This month, we go one-on-one with Dr. Vince Fortanasce, one of the country’s foremost experts in Catholic teaching on bioethical issues. He believes the world is moving quickly in the direction of Aldous Huxley’s frightening Brave New World, published in 1932, which anticipated developments in reproductive technology and biological engineering.
What is pre-implantation genetic screening and diagnosis?
Some prospective parents carry a genetic defect that they might pass on to their children. One way to avoid giving birth to a child with a genetic defect is to have the child engendered through a procedure called in vitro fertilization (where the child is engendered in a glass dish outside the body).
The technicians then use Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening and Diagnosis (PGSD) by which a single cell is extracted from the very early, eight-cell embryo and tested for the defect. If the child has the defect it is discarded. If the child is healthy, an attempt is made to implant it in the woman’s womb.
Why we should be concerned about this procedure?
PGSD originated around 1991 to help those rare cases where a lethal genetic disorder might be passed on to one’s children. There are now 150 diseases that are genetically tested. Embryos with a genetic defect are discarded. You can see that what we have is a microscopic kind of eugenics. Eugenics is a natural progression from PGSD. In theory, the possibility already exists to genetically enhance an embryo at this earliest stage in its life for increased IQ or athletic ability, engendering a “designer baby.” There are many parents who would not want to pass up this possibility!
Does anyone advocate these kinds of interventions?
Yes, indeed! In fact, one “bioethicist” raises it with great seriousness in The Biotechnology Law Report, a legal journal. In 2003, Donrich Jordaan wrote an article entitled “Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening and Selection: An Ethical Analysis.” He argues that parents should be legally liable if they allow a genetically defective child to be born!
Mandating the use of this technology to eliminate the “genetically defective” means that failure to comply could result in legal prosecution. Failure to comply would be seen as “compromising of the prospective child’s health,” giving the child and government the right to sue for harm done by a “negligent” parent. England has a law pending to mandate the destruction of “abnormal” embryos. Regrettably, eugenics is alive and well.
It sounds frighteningly like Brave New World, doesn’t it?
Opinions like these will herald judicial judgments and legal mandates to undermine our own moral rights and place our children in danger. If this seems inconceivable, consider the fact that in California, a 12-year-old child can have an abortion without parental consent, yet not be given an aspirin at school without a parent’s approval.
Are PGSD and eugenics a great danger to Catholicism?
The Catholic Church would naturally oppose such a mandate and would be viewed as a “prejudice society,” along with others who morally object. This is a term used by Jordaan in his article. The government and judicial system may well enforce the use of PGSD, and those who oppose it might actually be “liable and criminally prosecuted.”
There are no guidelines regarding the use of these reproductive technologies in the United States. Yet in Germany, PGSD is illegal. The Germans lived through a period of terrible fanaticism as man tried to play God. They correctly see PGSD as another ugly and dangerous form of eugenics. The Catholic Church is not alone in its objection to these procedures. Time magazine’s editor-at-large Nancy Gibbs, in an essay earlier this year, expressed grave concerns about man playing God with this technology.
Is there anything else alarming in the Jordaan article?
There are numerous issues that follow from Jordaan’s reasoning. He derives conclusions from the utilitarian philosophy that “the end justifies the means,” whereas St. Paul teaches us that we may never do evil that good may come from it. Jordaan dismisses such a moral principle, claiming it is simply unfounded. “The prospective parent’s procreative autonomy is established as a general rule, and the objections that claim to be based on human dignity, naturalness, sentimental morality and eugenics are indicated to be unfounded.”
“Procreative autonomy” would allow any type of procreation, sexual or asexual. This means cloning would be allowed. Homosexuals, for example, could engender their own “offspring” without benefit of a spouse.
As Legatus members, leaders of the Catholic community, it is our responsibility to be knowledgeable of these developments and to act on behalf of the sanctity of life. To do otherwise would give tacit approval of such utilitarian practices. Remember, it is our children who will suffer the full extent of disordered laws and may one day be prosecuted because of their beliefs in the sanctity of all life.
Dr. Vincent M. Fortanasce is a neurologist, a clinical professor at USC with degrees in psychiatry from Yale affiliate IOL and neurology from USC. He is a member of the Pasadena Chapter of Legatus and a nationally known bioethicist, author and host for St. Joseph Radio.