Tag Archives: bioethics

Why is the world celebrating the #RoyalBaby, but watching #AlfieEvans die?

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

All day today and for the past few days, I’ve been following the status of little Alfie Evans. He’s a little British boy–just about two years old–who is very sick. In doing what socialized healthcare systems are so good at doing, the NHS has determined that further treatment “isn’t in Alfie’s best interests” and that he should be taken off life support–against his parents wishes.

His parents want to take him to Italy for further, experimental treatment. His father met with Pope Francis personally; the Pope invited them to Bambino Gesu Hospital, and even made it possible for the family to become Italian citizens. But as of writing, Alfie is barred from leaving Alder Hey Hospital in the UK. He’s been taken off a ventilator. His father has asked for oxygen but has been denied this request, and Alfie’s struggling.

Let’s go over that again: the government has determined that he shouldn’t receive further treatment; Alfie’s parents want to take him elsewhere for treatment, but the state and hospital refuse to let him leave.

His parents have appealed the British healthcare system and the European Courts of Human Rights time and time again to try to be able to get Alfie out of Alder Hey and time and again their appeals have been rejected, with doctors and judges claiming that further treatment isn’t “worth it” because he’s too far gone, and the “humane” thing would be to let him die.

I can honestly say I haven’t been enraged by something this much in a very, very long time.

God is the Author of Life

The only thing that makes the whole situation worse is seeing people on Twitter and in the news defend the absolutely indefensible position of the judges and doctors. I’ve seen numerous people claim that the decisions are just because Alfie is “incompatible with life.”

God is the author of life. It is not for me, for you, for any doctor or judge to decide that someone is incompatible with life. How arrogant of these so-called “judges” and how cowardly of these so-called “medical professionals” to think they know what is best for this child before his own parents. God’s hand decides when we close our eyes to this world–not a judge, not a doctor who injects a lethal substance, or denies a father’s request for oxygen for his son.

Maybe experimental treatment won’t help Alfie. Perhaps. I think his parents realize that. But it’s cruel, arrogant, flat out wrong and, dare I say it, diabolical, to deny them that chance. It’s their right as parents to do absolutely everything in their power to give their son a chance at life.

Everyone bends over backwards when someone wants to “die with dignity,” to kill themselves (selfishly, I might add) because of some terminal illness. This is because here in the West we’ve made comfort and ease of life an idol, and we cannot even begin to fathom the redemptive power of suffering, not only for ourselves but for others.

But when parents want to exercise their rights as parents, their son is literally being held hostage as they watch him die. This, indeed, is symptomatic and unsurprising of this culture of death in which we live.

Why is the world celebrating #RoyalBaby but watching #AlfieEvans die?

Today, Kate Middleton had her third baby; the hashtag #RoyalBaby has been trending on Twitter as millions of people send congratulatory messages to the Royal Family. The comments on social media have been euphoric, admiring Kate for her beauty and class as she leaves the hospital perfectly made up in a dress and heels and make up, and swooning over the new baby boy.

Meanwhile, in the same country, Alfie Evans mom has been begging and fighting for her son’s life all day–yet another day in a months long battle just to give her son a chance and save him from his own country’s government.

Is it because the Royal Baby has been born into wealth? Into prestige? Is “perfect” in the world’s eyes? Is it because his life doesn’t entail suffering and struggle and what the world considers “imperfection”?

Why do we celebrate one life, and shrug our shoulders as one is slated to be ended?

I hope the doctors and judges realize that they will have to answer for their actions–whether or not they’re “just following orders” or not. I hope they consider what they would do if it were their child. I hope they put themselves in the shoes of parents waiting with bated breath to see if today is the day their son is forcibly removed from life support. I hope their conscience jolts them to the reality of the situation and the horror of what they’re participating in, so that they can make a sincere and true conversion.

I don’t know how it will play out with Alfie. But I’m so sad for his parents, and enraged for them too. The UK and the European Court of “Human Rights” can never claim to care about human rights EVER AGAIN. Neither can anyone defending this indefensible situation.

I’m convinced that this culture that claims so ardently to care for “human rights” really only cares if you are, in the eyes of the world, perfect and powerful and wealthy and beautiful on the outside. If you’re imperfect, if your life involves self-sacrifice and suffering and struggle, the UK and European Courts and a shocking number of others say you might as well die.

The solution is found in respecting the dignity of EVERY human person, respecting life from conception to natural death. How many more Charlie Gards and Alfie Evans must there be before the world will realize this truth?

