Tag Archives: Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Of cowboys, infertility and deeper moral questions

Most people still remember the story of Nadya Suleman, dubbed “Octomom,” a single woman who used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant with eight babies simultaneously. Suleman had asked her fertility specialist, Dr. Michael Kamrava, to implant at least a dozen embryos into her uterus, leading to the birth of the famous octuplets in 2009. Dr. Kamrava’s medical license was later revoked by the California Medical Board. In commenting on the case, Judith Alvarado, deputy attorney general in California, concluded that Dr. Kamrava had acted “like a cowboy” in ignoring fertility industry guidelines.

When it comes to the “wild west” of infertility — a field of medicine with little oversight and unbridled profit margins — there are a lot of cowboys out there.

Recently there was the case of Kelli Rowlette who, after having her own DNA analyzed in 2017 through a genealogy website, shockingly discovered her biological father was a fertility specialist who had once treated her mother. Without her mother’s knowledge or consent, the specialist had used his own sperm to impregnate her, while falsely claiming he was using a mixture of sperm from her husband (who had low sperm count) and another donor, supposedly an anonymous university student with features similar to her husband.

Another notorious episode involved Dr. Cecil Jacobson of Fairfax County, Virginia. He was accused of a “purposeful pattern of deceit” during the 1980’s when he fathered up to 75 children using his own sperm for artificial insemination with his female patients. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison and had his medical license revoked.

There was also the troubling incident involving Doctors Ricardo Asch, Jose Bulmaceda and Sergio Stone, three fertility specialists and faculty members at the University of California at Irvine who ran a campus fertility clinic during the 1990s. They were accused of fertilizing eggs they had harvested from women and implanting the resulting embryos into unrelated women, and selling some of the embryos to scientists and researchers. Dozens of women and couples filed lawsuits against the doctors and the university.

One reason these deceptive practices by fertility specialists are so offensive is that we realize how the procreation of our own children is meant to involve a strict exclusivity between husband and wife. Whenever we violate that exclusivity by hiring outsiders to produce our offspring in clinics, or engage strangers to provide their sex cells for these procedures, unthinkable outcomes become possible.

The plethora of these cases also reminds us that many of the approaches to human procreation being promoted by the fertility industry are not only cavalier, but unethical at their core. We are witnessing an unprecedented burgeoning of laboratory techniques for manufacturing human life, many of which are deeply antagonistic to human dignity and contrary to the parental obligations assumed by spouses when they marry.

The natural exclusivity intended in parenthood is meant to afford protection, security about our origins, and the safety of the home hearth. In the headlong rush to achieve a pregnancy at any price, many couples are allowing hawkish businessmen to manipulate their sex cells, create their children in glassware, store them in frozen orphanages, and even discard them like medical waste.

The tragic fallout of these decisions should reignite our natural moral sensibilities, and point us back in the direction of the Creator’s plan for human procreation. Our children are truly safeguarded in the dignity of their origins only when they are brought into the world through the marital embrace of husband and wife. Turning to the lawlessness of modern day fertility “cowboys,” meanwhile, is a quick study for violation and heartache.

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, PH.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See www.ncbcenter.org

Catholics and acceptable uses of contraceptives

Contraceptives include drugs and devices like condoms, the Pill and spermicides. It might come as a surprise to some to learn that the Catholic Church does not always oppose the “use of contraceptives.”

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D.

A couple of trivial examples can help explain this point. The Church wouldn’t oppose the use of a contraceptive spermicidal gel to lubricate a bicycle tire’s axle to improve its rotation, nor would it specifically oppose the use of inflated condoms as party balloons. The particular context is important. More serious examples of acceptable contexts and uses for contraceptives would include using the Pill medically to treat serious gynecological problems — or using the Pill to block the release of an egg from a woman’s ovary in a situation of rape to protect her from becoming pregnant from the attack. Contrary to popular confusion, as we can see, the Church does not always oppose the use of contraceptives.

What the Church does always oppose, however, are acts of contraception. An act of contraception is a very particular type of disordered human action that involves the decision freely to engage in marital intercourse, while pursuing countermeasures in anticipation of, contemporaneously with, or after the completion of the sexual act, to try intentionally to block it from achieving its proper finality — namely, the engendering of new human life. These countermeasures can include, to borrow the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means” (Humanae Vitae, #14).

