young child who is still dependent on the mother, it is equally wrong to kill that same life in the womb. Abortion is also breaking the Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”.
Christians believe that God is the Creator of life and nobody has the right to destroy what God has created. As the Catholic Truth Society proclaims: “No pregnancy is unplanned because no baby can be conceived unless God intends that conception and has willed that particular unique and completely individual new person into existence”. Several times in the Bible, it is implied that God values human life greatly. For example, we are told in Genesis that God created us in His own image, in Luke’s Gospel that God has even counted the hairs on our head, and in 1 Corinthians that our bodies are the temple of God.
Another argument that Catholics use against abortion is that God is presented in the Bible as being concerned about the weak and defenceless. This concern is shown in many miracles that Jesus performed – he healed those with physical or mental weakness. Those who advocate abortion stress the rights of everyone concerned except the foetus. Even the law appears not to regard the foetus as having any right to life before its twenty-fourth week of existence. A foetus has a heartbeat, brain waves and a nervous system, yet the law allows it to be torn apart.
Whichever method of abortion is used, Christians argue that agonising pain is experienced by the embryo. Abortion eliminates the care that should be shown to the weak and defenceless. There are, of course, other reasons against abortion, such as the physical damage done to about ten per cent of women undergoing abortion and the later feelings of guilt experienced by many women. For the Catholic, however, the authority of the Church and the principal of Christian love are paramount. Can removing an individual’s chance of life ever be an act of love?
Another issue that attacks the sacredness of human life and is a controversial issue among Christians is euthanasia. This is also called mercy killing because it brings about a gentle and easy death especially in cases of incurable and painful disease. Voluntary euthanasia is when it is carried out at the request of the person killed. In Britain, the Bill proposing voluntary euthanasia has been defeated in the House of Commons whenever it has been discussed in 1935, 1950 and 1969. As the law stands today, anyone who helps another person to end their life is liable to a criminal charge of murder or manslaughter.
There have been many attempts to overturn this law and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, also called EXIT, aims to bring about this change so that: “An adult person suffering from a severe illness, for which no relief is known, should be entitled by law to the mercy of a painless death, if and only if, that is their expressed wish. ” “Doctors should be allowed to help incurable patients die peacefully at their own request. The patient must have signed, at least 30 days previously, a declaration making their request known. ”
In some countries however, the Netherlands, for example, euthanasia has become legal. All Christians believe it is wrong to deliberately end the life of another person, but some believe euthanasia should be permitted for compassionate reasons. There are three basic arguments put forward by those who support voluntary euthanasia. The first is based on an individuals right to choose. In life, we generally accept that an individual should have freedom of choice as long as that freedom does not harm other people. So, everyone should be able to choose whether or not they want to continue living.
Society accepts that we can control birth by contraception and abortion, so we should be free to control death as well. After all, if suicide is legal, it seems illogical that assisted suicide is not. It seems unfair that if people are physically able to end their own life they can do so, but people who are not physically able to do so have no right to ask for help to end their life. The second argument is based on the right to die with dignity. People who have limited quality of life, permanent and crippling disability or have lost control over their bodily functions should be allowed to die.
For people suffering loss of limbs or a deteriorating, debilitating disease such as Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy, the time might come when life is no more than a frustrating humiliation. It seems harsh and unloving to make such people stay alive against their wishes. The third argument is that euthanasia can end suffering. Why should anyone be expected to endure the appalling agony of the terminal stages of a disease such as cancer? There would seem to be no good reason to prolong a person’s suffering and force him to undergo a painful death.
It would seem far kinder to allow the person to die, when he wishes, painlessly and peacefully. It would also help shorten the strain, suffering and grief of the person’s family and friends who would otherwise have to watch their loved one slowly deteriorate. Euthanasia itself is never mentioned in the Bible, although some Christians could use Jesus’ basic teaching to support their opinions, “Do to others what you would have them do to you”, for example, and the second commandment: “You should love your neighbour as you love yourself”. If you love a person who is enduring excruciating pain, you may wish to end that person’s suffering.
Those in favour of euthanasia would also say that when committed Christians die they go to be with Jesus Christ. Death is not to be feared, but is a positive blessing – far better than a life of suffering. This emphasises that human life is sacred. Because it is sacred, every minute of it should be enjoyed to the full; someone should not have to spend his or her last months in agony. The Roman Catholic Church is greatly opposed to euthanasia, just as it is on the issue of abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that euthanasia is: morally unacceptable and must always be forbidden and excluded. ” Pope Puis XII underlines these views when he stated: “It is not right to deprive the dying person of consciousness. ” It is not only the Catholic Church that does not support euthanasia however. The Church of England’s report in 1975, “Dying Well” and the Methodist Conferences’ statement in 1974 both oppose euthanasia. Those opposed to euthanasia believe it is wrong to take the life of another person. There are many pain-killing drugs that can help the patient die with dignity and so, euthanasia is not necessary.
A person who is in pain, or even under the stress of knowing they will have to endure pains might not be able to make a rational decision, or might change their minds but be incapable of telling the doctors. As well as this, many people recover after being ‘written off’ by doctors. All this could lead to the relationship of trust between doctors and patients being destroyed. Under the Hippocratic Oath, doctors must try to preserve life. Many doctors feel strongly against euthanasia. Their mission in life is to give health or ease pain, not to end life.
They may well give a drug to ease pain knowing that it will probably shorten a person’s life – but that is not the same as killing. The elderly may feel they are a nuisance or a burden to others and opt for euthanasia, when in their hearts they want to continue living. If euthanasia were legalised, it could be open to abuse. A person may feel obliged to sign a statement even though they do not really want to. A very sick person is not in a state to make a rational decision in choosing between life and death, and if they are unable to make the choice, relatives who stand to benefit from that person’s death might take the decision.
Some people claim that unofficial euthanasia already happens, when a person’s life is deliberately shortened by use of painkillers, more than needed to ease the pain. If there were better facilities for caring for the dying, there would be less need for euthanasia – hospice doctors share this view especially. The view that human life is sacred underlies many of the moral reasons against euthanasia. Christians believe that life is a gift from God, and therefore only he can take it away. Some people have shown great courage and faith in the way they have coped with pain.
They have been an inspiration to others and are following the example of Christ. The way in which people accept suffering may have spiritual value for their own souls and some may even find God at this stage in their lives. Throughout the Bible, Jesus always cared for the sick and never hinted at euthanasia as an option. It would prevent modern-day miracles from taking place, as these have been known to occur. If euthanasia were allowed to take place, the sanctity of human life would be less significant. Life would become devalued and disposable.