_____

Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

On Evangelium Vitae and Star Wars

What was said about history being philosophy teaching by example can also be said of movies. Movies can illustrate philosophy (and even theology) by showing the consequences of following ideas to their logical conclusions. Due to the extent to which people, consciously or unconsciously, turn to movies as their source of principles to guide their lives, the analysis of philosophy and theology incarnated in movies is always a worthwhile exercise.

Despite its flaws, the Star Wars trilogy (episodes 1-3, the prequels) remains an important achievement and phenomenon that simultaneously reflects and influences contemporary thoughts and attitudes. The trilogy comments on many aspects of human existence, bioethical issues included. Some of the trilogy’s messages must be taken with a grain of salt, but all the more, then, do they deserve to be discussed.

Ever since my mom has been asking recommendations for films to show for discussion at her bioethics class in a university, I have been alert to bioethical themes in movies, no matter how remotely connected to the story. Thus, the horrific possible consequences of cloning and the “new hope” that would have been killed had Padme Amidala decided to terminate her inconvenient pregnancy was not lost on me.

Then, there’s the matter of Anakin Skywalker accepting Senator Palpatine’s offer of a power that could be learned “not from a Jedi” – power to alter the midichlorians to create life, power to save Padme from dying in childbirth. Not everyone in the audience, perhaps, will consider it a metaphor for experimentation on embryos and other morally questionable scientific procedures, but just the same, the question is raised: does the desire to save one life justify appropriating God-like powers over life and death to oneself?

The trilogy’s answer unfolds as Anakin turns to the Dark Side and massacres many innocent people in his quest for that power. Themes of the end not justifying the means and the pernicious effects of wanting to be the master of life and death develop. (Unfortunately, George Lucas had to ruin what was supposed to be an epic battle between good and evil by making Obi-wan say, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” but this is a matter for another essay.)

However, while analyzing Anakin’s turning to the Dark Side uncovers important bioethical lessons, it also exposes flaws in the world view that pervades the trilogy.

Anakin was certainly wrong to turn to the Dark Side just to save Padme, but it could be asked, was the desire to save her life, in itself, evil?
According to the Jedi way, it is wrong to mourn for those who die. But this attitude is not only contrary to human nature; it is also un-Christian. While Christianity warns against excessive attachment to our loved ones, Christianity not only allows but in fact commands us to love our neighbour. Christianity does not preach a stoic, unaffected acceptance of death; rather, Christianity preaches a God who “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Whether intended or unintended, a critique of “the Jedi way” comes from the trilogy itself. In his review of Revenge of the Sith, Catholic film critique Steve Greydanus writes,

“xxx Yoda, his speech patterns sounding more convoluted and less sage-like than ever, has a final speech on the Jedi precept of detachment that goes well beyond Christian freedom from excessive attachment into Buddhist impassiveness. Attachment, Yoda teaches, is ‘a way to the dark side,’ and our detachment and acceptance of death should be so complete that we shouldn’t even mourn the dead.

The problem with Yoda’s ethic of detachment is that it’s dead contrary to the unabashed humanism with which the whole story ends in Return of the Jedi, where human attachments — filial loyalty, paternal bonds — ultimately save the galaxy, destroy the Sith and the Empire, and redeem Anakin’s lost soul. Yoda and Obi-Wan consistently counsel Luke (and, in the prequels, Anakin) against the very bonds that finally lead to the triumph of good over evil.
In the end, alas, the Jedi do seem too “narrow” and “dogmatic,” not the great sages Lucas presumably wanted them to be. Perhaps the “prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force” was misinterpreted after all: Perhaps the prophecy was really fulfilled not by Anakin destroying the Sith order, but by Luke humanizing the Jedi ethic.”

The development of Anakin’s character arc from his proud desire to stop people from dying in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, to the scene in Return of the Jedi where he asks Luke to remove his mask, answering “it does not matter now” when Luke warns him that he’ll die, is brilliant. But Star Wars with its world view can only go so far in giving a satisfying answer to the question of how we should face death.

It would be worth to compare and contrast the Star Wars world view with expounded on by St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. He did write that the believer “accepts from God the need to die” and that “Certainly, the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute good for the believer.” But he also wrote:

“The dignity of this life is linked not only to its beginning, to the fact that it comes from God, but also to its final end, to its destiny of fellowship with God in knowledge and love of Him. In the light of this truth Saint Ireneaus qualifies and completes the praise of man: ‘the glory of God’ is indeed, man, living man”, but “the life of man consists in the vision of God.”

