In the sixth month of her pregnancy with John (later to be called the “Baptizer”), the aged Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias, was visited by her kinswoman, Mary of Nazareth. The latter informed Elizabeth that she too would bear a child.
When the glad tidings were revealed to the elderly kinswoman, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and her voice burst forth in praise.
Luke, the author of the narrative (and a physician by profession – Col. 4:14), records that the baby “leaped in her womb” (Lk. 1:41). Elizabeth interpreted the response as a leap of “joy” (v. 44).
While the event was obviously supernatural, it provides the devout Bible student with pause to wonder what extent a pre-born child may be able to experience what could be called “consciousness”? [Note: I love the comment of that crusty old scholar, the late R. C. H. Lenski, who wrote of this incident: “Skeptics may scoff, but the Spirit of God operates without respect to them.”]
The Conscious Child Inside the Womb
Many authorities believe that there is a level of consciousness in the pre-born child. Not a few physicians counsel mothers and fathers to talk to their baby, while it is yet in the mother’s body.
Parents are encouraged to read to their coming offspring, and to play soothing music for the child. There is a strong feeling among some professionals that even a degree of “learning” may take place in the womb.
When does a newly-conceived child first begin to experience consciousness?
Numerous persons within the medical field believe that human awareness begins in the womb—perhaps a considerable while before the time of birth. This possibility has caused some medical personnel to take another look at the question of abortion.
One of Great Britain’s leading brain scientists, Baroness Greenfield, a professor of neurology at Oxford University and the director of the Royal Institution, raised some English eyebrows when she insisted that fetuses are conscious before birth.
In Great Britain, a fetus must be at least twenty-four weeks along in the gestation process before abortion is illegal. Professor Greenfield contends, however, that there is evidence to demonstrate that a “conscious mind” could develop before the 24-week timeline.
The fact is, many neurologists believe it is possible for a fetus to feel pain before the 24-week potential abortion date. Some are so “sensitive” to this circumstance that they suggest that some form of anesthetic should be given to the fetus before the termination is performed.
David Derbyshire, a science correspondent for Britain’s News Telegraph, (citing a poll taken last year among English neurologists), has stated:
“Many believed fetuses should be given anaesthetics during a late abortion, after 20 weeks. Some also believe pain relief should be given for keyhole surgery in the womb” (news.telegraph.co.uk — March 11, 2003).
This is the manner in which many states in our own nation now accommodate criminals who have committed capital crimes. Execution without an anesthetic, they allege, is cruel and unusual punishment. The “compassion” and “morality” of social liberalism is touching indeed.
Some authorities suggest that human consciousness is “switched-on” at a certain point in the child’s development, but Professor Greenfield is skeptical of that theory. She believes that the evidence indicates that there is a gradual development of consciousness, as neurons progressively connect with one another.
Though Greenfield has not yet called for any revision of Great Britain’s abortion laws, she has expressed serious concerns about the consciousness of the pre-born child, and the ethics of taking the life of a conscious individual.
Derbyshire mentions that in 2001 a Medical Research Council expert group “called for more sensitive treatment” of very premature babies. All of this appears to suggest some positive movement in the right direction, but it has light-years yet to go.
Moral Issues to Contemplate
There are a couple of moral issues that come to mind when one reflects upon this matter.
Is mere “consciousness” the criterion for humanness?
If so, does that imply that any person who is incapable of an “awareness” of his environment has forfeited his “humanness,” and so may be deprived of those rights normally extended to humans.
The implication clearly is this: the non-conscious person would be amenable to extinction at the whim of society.
If that is the case, then all of those pitiful fellows among us who now are comatose, as a result of tragic accidents, etc., could be (perhaps should be) exterminated. Who can live with that conclusion? Mere “consciousness” is not the standard for humanness.
If the pre-24-week fetus is not a human being, why be concerned about any response to pain?
Are scientists concerned about “pain” in an isolated human cell, or in a mere “blob” of tissue?
We unapologetically reiterate this charge. There is no advocate of human abortion who is able to argue his case effectively, relying strictly on scientific data and sound reasoning principles — to say nothing of the moral code of biblical revelation.
The sad reality is this. Many medical experts are sorely troubled, in the depths of their consciences, with the unrelenting slaughter of innocent, pre-born children. But they are on a “runaway train”; and they are fearful of the cost of escape. Society has legalized this brutality, and the human spirit has been numbed to the atrocity.
Many weep in secret, tormented by what they do, but due to personal or financial considerations, they continue in the bloody trade.
It is the duty of those who believe that human life is sacred, by virtue of divine creation and Creator’s sovereignty, to continue to lift their voices in protest to this holocaust.
May God sustain morally-oriented people to open the eyes of those who have so cheapened human worth.