The Meaning of Life

Dear readers:

The antiabortion forces have two arguments: that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Both are false. As to the first, Harold Henderson’s “Building a Better Baby” (October 22), telling of 15,000 in vitro fertilization babies born every year in this country and widespread shopping for spermatozoa and ova, demonstrates the fact that life is continuous.

It does not begin at conception. Life (characterized by metabolism, growth, and motion) is present in developing sperm and ova. This was shown by a London widow being permitted to use her husband’s frozen sperm and Chicago’s Dr. Craig Niedermeier extracting sperm from a dead man’s body at the request of his widow who “may have wanted to conceive the dead man’s child.” The use of ova in cloning mammals shows that sperm are not even necessary to start life. If sperm and ova can survive independently, continuity of life is proved.

Carl Sagan, in Billions & Billions, wrote, “Nor does human life begin at conception. It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

From this standpoint, a celibate person cuts off some of these continuous threads of life. By the same token, doctors who cut off some of those continuous threads by abortion should not be blamed.

A dogma of some religious sects maintains that a soul becomes associated with the zygote the moment it is formed by a sperm fertilizing an ovum. This dogma is not found in the Bible, the Koran, or any Hindu texts. I can be sure of this because they were written long before van Leeuwenhoek discovered spermatozoa in 1677. Human ova and zygotes were discovered much later. When or if humans develop souls or receive them is a matter of theology and depends on which religion or sect one chooses to believe.

As to abortion being murder, forbidden by the Bible: the overwhelming majority of Protestant denominations and the Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism reject the idea, and it is they who follow biblical teaching.

Only one passage in the Bible relates to abortion. The New King James version in Exodus 21:22 describes a case in which the loss of a fetus occurs: “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.” Saint Augustine, an architect of Christian theology, commented on that passage (in “On Exodus”): “The law does not provide that the act pertains to homicide, for there yet cannot be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in flesh.”

In a letter to the New York Times, Allyson J. Kleiman wrote: “However, in the Torah, the zygote is considered ‘mere water’ the first 40 days after conception, and the fetus is not considered a human being until it can exist independently from its mother.”

It puzzles me that women take seriously what a bunch of dried-up old men in cassocks or judicial robes decide on the matter of abortion. Fruition or termination of pregnancy should be the concern of only the woman and her doctor.

A pollinated pistil is not a flower, a fertilized hen’s egg is not a chicken, and a spermatized ovum is not a child.

Hank Oettinger

W. Grace