Tag Archives: Patrick Lee

The stunning illogic of Roe v. Wade

In its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the laws against abortion in all 50 states. This decision is still the guiding precedent for the Supreme Court on abortion cases. Because of it, our nation continues to deny unborn human beings any rights whatsoever and allows (even encourages) their deliberate killing. As slavery was the central issue in the 19th century, so abortion is central in our time.

Dr. Patrick Lee

Writing for the majority in Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun claimed to find in the 14th Amendment an implicit right to abortion, when it said the state must not deprive a person of liberty without due process of law. That argument has been soundly refuted many times. But Blackmun’s most egregious errors occurred when he addressed the fetus’ personhood and humanity.

Texas (the defendant in this case) argued that the human fetus is a person and so deserves equal protection of the law, provided by laws banning abortion. Significantly, Blackmun admitted, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, then the case against striking down the abortion laws collapses.” However, he then argued that the word “person” is neither defined, nor used to refer to fetuses as persons in the Constitution, and so human fetuses are (he concluded) not persons in the Constitutional sense.

But this argument does not hold up. Nowhere in the Constitution are toddlers referred to as persons either, but one cannot deny they are persons in the Constitutional sense. Clearly, the word “person” is used in the Constitution as a descriptive term. That is, it refers to whatever can truly be called a person, whether the authors of that phrase had them explicitly in mind or not. Now, since human fetuses (unborn humans) are identical with beings who later quite clearly show they are persons — by reasoning, making deliberate choices, and so on — it follows that they are persons when in the womb, and so the 14th Amendment applies to them, and they deserve equal protection of the law.

Texas also rightly argued that, apart from the question of whether fetuses are persons according to the Constitution, they certainly are human beings, and the state has a compelling interest to protect every human being. Blackmun’s reply was stunning: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

But as a matter of fact science — embryology — does settle that issue: What is killed in abortion is without doubt a distinct, living human individual. (There are different positions on whether this is a “person” — but it’s a matter of science that from conception on, what is growing within the womb is a distinct human being.)

Moreover, the question at issue is a practical one, not just theoretical. If it were a question only of theory — for example, what is matter? what is time? — we could suspend judgment. But this is a practical question about how we will treat a certain class of individuals. The question is: Should we treat unborn human individuals as the same kind of beings as ourselves or not? The United States must settle this issue: It will either treat the unborn as human beings, deserving of equal protection of the law or not. So Blackmun saying the Court would not settle the issue was simply false. By striking down abortion laws, the Court determined that unborn human life would from then on be treated as mere sub-personal objects.

What should Blackmun have concluded? First, even if he stuck to his erroneous view that there was no consensus on the question whether the fetus is a human being, the Court should have left the issue to legislators, recognizing the limits of the judiciary’s role (its role is only to interpret the Constitution and the law, not make it).

But even at that time there was — and still is — a consensus in science. Blackmun should have therefore concluded that since what is killed in abortion is in fact a human being — as determined by the science of embryology — to deny unborn human beings the equal protection of the law is unconstitutional.

May the Lord help us! A civilization cannot long survive — or deserve to —that relegates a whole class of human beings (in this case unborn human beings) to the status of mere objects that can be shredded and then thrown into the trash can.

PATRICK LEE, PH.D.,is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Catholicism is countercultural on contraception

PATRICK LEE writes that our sexual lives must be grounded in reality and truth . . .

Patrick Lee

The Catholic Church teaches that sexual acts belong in marriage, that every marital act should be open to new life, and therefore that contraception is objectively immoral. This teaching, needless to say, is held in contempt by our affluent western culture.

While some Catholics are embarrassed by it (or reject it), it is the Church’s constant teaching and flows from the fundamental truths that human life is sacred — and that marriage is a two-in-one-flesh union. Catholics need to defend and explain this teaching. Two lines of argument can help them do so.

The first argument focuses on the goodness of human life itself. Morality centrally concerns how our choices bear on the intrinsic goods of human persons — goods such as life, health, knowledge and friendship. To choose contrary to one or more of these goods is to set oneself against an intrinsic good of a person and thus to act contrary to love of God and neighbor.

