28 November 2012

Catholics Don't "Believe" Life Begins at Conception

Catholics Don't "Believe" Life Begins at Conception

Catholics Don't "Believe" Life Begins at Conception

I don't know how many times I have heard it. Well-meaning Catholics who say, "As a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception." I have decided that my mission in life is to correct this miscommunication because it is that very line that lets everyone who is not Catholic dismiss everything we have to say about stem cell research, cloning and reproductive technologies. 

We Catholics do not "believe" life begins at conception, also called fertilization. We instead know that it does because it is a cold hard fact of nature that a new, distinct, human organism, identifiable by his or her unique DNA, is created at the completion of fertilization. That is not a belief. That is a fact.

A fact bolstered by embryology:
"Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed." (O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, p. 8 )
Even a secular children's book on human reproduction from my local library is clear:
"But nine months before, when you first began, you were just one little cell, even smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. Half of this cell came from your mother's body, and the other half came from your father's body."
I am not alone in my distaste for that common "I believe that life begins at conception" phrase. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson also took umbrage with the word "believe" when discussing the facts of life. He wrote in his "Confessions of an Ex-Abortionist":
"Fetology makes it undeniably evident that life begins at conception and requires all the protection and safeguards that any of us enjoy....As a scientist I know, not believe, know that human life begins at conception." [emphasis mine]
[And for you sticklers for nomenclature, in recent years, practitioners of in vitro fertilization (IVF) have redefined conception as the implantation of an embryo in the uterus. This allows them to say that prior to implantation, an embryo has yet to be conceived. This implies that a new human organism begins at implantation instead of fertilization which is scientifically incorrect. The Catholic Church uses conception in its correct and traditional usage, meaning fertilization.]

So why do we debate the question of "when human life begins?"  I believe it is because the debate about when life begins is actually focused on the wrong question or rather questions.  It is not a matter biologically of when a new human organism begins.  That is an established fact. 

The real debate is about whether or not human life has value, whether or not an embryo or fetus has moral worth simply because he (or she) is human. And whether or not every human life, despite it's point of development, deserves respect and protection. 

When people say that life does not begin at conception what they are really saying is that they do not believe that embryonic life has value and that it does not deserve to be protected.

The Catholic Church teaches that the new human life that begins at conception has dignity and worth simply because it is human.  Catholics know that human life is present from the moment of fertilization.  We also hold that all human life is intrinsically valuable.

Even in a increasingly secular world, society understands that the taking of an innocent life is a moral trespass that cannot be allowed.  Hence the prohibition of homicide in secular law.  The basis of this understanding is the reality that human life does indeed have value simply because it is human. (Even France, where creating embryos for research is banned, has a law regulating research on embryos that lists the following core principles as guidelines, "Respect for the dignity of the human embryo" and "Respect for all stages of life.")

There are others who want to qualify and restrict which human lives are considered valuable because of a particular agenda. We know who they are. But the Catholic Church does not make any qualifications.  Irregardless of point of development, Catholics acknowledge the inherent dignity in every human organism. To assign value to human life at some developmental point after conception is simply arbitrary.

Lee M. Silver, professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, wrote in his book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family:
“Once fertilization is complete, there are no isolated moments along the way where you can point at an embryo or fetus and say that it is substantially different from the way it was a few minutes, or even hours earlier.” 
Everyone one of us is a continuous organism from the moment we are conceived to the day that we die. It is illogical that we be valued and protected under the law only for a part of that continuous process.

So the next time someone says to you, "Human life does not begin at conception," correct them and tell them that life indeed does begin at conception and what they really mean to say is "I don't believe the life that begins at conception has value." (And then explain to them why that stance is totally illogical.)

And if you must use the word "believe" when discussing the beginnings of life, please do not say, "I believe life begins at conception." Say instead, "I believe the life that begins at conception has moral worth simply because it is human."

Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly

15 November 2012

Quo Vadis – O, Bishops?

Quo Vadis – O, Bishops?: Robert Royal offers some suggestions to the bishops meeting in Baltimore: begin kindling some fires – an be prepared to suffer for the faith.

