Archive for the ‘Personhood’ Category


Yesterday North Dakota became the first state in the Union to pass a personhood ammendment that covers humans in their embryonic stages of development. Read it here at HuffPo. For all the work involved in getting to this day, the easy part is over, and the real fight lies ahead.

The lesislation, SCR4009, states:

“The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

While this amendment is beautiful in its absolutist elegance, it presents the Pro-life Movement with a constellation of challenges in selling this proposed amendment to the North Dakota voters who must now vote to ratify it. That won’t be an easy sell when the voters move past the noble principle and consider the specific applications in the lives and reproductive health of North Dakota’s women.

The first objection that will need to be overcome is what is to be done in the case of ectopic pregnancy, which occurs at a rate of 19.7 per 1,000 in North America. This is no small question, as even pro-lifers are split on the approach to this potentially fatal condition. All would agree that it is out of tyhe question to sit back and let nature take its course. Read here for a good article about ectopic pregnancy.

While many case spontaneously resolve, with the embryo being resorbed by the mother’s body, many do not. In the case of tubal pregnancies there are two basic approaches, only one of which is morally acceptable to Catholics. The first, and morally unacceptable method, is to treat the mother with drugs such as methotrexate, which target the baby for death. Proponents of this method prefer it, as it preserves the Fallopian tube for future pregnancy.

The direct targeting of the baby is morally unacceptable to Roman Catholics, leaving salpingotomy (removing the tube with the baby inside), as the only morally acceptable solution. This approach satisfies the moral principle of Double-Effect, which according to the David Solomon article just linked states:

four conditions [need to] be met if the action in question is to be morally permissible: first, that the action contemplated be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent; second, that the bad result not be directly intended; third, that the good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result; and fourth, that the good result be “proportionate to” the bad result.

A question that arises is whether Catholic pro-lifers are willing to endorse methotrexate over salpingotomy in the case of ectopic pregnancy. If not, count on the other side arguing that we are trying to force our morality on the public through this amendment. When asked, how will we respond?

Will fidelity to our moral compass fracture the absolutist tone of the amendment’s language? If so, what other concessions will be sought and made? How rapidly will personhood be eviscerated?

These questions require answers now, today, as North Dakota voters are forming their impressions as we speak.

More potential objections and exceptions in Part II.

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Time for a family discussion. The personhood debate has been a searing one, and I must confess that I tend to come down on the side of the personhood amendments. Folks have written to me from both sides of the aisle on this one, and I feel somewhat like a dazed and confused fish out of water. I’ll throw out my observations and take my lumps like a big boy. I ask but one favor…

To those disappointed with the bishops, I ask that we stick to the facts and keep the tone civil. They are the Apostolic Successors, and as St. Paul enjoins us, we must love them because of their office. We can fight like hell at the same time, as families will do, but I respect their office and will not permit disrespect here.

So, that said, let me pick a bone with my beloved bishops. I have read their position, that they support personhood in principle, but that prudential judgement makes them pass on backing this legislative movement. The fear is that a personhood amendment might be overturned in the courts, leading to a reaffirmation of Roe, and threatening the extant pro-life legislative victories that were hard-fought and hard won.

I don’t get that reasoning, and sincerely welcome a lawyer to explain the mechanics that would bring about the implosion the bishops fear.

As I see it, a reaffirmation of Roe will last as long as the pro-Roe majority on the Court; a see-saw battle that I expect to rage for decades to come. But how does an affirmation of a law already in force destroy our pro-life legislative victories that have been won while Roe has been the law of the land? How is it that these laws have passed in the shadow of Roe, but placing an exclamation point after Roe would present such an existential threat to us?

I simply don’t see that.

Next is the argument that personhood may not be the best strategy for defeating abortion. Perhaps. But this, I think, is a form of myopia that comes from focusing on the single issue before oneself and not being able to see clearly the other issues beyond that one issue.