In a recent interview, Pope Francis pointed out that Paul VI, in a difficult situation in Africa, “permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.” This use of contraceptives by a group of nuns occurred during an exceptional wartime situation in the Belgian Congo. Although no document has ever been found in the Vatican indicating that permission was actually given by the Pope, these women were given the Pill by their physicians because they appeared to be in imminent danger of sexual assault during the uprisings of 1960. The Pill was provided to prevent their ovaries from releasing an egg, so that if they were raped during the chaos, the attacker’s sperm would not be able to fertilize any of their eggs and a pregnancy would not occur.

This “use of contraceptives” would clearly not be an act of contraception because there would be no consensual sexual act, but only an act of violence and brutality forcibly directed against the women. Hence, this use of contraceptives constituted, in its essence, an act of self-defense, not an act of contraception. A rapist, of course, has absolutely no right to forced sexual intimacy with his victim, nor does he have any right to bring about her impregnation, and the woman has absolutely no moral duty to make her eggs available to an attacker’s sperm. Hence the use of contraceptives in an emergency situation like this would be morally permissible precisely because it would not constitute, morally speaking, an act of contraception, but would rather represent a defensive and self-protective maneuver in a situation of grave and imminent danger.

The use of contraceptives can be morally acceptable in other contexts as well, again because such uses do not constitute acts of contraception. For example, when a woman has severe menstrual bleeding or pain from ovarian cysts, the hormonal regimen contained in the Pill may sometimes provide a directly therapeutic medical treatment for the bleeding or the pain. This use of contraceptives is an act of medical therapy to address a pathological situation, not an act of contraception.

The secondary effect from the treatment, namely marital infertility, is only tolerated and should not be willed, desired, or intended in any way by the couple. It’s worth noting that it would not be acceptable to make use of contraceptives like the Pill for these medical cases if other pharmacological agents or treatments were available which would offer the same therapeutic benefits and effects without impeding fertility.

Scholar and author Janet Smith has succinctly summarized the issue this way: “The Church teaches that acts of contraception are always against the plan of God for human sexuality, since God intended that each and every act of spousal intercourse express both the intention to make a complete, unitive gift of one’s self to one’s spouse and the willingness to be a parent with one’s spouse. These meanings of the spousal act are, as Humanae Vitae stated, inseparable.”

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, PH.D. is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Governor Jindal and the politics of birth control

Fr. Pacholczyk dissects Gov. Jindal’s proposal for over-the-counter birth control . . .

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last December, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argues that the cost of birth control could be reduced by eliminating the required doctor’s visit to get a prescription — making contraception available “over the counter.”

If it were made available this way, he argues, it would no longer be reimbursable by health insurance, and people could simply purchase it on their own. Jindal posits that this approach would result in “the end of birth control politics.” He relies on several simplistic assumptions and inadequate moral judgments, however, as he tries to advance this argument.

First, he misconstrues the objective. The goal should not be to remove birth control from political debate, but rather to arrive at reasonable medical, ethical and constitutional judgments about birth control and public policy. Contraception is an important topic for public discussion because it touches on basic human and social goods, such as children, family and sexual fidelity.

Indeed, laws about contraception have always been based upon concerns for the public good and public order. This was the case when Connecticut, in 1879, enacted strong legislation outlawing contraception. This law, similar to the anti-contraception laws of many other states, was in effect for nearly 90 years before it was reversed in 1965. These laws codified the longstanding public judgment that contraception was harmful to society because it promoted promiscuity, adultery and other evils.

Yet Jindal fails to engage these core concerns and instead retreats behind a common cultural cliché when he writes, “Contraception is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it.” If it’s true that contraception is often harmful to individuals and families, to marriage and to women’s health, then it clearly has broader public policy implications and is, objectively speaking, not merely a “personal matter.”

Consider just a few of the health issues: Contracepting women have increased rates of cardiovascular and thromboembolic events, including increased deep vein thrombosis, strokes, pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs), and heart attacks. Newer third and fourth generation combination birth control pills, which were supposed to lower cardiovascular risks, may actually increase those risks, and recently there have been class action lawsuits brought against the manufacturers of Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella, because women have died from such events.

In seeking to serve the public interest, the government may determine to become involved in such matters, as it did back in 1879, through specific legislative initiatives or through other forms of regulatory oversight. Indeed, the recent deployment of the HHS contraceptive mandate, as a component of ObamaCare, reflects an awareness of the public ramifications of this issue, even though the mandate itself is profoundly flawed and ultimately subverts the public interest. It compels Americans, unbelievably, to pay for the sexual proclivities of their neighbors, not only by requiring employers to cover costs for the Pill in their health plans, but also to pay for other morally objectionable procedures, including direct surgical sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs.