Contraception is the choice to deprive a sexual act of its potential to procreate. This choice is an interior act of will, carried out by an external behavior, either before, during, or after the sexual act. As its name indicates, it’s a choice directly against the coming to be of new human life. While it isn’t a choice to destroy a life that already exists, it is a directing of one’s will against new life. Just as it’s possible to direct one’s will toward goods that don’t yet exist — by willing to bring them into being — so it’s possible to direct one’s will against a good that does not yet exist by choosing to ensure it does not come to be. But it’s morally wrong to direct one’s will against the inherent goods of persons — including life itself.

People often object that contraception is morally indistinguishable from Natural Family Planning. However, there is a clear difference between the two. It’s not wrong to choose not to pursue a good because of the difficulties associated with that pursuit. If a student chooses not to take a summer course because of time and expense, he is not choosing contrary to knowledge. In the same way, a couple’s choice to refrain from intercourse during a fertile time is not a choice against conception. By contrast, contraception is a choice to do something to make sure a baby does not come to be.

A second line of argument concerns the relationship between the sexual act and the marital unity it is meant to express. The sexual act should express mutual love and commitment and thus not treat the other’s body like a tool for pleasure. But it can truly express love and commitment only if it actualizes a real bodily union, only if the man and woman become one flesh.

Marriage is the sharing of lives by a man and a woman on all levels of their humanity. And this sharing of lives — this bodily, emotional and spiritual union — is naturally extended and fulfilled, if all goes well, by their conceiving and rearing children together (even though not every marriage reaches that natural fulfillment). Children are the concrete fruit of the spouses’ marital union. But in contraception the will is directed against the coming to be of a child and so it is a choice contrary to the culmination of marital unity.

Moreover, marital intercourse is not just a sign or symbol of the spouses’ love — though it is that, of course — but it’s a real bodily union. In marital intercourse the spouses become the single subject of a single biological function, related to each other somewhat like the various organs — heart, lungs and arteries, for example — are parts of a single organism. If they have consented to share their lives on all levels — including, if all goes well, by becoming mother and father with each other — then this bodily union expresses and enables the spouses to experience their multi-leveled marital union. It is a constitutive part of their marital union.

But contraception closes the sexual act to procreation with the result that the associated sexual acts — for there is not a single, joint act — do not make them biologically one. Failing to embody their union, the sexual acts cease to be genuinely marital.

In today’s culture, feelings count for everything — even if they are illusory. But Christian teaching is that reality matters. Our sexual lives must be grounded in reality and truth. When Our Lord taught that in marriage a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh (Mt 19:5), he was insisting that marriage is an objective reality, grounded in the genuine goods of life and bodily union.

PATRICK LEE, PH.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The slippery slope of physician-assisted suicide

Patrick Lee writes that physician-assisted suicide takes us in a dangerous direction . . .

Dr. Patrick Lee

Dr. Patrick Lee

Catholics believe human life is intrinsically valuable, and therefore one should never intentionally kill an innocent person, whether oneself or someone else. This is central to our moral convictions. But it is being challenged by a virulent campaign in favor of physician-assisted suicide (PAS).

Why must we refrain from “assisting someone to die” (as it is euphemistically called) if that person is in unbearable suffering or has decided for herself that her life is no longer worthwhile? And even if it is morally wrong, how can we impose our moral belief — so it is objected — on society?

We should first distinguish between the suffering person and the suffering itself. When someone we love suffers grievously, we have a strong emotional response. But our emotional repugnance should be directed to the suffering itself. It’s a different thing altogether to conclude that the best way of helping that person is to help her kill herself. We rightly abhor the pain and suffering, but not the person. It’s right to try to remove the pain and suffering; it is not right intentionally to destroy the person to alleviate her anguish.

PAS proponents argue that a person should be able to decide for herself whether her life is worthwhile. But a person’s life is inherently worthwhile, not something that becomes valuable only because someone decides it is so. Life can never cease to be intrinsically valuable because your life is not your possession. Rather, it is the same as you yourself, and you yourself cannot cease to be worthy of love and care.

Of course, the moral issue does not by itself settle what the law should be. Some argue that we should respect people’s autonomy and so the law should allow PAS. A large degree of autonomy is necessary for people to lead responsible lives, but there are rightful limits to autonomy. The law requires drivers to wear seatbelts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. There are laws against prostitution, dueling, Russian Roulette, and the use of certain addictive drugs. All laws limit liberty (autonomy) to some extent; the question is whether  there is a sufficient public good at stake.

