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Beginning of Life Bioethics

Abortion:

Abortion is a very sensitive and divisive issue.  However, we must seek to enter into respectful dialogue and avoid emotional arguments.  The argument against legalized abortion does not rely on religion but on the fundamental principle of the dignity of all human life.  To understand the pro-life arguments, please review the Logic and Fundamental Principles tabs to this website.  

The pro-life argument is simple: (1) human beings are alive from the moment of fertilization, and (2) it is morally wrong (and ought to be illegal) to intentionally kill innocent human beings. The first point is a scientific one. The second is a moral and legal one, one that science can’t answer. You don’t find human rights under a microscope, and there’s no experiment capable of proving that murder is wrong.

Our scientific knowledge gets us far enough to say that abortion is the intentional killing of a human being, so we can say that if all human beings are entitled to basic human rights, then we must recognize unborn humans as having these rights, as well. But science can’t say if the intentional killing of innocent human beings is murder, or if murder is wrong, or if human rights exist.

To put it in the form of a deductive syllogism:

Major Premise:  Human beings are alive from the moment of fertilization. 

Minor Premise:  It is morally wrong (and ought to be illegal) to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Minor Premise:  Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.

Conclusion:  Abortion ought to be illegal.


 

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Go here to read basic facts on the issue of abortion in the U.S. and on fetal development.

What to do when abortion is "medically necessary"?  See the video below:

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Below is the story of one couple whose child was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Trisomy 18:

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Embryonic Stem Cell Research:

  • The cells of an embryo are Pluripotent – They have the ability to develop into many different types of cells in the human body. 

  • Some researchers believe these cells could be helpful in curing or treating many diseases/conditions (stroke, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, burns, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis…)

  • The Church supports scientific research – most of the first hospitals and universities were Church sponsored.

  • The desire to learn the truth and cure disease is completely consistent with the Christian faith.

  • However, there are certain forms of scientific research that virtually everyone rightly condemns.

  • Embryonic Stem Cell Research violates the principle that we ought not kill innocent human life.

  • Currently, the harvesting of stem-cells from embryonic human beings involves the destruction of that very tiny human being.

  • Killing one innocent person in order to potentially benefit others is unethical.

  • If the embryos are living, whether viable or not, they must be respected just like any other human person; experimentation on embryos which is not directly therapeutic is illicit (Donum Vitae #4)

  • Many scientists do not view ESCR as a very promising avenue for cures because it is not yet possible to direct the growth of embryonic stem cells.

  • Adult Stem Cells have already been a source for many cures.

  • Adult stem cells are more mature and more limited.

  • Adult stem cells are multipotent – They can develop into several different kinds of body cells.

  • Adult stem cells have already treated dozens of conditions.

  • Since one can use genetically compatible cells from their own bodies, they do not prompt an immune system response.

 

Ectopic Pregnancy

  • Ectopic Pregnancy – When an embryonic human being begins to grow in the fallopian tube rather than the womb.

  • As the embryo grows, the tube can rupture which could cause the mother to bleed to death.

  • In most cases, the embryo will die without intervention.

  • It is impossible for the embryo to develop to viability within the fallopian tube.

  • Current treatments typically result in the death of the embryo.

  • Ways of treating Ectopic Pregnancy must be analyzed by the principle of double effect.

  • Until there is an ability to transfer embryos from the fallopian tube to the uterus, all efforts need to be directed toward trying to save the mother.

  • Knowing the baby is going to die, does not mean that we can kill him or her

Treatments for Ectopic Pregnancy

  • Methotrexate – A powerful drug that dissolves the tissue that nurtures the embryo and attaches it to the fallopian tube.  The fallopian tube is not damaged and fertility is preserved.

  • Salpingostomy – A procedure that makes an incision in the fallopian tube and removes the embryonic human being.  The tube is then repaired to preserve the mother’s fertility. (scarring on the fallopian tube could increase the chances of future ectopic pregnancies)

  • Salpingectomies – A procedure that removes the diseased portion of the fallopian tube that is at risk of rupturing.

***Read this article to understand the ethical response to ectopic pregnancy.

 

Vocabulary:

Direct Abortion - Abortion willed as an end or as a means.  Abortion is willed as an end (that is, as a goal) if one's goal is to end the pregnancy. Abortion is willed as a means if ending the pregnancy is the instrument one uses to obtain some other goal. Abortion would be used as a means if, for example, the child was killed in order to harvest its body for medical consumption, such as organ transplants or tissue research.

Fetus - Term for the stage of development for an unborn human offspring from eight weeks after fertilization until birth. 