Jindal goes on to argue, “As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it.” Yet Jindal is really quite apologetic (and inconsistent) in his pro-life stance by arguing in this fashion. Contraception can never be pro-life. It regularly serves as a gateway to abortion, with abortion functioning as the “backup” to failed contraception for countless women and their partners. Abortion and contraception are two fruits of the same tree, being anti-child and therefore anti-life at the root. Certain “emergency” contraceptives (like Plan B and EllaOne) also appear able to function directly as abortifacients. IUDs can function similarly, making the uterine lining hostile for an arriving human embryo and forcing a loss of life to occur through a failure to implant.

Jindal, a committed Catholic, should not be minimizing the medical and moral risks associated with promoting contraceptive use, nor lessening social vigilance by promoting “over the counter” availability. Committed Catholics and politicians of conscience can better advance the public discourse surrounding contraception by avoiding such forms of circumlocution and instead directly addressing the medical and ethical evils of contraception and the unacceptability of the coercive HHS mandate itself.

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

The Santorum baby and the question of abortion

GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his wife Karen lost a child in 1996 . . .

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk

Inducing labor early during a pregnancy is dangerous, but it’s permissible under certain circumstances. Once the unborn child has reached viability, labor may be induced for a proportionate reason. Such early induction must be carefully considered with respect to each patient in an attempt to maximize clinical outcomes for both mother and child.

Early induction of labor after viability may be indicated, for example, in some cases of fetal hemolytic disease (where incompatibility between maternal and fetal blood causes the destruction of fetal red blood cells), assuming a significant risk to fetal health if the pregnancy were to continue.

Even prior to viability, in certain severe cases, the principle of Double Effect may allow for early induction of labor, with the death of the unborn child as a consequence. In such circumstances, the early induction of labor could not be construed as the equivalent of a direct abortion, but would constitute an indirect loss of life.

Some have claimed that presidential candidate Rick Santorum would have chosen an abortion, through an early induction of labor, when his wife Karen faced a difficult pregnancy back in 1996. According to media reports, Karen was fighting an infection that arose after she had undergone intrauterine surgery to correct a serious genetic defect in their unborn child.

Following the appearance of the infection, antibiotics were given to target the pathology. The family discussed inducing labor, which would have relied on a drug called pitocin. This would have been done to clear out the source of the infection, surmised to be infected membranes, from her body. According to Rick, “Karen said, ‘We’re not inducing labor, that’s an abortion. No way. That isn’t going to happen. I don’t care what happens.’”

What ended up happening was that she went into labor spontaneously, without being induced. When she realized it, she requested that an agent be given to block the labor so she could continue the pregnancy, since the child was too young to survive outside the womb, but her physicians refused, citing malpractice concerns. Children born prior to 21-23 weeks of gestation are not considered viable, and their child was only in the 19th or 20th week of pregnancy. Gabriel Michael Santorum was born shortly afterwards and lived for about two hours.

Karen’s claim that inducing labor would be the moral equivalent of abortion, it should be noted, is not quite correct. In circumstances where an intrauterine infection arises prior to viability, the decision to induce labor does not necessarily constitute an instance of a direct abortion, because in the absence of a suitable alternative or remedy for the infection, and with death looming for both mother and child, the physician who induces labor is seeking to clear and remove the source of the infection by acting pharmacologically on the mother’s body, not the child’s, through inducing the uterus to contract.

One is not attacking the body of the child, as in a direct abortion where the child’s body is dismembered with suction or surgical instruments. One is instead delivering the membranes, and thus, also the child early, with the foreseen, but unintended consequence that the child will probably die subsequently due to prematurity. When no other alternatives are available, this represents a valid application of the principle of Double Effect and would be morally permissible.

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops phrases it this way: “Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child” (#47).

When interviewed about the matter, Rick reportedly stated: “The baby was going to die no matter what, and if she hadn’t already gone into labor, it would have been the equivalent of murder not to put her into labor. We did everything medically possible to save both.”

While it is clear the Santorums did indeed do everything they could to save both, Rick’s conclusion that not putting Karen into labor would be the “equivalent of murder” is not precisely correct either. To decide not to induce labor, when such labor would be anticipated to save her from the infection, could be a form of negligence, but it would not be murder if there were no evil intent.

