In the sixth month of her pregnancy with John, the aged Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias, was visited by her kinswoman, Mary of Nazareth. Mary had come to inform Elizabeth that she too would bear a child.
When Mary revealed her good news, the elderly kinswoman was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and her voice burst forth in praise.
Luke, the author of the narrative and a physician by profession (cf. Col. 4:14), records that the baby inside “leaped in her womb” (Lk. 1:41). Elizabeth interpreted the response as a leap of “joy” (Lk. 1:44).
While the event was obviously supernatural, the devout Bible student should wonder: “To what extent a preborn child may experience consciousness.”
The Conscious Child Inside the Womb
Many authorities believe that there is a level of consciousness in the preborn child. Physicians now counsel mothers and fathers to talk to their baby while it is still inside the mother’s body.
Parents are encouraged to read to their coming offspring and to play soothing music for the child. Some professionals state that a degree of learning is taking place inside the womb.
So when exactly does a newly-conceived child first begin to experience consciousness?
Many in the medical field believe human awareness begins in the womb—perhaps a considerable time before birth. This possibility has caused medical personnel to reconsider 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 eyebrows when she insisted that fetuses are conscious before birth.
In Great Britain, abortion is illegal after the fetus is twenty-four weeks along in gestation. Professor Greenfield contends, however, that there is evidence to demonstrate that a “conscious mind” could develop before twenty-four weeks.
Can Preborn Babies Feel Pain?
Many neurologists now believe a fetus can feel pain before this arbitrary twenty-four-week abortion legal deadline. Some are so concerned about 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 cited a poll taken among English neurologists to the following effect:
“Many believed fetuses should be given anesthetics 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).
Many states in our own nation now accommodate criminals who have committed capital crimes. Execution without an anesthetic, many 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 preborn 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 merely having consciousness the criterion for human rights?
If so, does that imply that any person who is incapable of an “awareness” of his environment has forfeited his right to life? If so, may he be deprived of those rights?
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 the comatose could be (perhaps should be) exterminated. Who can live with this kind of brutality? Consciousness alone is not the standard for humanness.
If the pre-twenty-four-week fetus is not a human being, why should be concerned about any response to pain?
Are scientists concerned about pain in an isolated human cell or in a 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 in 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 conducted by political opportunists. In many cases, they are fearful of the cost of escape.
Society has legalized brutality for the price of a vote and the human is being 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.