by the Cybervangelists at CatholicQandA.com
Information Letter Addressed to a U.S. Senator in April 2000
IMPORTANT UPDATE: In the letter below I detailed a utopian scenario that (at the time) I believed could exist for embryo adoption to be morally justified. Prior to 2008 the Church had no specific teaching on the issue of embryo adoption. In his encyclical Dignitas Personae dated June 20, 2008, though, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that embryo adoption is an unacceptable practice. The elements surrounding embryo adoption create a situation where the embryos are inherently treated as commodities. Catholic teaching condemns any such commercial treatment of human life. It also inherently creates a "market" and a "demand" for additional embryos which, as I identified in the letter below, is completely immoral. The lack of the father's active participation in the pregnancy and the relationship embryo adoption has to surrogate motherhood are additional moral concerns many other Catholic moral theologians have further identified. Therefore, I must make it clear that the Catholic Church has now clarified that embryo adoption IS NOT acceptable. The Pope did indicate an appreciation for those who sought embryo adoption over the last decade in an effort to protect the value human life, though. So if you did participate in embryo adoption, please know that your efforts were commendable in his eyes. But in an effort to protect human life as we all have fought hard to do during this debate, we must understand that continuing any support of embryo adoption will in the end cause greater concerns that will thwart all of our efforts. I have chosen to continue publishing this letter because of its historical significance in the discussions that lead up to the Pope's decision on June 20, 2008, so please keep this update in mind as you continue to read below. Thank you.
April 28, 2000
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Subject: Additional Ethics Information on Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
As a student and amateur educator of Theology, Human Ethics and Philosophy, I would like to explain my position on the issue of Embryonic Stem-Cell research. True, in-vitro fertilization is contrary to the Natural Law . There are mitigating circumstances that would make the completion of the implantation process a viable alternative in the situation discussed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.
I believe it better for the implantation process to be completed to save the continuity of the distinctive life within each living embryo. Since the original violation of the Natural Law occurred with the unnatural fertilization of the embryo, the subsequent use of that embryo begins a new moral question. Three scenarios become possible:
First, the embryo could be used for the purposes of Stem-Cell research. This scenario intends the destruction of human life for the temporary benefit of prolonging another. This scenario becomes a violation of the Natural Law by virtue of the direct intent to destroy human life for the benefit of another. The ends do not justify the means, basically.
Second, the embryo could be destroyed so that its captured life may reach its intended destiny of death, which all living beings are destined. This scenario becomes a violation of the Natural Law by virtue of one acting as the direct cause of death.
This third scenario is of particular importance because it was assumed to be an inviable alternative within the subcommittee dialogue due to its apparent violation of the Natural Law. The third scenario is that of introducing the fertilized embryos into the wombs of adoptive mothers for the purpose of continuing their existing lives. (This scenario assumes that no additional unnaturally fertilized embryos be added to the existing count. Such additions are in themselves contrary to the Natural Law as shown below .) This scenario is not contrary to the Natural Law because the unnatural fertilization (which is a violation) has already occurred. The intent of allowing the introduction of the live embryos to adoptive mothers is that of allowing human life to continue on its natural course. This scenario acts to correct the previous violation of the Natural Law and is thus not a violation of the Natural Law in itself.
A good analogy would be that of an unwed couple having a child that they decided to abandon. Such is a violation of the Natural Law because of its disregard for God’s plan for stability within the sexual relationship (outside of marriage) and the maltreatment of another human life. In this example, the moral solution would be to give the child to an adoptive family. Similarly, it is also a moral solution to implant an abandoned embryo into the womb of an adoptive mother so that it may continue its life as would be intended with the adopted child.
Another analogy would be a medical procedure that extracted a fertilized embryo from a blockage in the mother’s fallopian tube so as to implant the embryo into the mother’s womb and save the embryo’s life. Again, such implantation is moral by its intent to protect and secure human life. The same principle applies to the completion of the implantation process with abandoned fertilized embryos in storage.
In conclusion, I believe the Natural Law teaches that the in-vitro fertilization process is immoral, but the implantation process is not with the main intention of saving the embryo's life. I also believe that the scenario of completing the implantation process for those abandoned fertilized embryos that exist is the one alternative that the Natural Law urges be done for the protection and reverence of human life.