The protection of life is as an essential component of the public good. Especially important is how the culture as a whole — which is profoundly influenced by the law — regards human life. If a culture regards human life as inviolable, that fact protects all of us; if not, then the most vulnerable among us — especially the elderly and the disabled — are in danger. A culture that condones PAS views life as merely contingently valuable and so views the lives of many of the most vulnerable among us as mere burdens.

Consider laws that prohibit physicians from amputating healthy limbs or performing female genital mutilation. Such laws exist precisely because we recognize that physicians should perform surgery only to provide a real medical (or cosmetic) benefit to the patient — or at least not significantly harm her. Rescinding such laws would send the message that these practices are not inherently harmful. In the same way, rescinding the law against PAS would send the message that in many cases a person’s life is simply not worth living and, by implication, is merely a burden on his or her family.

The sense of self-worth among the elderly, dying, and disabled would be profoundly harmed by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and it would lead many to despair and request suicide out of undue deference to others. A society cannot, then, be neutral with respect to the lives of these people: It will either protect their lives or it will help shape a culture that views them as better off dead.

The logic of de-criminalizing PAS for the terminally ill who are suffering grievously would lead inexorably to allowing (and encouraging) other types of killing. If the rationale for PAS is to respect autonomy, then why limit it to those who are terminally ill? Why privilege the autonomy of those who are terminally ill above those who are suffering chronically? Alternatively, if the rationale for PAS is that a person is in misery or has allegedly lost her dignity — if the law is based on the belief that for some people death is a benefit — then it will be impossible to deny this alleged benefit to other groups who lack decision-making capacity, for example, those who are unconscious, demented, or are children (as the Netherlands has been led to do with the open euthanasia of infants).

Thus, PAS is a denial of the equal and inherent dignity of the elderly, the dying, and the disabled. Respect for human life and genuine compassion and care for all requires that PAS remain illegal.

PATRICK LEE, Ph.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Abortion and women’s equality

Patrick Lee attempts to make sense of the legal and ethical arguments for abortion . . .

Dr. Patrick Lee

In the last decade or so there has been a shift in the kind of argument usually advanced by abortion advocates. The new approach is to argue that laws against abortion violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment (“nor shall any state deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”).

The basic argument was expressed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a dissenting opinion in a 2006 case: “Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation. Their ability to realize their full potential … is intimately connected to their ability to control their reproductive lives. Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.”

In other words, without access to abortion (they argue) sexually active women will be subject to the burdens of pregnancy and the immediate responsibility for child care in a way that men will not, and will therefore be less able to compete in society — and less in control of their destiny. So, they conclude, laws against abortion deny women the equal protection of the law and are unconstitutional.

President Obama made this argument his own — and has consistently acted on it. Speaking in January to a crowd at a Planned Parenthood celebration of Roe v. Wade, the President said: “We must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams” — in other words, not having access to abortion, or even difficulties in that access, would impede women from “fulfilling their dreams.”

Given this understanding, the state must not only make abortion legal, it must ensure that abortion is widely and easily accessible — and even actively encourage it. The argument’s central premise is that women cannot be equal to men unless they are unencumbered by (at least) unplanned pregnancies. (And in fact, if women can reach full citizenship stature only in the workplace, then any pregnancy tends to be an obstacle.) It becomes a requirement on the part of the state to ensure that women are not thus impeded. Moreover, they say, leveling the playing field in the workplace and political arena will not been achieved until the state encourages abortion — and contraceptive “services” as well.

Again, since the goal is actual abortions and not just the liberty to procure them, it follows that teaching that abortion (or contraception) is wrong presents an obstacle in the path toward women’s equality. Indeed, since even the thought that abortion is immoral makes women less likely to resort to them, the state must strive to create a culture in which the acceptance of abortion is the public orthodoxy and those who disagree are viewed as extremists and intolerant bigots. (Thus the recent attack on religious freedom is not a historical accident.)