Personhood encompasses all of the life spectrum and speaks to the issue of one’s fundamental human identity, dignity, and standing under the law. I think we make a colossal error when we speak of personhood only in terms of abortion. Buck v. Bell has never been overturned to my knowledge, and I don’t think it a stretch to say that we’ll see efforts at some not-too-distant point to forcibly sterilize the mentally handicapped. With autism being diagnosed in 1:112 children and the expense in treating these children bankrupting school districts, sending property taxes through the roof, do the math.

Then there is the rapidly accelerating pace and scope of euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands, among others in Europe. The mentally ill are now being euthanized without their knowledge or consent. It’s getting frightening. How long can we look at these things from the safety of our shores and not be affected? We already have states with physician-assisted suicide, which is how euthanasia gains a toe-hold.

State-run healthcare in Oregon comes with letters to advanced cancer patients denying life-extending drugs and offering physician-assisted suicide instead.


Abortion. Compulsory sterilization. Euthanasia.

Personhood covers them all. While we dither on the front end of the life spectrum, a wildfire is growing out of control on the other end of the life spectrum.

Pro-life had better mean more than just anti-abortion, and while one needs to pick one’s battles carefully and focus to be effective, the bishops as a body do not have the luxury of myopia.

Finally, the voices that say:

“Not now”
“The time isn’t right”
“Perhaps some day”
“It might be a costly battle”
“We can’t win that fight, so let’s not try”
“There are other priorities”

All sound exactly like the voices of reason that tried to assuage the abolitionists of their righteous determination, and like those who pleaded with ‘Negros’ and ‘Coloreds’ to bear their lack of equality with stoic acceptance during the decades before the Civil Rights Movement. But our Black brothers and sisters taught us well that justice delayed is justice denied.

In the personhood fight, it isn’t just the pre-born babies we’re fighting for, but ourselves, our handicapped, our sick, our elderly.

There seems to be an unhealthy dose of myopia on both sides of this issue. If we aren’t careful, it is a myopia that will prevent us from seeing the chains waiting for us all down the line.

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The Personhood Movement

"...embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons." ~Pope John Paul II

There is a curious divide in the pro-life movement between those who support the various Personhood initiatives, trying to get legal language that recognizes human embryos as human persons. The Catholic bishops have come out against these initiatives, though I haven’t heard a cogent explanation as to why.

Perhaps those more familiar would care to comment on the rationale and then square that with this quote from Pope John Paul II that appears in Dignitas Personae:

“…embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.”

~Pope John Paul II

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The issue of embryo adoption, having leftover embryos frozen in liquid nitrogen thawed and implanted in an adoptive mother’s womb, is a thorny subject in Catholic moral theology and ethics circles. I’ve wrestled with this idea for years, and I think we need to continue attending to it in a serious and substantive way. In order to keep the conversation localized, may I ask FB folks to post their comments directly here, and then copy them to FB?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued Dignitas Personae (DP), which tackles the morality of IVF and addresses the issue of embryo adoption. It’s a short document and an easy read. I recommend it highly.

Disclaimer: From the outset, I do not presume to know more than the bishops who have contributed to the promulgation of the document. However, the Church collaborates with physicians and scientists when investigating these matters and pays close attention to the insights coming from science. So I offer these insights as a lay Catholic, educated deeply in the faith, as well as a molecular biologist.

DP does a great job of staking out all of the moral land mines in the field of in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology. It isn’t the last word on the subject, either. From the outset, the document lays out its two fundamental principles:

“The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life” (n. 4).

“The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage” (n. 6).

DP goes on to address, specifically, the dilemma of frozen embryos left over after IVF:

With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them? All the answers that have been proposed (use the embryos for research or for the treatment of disease; thaw them without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers; put them at the disposal of infertile couples as a “treatment for infertility”; allow a form of “prenatal adoption”) present real problems of various kinds. It needs to be recognized “that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore, John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons” (n. 19).

It other words, we have a mess on our hands. Many respected leaders in the Catholic bioethics community such as Dr. John Haas and Father Tad Pacholczyk (who also has a Ph.D. in molecular biology) have come down against embryo adoption, as it is a participation in the broader realm of IVF. To read the case against embryo adoption by Father Tad, click here. These are great minds whose words are not to be taken lightly.