Immediate consequences arise from this for human life in its earthly state, in which, for that matter, eternal life already springs forth and begins to grow. Although man instinctively loves life because it is a good, this love will find further inspiration and strength, and new breadth and depth, in the divine dimensions of this good. Similarly, the love which every human being has for life cannot be reduced simply to a desire to have sufficient space for self-expression and for entering into relationships with others; rather, it develops in a joyous awareness that life can become the “place” where God manifests himself, where we meet him and enter into communion with him. The life which Jesus gives in no way lessens the value of our existence in time; it takes it and directs it to its final destiny: “I am the resurrection and the life…whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (Jn. 11: 25-26).”

Popular culture is not devoid of valuable insights on universal questions like life and death. At the same time, popular culture sometimes raises more questions than answers, and the insights found in it must be purified and completed by the Christian world view in order to give truly satisfying answers. This need not spoil the fun of watching Star Wars. But it is just as rewarding to reflect on and discuss Star Wars insights on life and death, as well as on many other things, long after the credits roll and the John Williams score ends.

First, Do No Harm

Since the beginning of the practice of medicine, the Hippocratic Oath has been used to ensure that medicine remains oriented toward its true purpose: “First, do no harm.” This oath presupposes that medicine itself is not a boundless good, that it must be kept in check. Often we forget that it is possible for medicine to cause harm, because it brings us so much good. It is the solution to so many problems and brings healing to those who are suffering. But it is not the solution to every problem. The definition of what constitutes harm has changed through different centuries and cultures. How does our society define harm, and how should we as individuals define it?

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, discusses the implications of new technologies for three-parent embryos:

While cloning involves swapping out the nucleus of a woman’s egg with a replacement nucleus to create an embryo, three-parent embryos are made by swapping out additional cellular parts known as mitochondria through the recombination of eggs from two different women. Even more baroque approaches to making three-parent embryos rely on destroying one embryo (instead of an egg) and cannibalizing its parts so as to build another embryo by nuclear transfer.

We risk trivializing our human procreative faculties and diminishing our offspring by sanctioning these kinds of “eggs-as-Lego-pieces” or “embryos-as-Lego-pieces” approaches. Ultimately there is a steep price to be paid for the ever-expanding project of upending our own beginnings and rupturing the origins of our children.

How can a procedure which treats children as items to be modified and disposed of, if necessary, be justified under the Hippocratic Oath? The reality is that the definition of “harm” in our society has become gradually skewed over the past several decades, to the point where doctors believe they are helping people by performing such a procedure. They do not see the children they are mutilating as people. They see them as commodities. They do not perceive the effects that this will have on families. In trying to respond to someone’s desire for a child, they try to bring that child into existence through whatever means possible, even if that comes at the detriment to the child in question.

This mentality extends to many other procedures as well: physician-assisted suicide devalues the life of a sick and suffering individual; it assumes that life is only meaningful if one is healthy. Embryonic stem cell research seeks to benefit certain people by killing others; it treats unborn children as expendable. The removal of hydration and nutrition from an incapacitated patient who is not dying “has become all too common,” according to the NCBC, and it considers the sick to be as good as dead. Instead of bringing care and healing to those in need—which is supposed to be the aim of medicine—it leaves the vulnerable out to dry.

Any decision affecting the care of a vulnerable individual—whether that person is too young, too old, or too ill to be able to speak up for themselves—mustn’t disregard the fact that their life is just as deserving of protection as anyone else’s, even if they don’t have a voice to remind us. Anything less would be taking advantage of the weak and defenseless. We must not be too quick to consider someone “beyond help”; even if we cannot fix their situation entirely, if we can do something to ease their pain or extend their life, then we should.

Technology has brought all kinds of new possibilities to our fingertips, but we would be foolish to assume that they come without a cost. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should. Life is not a commodity, and a person cannot be measured by their usefulness.

Becoming Confidently Pro-Life

Regardless of your stance on abortion, it’s safe to assume you would agree that it is a hot button topic.

What’s a person to do when faced with this topic in the workplace? Or at a social event with mixed opinions?

The knee-jerk reaction for many Catholics would be to defend the sanctity of life, regardless of the setting. After all, we’re called to stand firm in Truth, no matter how uncomfortable….right?

Right. Except, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Believe me, I get it. I work full-time for Students for Life of Illinois, after all. But even after years of experience “outing myself” as pro-life simply by telling someone where I work, it’s not easy. The struggle is real, my friends. But allow me to assure you that discussing abortion does become more comfortable with practice.

Here are a few tips to help increase confidence the next time you’re faced with an opportunity to present a pro-life perspective.

