The Sanctity of Life and the Abortion Controversy

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Introduction The question of abortion remains an issue that has generated and continues to steer ripples of ambivalence in our contemporary world. While most European countries have actually legalized abortion, Middle East countries where Islam prevails forbid it by law. Some countries allow it only in order to save the life of the pregnant woman. With these developments, a question comes to mind: why is there no consensus on the legal and moral status of abortion? Our task in this paper is to examine the moral issues surrounding the permissibility of abortion while upholding the conviction that human life is sacred and ought not be violated. Our point of departure shall be an explanation of the doctrine of the sanctity of human life. Thereafter, we shall examine the major arguments in the abortion dispute. At the end, we hope take a position that it consistent with right reason and conscientious judgment. 1.0 THE SANCTITY OF THE HUMAN LIFE CONCEPT Recent developments in bio-ethical issues such as cloning, embryo research, stem cells therapy, euthanasia and abortion have altogether engendered a reconsideration of the value of the human life both in philosophical, medical and theological circles. David P. Gushee’s definition aptly captures the doctrine of the sacredness of human life: The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, colour, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behaviour, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.1

David P. Gushee, “The Sanctity of Life,” The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. (January 10, 2010). -1-


Explaining this definition, Gushee highlights three points. Firstly, the sanctity of life doctrine is a moral conviction. Secondly, it is a moral conviction about how human beings are to be perceived and treated. Thirdly, it is a doctrine with a universal significance because it cuts across board and is indiscriminately applicable to every human person. In the nutshell, the sanctity of life concept represents a moral conviction of the inviolability of the human life in every stage of its existence, wherever human life is found, and in whatever situation human life exist. It is also a moral conviction that every human person ought to be perceived, addressed, and treated with every degree of respect and care that upholds human dignity. 1.1 Why is the Human Life Sacred? The doctrine of the sacredness of human life is deeply rooted in religious convictions. Both the Bible and the Qur’an, do agree that human life is sacred because God, the creator and owner of all things, created it sacred and forbids its wilful destruction. There are, of course, several passages in the Bible that reveal this understanding. To begin with, the biblical account of creation speaks of God creating man in his own image: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Since of all that God created, man is the image of God (imago Dei) and God himself is sacred (in a sense inviolable), man, therefore, shares or partakes of God’s sacredness. By solely sharing in God’s sacredness, man, thus, has an exalted and dignified position above other created things. While proclaiming the belief that man is the image of God, the Bible in clear terms condemns the destruction of human life in these passages: “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the...
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