However, there seems to be another dimension that has been overlooked, and that is the issue of procreation itself and God’s role in it.

IVF is intrinsically evil. It takes procreation out of the marital embrace and relegates spouses to mere tissue donors and sideline spectators as the technicians do the actual work of bringing sperm and egg into union. However evil this technology is, there is a more delicate question that I have regarding God’s role in all of this.

The Church does not maintain that we all existed as disembodied spirits before our conception. We are created (soul) when we are conceived (body). That’s why the procreation of children in marriage is such a grace-filled moment for spouses, because God is there, freely creating the soul as the parents unite themselves. But what happens when a woman is raped, or two individuals fornicate, or IVF is employed? What are the degrees of freedom on God’s part?

Is God bound by His own paradigm for human procreation? Is He dragged kicking and screaming into the evil means by which sperm and egg find one another? Does He not create freely, though perhaps reluctantly under such circumstances?

The fact remains that God creates a human soul when sperm and egg unite.

That fact is my dilemma.

God is there in the IVF clinic, creating a new human soul (dozens at a time, actually). He is participating in a procreative act that is occurring outside of His divine plan, and which in its human dimensions is intrinsically evil; but He is there, and He is creating.

Now we return to the first of the two guiding principles in DP. The first right of the IVF baby is the right to be respected as and treated as a person. That right means facilitating the unmolested development of that individual. If implantation in the womb is to be forbidden in all circumstances, then I fail to see the point of the Congregation mentioning this first principle.

What we see a great deal of is the condemnation of the technique, which is truly abhorrent. However, I think there is a great distinction to be made between the technology leading up to the creation of a new human being, and the technology employed to sustain those new human beings. The former is always gravely and intrinsically evil. I’m not so certain about the latter.

The great distinction is that life has been made, both by man and by God. The act of procreation is done, and a child exists in its most nascent form. From here we have a battle of principles, and again, Father Pacholczyk’s points are well made. However, I see a certain chilly aloofness in standing by and saying of so many thousands of baby’s, “Gee it stinks to be you.” Catholic moral theology demands greater than that from us if we truly believe that the human embryo is a human being endowed with a soul of God’s making.

The second principle in DP is where we run into trouble:

“Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage”

I don’t disagree at all with the imperative in that statement. The problem is that it does not account for the child conceived outside of that principle. What then?

Jesus admonished the Pharisees when they took exception to His disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. He also admonished them about the lawfulness of saving life on the Sabbath, even if it meant breaking the law to do so. “Who among you would not pull his sheep out of a hole to save it on the Sabbath?”

We are dealing with much more than sheep here.

If God freely creates the soul in the midst of such human evil, do we not have an imperative to honor that creative act by facilitating the child’s development through implantation and adoption?

It isn’t perfect, but I think we do.


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Compliments of Princeton Pro-Life

“Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote.”
[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]

“Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
“Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

“Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus.”
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]

“Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus.”
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146

“Embryo: The early developing fertilized egg that is growing into another individual of the species. In man the term ’embryo’ is usually restricted to the period of development from fertilization until the end of the eighth week of pregnancy.”
[Walters, William and Singer, Peter (eds.). Test-Tube Babies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 160]

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism…. At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun…. The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life.”
[Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

“I would say that among most scientists, the word ’embryo’ includes the time from after fertilization…”
[Dr. John Eppig, Senior Staff Scientist, Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel — Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 31]

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

“The question came up of what is an embryo, when does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum…. But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down.”
[Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel — Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63]

“Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

“The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are…respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
[Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17]

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists “pre-embryo” among “discarded and replaced terms” in modern embryology, describing it as “ill-defined and inaccurate” (p. 12}]

“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
[Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

