Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 4, 2022 / 11:08 am (CNA).
After repeated, recent statements by U.S. President Joe Biden that he does not believe human life begins at the moment of conception, or characterizing such a belief as a matter of faith, scientists and doctors have pointed out that this belief can be arrived at through natural reason -science – alone.
What has Biden said about the beginning of human life?
On March 2, EWTN Correspondent Owen Jensen asked Biden, “Why do you support abortion as a Catholic, defying Church teaching?”
“I don’t want to get into a debate with you about theology,” Biden responded, adding, “I’m not going to make a judgment for other people.”
And in September 2021, Biden had said, “I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.”
Biden’s declaration that he does not believe life begins at conception is contrary to what he had stated in the past.
At the 2012 vice presidential debate against Republican nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Biden stated plainly that he believed life began at conception.
“Life begins at conception, that’s the Church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life,” he said. “But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others.”
And in a September 2008 interview, Biden said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.”
A biochemist responds
“I think that our president, Joe Biden, needs to catch up with the science,” said Dr. Tara Sander Lee, Senior Fellow and Director of Life Sciences at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an organization dedicated to policies and practices that protect the sanctity of human life.
Lee, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Medical College of Wisconsin and training in cell and molecular biology from Harvard Medical School, told CNA that if Biden were to follow the science, “he would know that centuries of scientific discovery and technological advancement have provided proof that from the moment of conception, that is the creation of a new human life.”
“So the fact that he’s saying this, he’s just absolutely ignoring centuries of scientific fact that all biologists confirm,” she added.
“There is indisputable proof that life begins from the moment of conception when the sperm fertilizes the egg,” Lee told CNA, “because there is the creation of a new, totally distinct, integrated organism or a human being, which is going to be biologically distinct from all other life forms on this planet.”
Lee told CNA that each stage of pregnancy, beginning at conception, is demonstrated on CLI’s interactive website The Voyage of Life.
A radiologist and ultrasonographer responds
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a diagnostic radiologist and an ultrasonographer, also affirmed the beginning of human life at conception.
“There really hasn’t been a mystery about that for a very long time,” Christie told CNA. “A new human life begins when the egg and the sperm combine.”
At the moment of conception, she said, “the first human cell of the new human being has its own DNA, which is very distinct and separate from the mom’s and from the dad’s and that is a one-cell human being.”
Christie said the claim some people make that a baby in the womb is equivalent to a mere “clump of cells” is “ignorant.”
“We are a collection of cells, we are all made of cells, but our cells are organized into organs and our organs are organized into systems and all those cells together form a human being,” she said.
“If you refer to something as a clump of cells you’re implying that there’s no organizing principle behind it, that there’s no destiny, that there’s no growth, no development. You’re basically saying it’s not alive,” she added.
Christie used the example of a tumor being a “clump of cells that grows, but nobody has ever claimed that it’s a living thing that has a destiny and a future and a way of developing into something that’s human.”
She added that “An embryo is not only distinct from his or her mother, but is alive by all the biological standards we use to denote life. There is no scientific uncertainty here, and no doubts as to this are entertained by any scientist or physician. On ultrasound I routinely use the presence of the embryonic heartbeat, as early as 3 weeks after conception, to determine that the embryo is alive. This is our medical convention, and it corresponds to the scientific reality.”
An archbishop responds
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas agreed with Christie’s and Lee’s conclusion about life beginning at conception.
Naumann told CNA that science is “affirming a lot of things that theologically, we find present in the scripture and in the early teachings of the Church.”
The archbishop pointed to the “amazing experience between Elizabeth and Mary at the Visitation where the unborn John the Baptist is the first to recognize the unborn Jesus. And Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refers to Mary as the Mother of my Lord. So she’s the first one to call Jesus Lord while he is within the woman, Mary.”
Naumann said that modernity portrays science and faith being at odds, but that they are actually complementary. “We take what science can help us understand and that’s married into our theology,” he said.
Naumann called Biden’s change in belief on the beginning of human life “very strange.”
“He goes against science. He goes against his Catholic faith, which he says he’s devoted to. So I don’t want to speculate on his motivations, but it would seem that he’s changed his position to coincide with the dominant position within his own party,” he added.
Naumann believes that the president’s comments could confuse Catholics about the teaching of the Church, “and that’s why I think it’s important for bishops and for the Church to correct him,” he said.
“I think it does confuse people when Biden or [Nancy] Pelosi or any Catholic politician begins to say things like this,” Naumann said. “It’s bad enough that they say them and they do them, but when they link it with, ‘and I’m a devout Catholic,’ then they’re really beginning to usurp the role of the bishops.”
“They’re not the teachers of the faith,” he said. “Whatever power President Biden might have in the country, he’s not authorized to teach the Catholic faith and yet he seems to try to do that.”
A biomedical ethicist responds
Dr. Melissa Moschella, an associate professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that “once the [sperm and the egg] fuse, there’s a totally new biological trajectory that begins.”
She continued: “That trajectory is aimed at nothing less than the development of a mature human organism distinct from either parent. And that new entity, that results from fertilization, is directed in its development, not by instructions from the mother’s body, but by its own unique set of instructions, particularly the instructions contained in its genetic material.”
Moschella, whose areas of specialization include biomedical ethics and natural law ethics, said that there are more “sophisticated arguments” that challenge the moral status of embryonic human beings based on lack of consciousness and noted that those arguments are “very dangerous.”
Moschella says that these arguments do not deny the biological science of life beginning at conception, rather, “they’re saying that not every biological human should count as a person with full moral rights and moral status.” She added that “they point to other markers like consciousness as the thing that gives human beings full rights, a moral status, including the right not to be killed.”
Moschella points out that there are “many flaws” in these arguments.
She said there are many situations where humans, already born, lack consciousness, and one should not argue that they have fewer rights. Moschella listed “people in comas, people in persistent vegetative states, or people temporarily blacked out” as examples.
Moschella said that “the broader problem with arguments like that is that they drive a wedge between biological humanity and who has moral rights or moral status.” When making arguments about which human beings are more deserving of rights, “you pave the way to the worst atrocities in human history,” she said.
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