1. Know why you are pro-life.

Many people can discuss at length about the science and politics of why abortion is wrong, yet have little insight into where their passion comes from. In order to make your perspective more than facts and figures, it’s essential to get to the core of why you care about this. Your testimony doesn’t have to be a spectacular story like some you may have heard – every testimony is valid. Perhaps you know someone who experienced an unplanned pregnancy and chose life. Perhaps you know someone who has been impacted by abortion. These experiences don’t have to be linked to the moment you realized you’re pro-life – perhaps it’s simply something that reminded you of why you believe that women deserve better than abortion.

I struggled with this when first asking college students to identify why they are pro-life. I realized that I’d never thought about this; I always just thought: “I’m pro-life because I was raised Catholic and taught this viewpoint by my parents” … and that’s not very convincing, is it? Digging deeper into why I am pro-life – beyond science and religion – has given me more ownership of my pro-life identity. Allow yourself the opportunity to figure out why you are pro-life and own it! This will help to build your confidence in this stance and a firmness that no opposition can budge. In learning to give your authentic pro-life testimony, you’ll be able to show that this issue is not simply philosophical or political, it is personal.

2. Educate yourself.

Following the discovery of your pro-life testimony, it’s helpful to educate yourself on the subject and current abortion debate. One of the keys to feeling confident in discussing any topic is ensuring that you’ve taken the time to educate yourself. Know the impact abortion has had on women, men, and society. Understand the implications of legal action. Become familiar with the tangible resources available to women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant – and also where gaps exist.

You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but learn responses to common arguments! With the internet, many resources are at your (literal) fingertips. I suggest WhyProLife.com for starters. It’s important to be able to pair your personal testimony for being pro-life with an understanding of the scientific and factual truth of abortion. Each are important and can stand alone, but you’ll be better equipped when utilizing both facts and personal stories.

3. Dialogue with Dignity.

There’s a philosophy SFLI teaches called “Dialogue with Dignity”. The idea behind this is to ensure that whenever defending the dignity of all human life, we remember to respect the dignity of the person in front of us. Without respecting those who disagree with us, the “Respect ALL Life” stance crumbles. We must honor those we stand for – mothers and children – by respecting the people we’re discussing with.

Dialogue with Dignity is practiced through active listening, asking questions, responding respectfully, and being mindful of the language utilized. As noted before, this is a hot button topic where emotions easily come into play. This can be dangerous territory if we allow ourselves to focus on “winning” rather than having a productive discussion of different perspectives. Going into each conversation about abortion with the mindset that you desire a discussion rather than an argument will help to set your tone throughout. Additionally, being aware of your own boundaries is important. Know when you need to walk away from a discussion to maintain respect for others and yourself.

Overall, I advise making an effort to learn how to be confident and compassionate in your stance for life. You might be the first pro-life person someone encounters – when you part ways, how will they remember you? Perhaps they will be surprised by the way you shared your personal reasons for being pro-life, responded to their objections with patience, or expressed your confident passion for serving women and children. You never know who might be impacted by your witness.

Savior Siblings, Designer Babies and Godlike Doctors

my-sisters-keeperSavior siblings are the topic of Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s Keeper,” but they are also a reality. Savior siblings are children conceived for the purpose of providing a tissue match for an older sibling who is in need of tissue transplants to treat a life-threatening illness. In England, this practice has been explicitly allowed by the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 under some strict conditions. In France it is authorized by the Bioethics Law of August 2004 (Madanamoothoo, 2011). Several cases have been performed in the United States since Adam Nash was born as the first successful example of the use of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD, described below) to select and implant a Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA, described below) compatible embryo for the purpose of being a savior sibling (Lai, 2011).

These savior siblings are typically used for the purpose of donating cord blood stem cells (this procedure does not affect the child in any way) or bone marrow in extreme cases (the harvesting of bone marrow is associated with significant pain and some risk). Savior siblings are not currently created to provide non-renewable tissue such as a whole organ (Sheldon & Wilkinson, 2004). The creation of children for the purpose of harvesting organs is still condemned by the international medical community at large.

The question of savior siblings is a contentious legal and ethical debate in the secular world. Arguments in the secular world, both for and against, tend to center around issues of autonomy of the donor child, and the purpose for which the embryo is conceived. Briefly, opposing arguments may be summed as follows:

  • The children so created are essentially commodities
  • It is a short slide down a slippery slope from Savior Siblings to “Designer Babies,” babies genetically tested and selected for traits such as intelligence, athletic ability, disease resistance, etc.
  • The claim that donor children will be inadequately protected from physical or psychological harm (Sheldon & Wilkinson, 2004).

Amy Lai (2011) adds the argument that the only person who can make a decision about whether or not to be a donor is the person donating, i.e. the child, effectively denying the ethicality of savior siblings.