“[A]nimal biologists use the term embryo to describe the single cell stage, the two-cell stage, and all subsequent stages up until a time when recognizable humanlike limbs and facial features begin to appear between six to eight weeks after fertilization….
“[A] number of specialists working in the field of human reproduction have suggested that we stop using the word embryo to describe the developing entity that exists for the first two weeks after fertilization. In its place, they proposed the term pre-embryo….
“I’ll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what we nonmedical biologists still call a six-day-old embryo and what we and everyone else call a sixteen-day-old embryo.
“The term pre-embryo is useful in the political arena — where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now called pre-embryo) experimentation — as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office, where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients. ‘Don’t worry,’ a doctor might say, ‘it’s only pre-embryos that we’re manipulating or freezing. They won’t turn into real human embryos until after we’ve put them back into your body.'”
[Silver, Lee M. Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World. New York: Avon Books, 1997, p. 39]

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Six week old human embryo. Photo:Getty

Chris, a commenter in the embryonic stem cell post passes along these great quotes from medical texts. Many thanks Chris!

“Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
– Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th ed. 1993, p. 1

“The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are…respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
– Human Embryology. 2nd edition. 1997, p. 17

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. 1996, pp. 8, 29.

“In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. … Fertilization takes place in the oviduct … resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point… This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
Essentials of Human Embryology 1998 1-17.

“[The Zygote] results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th ed. 1998, pg. 2-18.

“Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed… Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with a secondary oocyte or its investments… The zygote … is a unicellular embryo…”
Human Embryology & Teratology 1996 pg. 5-55.

To these I add this one:

Developmental Biology by Scott Gilbert is arguably the leading text in the field. Gilbert is on faculty at Swarthmore College.

“Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”

If that can be said with such certainty of one vertebrate, it can be said of all vertebrates.

Hope these are helpful. We’ll be building on them in the future.

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In light of our ongoing treatment of Sanger and the Eugenics Movement, it’s fair to ask if the eugenists have any merit to their argument.

No, they don’t.

From a Christian anthropological perspective, the least among us is made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that He will judge us by our treatment of them, as He identifies with, “the least of these my brothers”.

As for the genetic basis of their argument: genetics or environment?, the safe answer is probably both. We can train a chimp to play golf and even fly a spacecraft, but that doesn’t make it human. Aping (pardon the pun) human behavior does not change genetic and simian reality for the chimp. For humans whose genetic defects render their function as less than optimal, sub-par performance does not make them less human, or less worthy of human dignity. An individual need not exhibit or realize all of their potential functions at all times in order to be a member of the human family.

We know that certain traits are hereditary, having identified what genes on what chromosomes are responsible. Down Syndrome is the most famous and easily recognizable based on physical (phenotypic) characteristics. Certain psychiatric conditions such as the Schizophrenias appear to have a genetic etiology. Autism may well prove to be genetic as well. I’m currently involved in a research project that points in that direction.

To make matters murkier, to what extent do environmental (physical or psychosocial) factors influence, or exacerbate underlying genetic predispositions? Then there is the issue of the extent to which environmental factors influence and ameliorate the physiological and psychological effects of a genetic disorder.

Take autism as an example. Children with horrific deficits in communication, with a broad spectrum of associated developmental delays, would easily fit in to the eugenist’s list of targeted individuals. It’s my considered opinion that there is indeed a genetic, developmental defect at the root. With a prevalence in the population that is increasing, a moral and ethical decision needs to be made. What do we do with these children?

Having one myself, the answer is simple. Treat them.

The last decade has witnessed a revolution in the treatment in children with autism. Better speech therapeutic regimens, as well as social skills, special education, physical and occupational therapy, play groups, have all shown dramatic effects in children whose function was less than half their chronological age.

Unlike our chimpanzee friends here, these children are humans, being taught human skills. The environmental stimuli effect neural development to bring the child’s behavior and cognitions more in line with optimal human function. That’s environment being used to overcome genetic defect.

We’ve had great success after six years of daily work, several hours per day. We’ve also learned more about love in the process than we ever dreamed imaginable.

