Judie, Thank you for all of your beautiful work for the pro-life movement. My husband and I are expecting our first baby (praise God!), and we were wondering if the Church teaches definitively if the soul enters the body at the moment of conception. If so, could you cite the Church documents? May God Bless You and Your Mission, Jennifer
Answer by Judie Brown on 10/15/2007:
Moral theologians appear to agree that when the single cell embryo is animated (begins to divide and grow) the activity itself is proof that the soul is present at the instant the human being's life begins.
Here is one opinion from Father Joseph Howard, who is a bioethicist:
The question raised regarding ensoulment of the human zygote is indeed a critical question of the day. While it is true that the Magisterium has not committed itself on this issue to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any type of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable.
The Church's Magisterium teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God-it is not "produced" by the parents-and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death. And it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.
While no experimental data can be sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a soul, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of this first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?
The Magisterium is very clear: from the moment the zygote is formed, there must be unconditional respect that is morally due the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. Rational logic and deduction verify to us the effects of the vegetative operations of the soul which are demonstrable in the human zygote: mitotic cleavage, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, etc.
From a philosophical perspective, it is clear that the human zygote possesses potentiality and actuality. Potency is always in reference to that which is in act or a state of actuality. Potency does not exist without actuality which implies being. The effects which are observed lead us to the realization of the presence of the cause: a human soul.
By observance of the effects of the vegetative operations of the soul, it is known that the human zygote is "ensouled" which is the basis for the establishment for human personhood which is present. How can that which possesses a human soul be anything other than a human being, a human person, a human individual?
I hope this is helpful to you, Jennifer.