Some will contend the Catholic Church does not possess an official teaching as to when human life begins.
They posit from this that perhaps contraception or abortion could be justified.
Pope Saint John Paul II set out to answer this concern about when human life begins. He sought to set the record straight as to what the Church teaches and on what basis.
As you can read in his papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, section 60, the Church has taught human life begins at conception. That is, when a sperm and an egg unite at fertilization, that new human life is to be treated as a member of the human race. God infuses that new human being with a soul, allowing that newly-formed person to begin his or her eternal existence.
Here’s what the pope wrote in 1995 on the topic of when human life begins (all emphasis my own):
“Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life.
“But in fact, ‘from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already.
“‘This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time—a rather lengthy time—to find its place and to be in a position to act’ (#1).
“Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide ‘a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?’ (#2).
“Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo.
“Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: ‘The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life’” (#3).
This is all the more why abortion and abortifacient contraception are gravely immoral acts, as they commit murder of human beings.
In vitro fertilization, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and other technological manipulations of human embryos, thus, remain gravely immoral acts, as well (see Evangelium Vitae, 63).
God created human procreation to come about from the loving conjugal act of a husband and wife. To mess with the design of human life seeks to play god. It is not our place to be so arrogant.
Were you aware Pope Saint John Paul II had this clarification on when human life begins within his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae?
Do you know of other pronouncements from the Church answering when human life begins?
Please share on these thoughts or on any others you may have below!
(#1) Quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) , “Declaration on Procured Abortion” (18 November 1974), Nos. 12-13: AAS 66 (1974), 738.
(#2) Citing CDF, “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), I, No. 1: AAS 80 (1988), 78-79.
(#3) Ibid., 79.