That doesn’t happen with sterilization and abortion. Eugenics proclaims that life has a monolithic standard of acceptability, that individuals not meeting its arbitrary and capricious standard ought never to have existed. Unable to murder the adult, eugenists will prevent the child. Such a standard says nothing about the targeted individual and everything about the sickness and evil of the ones who crafted it.

Genetics doesn’t describe our difficulties so much as it invites us to engage in growth as individuals, as civilizations.

That requires courage, imagination, and an appetite for innovation.

Most of all, it requires love.

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This week continues with a series of posts examining the anthropological assumptions and philosophical underpinnings of Margaret Sanger’s world view. It is every bit as unrelenting and unsparing as her Planned Parenthood.

One of the commenters in the comboxes challenged Sanger’s treatment here, suggesting that the scholarship being done at NYU ought to merit serious consideration. The reader went on to challenge another reader for not being an ‘expert’ in matters pertaining to Sanger.

One need not be expert in order to see Sanger for the wretched creature that she was. One need only consider her words in context. Her famous book, The Pivot of Civilization is available as a PDF online.

Margaret Sanger in her own words:

Page 28

Even if we accept organized charity at its own valuation, and grant that it does the best it can, it is exposed to a more profound criticism. It reveals a fundamental and irremediable defect. Its very success, its very efficiency, its very necessity to the social order, are themselves the most unanswerable indictment. Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease.

Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and is perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents. My criticism, therefore, is not directed at the «failure» of philanthropy, but rather at its success.

Page 29
Statistics now available also inform us that more than a million dollars are spent annually to support the public and private institutions in the state of New York for the segregation of the feeble−minded and the epileptic. A million and a half is spent for the up−keep of state prisons, those homes of the «defective delinquent.» Insanity, which, we should remember, is to a great extent hereditary, annually drains from the state treasury no less than $11,985,695.55, and from private sources and endowments another twenty millions. When we learn further that the total number of inmates in public and private institutions in the State of New York−− in alms−houses, reformatories, schools for the blind, deaf and mute, in insane asylums, in homes for the feeble−minded and epileptic−− amounts practically to less than sixty−five thousand, an insignificant number compared to the total population, our eyes should be opened to the terrific cost to the community of this dead weight of human waste.

Organized charity is thus confronted with the problem of feeble− mindedness and mental defect. But just as the State has so far neglected the problem of mental defect until this takes the form of criminal delinquency, so the tendency of our philanthropic and charitable agencies has been to pay no attention to the problem until it has expressed itself in terms of pauperism and delinquency. Such «benevolence» is not merely ineffectual; it is positively injurious to the community and the future of the race.

Page 31
This rapid survey is enough, I hope, to indicate the manifold inadequacies inherent in present policies of philanthropy and charity. The most serious charge that can be brought against modern «benevolence» is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents. These are the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression. Philanthropy is a gesture characteristic of modern business lavishing upon the unfit the profits extorted from the community at large.

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Human embryo having one cell suctioned off (R).

Why, in the face of hundreds of extant therapeutic applications from Adult Stem Cells (ASC), would researchers wish to pursue embryo-destructive research when Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC) haven’t made it out of animal trials because of their tumor-forming propensities?

As a Molecular Biologist, I am asked this question frequently by pro-lifers. Though I am adamantly opposed to embryo-destructive research, I’ll answer for them.

The answer is simple: They just want to know. Period. End of story.

A common misperception about scientists is that all of us are oriented toward therapeutic discoveries. Not so.

Many scientists are indeed oriented toward therapeutic applications, a great many are not. They practice basic research. That is, research with the sole purpose of discovering how things work. These are the ‘pure’ scientists, not oriented toward a given or serviceable outcome. Knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge.

Don’t knock it. It’s vital. Therapeutic advances grow out of the body of basic scientific research. In my graduate studies in molecular microbiology, I discovered quite by accident a whole new dimension of E. coli’s cellular physiology. It was genuinely exciting stuff for a new researcher, to unlock the secrets of nature through the rigorous and diligent application of the scientific method. It turns out that my discovery has all sorts of food safety and medical applications as well. Having presented the research at conferences, a few papers on it should get published this year.