Editor of www.CatholicQandA.com
 In-vitro fertilization is contrary to the Natural Law for two main reasons:
First and most importantly, the Church finds the methods used to be destructive and/or disrespectful to human life after it has begun at conception. Current, accepted methods require the fertilization of several embryos that are watched as they develop. As the level of each embryo’s development is made known, only the one embryo that develops best is used while the others are destroyed or suspended in storage by nitrogen freeze. This destruction and irreverent treatment of human life is the greatest violation found in relation to the Natural Law.
The second reason is that it is an unnecessary extraction of the egg and sperm to be used for an unnatural form of fertilization. Instead of one’s life being started in the course of a loving embrace between one’s father and mother for the natural purpose of expanding that love through a growing family, in-vitro fertilization forms the conception in an insensitive, cold environment similar to that of a scientific experiment. Such an environment reduces the miracle of human life to a mere commodity. The natural process of conception is usually done with a particularly natural, artistic beauty. That beauty becomes vacant in the context of in-vitro fertilization. Human life must not be treated like a piece of medical equipment or a piece of body tissue. The individual identity of that life must be recognized. Every life deserves recognition as a sacred miracle and thus should be generated within its natural temple—his or her mother. Any valid form of fertility treatment must co-exist with the act of love-making and produce fertilization within the mother’s body. It’s one thing to aid a miracle, it’s another thing to force it.
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Web Site E-mail from February 2001
LSW’s E-mail Question
To Whom It May Concern,
My wife and I have been trying to start a family for over two years now, and have had no success. We have been working with a fertility specialist in our hometown. He has come to the conclusion that my wife will not be able to get pregnant the old fashioned way. We tried fertility drugs and failed seven times. The next step proposed by the doctor is in-vitro fertilization. We want to try everything we can to have our own child and are considering this procedure.
Can you give me more information on the stance of the church and what the consequences may be if we move ahead?
The Church's position is that love and respect be shown to your child through the manner in which she is conceived. I'm sure you as a potential father would agree with the Church that such valuable gifts should be given to your new child.
Before you continue with your doctor’s plans, I would like to make a few recommendations that have helped many couples, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Not only does the Church promote Natural Family Planning as a moral alternative for regulation of a couple's fertility (when just and unselfish concerns are present), but Natural Family Planning techniques are also very effective in finding the best time for a woman to conceive. See if you doctor has information on the "Sympto-Thermal Method" or contact the Couple to Couple League at 513-471-2000 for more information. The Sympto-Thermal Method is a very effective fertility procedure.
The Church's main instructions regarding fertility intervention are: 1) that the conception be the result of a loving embrace between husband and wife; 2) that the conception occur naturally in the child's appropriate temple of life--his or her mother's womb. The Church objects to masturbation as a form of contributing semen because such sexuality is out of its rightful place—outside the loving marital relationship. The Church allows only for procedures that "assist" natural conception. It objects to conception occurring as the result of an unnatural procedure that "replaces" or "substitutes" the natural. This means that the egg and the sperm must join of their own accord and this joining must occur within the mother's natural reproductive system.
From the Church's perspective, your child has the natural, God-given right to be conceived as a result of the love you and your wife reveal in your love-making. Your child also has the right to have his or her life begin within the embrace of your wife's body, as a result of God's natural methods, not as a result of scientific "human manufacturing." Though “modern medicine” looks for the quick and easiest manner of obtaining fertility, there are only two manners of scientific intervention that respect the dignity of your child's new life.
According to Peter J. Cataldo, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Pope John Center (January 1996 Edition of Ethics and Medics) the two forms of reproductive technology the Church's teachings allow are Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and Gamete Intrafallopian Tube Transfer (GIFT). (He bases this conclusion on thorough ethical analysis of Pope Pius XXII's encyclical Donum Vitae.) Both procedures are licit as long as masturbation is not the method for collecting the sperm. He recommends the use of a perforated Silastic sheath to collect sperm during sexual intercourse. The sheath allows for simultaneous deposit and collection of sperm. In this manner, the sperm is released as the result of natural love-making, which is consistent with the Church's concerns. After the sperm is collected by the sheath, it is then "washed", thereby eliminating any defective elements contained within.
In the IUI procedure, the sperm is then injected into the uterus using a catheter, placing the sperm closer to the place of conception and thereby increasing the likelihood that the egg and the sperm shall meet. (This procedure is also referred to as “artificial insemination”).
In the GIFT procedure, the egg is retrieved from the woman and injected into a fallopian tube at a strategic point. The sperm is then injected with a syringe into the woman's uterus. Both egg and sperm have been "aided" to the right location, so that they are more likely to meet.