Clearly the Santorums were not involved in any form of a direct abortion. Unless one were to stipulate that the antibiotic was responsible for causing Karen’s labor to begin, which seems doubtful, then they were not involved in any indirect taking of life either, since the labor arose spontaneously as Karen’s body reacted to the presence of the infection itself.

However, insofar as the loss of the child’s life ended up resulting from the original corrective surgical intervention (and co-occurring infection), one could conclude that the Santorums were involved in the indirect and unintended loss of the life of their child because they chose to try the surgery. Because the defect of the child was extremely serious, nevertheless, there appeared to be a proportionate and justifiable reason for choosing that particular high-risk surgery in an attempt to benefit both child and mother.

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Human stockpiling

Fr. Pacholczyk contends that the United States urgently needs embryo protection laws . . .

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk

A recent news report chronicled a Chinese woman named Huang Yijun. Sixty years ago, her unborn child died, but the infant was never expelled from her body. Instead, her baby’s body slowly began to calcify inside her, becoming a crystallized, stone-like mass. Such stone babies (known as lithopedions) are extremely rare. When Huang was 92 years old, the baby was discovered in her abdomen and surgically removed.

This rare medical event prompts us to consider a thought experiment. Imagine a drug that could be injected into a child to crystallize him, but without killing him. The process would turn the child into a static mass for as many years as the parents wanted; another injection would reverse the process and allow the child to wake up and continue growing. Parents who decided they needed a break from parenting could bring their kids to the clinic and pay to store them as crystals for a limited period of time. Some children might end up never being decrystallized, with their stony bodies piling up in warehouses.

Such a bizarre warehousing of children is not as outlandish as it might seem. In fact, fertility clinics in the United States already warehouse more than 500,000 children in high-tech freezers filled with liquid nitrogen, children who are crystallized by-products of the in vitro fertilization process. Parents can choose to “re-animate” their embryonic children by thawing them, implanting them and gestating them. But in other instances, they end up being abandoned because their parents become too old to carry a pregnancy or are content with the number of their already-born children.

The multi-billion-dollar infertility business in the U.S. has been aptly described as a kind of “Wild West” — a lawless frontier where nearly anything goes, including the daily freezing and stockpiling of scores of embryonic humans. This practice is one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our age. Few commentators, however, dare to raise their voices against this injustice, which is proficiently marketed as a matter of personal reproductive freedom. Because our frozen children have no voice to speak in their own defense, we slip into a mindset that ignores their inherent dignity.

But not every country has been so blind. Germany, which has a strong historical memory of the consequences of ignoring human dignity, declines to participate in these charades. Strikingly, human embryos are not being frozen anywhere in the country, and virtually none are held in cryogenic storage. Meanwhile, countless American parents find themselves caught in agonizing dilemmas about what to do with their offspring held in suspended animation.

The reason for this remarkable difference lies in the fact that the Germans enacted the Embryo Protection Law of 1990, which includes provisions outlawing the freezing of human embryos. Italy has passed similar legislation. Both countries closely regulate in vitro fertilization treatments and allow the production of no more than three embryos at a time — all of whom must be implanted into their mother. Both countries forbid the production of extra embryos, experimentation on embryos, cloning of embryos and genetic testing of embryos.

Not much reflection is needed to realize the serious injustice involved in forcefully “crystallizing” another human being. The freezing and thawing process itself subjects embryonic humans to significant risk. Up to 50% of embryos perish in the process. Stored embryos often end up being condemned to a kind of perpetual stasis, locked in time in the harsh wasteland of their liquid-nitrogen orphanages. This injustice, once it has been foisted upon human embryos, is then used by others to argue on behalf of an even more egregious offense against their dignity: the destructive strip-mining of embryos to acquire their stem cells.

The radical stockpiling of embryonic humans threatens to become nearly routine in our society, as such humans are reduced to little more than “stony objects” to be warehoused and manipulated — valuable primarily for how they can serve the commercial interests or the personal desires of others. The temptation to dehumanize our own brothers and sisters is a perennial one, hearkening back to that time in our country, not so long ago, when slaves could be considered only three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional representation. Treating embryos as zero-fifths of a person constitutes an even more deplorable violation of human rights.

The United States urgently needs embryo protection laws. Men and women of conscience must pressure lawmakers to act. The putative and widely touted “self-regulation” of fertility clinics remains a dismal failure. Laws like those in Germany and Italy, while they would not stop every injustice done to the least powerful among us, could go a long way towards assuring that further forms of scientific barbarism and human exploitation do not become commonplace.

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.