This equal protection argument is radically unsound. It’s true that laws against abortion have a different impact on women than they do on men. However, from the fact that a law might have a different impact on different groups, it does not follow that the law is treating these groups differently. In the 19th century, laws against slavery impacted southern plantation owners differently than others, but they were not for that reason unconstitutional or unjust.

Second, in reality men have just as much a moral responsibility as women to care for and support their children. True, because women carry and give birth to children, men can escape their real responsibilities much more easily than can women. But it’s no solution to this situation to encourage women to kill their children as a means of making them just as able — or at least more able — to walk away from a pregnancy, as their male partners. The fact that only women gestate and give birth to babies is an important fact. There may be many things we should do to ensure that women are not disadvantaged by this fact of nature — but encouraging the killing of unborn human beings is not one of them.

Finally, the equal protection argument against laws protecting unborn human life falsely supposes that pregnancy is a disability, a condition that impedes women from participating fully in the workplace or political arena — and that these are the only places where full “citizenship stature” is attained. Ironically, the equal protection argument for abortion, and the attitudes it generates, actually denigrate women and help to create a culture where they are viewed as mere objects instead of recognizing their true dignity.

Patrick Lee, Ph.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Threats to the integrity of the medical profession

Patrick Lee writes that secularism and materialism have distorted the medical profession . . .

Dr. Patrick Lee

Medicine is a noble profession dedicated to helping patients maintain or restore their health and life. Health and life are intrinsic goods of the human person. Thus the medical profession is defined not by its provision of some commodity, but by its mission to contribute to human flourishing. But our culture threatens this truth, both in specific policies and in pervasive attitudes.

Next August a regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services is slated to mandate health insurance providers to cover “contraceptive” devices — including many that are sometimes abortifacient. This is a particularly egregious example of governmental intrusion to classify procedures as health care which are in fact the diametrical opposite of that.

Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in three states and there are organized movements to bring it to others. Physicians are being pressured to kill the severely disabled, the dying and the suffering — and to help create a culture that tells them their lives are not worth living. And regarding the beginning of life, physicians are under intense pressure to cooperate with contraception, sterilization and abortion.

Yet these recent overt threats are later symptoms — perhaps lethal in themselves — of the progression of an underlying, more extensive disease. They stem from ideas that permeate our culture (especially in medical schools) that block any coherent view of the true mission of the medical profession. The chief of these influential ideas are materialism and secularism.

The basic premise underlying the truth that medicine is a distinct and noble profession is that the human person is of incalculable dignity — each person is irreplaceable, inherently valuable and should be treated with reverence. And so the patient enters a sacred trust with his physician. The physician doesn’t just have a job, but a mission to cooperate actively with a patient to help the whole person with respect to his health.

Since health is only one of many intrinsic goods of the person, the person seeking health care is the ultimate authority in deciding whether or not to accept the physician’s recommendations. Therefore, paternalism — making all the decisions for the patient — is wrong. Yet the patient’s rightful autonomy does not mean that the physician is obliged to do whatever the patient demands. The physician is committed to the patient’s true well-being, and the physician is also a real moral agent with moral responsibility for his actions. Thus, the physician is not just a functionary or a technician hired to produce a specific product or result. The physician (and the whole health-care team) should cooperate with the patient to serve his overall well-being with respect to health.

Materialism denies that the human being has a spiritual aspect. Secularism is the view that religion is a mere distraction and even harmful. Secularism also often leads to the view that there is no objective meaning and value in the universe — and that we ourselves endow it with whatever meaning and value we choose. Health-care professionals need not themselves be materialists or secularists for their outlook on patients to be profoundly influenced by these views. Such views permeate our culture and there is often an assumption that even if one does not personally hold them, one’s actions must be guided by them in the public domain. Hence there is often a tendency to lose sight of the patient as a whole person and to view him as a mere machine. Then, instead of trying to help a person decide how best to fulfill his particular responsibilities, the medical challenges become viewed as mere technical problems to be fixed.

It is often rightly said that a physician needs to treat the whole person. But it doesn’t mean that the physician must try to solve issues outside his expertise. Rather, it means that the physician should remember that he’s treating health issues that will fit within the whole set of responsibilities and vocation of a person of inestimable worth.

