The Corner

A Logical Riposte to Robert P. George’s Proposal

The logical problem with the idea that “life begins at conception” is this: Since 25 percent of all pregnancies end in natural miscarriage, can it therefore be said — without reference to religion — that “life begins at conception” when so much of it is snuffed out by nature itself? Does that not suggest a kind of vicious brutality in nature — Hobbes at his most Hobbesian — that in turn leads us to a social Darwinism in which literally only the strong survive even to be born?

I am not a scientist and not fit to examine the evidence that says “life begins at conception.” I will presume that the texts Professor George mentions buttress that conclusion. But if indeed that is what the science texts he assigns do say, then “human life” must have a broader meaning than the one we assign it now, because otherwise nature is committing Holocausts every day.

Obviously, human life “begins” at conception, in the sense that we were all conceived and developed from that conception. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, and 40 weeks later we emerged from the womb. But what does this tell us, other than that those who act as though no creature is alive until it breathes on its own are horrifyingly cavalier about this greatest and most basic of miraculous mysteries?

My wife and I had a miscarriage two years ago after 9 weeks of pregnancy. Should we be mourning that miscarriage as though a child had lived 9 weeks and died?

I bring these questions up in this way because I think that this debate can never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction through science alone. Technology has done extraordinary things over the past 30 years to make people conscious of the essential humanity of the unborn fetus, largely through the application of ultrasound and intrauterine photography. But it cannot resolve, or solve, the mystery of the progress beyond the moment of conception — when that embryo, fertilized inside the womb or in a laboratory, becomes a life that must be granted all the protections due all human life.

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