Monday, 12 November 2012
Quo Vadis – O, Bishops? Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   

I am not a big fan of taking the long view. It may sometimes be wise, even necessary, in human terms. But I’m far more attracted by what is probably the most neglected of Jesus’ sayings: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk. 12:49)
The U. S. bishops are meeting in Baltimore this week for their annual get-together. The scuttlebutt is that they will be mostly discussing matters internal to the Church in America. If they were asking my advice – for some reason, they seem to have forgotten to call – I would strongly urge that they begin with a collective session of lectio divina about kindling fires.
I’d also suggest a few other things. To start with, forget about being nice. It doesn’t work. Be gentlemen. Be kind. But forget nice. As learned Latinists, you no doubt know that the word comes from nescius, which means ignorant. It came, early in modern languages, to mean foolish. Today, an idiomatic translation might be: clueless.
Kindness, of course, is a different matter entirely. Our Lord was kind – kind enough to tell people the truth. His combination of hard and soft is always what we need. Nietzsche, who was brought up among fussing women in a wishy-washy Protestant pastor’s home, emphasized the need to be hard. Like all heretics, he had a point, but rode it a bit too hard to the neglect of other truths.
Christianity, as Nietzsche noted, has been becoming overly feminized, as has the developed world. Mary is the model Christian and the people who have been pushing the Communio theology are right: our first orientation has to be passive, to receive what God is telling us as the Virgin received the Word into her womb.
Women are quite capable at times of some of the masculine virtues, of course. But forget the politically correct notion that there are no specifically male and female virtues. In the normal course of things, when the refrigerator needs to be moved, it’s father and son, not mother and daughter, who should do the heavy lifting.
And in the middle of the night, if there’s a noise downstairs that sounds like a burglar, you don’t nudge your wife and say, “Your turn. I went down to check last time.” Be men. Think big. Act big, too. Play big-league ball.
The LCWR, the media, and other softballers will continue to try to thwart you with talk of patriarchy and the old boys’ club. Be true gentlemen. Listen to all sincerely, but listen to God more.

         Christ Cleansing the Temple by El Greco, c. 1570
Beware of the two great distortions, bordering on heresies, in our time:
–      “Judge not.” Yes, that’s in the Bible, but Christ had no difficulty also stating the difference between right and wrong. In fact, you may have noticed that there’s more than a little holy anger in the Gospels and dire prophetic warnings to individuals and whole groups. Christ is the model. Are you going to follow Him or take the easy way, the one that only seems compassionate? (See “nice” above.)
–      “But Jesus welcomed everyone.” Yes, he did, but on His terms, not theirs. If Christianity means just accepting everybody as they already are, indeed as they demand to be accepted – evil capitalists and mean orthodox Christians excepted, of course – why have a Church at all? The politicians are already quite prepared to tell everyone (with the same exceptions just noted) how wonderful, unless it’s “amazing,” they all are. Leave that sort of thing to the snake-oil salesmen.
Be clear about this. The person who invented the phrase, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” was no real Christian. Jesus does both, and Catholics are practitioners of the both/and, not the either/or.
Do you think Mother Teresa would have thought she’d done enough if she had just picked up beggars in Calcutta and not also talked about the callousness of heart and self-indulgence of the wealthy nations who were – safely, legally, and far from rarely – doing away with their own children in the womb?
Be prepared to suffer for the Faith. The world will always play the role it must when it hears the truth. Welcome fair criticism, but accept it in the right spirit. When John Paul II called for a “purification of memory” as we approached the beginning of the new Christian millennium, he was utterly frank about the Church’s past sins. But he never let humility and truth turn into a kind of “Kick Me” sign on the Church’s back.
Know that many Catholics, and non-Catholics, are with you. Seek them out. And the best way to do so is to lead from the front. The apostles knew it was a bad idea, in a sense, for Jesus to go into Jerusalem at the end. But they saw who He was, what He was willing to risk, and they were willing to risk much themselves so that at least they could die with Him.
I know several of you, and know that some of you know all this. But we need you to inspire even more of your fellow bishops.
You have lifetime tenure and jobs that make a real difference. Most people are stuck in humdrum tasks that don’t seem to mean very much. This is an exciting moment in Catholic history that offers opportunities for all the imagination, intelligence, and daring that you can bring to the many challenges at hand.
So make the most of it. Cherish it. Blessed are you.

Robert Royal
is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
© 2012 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.