Materialism and secularism together create an environment which obscures the actual nature of the people in need of health care. To the extent that human beings are viewed as mere complex machines (materialism), health-care professionals will find it virtually impossible to treat patients with reverence. And to the extent that reality is viewed as lacking any inherent meaning and value (secularism), health care will be reduced to mere mechanics, and then health-care professionals will be fair game for bureaucrats insisting that destructive and lethal procedures must be part of their training and practice.

In truth, we are created in the image of God, and we are sacred. Health-care professionals need to remind themselves of that, need to be vocal about their beliefs and need to strive to treat their patients with reverence and awe, begging God for his guidance and grace in their important mission.

Patrick Lee, Ph.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The truth about Catholic health care

Health care was essential to Jesus Christ, it’s essential to the Catholic Church . . .

Dr. Patrick Lee

While there are no Catholic restaurants or Catholic grocery stores, there are specifically Catholic hospitals, clinics, hospices and nursing homes. Why? Catholic health stems from how Jesus conducted his public ministry. He not only preached and forgave sins, but he cured, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute.

Jesus cured lepers, the lame, and even raised the dead. Moreover, Jesus commanded his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers” (Mt 10:8) and promised them divine assistance in this work (Jn 14:12). So, in serving the sick and caring for the dying, Christians are fulfilling an apostolate, not just a job. The Church is the Body of Christ, the extension of Christ in space and time; and so healing physical sickness, injuries, and caring for the dying constitute part of the Church’s specific mission.

But, one might ask, why did Jesus himself heal the physically sick and injured? Didn’t Christ become man in order to proclaim the kingdom, die for our sins, and form a Church to carry on that work? Jesus healed partly because he simply cared for the physical well-being of the sick and injured who were brought to him. But he also healed physical maladies as part of his larger mission of proclaiming and making present his kingdom. This means that the salvation Jesus offers is not a purely spiritual reality but includes our whole selves, body and soul. The complete victory is reached only in being joined to Christ in the resurrection. Only then is death is fully conquered. But, lest salvation be identified as something purely spiritual — only for part of us, not the whole of us — followers and imitators of Christ have been commissioned to cure the sick and care for the suffering and dying.

A second reason for Catholic health care can be understood by comparing it to Catholic schools, especially Catholic universities. Of course, learning also occurs in non-Catholic universities — physics, chemistry and biology, for example, do not depend on revealed truths. But the whole of learning — an accurate view of the world as such, and of its ultimate purpose — can be grasped only in a broad study crowned by theology and pursued in the context of faith and theology.

Analogously, sickness and suffering can be treated by medicine and secular social work, but they can be treated most effectively only in the larger context provided by our faith. Only in this context can they be treated with realism and an appreciation for their ultimate meaning. Only the Catholic health care institution has the resources to treat the whole person — body, mind and spirit.

Catholic health care is founded on the faith that sheds light on the profound dignity of each and every human person — made in God’s image, a person for whom Christ suffered and died — a dignity inherent in that person from the moment of conception until natural death, especially including persons enduring intense suffering, frustrating unconsciousness or advancing dementia.

Our faith reveals that suffering is not meaningless. While suffering should be treated, it finds meaning as joined to Christ’s sufferings. And by faith we know that death, while in itself bad, is not the worst enemy; we will be raised from the dead, and we have trust that by God’s grace we will meet again in heaven. Sickness, suffering and death are realistically confronted only with the light provided by our faith.

What lessons can we learn from these truths about Catholic health care? First, Catholic health workers must remember that the Christian mandate is not just to cure the sick. Jesus’ physical healing was only part of a larger, more encompassing cure, centered on the forgiving and redeeming of sins, the infusion of divine life. And it was precisely his insistence on addressing the whole person — sin, as well as physical sickness — that triggered the most fierce resistance against his mission. Just so, the aim of a Catholic health care institution can never be only to cure the sick, but — just as Jesus did — to care for health within the larger context of bearing witness to the truth of the whole Gospel and handing on Jesus’ salvific deeds, especially the Sacraments.

