Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
This book, takes a closer look at the growth of plants with a view to helping us to understand human conception. In other words, taking what is more within our immediate experience, we will consider what helps us to understand human conception, this is not an unusual activity; St. Thomas Aquinas says that it is helpful to go from what is familiar to what is unfamiliar; and, as we might imagine, this principle has been used from ancient times. Although the Biblical evidence is a different kind of source to biological knowledge, it makes use of what is familiar to help is to understand what is unfamiliar. Thus the author of the book of Job compares his origin with the curdling of cheese: ‘ Didst thou not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese’ (Job 10:10); and David says that God made him an ‘unfinished vessel’(Psalm 139:16)signifying both the possibility of growth and of being ‘earthen vesssels’ that show forth the power of God (2Cor 4:7). But just as Eve has already acknowledged the creative action of God at conception when she said: ‘I have gotten a man with the help of God’ (Gm 4:1)., so the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary helps us to understand the wholeness of the human being at conception-because Mary cannot be wholly holy if body and soul are not one from the first instant of fertilization.
At the same time, drawing on the available scientific knowledge of human conception, it can be said that there is a real beginning of the human embryo from the ‘moment’ that the sperm enters the wall of the ovum, and the once inert ovum is now activated, closing around the sperm head and proceeding on an uninterrupted trajectory of human development. Thus, there are simple truths, namely that conception is the beginning of a new human life, and, in the case of all who have ever existed—each and every one of us has had a beginning. Indeed, the very ongoing life that we live is a living witness to the fact of our beginning. Our development has passed through a number of watersheds: the formation of the human embryo from the union of the father’s seed and the mother’s egg; implantation in the mother’s womb; ongoing development; birth and the constant growth of the child.
Toward the end of the book, we encounter the social implication of a clearer understanding of human conception; that is it can lead to a recognition of the necessity for a wide spread, indeed international bioethical law for the benefit of all mankind. Indeed there needs to be a law that embodies the multiple rights of the nascent human person: the right to life of every human embryo; if evert human embryo; the right to completing human development; and the right of ensuring the human integrity of each human being, so that nobody’s human identity is compromised by human beings need to be protected from being ‘mixed’ with “ingredients” from other species, being frozen, experimented upon or discarded. In sum, everyone has a right to the integrity of his or her identity and human dignity made as we are ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (Gen 1:16f)