Dr. Cataldo states that the efficacy of IUI is still not clear, but that GIFT has a 33.5% pregnancy per retrieval rate and a 26.3% delivery per retrieval rate. The comparison numbers he shows for all other technologies demonstrate that GIFT is by far the most effective method (even over In-Vitro Fertilization).
These procedures are also consistent with respect to the dignity of your child's life. The act of love-making is present with the contribution of the sperm, and the conception occurs naturally within the embrace of the mother's womb despite the fact that egg and sperm have been aided.
There is one other concern I would like to mention. In-Vitro Fertilization requires an extraction of many eggs from the woman of which all are fertilized with the sperm. The scientists then watch which fertilized egg matures best. After they are satisfied with one particular fertilized egg, they then implant that egg into the woman's uterus. The other eggs are then put into nitrogen freeze where they are held in suspended animation, or else they are destroyed.
As far as Catholic theology and honest medical ethics are concerned, this method is a form of abortion. The identity of human life begins at the moment its new genetic code exists. Most renowned scientists agree that life must begin only at fertilization (conception), the time when the new human life obtains its full and unique genetic map. Therefore, if many eggs are fertilized and only one is implanted, the other newly created lives are treated with the greatest disrespect. In your case, the scientists will basically be fertilizing many of your offspring, only to allow one the chance to live. I'm sure you can agree that all of your offspring deserve to continue living after they are fertilized.
My family and I will pray for your success in becoming pregnant. People like yourselves, who love the dignity of children so much to inquire on the Church's teaching, are needed to raise good children. God bless you both!
Editor of CatholicQandA.com
P.S. You can find more information on Catholic Medical Ethics at http://www.ncbcenter.org/home.html
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June 20, 2001
Though I know you have not always agreed with the teachings of the Rabbis, I was disappointed to see your TV show regarding the Jewish teaching on abortion in the case of the mother’s life.
I do believe the Rabbis are very wrong in their teaching that a mother is obligated toward abortion when continuing her pregnancy would threaten her life. I believe that such a teaching ascribes to “the end justifies the means” philosophy, which I believe is contrary to the teachings of the Torah and the Natural Law. All abortions directly intend the violent death of a child. How can killing an innocent baby to save one’s life be justified? We should not do evil to obtain good.
This teaching against doing evil to obtain good is founded in God’s own perfect attributes. God himself is our greatest example of morality and virtue. Because God is all-good, He could never do evil, even if His actions did obtain good. At most, He can tolerate evil, as it has been created by the free-will of men and fallen angels, if a greater good may come from it. In that case, though, God is not the active participant in the evil. He may have created those who caused evil, but being an indirect cause gives Him enough distance to keep from the stain of evil and allow his eternal plan to bring about a greater good. It is a biblical teaching to follow God in this great example because we are created in His image.
The Catholic Church teaches that we may never do evil to obtain good. Therefore, we believe that abortion in all cases is intrinsically evil. Murder of another innocent individual cannot be justified to save one’s life. Self-defense and defense of others is justified because it is not the killing of an innocent person. Abortion can never qualify as self-defense, though. Self-defense requires that the other party be the cause for one’s peril. In the case of a life-threatening pregnancy, the cause solely rests with the mother. It was the mother’s actions that brought about the pregnancy, and in all medically-known cases, it is the mother’s own physiology that makes the pregnancy dangerous to her. The child is completely innocent; merely existing in the natural state her parents placed her.
Consider the allegory of a female skydiver. Seeking to share a special part of her life, she decides to take her young son on a jump. She straps both of them into a dual harness attached to one parachute. As they jump, the chute malfunctions and becomes torn. The tear is just enough that the weight of both mother and child is too much for the chute. The mother knows that she can only survive the landing if the chute carries her weight alone. She also knows that the child would not survive the landing on his own since he is untrained. She tries to unstrap the child, but the child holds tight to the harness, terrified of the situation. The mother then beats the child, forcing him to let go and fall to his death. Sure, the mother has saved one life where two would have died, but at what cost to the dignity of herself, her child, and the love they have for each other? Is survival really greater than respecting the dignity of the human person, especially when we consider that all of us must die someday? True, this allegory makes some strict assumptions, but consider this: Abortion is a significantly more violent way for a woman to kill her son.
In His Service,
Steve S.P.S. The Catholic Church also teaches the concept of “double-effect,” which is sometimes confused with the aforementioned teaching. This teaching comes from God’s example to tolerate an unintended evil when a greater good may come from it and one is not a direct participant in the evil.