Even if my work had no practical application, it is extremely gratifying to be able to offer the scientific community another piece of the puzzle. I am a basic researcher at heart. In the lab I live for this stuff.

So it’s not difficult to understand other molecular and developmental biologists who have the burning desire to know exactly how we are made in the womb. As a scientist who has studied developmental biology in grad school, I share that burning desire to know the awesome complexity and intricacy of the developmental process. It’s fascinating material.

As a Catholic Christian I’m not willing to kill babies in order to find out. Therein lies the dilemma.

Consider the picture with this post. Absent a Christian anthropology, it’s not hard to see where many of my peers do not consider the early embryo a human person. Without the eyes of faith guided by reason, all one sees is a clump of cells. We know, however, from work done on other animals that developmental pathways become extremely complex once one moves away from the simple cluster of cells seen here, and into the more advanced stages of growth and development

In the wiring-up of the nervous system, cells from the tail end of the spinal cord secrete chemicals that diffuse to the brain end of the spinal cord, inducing nerve cells to grow in that direction. Along the way the projection of the growing nerve cell, called the growth cone, is guided by molecules on the surface of other cells. This is precisely the developmental stage that will be needed to glean the information necessary in spinal cord injury repair therapeutics.

What will we do when we have deduced the answers at the simpler level of development, but now require an organism with a developing nervous system, the point where spinal cord injury repair can be tested? Having proceeded so far down this path, what rationale will be called upon for scientists to stop so much closer to potential therapies? The scientific community won’t hear of it. And really, at that point why should they? The principle that all human life is sacred will have long-since been compromised into obscurity. All we’ll be left with is an argument over the details. Dogs fighting over the carcasses of our own young.

I want to know these answers as much as the fiercest proponent of ESC research. I’m just not willing to sell out the innocent for my answers. If I don’t get them here, I’ll have eternity to get them from The Source.

In this battle over ESC and ASC, we do well to lobby lawmakers on where the entire source of therapeutic benefits resides, namely ASC’s. It’s even more important to educate the public in this regard. We also need to understand the lobby of university researchers who have a very different motive for this research. Money is also a major issue. When funding is set aside for a given line of inquiry, cash-strapped departments line up like refugees at an oasis in the desert. Promises of potential therapeutic applications are added to research funding proposals to gussy them up.

For the college, it’s the money. For the basic researcher it’s the money, the knowledge, and publications. For the applied researcher it’s the cure. For the politician, it’s cynically using the scientific community to lay down a noble-looking smokescreen in order to protect abortion by treating embryos as fungible laboratory substrate.

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General under President Clinton, once famously declared:

“We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

In truth, America is just beginning a love affair with the fetus through advanced imaging systems. Had we a love affair with the fetus, abortion would be illegal, and there would be no debate over embryo-destructive research.

It seems that pro-choice politicians have seized upon embryo-destructive research as the means to realize Elder’s fondest desire.

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Montana has become the third state to approve physician-assisted suicide, after a divided State Supreme Court voted in a 5-3 ruling that said physician assisted suicide violates no laws . Read it here in the Christian Science Monitor.

As curtjester noted on a post below, once again it’s the courts doing the dirty work.

Death is sweetly seductive. We can so easily solve our most intractable problems by recourse to it. It requires no imagination, no imperative for scientific discovery, no advance in technology. It short-circuits the imperative to advance the science and art of palliative care. Excruciating suffering is not necessary at the end, execution even less so.

It’s the surrender of the smallest minds among us, and reminds us that all groups of humans will descend to the operational level of its smallest minds without vigilant leadership. It takes courage and vision, fortitude and skill to advance a civilization.

This ruling reminds us that the life issues will never be secured permanently. The mendacity of the cowardly is boundless.

As with all pro-death boilerplate, the label betrays the ignominious reality. Death with dignity isn’t. There is nothing dignified in the perversion of science and medicine, in physicians pulling double-duty as healer and executioner.

