Becoming during the first nine months

Peter Cullinane

When you were conceived, there were millions of sperm competing to fertilize a waiting ovum. One did so.

Every other combination of sperm and ovum would have been a different person.

The one moment in the whole history of the universe when any of them could have come into existence passed at that moment.

They will never exist.

And at the one moment when you could have come into existence, you did.

You might well ask: “why me?”

You really are one in a million!

According to the pioneers of IVF (Edwards and Steptoe), the fertilized ovum is already “a microscopic human being” even before it is implanted.

“It becomes magnificently organized, switching on its own biochemistry, increasing in size, and preparing itself quickly for implantation in the womb”. (A Matter of Life and Death, 1981.)

That is accepted scientific teaching.

So when people say the newly conceived is only a part of its mother’s body tissue – and not yet a distinct new human being – they are being unscientific.

It’s a glib way of speaking, and usually agenda-driven.

When the Church teaches that abortion is wrong, it’s not about control over women!

It’s about taking science seriously and about love for the newly conceived child and its parents.

Whatever the circumstances in which your existence began, and whatever the circumstances in which your life will end, you always matter to God.

Each of us is personally called into existence, for a wonderful future with God.

That’s why human lives are sacred, at every point between conception and natural death.

The womb is the child’s first environment, where the wellbeing of the mother can affect the wellbeing of the child.

Some health issues arise even before birth; e.g. heart defects, spina bifida, Down syndrome, damage to brain development due to drugs or alcohol taken during pregnancy, etc. (The claim that we are “all born perfect”, as a Hollywood star recently said, is just another example of glib non-scientific talk.)

It is wonderful that medical science is able to correct some of these disorders – sometimes even while the child is still in the womb.

We can truthfully name less perfect conditions – which is what we expect of the medical profession, for example.

No one is being “judged” or blamed when referring to dyslexia or gender dysphoria or autism or allergies; health and developmental issues are being named.

What matters most is that none of these conditions stands in the way of God’s love, which is unconditional and the same for each and every one.

Moreover, God is working through each one’s life – in and through each one’s differences. Every person has their own special place in God’s unfolding plan.

The ancient psalms were written before the sciences were thought of. They have their own poetic way of saying things:

It was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth…

O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal. (Ps 139: vv 13-15)

  • +Peter Cullinane was the first bishop of the Diocese of Palmerston North. Now retired he continues to be a respected writer and leader of retreats and is still busy at local, national, and international levels. Here he shares his reflections on sciences and Christian faith.
  • This is the second in a series of chapters from his letter to senior students
  • Image: Manawatu Standard.
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