When does life begin? When does life end? What constitutes being "alive"?
Much of the debate on this issue has to do with abortion. On one extreme, there are people who see abortion as perfectly fine in any and all circumstances up to the moment of natural birth, because until then, these people believe that there is no separate life. On the other extreme, there are people who go so far as to say that neither a male sperm nor a female egg should be in any way restricted from having the chance to fertilize together, because there is the potential for life until the time the sperm or the egg dies naturally. The vast majority of people believe something between those two extremes.
As a disclaimer, I am "pro-life" when it comes to the abortion issue. But my personal history shows that I did not always hold that position. I was 11 years old when the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, I was by family heritage a part of the Roman Catholic Church, although my family was pretty much inactive when it came to the church (I don't think we even went to church on Easter most of the time). However, I knew the position of the Roman Catholic Church at the time was that abortion was a mortal sin. Birth control was a sin too.
Once Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, my understanding of the issue was based on however it was reported by CBS News (and its local affiliate, channel 2 in the Chicago area). I knew the Catholic Church was strongly anti-abortion, but the information I received about the issue rarely looked at the issue from the perspective of when life begins, but rather from the right of a woman to be able to do what she wanted to do with her own body.
As the years passed, I started learning more about the development of human life. Scientific and medical advancements have shown that the child has a discernible heartbeat separate from that of the mother with days of conception. The pre-born child has its own blood-type (when the blood-types of the father and mother are such that the child's blood-type will differ from the mother), and the pre-born child has its own DNA. When I learned those things, I could not come to any conclusion other than that the pre-born child is a separate life from the mother.
Yet when looking at the Bible, we don't see this type of detail. There are some generalities, such as when the Psalmist said to God, "You knit me together in my mother's womb," or that "the child" leaped inside the womb of Elizabeth when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting.
Granted, the Bible is not supposed to be viewed as a science book. Yet as Christians, we still believe that the Bible is full of truth. Unquestionably, the humans who wrote the words of the Bible centuries ago did not have the scientific knowledge to understand blood-types, DNA, and prenatal heartbeats. But it seems that they did indeed understand heartbeats and breathing. And when it comes to the Bible, the words about life seem to center upon breath.
God breathed life into Adam. In Exodus 37, the dry bones in the valley did not come to life until breath came into them. In Genesis, the deaths of Abraham, Ishmael, Rachael, Isaac, and Jacob are all described as saying that these people breathed their last. Mark and Luke use similar words when describing the death of Jesus. At the same time, the Bible really doesn't describe life as having to do with a beating heart.
Part of the Wesleyan understanding of theology is that we are to use not only the Bible, but also human reason when looking for truth. But not all Christians believe that part about human reason, instead saying that only the Bible can be the ultimate authority on God's revealed truth.
As I said, I am pro-life. I believe that the scientific and medical evidence points to the fact a pre-born child is indeed an individual life rather than a part of the mother's body. At the same time, the Bible seems to indicate that the key to life is breath--something that a child does not generally have until after birth.
In the end, if I err, I will err on the side of life. At the same time, I am interested in the truth, and in knowing what the Bible truly says about when life begins and ends.
Does anyone have any additional thoughts?