It isn’t enough to protest physician assisted suicide. We must demand that NIH fund research into pain management, that the government and medical schools fund departments and establish chairs of pain management, that graduate schools of Nursing do the same.

We must read Seduced By Death, by Herbert Hendin, a psychiatrist in favor of physician assisted suicide until he traveled to the Netherlands and saw their experiment in full throttle.

Above all, we must be prayerful warriors, relying on God’s grace to strengthen and empower us.

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Abortion and abortion’s apologists have succeeded in twisting and distorting even a once-objective, just-the-facts, and statistically-oriented discipline as Public Health. In the not-so distant past, pregnancy was defined in medical textbooks as the result of fertilization of egg by sperm. Now it’s defined as implantation of the embryo in the uterus. Semantics? Hardly.

This represents a fundamental shift that protects the in vitro fertilization industry. If pregnancy is defined by implantation, then there is hardly an ethical hurdle when it comes to sifting through dozens of embryo’s in search of the ‘most fit’. Some might call them ‘keepers’. The rest may simply be discarded.

The in vitro fertilization industry and its related embryonic stem cell research industry, which makes use of ‘leftover’ embryos in frozen storage, serve as a bulwark for abortion, appealing to utilitarian sentiments regarding the alleviation of emotional and physical suffering, respectively.

Even defining something as simple as infant mortality has become a semantic three-ring circus.

Case in point: CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released a study this past November entitled, Behind International Rankings of Infant Mortality: How the United States Compares with Europe. The Bottom line is that the U.S. ranks 30/31 nations in the study in infant mortality rates.

A look at figure #1 in the study doesn’t inspire confidence as the study bills itself as a comparison between the U.S. and Europe, but goes on to include Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Cuba.

Table #1 inspires even less confidence as it details what constitutes ‘live births’ in the countries under study. The following countries take the most expansive definition of ‘live birth’ to include any birth of a living baby without regard to gestational age:

Austria, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, United States.

Norway, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland are listed as having varying reporting criteria, including a 500 gram birthweight, gestational age, and in the Czech Republic, the added requirement that the infant survives the first 24 hours.

No mention at all of the remaining 12 countries in the study.

Additionally, the study claims, “Differences in national birth registration notwithstanding, there can also be individual differences between physicians or hospitals in the reporting of births for very small infants who die soon after birth.”

It’s difficult to compare nations to one another when the very definition of ‘live birth’ is up for grabs, when different nations take a more or less aggressive approach to saving the life of the neonate.

These approaches also have much top do with who is paying the bill. Governments with socialized medicine and flat economies have a powerful disincentive to attempt aggressive, costly life-saving measures, and may well be more apt to recommend abortion in cases where fetal anomalies are detected, further skewing the data.

Of course this study neglects to mention those realities.

They’re not politically correct.

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This today from the Journal, Science

Science 1 January 2010:
Vol. 327. no. 5961, p. 25
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5961.25
Prev | Table of Contents | Next
Embryo Ruling Keeps Stem Cell Research Legal

Gretchen Vogel

A ruling from the Irish Supreme Court has reignited that country’s debate over the legal status of human embryos, confirming the legality of research with human embryonic stem cells but leaving such work in a regulatory limbo that may not be resolved soon. On 15 December, the court ruled that human embryos outside the womb are not “unborn” and therefore are not protected under the country’s constitution. The case before the court, in which a woman wanted to implant frozen embryos against the wishes of her estranged husband, does not directly involve stem cell research, but an opposite ruling could have made such work unconstitutional.

The great hope, for Ireland and elsewhere, is the realization that ESC technology, now 28 years old has not even come close to making it past animal trials, as these cells are too prone to developing tumors. Cash-strapped governments (Obama notwithstanding) will increasingly cast a favorable eye on adult stem cells, as ASC technology has already yielded hundreds of applications in human therapeutics.

It’s tragic to see Ireland, the bastion of Catholic fidelity, descend into the abortion quagmire.

Stay tuned.