Editor of www.CatholicQandA.com
The classic case is that of a pregnant woman who has uteran cancer. If her uterus is not removed in time, she will die from the toxins and her baby will die with her. Some would say that abortion should be part of the solution. The Church teaches that the only moral answer would be to perform a hysterectomy. In this case, the doctor performs a procedure that is meant for saving the mother’s life. The same procedure would normally be done if the woman were not pregnant, classifying it as a virtuous action. The child dies as an indirect and unintended result of the procedure. The doctor, thereby, tolerates the death of the child, but has not participated nor intended the death. All parties maintain their dignity in the situation. Double effect also requires that any solution that would completely eliminate the effects of evil be followed first. The Church also recommends that anyone in such a situation consult their priest before making such an important decision.
This philosophy is the only way one may save the mother’s life and still stay free from the stain of evil—to truly reflect the great image of God in which we were created. It is also the only way one may stay consistent with the teachings of the Torah and the Natural Law.
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"Life at Conception in the Case of Twinning"
Personal E-Mail Dialogue from October 1999
Sherry's General Letter to a Random List of Pro-Life Individuals
To whom it may concern:
I am a college student in California enrolled in a course called "The Philosophy of Abortion and Euthanasia." I have a presentation to give in a few weeks, so I have been doing a lot of research. I come to you as part of my research, looking for answers, explanations, comments, and suggestions.
I do not know how to reconcile the belief that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception with the idea of twinning. Some argue that the phenomenon of twinning shows that the embryo is not a person until at least implantation, after which point twinning no longer occurs. The reason they give? Because in twinning one embryo splits into two embryos, the original one cannot be a human person. Since twinning only occurs in some conceptions, the claim that the zygote can't therefore be a single individual substance loses its strength. The phenomenon of twinning disturbs me, nevertheless, because I cannot explain HOW ONE HUMAN BEING CAN BECOME TWO. And what happens to "the original" person before they become twins?
If you can help me at all, please contact me at Amy4321@Nowhere.com. I would be most appreciative. Thank you for your time and consideration.
The answer: The zygote was two persons even before it had yet split.
The scientific explanation: Though science does not understand it yet, twinning does not happen accidentally. Everything in science happens for a reason. For some incident to occur, there must be a certain organization of material or forces that cause the incident. The old concept of “cause and effect.”
In the case of a zygote that twins, the zygote was somehow “setup” for twinning. The one zygote had a material makeup that would result in two bodies--thereby making it setup as to two persons. A zygote that doesn't twin would not have the material makeup to allow it to twin and thereby would belong to only one person.
A good analogy would be that of Siamese twins. Siamese twins obviously have two personalities that are consistent with two persons, even though they share the same body. The body of a set of Siamese twins is obviously that of a zygote that intended to split, but did not have the complete material makeup that allowed them to. Regardless, the makeup of two persons was still retained even though the split was not complete. Even with one body, as with one zygote, two persons exist within a set of Siamese twins.
The theological explanation: God in his infinite wisdom knows that the one zygote will split into two, and therefore would provide two souls within the one zygote knowing that each soul would split with each resulting twin.
I hope this helps. God bless.
P.S. Check out my web page--> www.CatholicQandA.com
Sherry's First Reply
What would you say this "material makeup" is that causes twinning to occur that is not present in zygotes that do not divide? As far as I know, there is nothing special that signifies whether or not it will become twins or not. If there is, please let me know what it is and where I can find out more information on it.
I don't have many difficulties with the theological part of this issue because I admit that God can do whatever He pleases because of His omnipotence. However, we must be able to explain this without faith as our standard by which we argue that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception.
What happens to it once the cell divides? Does the "original" person pass out of existence and two new individuals are created? Or was it never a person to begin with?
Abercius24’s Response to Sherry's First Reply
My scientific point is that nothing happens accidentally in science. You have two possible scenarios. A zygote that twins can either do so because there is something objectively present in it that makes it twin when other zygotes do not. The other scenario is that it only happens magically, without any cause. Which do you think is the more scientifically plausible scenario?
Sherry's Second Reply
Well, from what I have read and researched, there is nothing special in the zygote that determines whether or not it will become twins. It seems to be more of a spontaneous act. This is beside the point though. This does not explain what happens to the first person after the zygote splits and becomes two. Maybe the "original" one wasn't a person.