Second, the more encompassing healing is related to physical healing somewhat as faith is related to reason. Just as many Catholic schools are tempted to conform to standards set by the secular world of learning and to dilute their Catholic identity, Catholic health care facilities must resist a similar temptation and strive not to forget their specifically Catholic mission. This is not just a temptation with respect to particular ethical issues. Rather, faith must permeate the whole approach of the Catholic health facility to sickness, suffering, and death. Then, we pray, at the end of the world, Our Lord will say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25: 34).

Patrick Lee, Ph.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Can we know when life begins?

Dr. Patrick Lee says there’s a strong logical case for the pro-life position . . .

Dr. Patrick Lee

There is heated disagreement over abortion in our culture. But in the mainstream media the reasons for this disagreement are never discussed. A U.S. senator, for example, will be asked for his opinion, but he will never be asked why he opposes or favors abortion.

Apparently the reigning view is that people either abhor or approve of abortion merely through their emotions. Or perhaps it’s assumed that opposition to abortion is just a strange rule that some Christians happen to hold. In either case, the result is that no one discusses reasons pro or con because — it seems — there just aren’t any.

This is a mistake. There’s a strong logical case for the pro-life position. I will present some of the evidence that a human being begins at fertilization. If one adds to this point that every human organism is a person with basic rights (and there are strong arguments for this also), then the pro-life position has a robust logical defense.

To see this, let’s consider some of the facts about sexual reproduction. At fertilization a sperm unites with an ovum, each of them ceases to be, and a new entity is generated. (Hence it makes no sense to say that a sperm or an ovum becomes a mature human, or that a sperm or an ovum has the potential to become a mature human: Ingredients do not become what they enter into, whereas an immature human being — an embryo, fetus, or infant — does become an adult human being simply by maturing.) It’s obvious that the human embryo is a distinct entity, not a part of the mother or a part of the father. For unlike body cells, tissues, or organs, the embryo does not function as part of its mother.

The one-cell embryo (zygote) develops by dividing into two cells, then four, then eight and so on. While these divisions occur, all of the cells continue to be enclosed within a thin membrane called the zona pellucid, which is inherited from the ovum.

Are these merely a bundle of disparate cells? The evidence shows that together they make up one organism. These cells inter-communicate and seem to function together as parts of a whole in a regular and predictable manner. As a result, they perform an ordered, differentiated growth and constitute a stable body. For as the embryo travels down the uterine tube into the uterus during the first four or five days, the different cells begin differential gene expression (modifications of different parts of the DNA within the cells’ nuclei in order to generate different types of new cells that can function in different ways).

On day three or four, at the transition from the eight-cell stage to the 16-cell stage, the embryo differentiates into trophoblastic cells (precursors of the placenta) on the one hand, and inner cell mass cells (precursors of the permanent part of the embryo and fetus), on the other hand. This is the first overt functional differentiation that occurs, but the cells have been preparing for this differentiation since day one.

So from the zygote stage onward the cells are functioning as parts of a whole, and there is inner coordination toward the next step in a developmental trajectory that eventually involves a clear development of a body plan and distinct organs. The material constitution of the embryo from the one-cell stage onward provides it an active disposition to develop itself to the mature stage of a human being.

This is a new and distinct multi-cellular organism. It is developing itself in a predictable direction. Obviously it is also human since its cells have the genetic structure characteristic of humans.

The next question is crucial: Is this a whole human organism? This is important because human tissue and human cells alone are not whole human organisms — for example, an isolated skin cell or a heart before it’s implanted into a recipient. Each of these is human but neither is a whole organism.

The evidence indicating that the human embryo is a whole human is that it has within itself all of the internal resources and the active disposition to develop itself to the mature stage of a human being. The direction of its growth is internally coordinated — what it receives from outside itself is only a suitable environment and nutrition. The organizational information for its growth comes from within.

Moreover, at no stage after fertilization does there occur a fundamental change in the direction of growth. None of the changes that occur to this being afterward — as long as this being stays alive — qualify as producing a fundamental change in its interiorly directed growth, so as to involve the coming to be of a new organism. Rather, everything that happens after fertilization either assists or retards its interiorly directed self-development.

So a new, whole human organism comes to be at fertilization. And, given that we are human organisms, it follows that you and I came to be at the same time the human embryos that we once were came to be.

Patrick Lee, Ph.D., is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is a nationally known keynote speaker and author on contemporary ethics, especially on marriage and the value of human life.