How do scientists distinguish between life and non-life?
A scientific textbook called "Basics of Biology"1 gives five characteristics of living things; these five criteria are found in all modern elementary scientific textbooks:
According to this elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte. From this moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species). Non-living things do not do these things. Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her.
Medical science already refers to a spontaneous heart rhythm and the presence of brain waves to determine whether someone is alive at the other end of the spectrum of human existence. In simplistic terms, if an organ donor is in an automobile accident and is on life support in a hospital, the physician cannot "pull the plug" and donate the patient's organs to others unless the patient is "brain dead" and his heart is not beating on its own. If the medical community maintained consistency with this generally accepted medical definition of human life, then we would condemn every abortion after the time when the average woman discovers she is pregnant. Every abortion, by the generally accepted standards of medical science, kills an innocent human life.
This excuse for allowing abortion sounds reasonable. If the pregnancy is threatening the mother’s life, it would seem that lethal force —an abortion —would be a permissible form of self-defense. The child is not really "attacking" the mother, but his presence puts her at risk. It sounds like a good argument, but it simply isn’t true.
Hundreds of doctors have a signed a statement that puts the situation in perspective. The statement reads, "There is never a situation in the law or in the ethical practice of medicine where a preborn child’s life need be intentionally destroyed by procured abortion for the purpose of saving the life of the mother. A physician must do everything possible to save the lives of both of his patients, mother and child. He must never intend the death of either."2
A tubal (or ectopic) pregnancy, for instance, can indeed be life-threatening. But the treatment, even if it is fatal to the child, is not a "procured abortion." The doctor wants to save the baby, but knows that is virtually impossible. The baby’s death is an unintended consequence of the physician’s effort to save the mother. Indeed, if the physician did nothing and the mother died, her unborn child would die also. There are similar cases involving the treatment of cancer in which the baby’s death can be an unintended consequence. But again, these are medical treatments, not abortions.
It is important to distinguish between direct abortion, which is the intentional and willed destruction of a preborn child, and a legitimate treatment a pregnant mother may choose to save her life. Operations that are performed to save the life of the mother-such as the removal of a cancerous uterus or an ectopic pregnancy that pose the threat of imminent death-are considered indirect abortions.
They are justified under a concept called the "principle of double effect." Under this principle, the death of the child is an unintended consequence of an operation independently justified by the necessity of saving the mother’s life.
Essentially, both mother and child should be treated as patients. A doctor should try to protect both. However, in the course of treating a woman, if her child dies, that is not a deleberate abortion.
"Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal disease such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save the life of the mother."
-Alan Guttmacher, former Planned Parenthood president
"There are no conceivable clinical situations today where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. In fact, if her health is threatened and an abortion is performed, the abortion increases risks the mother will incur regarding her health."
-Dr. Bernard Nathanson, American Bioethics Advisory Commission
There is only one purpose for abortion —to deleberately end the life of the child. The "life of the mother" situation for abortion is simply bogus.
See also "Abortion —NOT Even When the Pregnancy Threatens the Life of the Mother?"
1. Basics of Biology, Carol Leth Stone, Greenwood Publishing Group, January 1, 2004, ISBN: 0-313-31786-0
2. American Life League, Retrieved: July 31,2013, http://www.all.org/nav/index/heading/OQ/cat/MzQ/id/MjYzNQ/