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If anyone is interested in one of the best reads for a pro-lifer, may I suggest:

Architects of the Culture of Death

This book looks at several key figures over the past 150 years who have contributed to building the Culture of Death. I’ll share a few of those written about:

Margaret Sanger, Alfred Kinsey, Alan Guttmacher, Friedrich Nietze, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Click the link to preview the book.

I’ve known one of the authors, Ben Wiker, for four years. He is one of the funniest, most affable, and brilliant fellows I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He usually speaks at the Summer Conferences at Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. The book is written as an easy read, with no prior knowledge of the subjects or their writings required. We’ll be returning to this book as primary source material.

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If it seems that Sanger is being pounded here, she is. And for good cause. Margaret Sanger is one of the chief architects of the Culture of Death. Dismantling that culture requires a thorough deconstruction of all that Sanger built, much in the name of science.

Here, Margaret Sanger, architect of the Culture of Death:

“Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying
… demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism …
[Philanthropists] encourage the healthier and more normal sections of the
world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of
others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead
weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the
stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world,
it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant … We are paying
for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing,
unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born
at all.”

– Margaret Sanger. The Pivot of Civilization , 1922. Chapter on “The
Cruelty of Charity,” pages 116, 122, and 189. Swarthmore College Library

Here, Jesus of Nazareth on the Criteria by which He will judge Sanger, and the world:

Matthew 25:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
32 Before him all the nations will be gathered,
and he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat;
I was thirsty, and you gave me drink;
I was a stranger, and you took me in;
36 naked, and you clothed me;
I was sick, and you visited me;
I was in prison, and you came to me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you;
or thirsty, and give you a drink?
38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in;
or naked, and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most assuredly I tell you,
inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me
41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat;
I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink;
43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in;
naked, and you didn’t clothe me;
sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will also answer, saying,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry,
or thirsty,
or a stranger,
or naked,
or sick, or in prison,
and didn’t help you?’
45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most assuredly I tell you,
inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’

46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

No mention of the ‘least of these’ as undeserving of life, of being a “dead weight of human waste”, of “foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism.”

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Today is the seventh day of the Octave of Christmas.

In today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings Pope St. Gregory the Great meditates not just on our human dignity being elevated by becoming members of the Body of Christ in Baptism, but also on our dignity being elevated by sharing in His Nativity, his coming into the world like us, as a baby. He shared our humanity, and through that sharing gave us a share in His divinity.

Had Margaret Sanger grasped that truth, that cornerstone of Christian Anthropology, we would be inhabiting a very different world today. Science cannot blind itself to its crossroads with Christian Anthropology without resulting in unspeakable tragedy, as we have seen again and again.

A sermon of Pope St Leo the Great

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace.

“God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, still today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

Every individual that is called has his own place, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time. Nevertheless, just as the entire body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity.

For this is true of any believer in whatever part of the world, that once he is reborn in Christ he abandons the old paths of his original nature and passes into a new man by being reborn. He is no longer counted as part of his earthly father’s stock but among the seed of the Saviour, who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the sons of God.

For unless He came down to us in this humiliation, no one could reach his presence by any merits of his own.

The very greatness of the gift conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendour. For, as the blessed Apostle teaches, We have received not the spirit of this world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us by God. That Spirit can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering him that which we received from him.

But in the treasures of the Lord’s bounty what can we find so suitable to the honour of the present feast as the peace which at the Lord’s nativity was first proclaimed by the angel-choir?

For it is that peace which brings forth the sons of God. That peace is the nurse of love and the mother of unity, the rest of the blessed and our eternal home. That peace has the special task of joining to God those whom it removes from the world.

So those who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God must offer to the Father the unanimity of peace-loving sons, and all of them, adopted parts of the mystical Body of Christ, must meet in the First-begotten of the new creation. He came to do not his own will but the will of the one who sent him; and so too the Father in his gracious favour has adopted as his heirs not those that are discordant nor those that are unlike him, but those that are one with him in feeling and in affection. Those who are re-modelled after one pattern must have a spirit like the model.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the Apostle, He is our peace, who made both one; because whether we are Jew or Gentile, through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

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