These arguments are of varying strength with Catholics. The argument that creating a child as a means to any end is wrong rings especially strong with Catholics raised on John Paul II’s crystallization of Catholic Personalism: “This personalist norm, in its negative aspect, states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as the means to an end” (Wojtyla, 1960).

This primary insistence upon the absolute uniqueness and intrinsic worth of each individual human person cannot be overstated, and the fact that secular commentators such as Lotz (2009) and Sheldon &Wilkinson (2004) both answer this objection by comparing conception in order to save another child to conception for any other reason (e.g. to create an heir, to “complete the family,” to please a parent, to save a marriage, to have more children to work the farm, etc.) is not without merit. There are, of course, many selfish reasons to conceive a child, it is simply that with a “savior sibling” you cannot even pretend that it is primarily about the good of the child so conceived.

For a Catholic, however, these three objections are not the primary reason for objecting to savior siblings. The conception of a savior sibling involves three separate procedures, two of which are incompatible with Catholic moral teaching.

Creating and implementing a savior sibling is a three step process:

  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF):
    • IVF involves creating embryos in test tubes by combining sperm and ova from the prospective parents. The Church teaches, of course that creation of human life outside of the marital embrace is contrary to human dignity, and so IVF is a show-stopper for faithful Catholics: There is an “inseparable connection, willed by God, and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (Pope Paul VI, 1968, Article 12).
  • Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis
    • Of the embryos created, not all are compatible with the diseased child who needs the transplant. Human Leukocyte Antigen is a complex string of proteins that is attached to the membrane of every cell in the human body. It identifies that cell as “self” so that the body’s defenses will not attack it. Every human being’s HLA is slightly different, and the more different it is, the greater the likelihood and severity of a rejection reaction. Therefore the embryos have to be tested for two separate criteria. They must be free of the genetic disorder they are created to treat, and they must be HLA compatible with the diseased sibling (Thomas, 2004). All embryos that do not match these criteria are deemed unusable and are discarded or frozen as raw material for later research.
    • The old way of doing this selection was to implant the embryos created in IVF into the woman’s uterus, and conduct pre-natal testing on them, aborting ones that did not meet the desired criteria. PGD allows the testing to be conducted in-vitro, prior to implantation, and therefore is touted as an advance because only the desired embryo is implanted, reducing the need for abortions (Thomas, 2004). This completely ignores the Catholic objection that human lives are being created and discarded as waste.
  • Harvesting Stem Cells:
    • The harvesting of stem cells from cord blood does not harm or even affect the baby in any way. It simply extracts pluripotent stem cells from an umbilical cord before it and the placenta are discarded as medical waste and so far as I could tell is not a morally contentious process. The creation of another person primarily so that there will be cord blood to harvest, is very morally contentious. However, cord blood may not even be the end of the story. Hematopoetic stem cells (cells that differentiate into blood cells) may be required, and involve bone marrow transplants, a painful and moderately risky procedure (Thomas, 2004). The repeated used of a child for such procedures prior to the age of consent is certainly morally problematic to say the least.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY,CA. SEPTEMBER 24, 2008: Dr. David Diaz, Medical Director of the West Coast Fertility Centers in Fountain Valley holds a petri dish containing embyos suspended in a growth media September 24, 2008. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)In summary of the above, it must be clearly understood that IVF assisted reproductive technologies always involve the creation of many embryos, only one of which will be implanted and allowed to develop. The rest will become what Nicholas Mason calls “Sub-versions” in his dystopian novel, “The Sub-Version Complex.” That is, they are frozen, unwanted, humans that have no legal standing or protection and can be incinerated or experimented upon by anyone who signs for them.

A troubling possible consequence of the use of PGD is the advent of so called “designer babies.” Brazil has already used IVF/PGD to screen embryos for parents at risk for B-Thalassemia (Figueira, et al, 2012). China has done the same, citing higher parent expectations of their children following the implementation of the one-child policy (Sui & Sleeboom-Faulkner, 2010). Australia has done likewise even earlier (Spriggs & Savulescu, 2002) and as of 2004 had done more IVF/PGD savior sibling procedures than anyone else, (more than 140 babies born after IVF/PGD between 1997 and 2004, with a 20 – 42% success rate) (Thomas, 2004).

Once we create and test embryos for genetic abnormalities, why should we not also create and test them for traits that we personally happen to value, such as sex? Sex selective abortions are a sure way to raise an outcry from the feminists, but if we are discarding embryos before they are implanted? What’s the problem?

