Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Adoption is Wrong

A dear friend and I had a discussion today about the Catholic Church's position on reproductive techonolgy. She had read this article and was surprised to hear that the church would be against adoption. Of course, the church isn't against adoption of children but is against embryo adoption. I understand why but still have some questions.

First, IVF itself. My friend was curious as to why the church, which places such a high value on human life, would be against technology to allow a couple to have children. When a couple loves each other, and wants to share that love with a child, and we have the capability to give them one, why would we not want to do that? This is a child that would be loved and cherished, and clearly the couple has the financial means to give it a good life (or they couldn't afford IVF in the first place).

Very good questions. Let's consider what IVF is. Wikipedia says:

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a process by which egg cells are fertilised by sperm outside the womb, in vitro. IVF is a major treatment in infertility when other methods of assisted reproductive technology have failed. The process involves hormonally controlling the ovulatory process, removing ova (eggs) from the woman's ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a fluid medium. The fertilised egg (zygote) is then transferred to the patient's uterus with the intent to establish a successful pregnancy.

Aside from the issues surrounding the morality of removing eggs and sperm, and bypassing the relationship and act of love between man and wife, it sounds OK until you get into the method. Eggs are removed from the woman, sperm from the man, and the eggs are fertilized in a petri dish or some other medium outside the body. About 10 to 30 eggs are removed and fertilized at a time. After two to five days, the embryos are "selected" and several are implanted into the woman's uterus.

The selection process is one were the embryologist choose which children will live or die based on criteria. Can you say eugenics? If you can select a child based on these criteria, why not add criteria such as eye color, sex, etc.? We're looking at the precursor to Gattaca.

Then there's the pregnancy rate of 35% and live birth rate of 27%. Of course, there is a high risk of multiple births, so we will want to further cull the embryos by aborting all but one. We've killed enough of our own children already, so what's one more?

Of course, the alternative to this procedure for infertile couple is adopting an already born child. That procedure is extremely risky and has moral questions, like...oh wait! There isn't any risk or any moral dilemma associated with live adoption.

So, rather than thinking of a couple who wants to share their beautiful love, the image in reality is a couple who is so vain that they would ignore the option of sharing their love with a child who needs them, create 10-30 children of their own, kill most of their own children, and risk the lives of the ones they don't intentionally kill, in order to have a "perfect" baby (where "perfect" means having their genetic characteristics). We're not talking about an act of love, but an act of supreme selfishness.

As for being "wanted", whether or not we "want" or even like a person does not affect their basic human dignity and rights.

Back to adoption of embryos. As mentioned, IVF creates 10-30 embryos. The ones which are not used may be destroyed outright or may be frozen and stored. After all, if the couple wants to have another child, it will be cheaper to use a frozen one than to start the process all over again. If the couple doesn't want another child, we can use these for medical experiments. Who cares about them?

Well, some people do, and want to do something about it. But what? One possibility is to "adopt" an embryo. Have it implanted in a woman and grow until birth. It is this "embryo adoption" that the Church teaches us is immoral. Again, one can ask "why?" Here is the case of a technology to allow a couple to have children. When a couple loves each other, and wants to share that love with a child, and we have the capability to give them one, why would we not want to do that? This is a child that would be loved and cherished.

First of all, we have some of the same arguments as before. We would have an embryologist "selecting" which embryo to implant, and we would be putting those children "in harm's way" given the expected number of them that would die. But of course you could make the argument that they are already at risk, when they might be used for medical research or destroyed.

My understanding is that the Church's position is that taking an embryo that is not your own and implanting it in your womb is a form of adultery. Yet, adopting that same child after it has been born is not. At first glance that sounds a little too much like making a distinction between a person who is born and one who is not. However, it is not the state of the embryo that makes the difference, but the intimacy with the mother's body that makes it adultery.

Since it is not valid to perform an evil act even if we intend a good outcome (the end never justifies the means), this means that a couple can't adopt an embryo as it would constitute an evil act (adultery) even if the intended outcome was good (the preservation of the life of the embryo). However, there are certain cases where an unintended evil must be accepted - in the case of ectopic pregnancy, for example.

Could one not make the argument that the implantation of the embryo would be an unfortunate but acceptable evil in order to try to save the life of the embryo? I would argue not, since the implantation could not be done without intention. Thus it doesn't meet the criteria outlined in the ectopic pregnancy case. Hence the Church's term "moral dilemma" in the article.

I'm still not sure I understand this issue entirely. If you have more information or opinion on the subject please let me know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reproductive Technology

This is an intro to a topic I want to cover later, embryonic adoption. I know the subject has been covered (probably better) by others (more eloquent than I), but it's my blog, so here goes.

Most people I know dismiss the Catholic position on reproductive "technology" (abortion, fertility treatments) as being a "religious thing" and since they don't agree with the religion, they are absolved from having to consider the position at all. Yet to Catholics, these things are not a matter of faith, but a matter of careful reason, and we can't for the life of us figure out why anyone of any (or no) faith could fail to follow the reasoning.

So let's look at the issue for a moment. Without invoking God, or faith, or any aspect that is not totally secular. Let's use as our only guidelines science and history. The first part is scientific. An embryo is a complete unique human being. That is not a matter of opinion, or faith or belief of any kind, that is a scientific fact. By any reasonable definition, there is no lightning bolt moment of change that occurs from the moment of conception through birth that takes you from non-human to human.

