Techno-Babies: Property Or Persons?

October 27, 2008 09:00 AM

The recent Oregon divorce case that has made its way through the state courts has brought to light, yet again, the convoluted problems that arise when man attempts, even for an allegedly worthy cause, to play God. The case in question involved a husband and his estranged wife, one of whom wants the human embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization treatments to be saved, and the other who wants them killed. As it turns out, it was the mother who wanted the children killed because "she did not want someone else raising the children if they were carried to term."

The mother is a pediatrician!

In a unanimous court decision, the judges agreed with the mother; therefore, six embryonic children will be killed. In its decision, the court did not actually describe the children as "property," but in a sense, their decision reflects that very attitude. For if it had not been the judges' sense that these human embryos were less than human, they never could have agreed to their murder. At least I hope they would not have done so!

But perhaps it is because of this grotesque, yet all-too-common attitude toward the human person that the amazingly logical Bishop Robert Vasa, of Baker, Oregon, wrote over a year ago, 

In vitro fertilization, also known as IVF, is frequently used as a means for a couple to achieve a desired pregnancy. This process diminishes the dignity of both the man and the woman, it objectifies both of them, and it even objectifies the child to be conceived. In some ways that child, who has a right to be born of natural processes in the context of the embrace of love, now becomes the manipulated product of laboratory technology. The Church, while recognizing the longing of couples to achieve a pregnancy, also recognizes that achieving such a pregnancy "at any cost" involves a diminution of the dignity of woman, of man, of the marital relationship and that such a cost is too high. IVF is immoral. Furthermore, thanks to IVF we now have the seemingly insoluble problem of approximately 400,000 frozen embryos, frozen microscopic human beings who have parents who are morally responsible for them but who have either abandoned them to their frozen fate or who do not have the ability to rescue them. This kind of situation clearly diminishes our respect for life, further objectifies the innocent child and treats him or her like a product of the freezer section of the local market. This absurd fate of the innocent child is the product of a technology detached from morality, a technology which does not give proper regard to the dignity of the human person, the dignity of the woman, the dignity of the man, the dignity of the child. There are legitimate modalities which assist, very effectively I might add, married couples desiring to achieve and sustain a pregnancy and these do not involve IVF or freezing embryos or donor gametes or selective reductions or designer babies or gender selection or genetic testing, all of which further dehumanize and objectify the child. Good morality is good medicine. Good medicine respects the nature and dignity of the human person.

Objectify: to treat as an object

Though one of the most difficult Catholic teachings to explain, Bishop Vasa very clearly and without apology reveals why IVF is immoral and why there is no way around this. The recent Oregon court decision is but one example of why the Catholic Church, in her wisdom, has made such a judgment. While it is indeed sad that some couples suffer through infertility and desire in the worst way to have children, it is also critical for human beings to understand that whenever man attempts—for whatever reason—to usurp the power of God by taking such matters into his own hands, bad things happen to good people. It just did to six little children in Oregon, thanks to a court totally insensitive to their humanity, their dignity and their right to life.

While this is but one example of the tragic results of IVF, another is the biotechnology that has evolved around these embryonic children who wind up being unwanted and therefore excellent "material" for research purposes, at least according to those who make wild claims about the miraculous cures that can be obtained by robbing these frozen human embryos of their stem cells, thus killing them in the process. The process is called human embryonic stem cell research, and it too is immoral.

If that same scientist who wants to use human embryonic stem cells for his research, thus rendering the embryonic child dead, were to suggest that he needed two-year-olds for his research and would have to kill them in the process, not only the parents but the entire citizenry would be up in arms, and of course, no such research would be permitted. But that is because we can see those two-year-olds, know that they are members of the human family and realize that no scientific experiment is worth the life of even one two-year-old.

Not so with embryonic children. America does not seem to understand that every single one of us was once a human embryonic child. The nation is in denial. So, even though science verifies that they are fully human, we are told that these human embryos are unwanted, are leftovers and, after all, are going to die anyway!

The sad reality is that, due to the increasing number of infertile couples, in vitro fertilization has grown in popularity. Because most IVF treatments produce more human embryos than can be used, problems continue to arise. For example, as you may know, most IVF practitioners perform a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis on each human embryo so that only the "perfect" are transplanted into the mother!

When one ponders all this, it becomes very clear that the humanity of these embryonic human beings has been discounted; their integrity as persons has been diminished, and sadly, they have become "commodities" like cans of soup or barrels of crude oil, rather than children whose lives are invaluable.

But it need not be this way, and even those suffering from infertility need not feel that IVF is their only option. It is not!

A recent study conducted by the International Institute of Restorative Reproductive Medicine confirms that natural procreative technology can provide excellent opportunities for heretofore-infertile couples to actually bear children.

The study involved 1,072 couples who were seeking medical help to conceive a child or carry a child to term. Among the most amazing results of this study, according to Dr. Phil Boyle, one of the authors,  is that nearly half the patients we see have been told they have unexplained infertility. After NPT investigations, 2/3 of the patients had a hormone abnormality and more than 1/4 were diagnosed with cervical mucus dysfunction, a critical factor for sperm survival and transport. Once these and other problems were identified and treated, NPT enabled the couples to conceive using a natural act of intercourse.

And I agree with Professor Joseph Stanford, the lead author of this study who said,

This study represents a landmark publication that demonstrates that NPT is a safe and highly effective alternative to existing treatment options, even for patients who have unsuccessfully tried other reproductive treatments. GPs and [o]bstetricians who were previously not aware of NPT will now be able to inform patients that they have other viable and effective choices to help them have a baby.

As we contemplate the tragic case in Oregon, which is not unique, and we compare that outcome with the incredibly encouraging study results just published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine , perhaps we should be asking why the government and the media are not rushing to focus attention on this moral and humane alternative to the deadly practice of IVF.

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