Tag Archives: Dr. John M. Haas

God’s plan for marriage and family

We’ve encountered a brave new world of sci-fi and moved into an absurd reality. . .

Dr. John Haas

Dr. John Haas

There really shouldn’t be a need for the Vatican to produce a document explaining what marriage is and how babies come to be. However, we live in a world which can no longer see reality for what it is. I once listened to a week of lectures on human sexuality by an Anglican theologian from Cambridge. Never once did he mention children in relation to sex.

When I asked him at the end of his fifth lecture why he had never mentioned children in relation to human sexuality, he declared, “My good man, you can’t expect me to cover everything in a week!” No. Not everything. But how about the reason why God created sex in the first place?!

Another time I was having lunch with a “Catholic” homosexual activist who wanted to legalize gay “marriage.” He expressed the desire to have children and a family. Finally I said, “Look, don’t you think God has a plan for the way children should be brought into the world and a family established?” “Well, I used to,” he replied. He may have called himself a Catholic, but he was in fact a nonbeliever. If God doesn’t have a plan for the way in which he wants the crown of his creation to be brought into the world, it’s hard to imagine his having a plan for anything.

Dignitas Personae (DP), the Vatican document issued last December, deals fundamentally with bioethical issues at the beginning of life. It reminds us that God does indeed have a plan for human procreation and families.

The Church was compelled to provide this teaching in our day when a woman will carry in her womb a child engendered by her husband’s sperm and her sister’s (or a stranger’s) egg; when parents will engender their children in a glass dish, perform genetic tests on those embryonic children, and then destroy the ones who are the wrong sex; when human beings will be brought into being in glass dishes for the sole purpose of being experimented upon and then destroyed; when over 500,000 embryonic human beings are frozen in liquid nitrogen.

We have encountered the brave new world of science fiction and moved beyond it into an absurd reality. In the face of these countless assaults on the dignity of husbands and wives, the institution of marriage, and helpless embryonic human beings, the Church tries to pull us back to reality.

When Dignitas Personae speaks of the dignity of human persons, it does so squarely in the context of marriage. “The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and the family, where it is generated in an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman” (DP I.6). There is a profound truth to the saying that when a husband and wife make love, they do not make babies. The marital act is not a manufacturing process and children are not the product.

A husband and wife express their love for one another physically, emotionally and spiritually in the marital act, and that act may or may not be blessed with the gift of life. In Latin, the gift of life is Donum Vitae, the name of the 1987 Vatican document which analyzed the ethics of various means of overcoming infertility. Donum Vitae (DV) taught that any attempt to overcome infertility which replaced the personal loving act of a husband and wife was immoral.

Such attempts at engendering children by eliminating the marital embrace have invariably led to children being treated as manufactured products, subject to quality control and liable to destruction if they do not meet sufficiently high standards.

In vitro fertilization takes place in a glass dish. The healthiest ones are chosen for implantation; the others discarded. If too many to be carried safely take hold in the uterus, the weakest are killed. If a surrogate mother who has been artificially inseminated by a “contracting” couple is carrying a defective baby, the “contracting” couple can order her to abort it. If she does not, the contract is voided, and she’s left with the financial responsibility of raising the child. The child’s father, who artificially inseminated the “surrogate” mother, would subsequently have no legal or financial obligations vis-à-vis the child or the mother. When one departs from God’s plan for marriage and family, there is suffering and injustice.

Dignitas Personae is careful about how it refers to the act of bringing a human being into the world. Human beings do not reproduce. Lower animals do that. Human beings procreate — they co-create with God. They do not act alone!

Such cooperation with God bestows a supernatural quality on the actions of our souls and bodies in the marital bed. This is not a mere human activity, but a divine one. “By taking the interrelationship of these two dimensions, the human and the divine, as the starting point, one understands better why it is that man has unassailable value: He possesses an eternal vocation and is called to share in the Trinitarian love of the living God” (DP I.8). God has a plan. Follow it.

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.

Once more into the breach: the Church’s new bioethical document

We live in a biotech age, and the Holy See knows it. Almost daily we read of attempts to engender new creatures using, for example, cows’ eggs that have had their DNA genetic material replaced with human genetic material.

We learn that vaccines are produced using cell lines developed from tissue taken from aborted babies. We find ads in women’s magazines for cosmetics made from human stem cells. We discover that there are more than 500,000 frozen human embryos in liquid nitrogen. Sometimes it is as though we have walked through an open door into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, but this is the world we live in today!

In December, the Catholic Church once again raised her voice against these abuses of human dignity in a new formal teaching document known as Dignitas Personae. Indeed, the Church is the sole surviving institutional voice defending humanity against such indignities. On Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Holy See released a document on bioethics which had been officially approved by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 8, 2008, the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Holy See usually pays close attention to the significance of dates when it promulgates and releases documents. This bioethics document, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest doctrinal office in the Church, was formally approved and then released on two great Marian feasts, as if to say that Mary stands as the example of love for God’s precious gift of life. After all, she was the one who bore within her womb the helpless, the vulnerable, the unseen human life of God himself! Her example bears witness for all time to the veneration we should all have toward God’s precious gift of life.