The embryo is not part of the mother's body, nor is it a "potential-human" or any other of the terms people make up to try to defend a pro-choice opinion they already hold. All of those arguments are anti-scientific and are simply not supported by fact. Don't believe it? Get a textbook on embryology and find where it says the embryo is not human. For some web references, check out When Does Life Begin?, The Embryo as a Human Being and When Does Science Say Human Life Begins?.

So there's the scientific evidence supporting the Church's position. You could say "yes, the unborn is human, but it doesn't have rights." To which I will apply the second point, one which is made quite clearly in the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal. They are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. First, let's look at what this means, then why it is an important principle to hold.

With all due respect to those who argue for inclusive language, "men" as used here means "members of the human race" (if you don't believe me, look in a dictionary). So it is saying all human beings have equal rights. A human being's rights don't depend on his location, his skin color, his beliefs, his size or ability. Very powerful words, and words which this country has not yet lived up to. From it's beginning America practiced slavery, although it was not in accordance with these words. Today it is the unborn human being who has his basic rights violated.

But the Declaration of Independence says "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Doesn't the mother's pursuit of happiness count? Yes it does, but consider that (except in the case of rape) the woman chose to risk pregnancy (even if she did not desire it, it was a consequence of her freely chosen course of action), so her "pursuit of happiness" has not been violated, she just made a decision that was not consistent with her goals (if her goal was not to be pregnant).

In any case nine months of pregnancy doesn't ruin your chance at happiness forever, whereas losing one's life irrevocably destroys all one's rights for all time. Those three rights were not put in that order by accident, but in order to reflect a priority. Without life there are no other rights possible. Without liberty, pursuing one's happiness is not possible.

OK, so equal rights means we don't kill humans, form conception to death. But who's to say that we should have equal rights for all. Suppose I say that some rights are for "people", not just "humans" and I define "people" to mean those who are born. Let's follow this thought to its logical conclusion. Someone (presumably someone in power) has to decide who is a "person". Since there is no logical, scientific means of determining what "person" means (remember we're ignoring the scientific term "human being"), the definition is arbitrary, and will come to mean whatever those with that power choose to make it to support their goals.

Could this happen? History tells us it can. In colonial America (and until frighteningly recently) Africans were considered a "sub-human" species, not "people" and thus not subject to equal rights with white skinned people. Thus, slavery was acceptable. In Nazi Germany, there were several classes of people based on how close to the genetic Arin "ideal" they were. Jews, in particular, were "non-persons". Don't like that system? The government would declare you a "non-person". Off to the concentration camps to be a slave, and ultimately killed. We've seen numerous groups up to the current day that define one group or another as being "non-persons" to justify genocide. It has happened in Iraq, Darfour, China, and numerous other places in recent history. Once we allow any redefinition of person in order to remove someone's fundamental rights we are on a slippery slope.

Thus, the only logical, ethical, moral and just choice is to be pro-life. Only by protecting the rights of all human beings as they are clearly delineated by science can we avoid slavery, war, genocide (no, being pro-life is not sufficient to stop these, but it is necessary)!

And thus is the Church's position on abortion, and in-vitro fertilization and most other reproductive procedures (because they all involve killing human beings). Embryonic stem cells fall under the same logic (human beings are killed to harvest the cells). All arrived at without mentioning God (oops!)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why the Scouts?

I was a Cub Scout. I made it all the way through Webelos. In fact, my dad was my den leader in Webelos. Yet I never went into Boy Scouts. I'm still not sure why. Through the years that part of my life has become misty until I don't really recall much except certain events, good and bad.

My oldest son followed in my footsteps in this regard. His mother was his den leader, and like me he didn't cross over into Boy Scouts. In his case the reason is clear - his friends didn't go into Boy Scouts.

Now we move to son #2. He was thrilled to cross over. It was I who was a bit hesitant. I mean c'mon - camping every month - even in the winter? These guys are crazy. I went along with it and went on my first scout camping trip.

It was March, and it was cold and damp. We arrived at dusk and carried our gear a great distance from the parking lot to the camp site. His buddy arrived about the same time, and together the three boys who were sharing a tent (scouts don't get their own tent - they share with other scouts) began setting it up by flashlight.

Anthony, my son's friend's father, and I started to help, but were told by an older scout that the boys had to do all the work - we could give them advice or verbal instructions, but it was their tent and they had to set it up. And surprisingly, they did get it set up fairly quickly.

Anthony and I set up my tent, which we were sharing, and by the time we were done, the scouts had a cheery fire going and were running around laughing and joking. After "cracker barrel" (cheese, crackers, apples, grapes, etc.) the kids were sent off to their tents and the adults sat around the fire drinking coffee and chatting. It was actually kind of fun.

That night I learned two important things. First, that you could stay warm in a tent, even if it was freezing outside. Second I learned that I can out-snore the best of them (or so they claim)! The next morning I learned how good food can taste when you're camping.

My son didn't last all the way through that first weekend, but has since gotten "into" it in a big way. Not only have we been camping in cold or hot weather, the past two summers we went to camp for a week, and next year he hopes to be able to attend the jamboree. Of course it's not all camping, and we have done various advancement and merit badge activities together, from fishing to star gazing to 50 mile bike rides.

I know not all troops are created equal, but ours is great. The older boys help the younger ones and everyone is (more or less) included and taken care of, no matter what their background or abilities. Parents (of both genders) are welcome to help in various capacities and the leaders are an impressive bunch of caring and capable men. If you are considering scouting, do "shop around" nearby troops to find one that meets your needs.

I am glad my son decided to participate in scouting. The Boy Scout's mission statement is "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." Over the past year and a half I have seen how scouting has helped him to grow in knowledge and confidence, as well as give us a way to be closer as father and son.