Tag Archives: Dr. John Haas

The dangers of doing good

Medicine and life science professionals are constantly working to help others. However, attempts to help can lead to terrible abuses. This is why the Church must place its highly developed moral tradition at the service of those who turn to medicine and the life sciences for help.

Dr. John Haas

Dr. John Haas

A French Catholic geneticist, Jerome Lejeune, discovered the cause of Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes intellectual disabilities. Having discovered its cause, he hoped that science would be able to ameliorate its effects. But he was terribly dismayed by what in fact occurred. Today 92% of children diagnosed in utero with the disorder are killed before birth.

An American Catholic surgeon, Joseph Murray, performed the first living organ transplant. This was a most laudable development and has helped save countless lives. However, it has also led to a robust illegal trade in human organs.

A man in New York needs a kidney. His physician contacts a broker in Israel who contacts his supplier in Manila. The man in Manila goes into the slums and finds a healthy young man and pays him, perhaps, $1,500 for his kidney. The organ is flown to South Africa where the New York man receives it as a transplant. The American has paid $75,000 for his kidney. The man in Manila has one less kidney and can suffer medical complications because of a lack of follow-up care.

The Medical Daily reported in 2013 that the illegal organ trade generates annual profits between $600 million and $1.2 billion. That same article pointed out that wealthy patients can pay up to $190,000 for a single kidney. The leading recipient nations of these organs are the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Israel and Japan. The nations from which these kidneys come are referred to as the “donor nations.” It would be more accurate to describe them as the “exploited nations” since they include impoverished countries in South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

Attempts to overcome infertility is another area of medicine that has sought to help others. In vitro fertilization is a technique by which human eggs and sperm are placed in a petri dish with the hope that fertilization will occur. If embryos are engendered, they’re placed in a woman’s womb to grow to full term. Usually three embryos are implanted and the remaining ones are frozen in liquid nitrogen for future use, experimented upon or discarded. If all three embryos successfully implant, which can be dangerous for the mother, the physicians engage in “fetal reduction.” They determine which of the children are least robust and then kill them. The attempt to engender life and overcome infertility has resulted very frequently in the destruction of life.

In 2013, it was reported that in Great Britain alone, 1.3 million embryos were discarded in the 21 years since records were kept. More than 3.5 million embryos had been engendered and only 7% led to live births. Of the embryos created, 839,325 were put into storage for future use and 2,071 were stored for donation to others. A further 5,876 were set aside for scientific research. Roughly 200,000 persons have been born through IVF in England. But one can only be appalled at the incredible waste of human life that results from a procedure that engenders 3.5 million human beings but which finally leads to only 200,000 live births.

IVF has also led to surrogacy by which a woman who has already borne children will be fertilized by the sperm from the husband in an infertile marriage or will have someone else’s embryos implanted. Again, this looks like an act of altruism to help those in need but often leads to exploitation. It’s worth noting that in the U.S., 20% of the surrogate babies born each year are carried by military wives — a group that actually represents less than 1% of the female population of childbearing age. Their husbands are often away for extended periods and military pay is very low. These women often need the additional money for their families, and so the practice leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.

Human beings have the potential for good because we have been created in the image and likeness of God. But they also have the inclination toward evil because of original sin. This is why the world needs the sure guidance of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium, which had warned against all these abuses of what should have been good developments.

DR. JOHN HAAS is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Frozen embryo adoption

Certain moral questions like embryo adoption are still open to further debate . . .

Despite scientific evidence and detailed Church teaching, certain moral questions are still open to further theological reflection. The National Catholic Bioethics Center offers the following exchange between two of its ethicists on whether the 2008 Vatican document The Dignity of the Person (DP) allows for the adoption of frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures.

Dr. Stephen Napier

Dr. Stephen Napier says YES

“It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of prenatal adoption. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems” (DP #19).

Some have taken this note to reject embryo adoption. I do not think that is correct. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them.” Also, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, has said that embryo adoption is still an open question. If the USCCB and the Pontifical Academy for Life got it wrong, the Vatican would have corrected them publicly. But there has not been any correction, so the question on embryo adoption remains open.

Embryo adoption is clearly an act by which a young human being is saved. The fact that the woman must gestate the child in order to save the child does not change the moral quality of the action. Childhood adoption, after all, is not only permissible but is encouraged by the Church. Adopting a child that happens to be younger, and thus requires implantation in a mother’s womb, means only that the woman must sacrifice more, thus growing in charity. Those who say that embryo adoption achieves procreation apart from the marital union misunderstand the obvious fact that the child already exists! The child has already been procreated.

The Church says that the child has a right to be gestated by his or her own parents. But who violates that right? Clearly, the parents who went through IVF and abandoned him or her to life in a freezer. In fact, the embryo-adopting couple cannot violate this right.

Adopting an embryo is a way to love a child in a very vulnerable state. Additionally, it gives witness to the inherent dignity of all human beings no matter how small.


Dr. John Haas

Dr. John M. Haas says NO

“The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood; this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature” (DP #19).

The Holy See acknowledges the good motivation of those proposing pre-natal adoption of frozen embryos but states that not even an infertile couple may have them implanted for the various reasons already stated: that in vitro fertilization, artificial heterologous procreation and surrogate mothering (a woman who is not the mother allows the “renting” out of her womb for gestation) are wrong. In such cases, embryos are manipulated and subjected to the decisions and actions of others that do not respect the inviolability of their personhood.

First of all, some frozen embryos will be chosen to live while others will be allowed to die. What will be the criteria used as to which will live and which will die? Would just boy embryos be chosen? Just Asians? Caucasians? These are arbitrary criteria used to decide who will have a chance at life and who will not.

Second, the “thawing” process itself will result in the deaths of some embryos. And then, after they have been thawed, the surviving embryos will be judged as to which will have the greatest chance of survival. Again, arbitrary judgments will be made as to which will be given a chance to live and which not. And how are the ones not chosen for implantation discarded?

Third, single women have advanced the same arguments for rescuing the embryos by offering their bodies to gestate them even though they do not have husbands. This would deny the child the good of an integral family.

Finally, husbands and wives give the procreative powers of their bodies to one another as a gift to be open to the engendering of new life between them. As St. Paul said, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but to his wife” (1 Cor 7:4). To place someone else’s child into the body of the wife would violate the integrity of the marital union unique to that husband and wife.

As regrettable as it is, “it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved” (DP #19)

John M. Haas is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Stephen Napier is a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He serves on the University of Pennsylvania’s Institutional Review Board.