In 1987 — more than 20 years ago — the Holy See issued its first major document on contemporary bioethics known as Donum Vitae. This was issued also by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger on Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, representing the teaching authority of the See of Rome. It embraced scientific advances in overcoming infertility and rendered ethical assessments on the most commonly used methods for achieving pregnancy.

The Catholic Church is often accused of being behind the times and not scientifically current. Donum Vitae itself, however, puts the lie to that perception. The document was thoroughly conversant with the science of the day. In fact, it judged human cloning to be beneath the dignity of the human person and an illicit way to overcome infertility.

This was in 1987 — 10 years before Dolly the Sheep was cloned. When the Holy See reached that judgment, many mammalian biologists thought it would be impossible to clone a mammal. So we see that rather than being behind the times, the Church was ahead of the curve!

With Donum Vitae, the Church formally taught that in vitro fertilization — or the engendering of human life in a Petri dish — was a violation of human dignity. It violated the dignity of the child at its coming into being by making it susceptible to the life and death decisions of others, and in vitro fertilization was judged to be a violation of the nobility of the means God established for bringing new life into the world — the profoundly personal act of marital intercourse. It warned then of abuses that would occur. Now, 22 years later, the Church speaks again in defense of human dignity in the face of more than 500,000 human embryos frozen in liquid nitrogen, left over from in vitro procedures.

Even as the Church pays close attention to the feast day on which its documents are issued, even so it pays close attention to the opening words, which invariably become the title of its documents. In 1968, Paul Paul VI issued his encyclical on contraception and began it with the words humanae vitae — of human life. In 1987, the document on bioethics was entitled Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life). This most recent document is entitled Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person).

We can see that the Church’s fundamental concern in assessing these human actions — and passing judgment on them — is preserving the dignity, goodness and inviolability of the human person. The Church looks with horror on human life being engendered for experimentation and destruction in our day. It is appalled to see scientists playing God.

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.

The truth about the human body

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s the heart of the Christmas message. The Catholic faith is incarnational, celebrating and living out the reality of the second person of the Godhead becoming man, born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary. Consequently Catholics hold the flesh, the body, in great reverence.

God created us with bodies and spirits, not spirits alone like the angels. God fashioned Adam from the “stuff” of the earth, and when Adam first saw Eve, he exclaimed, “This is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” (Gen 2:23). Our glory as human beings includes being “bodies.”

We should respect, even venerate, our bodies as God created them and for the purposes for which he created them. Every human being should know this as a truth of the natural moral law.

We Christians, however, know an even greater truth about the body. We know that in baptism it is joined to the God-man Jesus Christ and that it is destined to be raised up one day in incorruptible glory. We can know this only through revelation.

Yet, amazingly enough, Christians have always had to fight for these truths about the body. From the beginning some who called themselves Christians didn’t believe that God had come in the flesh. They couldn’t imagine that the perfect, immortal God could ever (or would ever) join himself with imperfect, mortal human beings. So they said Jesus was a spirit who only appeared to be a man.

But St. John countered this false thinking in the strongest language. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). He stresses the bodily reality of Jesus: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled…” (1 Jn 1:1).

Unfortunately, this challenge is still there. There are Christians who think the body is a matter of indifference, or worse, a burden. They will talk about it as a prison which keeps us trapped.

Thinking correctly about the body is critically important to bioethics. Sometimes people are tempted to commit euthanasia or physicianassisted- suicide because they believe they are trapped in a failing body and need to be “set free.”

Derek Humphrey, a strong advocate for the legalization of euthanasia, wrote the book Final Exit, as though we merely exit our bodies when we die. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we euthanize people, we kill them. They no longer exist until God raises them up body and soul at the end of time.

Wrong thinking about the body can lead to terrible moral choices. A pregnant mother carries in her body the body and soul of her child. To procure an abortion is to kill her child. What an unspeakable thought for those Christians who daily, with every Hail Mary, proclaim: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” A child in the womb is good, blessed fruit to be venerated.

The pagan physician Hippocrates saw the body as good and repudiated any assault upon the body in his Oath: “I will give no one a deadly poison, even if asked. I will give no woman a pessary to cause an abortion.” Hippocrates had the natural moral law written in his heart. Saint Paul said, “When the Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature, observe the prescriptions of the law … they show that the demands of the law are written on their hearts” (Rom 2:14).

We are also to reverence the procreative potential of our bodies. Through them, we become cocreators with God. Hence we shouldn’t do violence to our bodies or destroy any of their healthy functions (i.e., surgical sterilizations). Christian spouses are called to venerate their respective powers of procreation. Natural family planning methods allow couples to cooperate with God’s plan for having children based on the wife’s fertility cycle.

Further, since our bodies have a God-given purpose, there should be no clamor for the legal recognition of homosexual acts. We have been created male and female to serve God’s purposes and our own good. Each man and woman carries sex cells with 23 chromosomes, which must be joined together to engender a new human being with the full complement of 46 chromosomes.

God created us with bodies for a purpose. He has a plan for the way in which children should come into the world — and for the makeup of families. If everyone properly understood this, there would be no agitation for unnatural unions or a plea for the absurdity of having them recognized by law.

The models for our conduct will always be Jesus, Mary and Joseph: a husband and wife joined in holy matrimony who provided God, in accord with His design, the context, the environment and the family for His own Incarnation — and hence for the salvation of the world.

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.