Discerning Bio-advances with a Catholic Lens
At no time in history has the line separating good and evil been so blurred. It is especially so in the fields of science and medicine where the lines are vanishing while the right to conscience is being legislated away.
When evil poses as ‘care’
Discovery, relieving suffering, finding cures…these were once understood as absolute goods. However, when ending suffering means ending lives on both ends, and curing diseases happens through experimentation on embryos and designer genes, and when discovery means playing God, then evil masquerades as good.
“The Catholic Church has a vitally important role in helping people distinguish between morally appropriate and inappropriate uses of biotechnology and medicine,” Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained in an interview with Legatus. He noted that many people are grateful for the way the Church articulates well-defined positions on moral questions.
Church guidance at forefront
Although the Church may reflect for some time to identify important considerations and guiding principles in the biosciences, Fr. Pacholczyk said that even with this slow and deliberative process, the Church stays well ahead of the curve. “For example, by the time of the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996,” he said, “the Catholic Church had already been reflecting on the question of human cloning for many years, and concluded, nine years prior to Dolly, that human cloning would be morally unacceptable in an important document called Donum Vitae (On the Gift of Life).”
When the first test tube baby was born in 1978, the serious moral concerns raised by the procedure had already been spelled out 22 years earlier, by Pope Pius XII, in his 1956 Allocution to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Human Sterility. The Pope concluded: “As regards experiments of human artificial fecundation ‘in vitro,’ let it be sufficient to observe that they must be rejected as immoral and absolutely unlawful.” The Church’s stance was explained in greater detail later in Donum Vitae, as well as in various other statements and addresses, according to Fr. Pacholczyk.
“The Church is one of the last remaining voices in our culture to remind us of the most basic truths about sexuality, how new human life must be procreated in the warmth of the marital embrace and in the protective hearth of the maternal womb, not in the icy, impersonal world of the research laboratory, or the manipulative setting of a Petri dish,” he said.
Science often unheeded
Charles LiMandri, a Legate with the San Diego Chapter, is the President and Chief Counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, (FCDF) a nonprofit law firm that defends constitutional liberties, conscience rights and the sanctity of human life. He and his wife Barbara are also the parents of five children. According to him, the culture has gotten extremely aggressive, pushing a liberal agenda in which science is often ignored in the case of gender issues, or used in immoral ways such as with experimentation on embryos.
“A lack of respect for the sanctity of life and separating the procreative from unitive aspect of sexuality has fueled many unethical practices,” LiMandri said. “Once it is just about pleasure rather than cooperating with God’s natural law, it really is a slippery slope.”
Courts bully Catholics
According to LiMandri, the far left uses the courts as the least representative form of government to take away the right of Catholics to follow Catholic teaching. “Many of these appointed judges can use the force of law to make Catholics, Christians and other individuals follow their liberal agenda, with the threat of serious repercussions,” he said. “The opposition will stop at nothing to force the Christian community to accept their agenda carte blanche.”
LiMandri writes about many of these issues at Alumni for Catholic USD, a page he started to promote the truth after his Catholic alma mater, the University of San Diego held a drag queen contest.
Inspired into bioethics, genetics by JPII
Marilyn E. Coors, Ph.D., a Legate in the Denver Chapter, is an associate professor of ethics in genetics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. When she and her husband Peter sent the youngest of their 6 children to school, Coors returned to school also, receiving a masters in cytogenetics and another in ethics and religion, a Ph.D. in bioethics and a post-doctoral fellowship in bioethics and human medical genetics.
“It was a quote from JPII, that we should infiltrate the bastions of science with the word of God, that became my inspiration while I was going to school,” Coors said. According to her, the field of bioethics is changing quickly and posing many challenges.
“Genetic science and technology have advanced tremendously from the first decoding of the human genome in 2001 to 17 years later being able to edit it in specific ways,” Coors said. “The Church, through teachings of JPII and Pope Benedict, endorses the use of genetics to treat and cure disease, but editing genes has significant concerns for both science and religion.”
Everything from bioterrorism that could impact the environment, to gene editing in order to hardwire babies for desirable traits, has serious moral implications, according to Coors. She also pointed out that for humans, editing genes at the embryonic level, which involves fertilizing eggs in test tubes, is illicit.
Experimentation on human gene editing is just beginning. This past July, experiments were done on embryos to edit out the fatal gene for cardiomyopathy, then they were destroyed. Coors pointed out that a potential risk with this kind of technology is that insurance companies will refuse to cover conditions that could have been edited out.
Have a personal advocate
Bobby Schindler, president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, became involved in bioethics and defending personal rights after witnessing firsthand the harm that judges, political figures and bioethicists can have on vulnerable people like his sister Terri who had her lifesustaining nutrition removed by a judge. “I realized that my vocation was advocating for medically vulnerable persons,” he said. “Before that, I assumed that physicians would want to care for disabled people like my sister rather than fatally starve and dehydrate them. It opened my eyes.”
Schindler is in the second year of a masters program in bioethics at the University of Mary to expand on years of practical experience advocating for his sister and more than 2,500 medically vulnerable patients and their families. “Ethics committees and the courts are imposing their values and medical determinations on whether a patient receives medical treatment, rather than the directives of family members,” he said.
Medical decisions are often made based on cost, Schindler said.
“Simply put, the heath provider is making medical decisions with their best interest in mind—which is cost containment dictated with the accountants more in mind than God— rather than the patient’s best interest,” he said. According to him, the physician’s principle to “do no harm” has come to be re-interpreted as to hasten death for patients.
“Ultimately, there’s no silver-bullet solution to the bioethical challenges we face,” he said. “The best protection for each and every one of us is to have heroic advocates in our lives who will fight for our basic care.”
PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG, who wrote the newly published book, Legatus @ 30, is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.
Catholic Bioethics Resources
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th edition
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2009)
Dignitas personae (Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (June 20, 2008)
Address to an International Conference on Organ Donation
Pope John Paul II (August, 2009)
Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason)
Pope John Paul II (September 14, 1998)
Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life)
Pope John Paul II (March 25, 1995)
Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth)
Pope John Paul II (August 6, 1993)
Donum vitae (The Gift of Life)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (February 22, 1987)
Declaration on Euthanasia
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (May 5, 1980)
Redemptor hominis (The Redeemer of Man)
Pope John Paul II (March 4, 1979)
Humanae vitae (Of Human Life)
Pope Paul VI (July 25, 1968)
Address to the First International Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System
Pope Pius XII (September 13, 1952)