Or maybe you want your baby to have an IQ of 150? With advances in genetic technology, it shouldn’t be too hard (eventually) for scientists to run genetic sequencing on a batch of embryos and determine which ones have the best genetic combination for intelligence. Or athletics. Or blond hair and blue eyes. In the popular press when people talk about “genetic engineering” they evoke images of scientists in white lab coats carefully and deliberately mixing and matching the parts of the genetic code that they want to create a carefully designed organism. In reality, it is more like a crap-shoot with loaded dice. Most of the time it doesn’t work, but sometimes you get the results you want. If you have no respect for human life that isn’t a problem. Just discard the unwanted results (i.e. the human embryos) and concentrate on the ones that happened to come out right.genome_editing

Even the most advanced technique for editing DNA, known as type II Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) system has not improved beyond a 50% success rate. It is a hugely promising technology that might one day allow scientists to repair genetic defects down to a single base pair substitution (Sander, & Joung, 2014). However, it can also be misused and abused.

The science is amoral, even laudable in and of itself. All real advances in human knowledge of God’s creation glorify God, at least indirectly. The problem is not the knowledge or the ability, but the underlying attitude with which these are applied. The problem is our lack of gratitude and humility. The current and possible future abuses are consequences of what I call “godlike doctor syndrome.”

When I went through the trauma lanes in the Special Forces Medic course the instructors had a scenario that they would put one student in each small group through. In this scenario the patient was an IED blast victim, and he was unsaveable. No matter what you did, even if you performed flawlessly, the patient continued to deteriorate, and as he did so you would see your grade deteriorating as well. At the end of the scenario the instructor would reveal that it was rigged, and the patient was never intended to survive. The moral was simple: people die. Medics cannot fundamentally change that fact. We can sometimes delay it, but we cannot ultimately prevent it and we must absolutely know this about ourselves.

In our technological world, however, researchers and more “advanced” doctors are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this truth. We want power over life and death. We have discarded God as the author of life, and so we are without hope. Without hope suffering and death are the prime evils, and any means whatever become licit to stave off that death. The person, particularly the person in the lab coat, becomes the final arbiter of right and wrong. This is not so different from Adam and Eve who wanted to be like God, deciding for themselves what is right and wrong, good and evil.

Without the infallible and unchanging voice of the Church, moral questions become “ethical” and “legal” questions. The reasoning about them and the answers is based upon the unquestioned assumptions of the age, the values of a particular cultural milieu, rather than transcendent moral realities. The result is guaranteed to be chaos. There is no limit to what humans can and will mess up when we refuse to be guided by God in His Church.

 

References:

Figueira, R. C. S., Setti, A. S., Cortezzi, S. S., Martinhago, C. D., Braga, D. P. A. F., Iaconelli, A., & Borges, E. (2012). Preimplantation diagnosis for β-thalassemia combined with HLA matching: first “savior sibling” is born after embryo selection in Brazil. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 29(11), 1305–1309. doi:10.1007/s10815-012-9862-3

Lai, A. Y. (2011). To Be or Not to Be My Sister’s Keeper?. Journal Of Legal Medicine, 32(3), 261-293. doi:10.1080/01947648.2011.600169

Lotz, M. (2009). Procreative reasons-relevance: on the moral significance of why we have children. Bioethics, 23(5), 291-299. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00656.x

Madanamoothoo, A (2011) Saviour-sibling and the psychological, ethical and judicial issues that it creates: should English and French legislators close the Pandora’s Box? European journal of Health Law, May 2011, Vol.18(3), pp.293-303

Pope Paul VI, (1958) Humanae Vitae. Retrieved June 02, 2015 from http://ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=1234

Sander, J. D., & Joung, J. K. (2014). CRISPR-Cas systems for editing, regulating and targeting genomes. Nature Biotechnology, 32(4), 347-355. doi:10.1038/nbt.2842

Sheldon, S., & Wilkinson, S. (2004). Should selecting saviour siblings be banned? Journal of Medical Ethics, 30(6), 533–537. doi:10.1136/jme.2003.004150

Spriggs, M., & Savulescu, J. (2002). “Saviour siblings”. Journal of Medical Ethics, 28(5), 289. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216348026?accountid=2280

Sui, S., & Sleeboom-Faulkner, M. (2010). Choosing offspring: prenatal genetic testing for thalassaemia and the production of a ‘saviour sibling’ in China. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 12(2), 167-175. doi:10.1080/13691050902914110

Thomas, C. (2004). Pre-Implantation Testing and the Protection of the “Saviour Sibling”. Deakin Law Review, 9(1), 119-143.

Wojtyla, K. (1960) Love and Responsibility. Translated from the Polish 1981 by Willets, H. T. Ignatius Press, San Francisco.