Abercius24’s Response to Sherry's Second Reply
"I seems to be more of a spontaneous act." That idea is not scientific by any standard.
Don't be fooled. Just because science has yet to explain HOW twinning happens, that doesn't mean that it happens for no reason. The whole goal of science is to find an objective reason for why things happen. One by one, every recurring, unexplained phenomenon becomes explained by scientific analysis. With time we will find out why twinning happens. Based on the results of EVERY scientific discovery, we can be assured that there is something objective in the makeup of a twinning zygote that makes it stand out from a non-twinning zygote. Otherwise, twinning would be the first recurring, unexplained phenomenon that occurred without reason. The likelihood of that scenario is completely improbable. With every effect, there is a cause.
I sense a bias in your presentation of the argument. You are demanding to know the objective reason that has yet to be found. Until someone can show you that objective reason, you will believe that it has no reason. If you want to do scientific research, you need to remain within the necessary scientific principles. Though I didn't give you the objective reason for twinning, I did give you a good scientific reason based on scientific principles that will allow you to be sure that it does exist. I urge you to consider why you cannot except my argument. Is it because you have no reason to believe that there is an objective explanation for twinning? Or is it because you are of a pro-abortion mentality that clouds your ability to consider the issue with honesty?
I will pray for you in the meantime. God bless.
Message Board Post from January 1999A Catholic using artificial birth control who knows that the Church condemns such practices is not to receive communion. If they do receive Communion, they are committing sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament. Here are some quotes from the Church's official book of Catholic Doctrine--The Catechism of the Catholic Church. These quotes are authoritative because the Catechism is produced and approved directly by the Vatican.
Unnatural Contraception is a Sin:
"EVERY ACTION which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act (i.e. the birth control pill, the IUD), or in its accomplishment (i.e. the condom, the diaphragm), or in the development of it's natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, TO RENDER PROCREATION IMPOSSIBLE IS INTRINSICALLY EVIL" (Paragraph 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; parenthetical comments and emphasis added).
--The Church officially teaches that artificial contraception, since it's an action that intends to render procreation impossible, is a seriously evil action--a grave sin.
A Catholic in a State of Mortal Sin Must Not Receive Communion:
"ANYONE WHO IS AWARE OF HAVING COMMITED A MORTAL SIN MUST NOT RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession" (Paragraph 1457 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; emphasis added).
--The Church charges anyone who has not yet received confession for a mortal sin to abstain from the Eucharist.
Three Conditions for a Sin to be Mortal:
"For a SIN to be MORTAL, three conditions must together be met: 'Mortal sin is sin whose object is (1) GRAVE MATTER and which is also committed with (2) FULL KNOWLEDGE and (3) DELIBERATE CONSENT" (Paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, emphasis added).
--So for a sin to be mortal, the sin must (1) be grave (as artificial contraception is defined), it must be (2) committed with the knowledge that it is a sin, and it must be (3) committed with full consent. Notice that the sinner doesn't have to know that the sin is grave, they only have to know that it is wrong. The grave nature is something that is objective, it doesn't depend on whether the sinner knows that it is grave.
Therefore, since artificial contraception is a grave sin, then as long as a Catholic knows that his/her Church speaks infallibly for Christ, and he/she knows that the Church condemns contraception as evil, then he/she is committing mortal sin if he/she uses artificial contraception with full consent. Furthermore, since this Catholic has then committed mortal sin, they should refrain from Communion by order of the Church until they receive the Sacrament of Confession.
Many people will try to confuse the issue by saying that the general Catholic cannot be held accountable for the sin of artificial contraception because they can only be held accountable for what they know is wrong. This statement is true, but two things are not being mentioned. First, a Catholic is charged by the Church to know what the Church teaches. So, if a Catholic does not know that artificial contraception is a sin, then they are committing a dangerous sin by not learning the faith. Second, if a Catholic does not have the means to find out, then those priests and catechists who are supposed to teach the faith in union with the Pope are committing a grave sin by withholding the official teachings. This sin is grave because it is a robbery of a very precious gift--a theft of the one's right to the Gospel, the knowledge of one's meaning and true fulfillment in life. Therefore, if a Catholic is using artificial contraception, then someone is committing sin. Either the Catholic or his/her spiritual leaders will be held accountable for that sin on judgement day!
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Copyright 1999-2009 CatholicQandA.com. All rights reserved. The original letter was altered by Abercius24 to improve legibility and protect the identity of the participants.