Embryo - Term for the stage of development for an unborn human offspring from approximately the second to the eighth week after fertilization

Zygote - Term for the stage of development for an unborn human offspring from fertilization through the second week of gestation.

Fertilization/Conception - The union of sperm and egg.  It marks the beginning of a genetically distinct human organism.

Embryonic Stem Cells - Stem cells derived from the undifferentiated inner mass cells of a human embryo.

Adult Stem Cells - undifferentiated cells, found throughout the body after development, that multiply by cell division to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues.

Pluripotent - Stem cells that have the ability to develop into many different types of cells in the human body.  Human embryo stem cells are pluripotent.

Multipotent - Stem cells that have the ability to develop into several different types of cells.  As with all stem cells multipotent stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to: self-renew for long periods of time and differentiate into specialized cells with specific functions. A multipotent stem cell can give rise to other types of cells but it is limited in its ability to differentiate.

Ectopic Pregnancy - When an embryonic human being begins to grow in the fallopian tube rather than the womb.

Methotrexate (as a treatment for ectopic pregnancy) - A powerful drug that dissolves the tissue that nurtures the embryo and attaches it to the fallopian tube.

Salpingostomy - A procedure that makes an incision in the fallopian tube and removes the embryonic human being.  The tube is then repaired to preserve the mother’s fertility.

Salpingectomy - A procedure that removes the diseased portion of the fallopian tube that is at risk of rupturing. 

 

Reproductive Technologies:

The following is a passage taken from the Church document:  Donum Vitae

WHY MUST HUMAN PROCREATION TAKE PLACE IN MARRIAGE?

Every human being is always to be accepted as a gift and blessing of God. However, from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-à-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage.

For human procreation has specific characteristics by virtue of the personal dignity of the parents and of the children: the procreation of a new person, whereby the man and the woman collaborate with the power of the Creator, must be the fruit and the sign of the mutual self-giving of the spouses, of their love and of their fidelity.(34) The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other. The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development. The parents find in their child a confirmation and completion of their reciprocal self-giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their conjugal union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity, (35) By reason of the vocation and social responsibilities of the person, the good of the children and of the parents contributes to the good of civil society; the vitality and stability of society require that children come into the world within a family and that the family be firmly based on marriage. The tradition of the Church and anthropological reflection recognize in marriage and in its indissoluble unity the only setting worthy of truly responsible procreation. (Donum Vitae #1)

The two values to be respected when seeking to conceive a child are:

  1. The dignity of the child conceived (any methods that endanger the well-being of the child conceived are immoral)
  2. The meaning of marriage (any methods by which spouses become parents other than by each other are immoral)

 

Vocabulary:

  • In Vitro Fertilization: fertilization of an ovum in a test-tube
  • In Vitro - Latin for "in glass"
  • Artificial Insemination: the transfer into the woman's genital tracts of previously collected sperm.
  • Heterologous artificial fertilization or procreation, techniques used to obtain a human conception artificially by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses who are joined in marriage. Such techniques can be of two types:
    • Heterologous IVF: the technique used to obtain a human conception through the meeting in vitro of gametes taken from at least one donor other than the two spouses joined in marriage.
    • Heterologous artificial insemination: the technique used to obtain a human conception through the transfer into the genital tracts of the woman of the sperm previously collected from a donor other than the husband.
  • Homologous fertilization or procreation: techniques used to obtain a human conception using the gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage. Homologous artificial fertilization can be carried out by two different methods:
    • Homologous IVF: the technique used to obtain a human conception through the meeting in vitro of the gametes of the spouses joined in marriage.
    • Homologous artificial insemination: the technique used to obtain a human conception through the transfer into the genital tracts of a married woman of the sperm previously collected from her husband.
  • Hyperovulation - The taking of medication to cause a woman to release a large number of eggs that can be removed and fertilized for the process of in vitro fertilization.
  • Cloning - Involves the production of a living being through a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.
    • Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer - Genetic material from the nucleus of a donor parent cell is placed into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed.  When the new entity is stimulated, cell divisions begin, and the result is a new being that is an identical twin of the donor.
    • Therapeutic Cloning - cloning a human being so they can supply “parts” for the benefit of another
    • Reproductive Cloning - cloning with the intention of bringing the baby to term and raising the child
  • Surrogate MotherhoodSurrogate motherhood can refer to when:
    • the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of "donors". She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.
    • the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo to whose procreation she has contributed the donation of her own ovum, fertilized through insemination with the sperm of a man other than her husband. She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the child once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.
  • Embryo AdoptionRescuing an "unwanted" embryo by having he/she placed into the uterus of a woman who hopes that the embryo could implant, gestate and be raised as if they were their own children.
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