Understanding the Dark Side of the Moon: Part Two

My last article proposed the option of converting pro-“choice” minds by listening to their arguments. Aside from the fact that a world shutterstock_36947476without abortion is very bleak for pro-“choicers,” what does a world withabortion look like? Obviously they’re not happy with the way it looks now, otherwise they wouldn’t be marching around, topless, screaming, throwing tampons in peoples faces, and making up catchy chants. For pro-“choicers,” a world with abortion is the more humane of the two sides of the abortion debate. Indeed, the more abortion, the better…. But why?

To pro-“choicers,” they really are more pro-child than pro-lifers. Why? Because pro-“choicers” don’t believe that a child should be forced upon a mother that doesn’t want him. Rather, pro-“choicers” argue that every child should be wanted.  Every child deserves a home that will love him (or her), and so it really is more humane to be “pro-child, pro-choice,” because if parents choose their child, the child will be more loved.

This also explains why pro-“choicers” are so pro-late term abortion. (Another thing that always struck me as odd; isn’t 1 trimester enough time to decide if you want your child or not?). They are pro-choice-to-have-an-abortion-at-any-moment-when-the-mother-decides-this-is-not-best because if the mother ever decides that she does not want the child, then the child risks coming into a world where he is a burden to his parents – not a gift. Isn’t that humane? Isn’t it caring and right that every child should enter the world in a home that wants him, loves him, and will care for him? Again – pro-lifers and pro-“choicers” agree on this front, but for pro-“choicers,” if a woman was using contraception, then she obviously didn’t want a child. Thus, she should have access to an abortion because her first, responsible, attempt at not having children failed. Moreover, preventing this abortion, aside from making her have a child (and a life) that she doesn’t want, now makes the child have a life he doesn’t want…or at least, a life of not being wanted, which is almost the same thing.

Here is where being pro-life diverges from our call to end abortion. In their attempts to protect women and children from pain, pro-“choicers” have made love conditional. Love now is no longer something that people merit by the mere fact that they are people. Rather, people merit love by the answer to the question “is this convenient or not?” thus allowing parents, and society, the right to decide if a person merits love solely based on when he is, not that he is.

Put another way, pro-“choicers” have forgotten what love is. The age old question “what is love” is not something that I am going to attempt to answer here, but if we look to the One who is love, we may find some inkling as to how it’s supposed to work in our world. There are certain factors that we know are necessary for true love – self gift, sacrifice, desiring the best for the other person, and perhaps more pertinent to this post, a certain amount of inconvenience. Love is something that people decide to do, regardless of its convenience. They are not victims to it; love doesn’t take you hostage and hold you, bound, unable to fight back. Instead, true love empowers and emboldens people to make decisions and to be active in the face of factors and reasons not to. Was it convenient for Christ to hang on the cross? Did He stay there because He couldn’t leave? No and no. Love is something that Christ decided to do; it is something that people decide upon. The very love man chooses to demonstrate to others is the very love that empowers him to choose it. True love, then, is not conditional, and relationships of love – whether they be romantic, friendships, parental, whatever – involve some aspect of deciding to love the other person in the face of inconvenience for the sole fact that the other is human. Why decide to love the other, even when it’s hard? Because that other person is a person who need ministering to, just like everyone else.

Most people find it abhorrent when parents make love for their children conditional. We inherently know it’s wrong. Something inside of us screams in protest at the unfairness of conditional parent-child love. Yet this is the relationship pro-“choicers” advocate for: a parent-child relationship of contract and ease, something that one must earn, rather than something one merits simply by being.

Pro-“choicers” have forgotten, or denied, a fundamental, loving relationship: the relationship of Father to beloved child; the relationship of self-giving and denial that allowed Christ to fully love humanity. They have denied the very nature of love by stating that they are the ones who get to determine who is loved and when. They have hardened their hearts and shrunk them – afraid of the love that might open their hearts, make them larger, and ask for that self-sacrifice. Moreover, the supposed pro-“choice” humanity in wanting all children to be desired has left us with the conundrum of what to do when no child is desired. Pro-“choicers” have attempted to argue that humanity can continue to exist without large hearts, but true love, sacrificial love, forces man’s heart to open and grow. It forces him to desire all children, all people, all of the time.

Indeed, the love which allows man to desire all people all of the time is a reflection of the One who is love. Doesn’t Christ desire all of His people all of the time? And Christ longs to pour this love into the hearts of those who reject Him. He wants to love pro-“choicers” and open their hearts. He longs to show them true, sacrificial love. He longs to teach them what love is, so that they may know how to love again.

