Baby in the WombIt may seem like a strange distinction to talk about human life vs. human being, but that is the point our society has reached. We have produced 2 terms that should refer to the same exact thing, but there are many who insist there is a difference. In this article, we will examine whether there is a difference, and some of the implications that stem from the use of these terms.

What is Human Life?

In the previous article in this series, we explored when human life begins. All of the evidence pointed to fertilization, which most people refer to as “conception”. We also explained that a fetus exhibits all of the 5 characteristics which define life:

1. Living things are highly organized.
2. All living things have an ability to acquire materials and energy.
3. All living things have an ability to respond to their environment.
4. All living things have an ability to reproduce.
5. All living things have an ability to adapt.

In the most basic sense, human life is the result of the union of a human egg and human sperm. A fetus is human life. A toddler is human life, as is an adolescent, and an adult. A piece of tissue such as skin or a human organ would not be considered human life, since it cannot reproduce, adapt, respond to its environment, or acquire materials and energy.

What is a Human Being?

A human being in Catholic teaching is a human life infused with an immortal soul, created by God in His image and likeness. A human being is also referred to as a human person. The point at which a human life becomes a human being is when the soul enters the body. We believe that the body and soul join to form a human being and that even though the soul and the body are separated at death, after the final judgment, the body and soul will be reunited in the afterlife.

Does Every Human Life Constitute a Human Being?

As Catholics, we believe that a human life becomes a human being at the very first instant – at fertilization. It is at this point that not only is the human life created, but also the soul is infused by God, forming a human being.

We know this because even though the fetus depends on the mother for nourishment and protection, it is a wholly separate life, with its own brain, heart, eyes, hands, and genetic makeup. The fact that it is connected to the mother by the umbilical cord does not make it part of the mother. People don’t have 2 brains or 2 hearts. Clearly the baby in the womb is a separate human life. A baby can be born naturally or through caesarian section. The process of birth does not make a human life a human being. The birth can and often does happen early. We wouldn’t consider a premature baby any less of a person. We cannot say that a person only becomes a person at the normal 40 weeks gestation. Babies have been born shortly after 20 weeks and still survived outside the womb and grown to adulthood.

Any attempt to draw a hard and fast line on the age a baby becomes a person is strictly arbitrary and has no scientific or religious basis to it. A child born at 22 weeks today could in theory survive outside the womb with the proper care. With advances in technology and medical knowledge, we will eventually be able to push that point of viability back. Clearly God does not operate according to our meager knowledge of biology.

To put a rest to this discussion once and for all, we know that in the process of in-vitro fertilization, the doctors create children in a lab and then implant them into the mother. If the child is separate before the pregnancy, and is separate, though attached to the mother in the womb, and is removed from the mother at birth, regardless of at what stage of development, then clearly, the soul must be infused that the point of fertilization, since that is the only point where human life begins. (For clarity, it should be noted here that the process of in-vitro fertilization is considered gravely sinful by the Catholic Church. It is used as an example only for scientific purposes, not as an endorsement of the procedure.)

Other Criteria for Human Beings

Some people try to offer other attributes to identify when human life becomes a human being. They use concepts such as sentience, which is the awareness of oneself, or consciousness. This is clearly arbitrary, since we lose consciousness and self-awareness when we are sleeping, under anesthesia, or in a coma. We would not logically conclude that a sleeping person is no longer human, so why would we use that as a delineation point at the beginning phases of life? The ability to feel pain is another arbitrary point used to rationalize abortion. Again, painkillers and consciousness affect our ability to feel pain. It cannot be used as a solid indicator of human personhood.

One Condition Indicates Human Personhood

Only one condition can be a solid indicator of personhood: being itself. As we know from Exodus 3:14,

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

God names Himself by one particular attribute, which is His Being. God is eternal. In Genesis 1:26-27, we read,

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

We must realize that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are defined by our being, just as God is defined by His being. God is eternal, and though our body will die, our soul will live forever. We are special not because of any physical attribute, but because we have an immortal soul and we are specially made by God. There is no significant difference between an adult and a child in the womb. All human life from the moment of fertilization to the moment of death is a human being.

Other articles you may like:

When does Human Life Begin? (The argument from faith and science)