This is where the ministry of being pro-life comes in. Pro-lifers must be the heart of Christ in the world. We must teach those who have no idea how love works how to love again. We must be the feet of Christ in the world. We must carry His message of love and redemption to all people. We must be the hands of Christ and offer them to those who have fallen to the desires of the Evil One. In essence, Christ longs to pour His love back into the world, but how will He do it if we deny Him the very tools He uses to do so? If the church, made up of the faithful, is the body of Christ in the world, then we, as members of that Church – of that body – are called to be Christ to those who no longer know Him.

Pro-lifers are called to demonstrate to pro-“choicers” that true love is not only a possibility; that it’s not just a nice idea. No. True love does exist. It can be attained. It does make you happier, and it only hurts in the best way possible. Pro-lifers face the excruciatingly tough challenge of being as loving as we call pro-“choicers” to be.

The only way to do that is by example, that is, by loving those who have no idea how to do so anymore. Pro-lifers are called to shower the world with the true, sacrificial love of Christ, because it is only in His love, redemption, and mercy that the wrong of abortion can be righted.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Read part 1 here.

Benedict and Biotechnology

This March a team of researchers revealed that they had successfully cloned human embryos and, for the first time ever, the tiny human beings survived long enough to either be implanted in a uterus or destroyed for their stem cells (these scientists did the latter).

For some reason, this got me thinking about our previous Holy Father. Looking back, one of the things I appreciated most about Benedict XVI’s papacy, besides his own personal witness of holiness, was the way he often drew attention to what he called the “difficult problem of bioethics,” especially in the area of science and human biotechnology.

Like John Paul II, Pope Benedict recognized the temptation of science to reduce the human person to yet another material object to be analyzed, experimented upon, and manipulated, a mere means to human progress.

One instance of Benedict’s papacy in particular sticks out in my mind.

On Nov. 12, 2011, at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Pope Benedict addressed participants of the first international conference Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture.

The Holy Father opened his remarks with praise for the various institutions exploring and promoting research on adult stem cells (ASCs). ASCs hold great possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissue and restoring its capacity for regeneration. These therapies, the Pope said, would be a great advancement for medical science as well as bring hope to many people who suffer and their families.

“For this reason, the Church naturally offers her encouragement to those who are engaged in conducting and supporting research of this kind, always with the proviso that it be carried out with due regard for the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.”

Man is both the “agent of scientific research,” and also “the object of that research,” the Pope noted. However, the “transcendent dignity” of man “entitles him always to remain the ultimate beneficiary of scientific research and never to be reduced to its instrument.” This, of course, is the problem with embryonic stem cell research. Embryos are human beings in the earliest stages of development and research using embryonic stem cells always involves the destruction of these nascent human lives.

“The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.”

Science and ethics must be in dialogue with one another “to ensure that medical advances are never made at unacceptable human cost.” By calling for respect for the ethical limits of biomedical research, the pope said, the church does not seek to impede scientific progress, but to “guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity.”

The conference Pope Benedict was speaking at was part of the Vatican’s $1 million dollar collaboration with US based biopharmaceutical company NeoStem’s Stem For Life Foundation to support research and increase public awareness of treatment using adult stem cells.

The pope concluded his address with a prayer that adult stem cell research “will bring great blessings for the future of man and genuine enrichment to his culture.”

Obviously, 
after 40 years and over 50 million murdered unborn children, abortion 
remains our highest pro-life priority here in the United States. It’s the one we’ve been fighting 
the longest. But it’s not the only pro-life battle before us. If we are truly concerned about the value and dignity of every human life, especially at it’s most vulnerable stages, then simply being “anti-abortion” is not enough. 

Not in today’s world. We have GOT to start making the many other threats to the
dignity of the human person (ESCR, assisted reproductive technology, 
human cloning, etc…) an equal priority for our 
movement before they get just as out of hand as abortion is today.

Human cloning is not coming; it is already here. It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle. Now. In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca and I discuss the realities of human cloning and what we can do to stop it.

Note that this latest cloning “breakthrough” like the first one, was not done in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA (Oregon to be exact) where there are no restrictions on this or other once unthinkable kinds of human experimentation currently in practice.

I understand that it’s not easy keeping up with all the attacks on the dignity of the human person these days, but we cannot afford to let these other issues fall through the cracks. This ‘aint your momma’s pro-life movement, anymore. Or, it shouldn’t remain so. Pro-life 3.0 is upon us whether we like it or not and it’s progressing fast — and largely under the radar. I think Pope Benedict saw that very clearly. Let’s follow his lead and confront the difficult problem of bioethics now before it’s too late.