Moral Decisions 1
Article #1 MORAL DECISIONS -- IT FEELS SO RIGHT! By Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan "This can't be wrong when it feels so right." Thus saith neither Confucius nor the prophet, but a popular song. And perhaps that carries more weight with a lot of people, since what we hum and sing may be closer to our hearts than what we are told we ought to think. What you are reading here is the first in a series of columns which will look at an essential area of human living. They will deal with moral decision making. They will, perhaps, be less than lyrical; but I hope that after reading them you will be able to say far more about morality than, "If it feels good, do it." Right now, let me tell you what to expect in the months to come. We will look at real questions which affect the lives of real people. Why are some things right and others wrong? Where do moral obligations come from? Do you have to wait until you are told what to do, or should you make up your mind? Why does the Church always seem to have rules for everything? We will look at much more specific questions, too, related to problems of health and morality, since that is an area about which I know something. (There is always, of course, the temptation to get into areas about which I know nothing -- but that I shall try to avoid. There is enough of that available on TV talk shows.) What is a "Living Will"? Is it something you should have? What are the obligations of you and your doctor in regard to informed consent? Can you allow someone to die? Are sex change operations morally acceptable? What is genetic screening? Should you be doing it? What about surrogate motherhood? What about homosexuality? When does human life really begin -- and who says so? What about sterilization? Is in vitro fertilization morally allowable? Why not just use any of the modern methods of family planning? How can you tell when you're dead -- or, more importantly, how can someone else tell when you're dead? Is it ever morally right to turn off life support systems? Eventually I will try to address all of these topics, and more besides. There is a difficulty in doing this in a column. The questions are important and will be practical for most of us at one time or another, and the brief space of a single newspaper article is all too limited. What I will do, therefore, is extend some of the topics from one column to the next while still trying to make each article understandable in itself. I will also be open to questions. They can be sent to this paper and I will be happy to respond to them individually or to answer them in the paper if they are of general interest. Where then shall we begin? In 1987 the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document with the lengthy title: Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation. It addresses many of the questions mentioned earlier, and more besides. In coming weeks I will consider those questions, not in the technical language of the theologian or medical practitioner, but in plain English (I hope). There will be discussions on the source of the Church'steaching, the respect due to the embryo, prenatal care anddiagnosis, therapy for the child still in the womb, research on theembryo and fetus, methods of aiding fertility and the pain ofinfertile couples. It is my hope that you will find not only new knowledge, butalso new insights into the Church, its teaching and yourself aswell. You will know more about what's right and wrong and aboutwhy that is so. You will discover more than, "This can't be wrong when it feels so right."
Article #2 MORAL DECISIONS -- The Pope in the Bedroom by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan "The Pope should stay out of the bedroom." You may have heard that, when the Vatican released its instruction on procreation. It was one of those clever statements that skirts its way around the truth by making you laugh before you think. It's, perhaps, on a par with, "What good can come from Nazareth?" It would imply that there are some areas of life into which religion should not enter. But, why not? Because they are too insignificant? Because they are too intimate and personal? There is nothing insignificant about the power to create new human life. Even if it were a question simply of the physical capacity to bear a child, that in itself is far from insignificant, but birth is just the beginning. The creation of a human being is a gradual process beginning with nine months of intra-uterine life and continuing through years of love, nurturing and guidance that result in the adult son or daughter of God. It is a power so profound in its implications that the Church had better be concerned about it. In spite of all the faults of its members, the Church is still the Body of Christ. The love of God is not an abstract and lifeless thing. It is a living reality made present to us in real people, in a living community with its real leaders. It is into that community that new members are born. That is why the Church is so concerned about every marriage, and why it pays so much attention to the spouses' relationship to each other. Its demands for preparation prior to marriage are put into the form of rules, which are expressions of love and concern. They are intended to help a man and woman reflect on their love for each other and for God, so that they can enter into a union that will be as deep and full as a union of frail creatures can ever be. It is in this loving union that they will grow together and into which new life will be born. Hardly anything could be more significant and more worthy of the Church's fullest concern. Is this union personal and intimate? Beyond all doubt! Its intimacy is not only a fact of the relationship; it is a quality to be nurtured and deepened. The physical reality of the sexual relationship would be a sad and shallow, self-serving and self-seeking act without the depth of intimate, personal love. For the Christian this is far more than physical or emotional desire. It's far more than an act in which physical conception can occur. It is an expression of living and life-giving love, a concrete reflection of God's own creative power. The Church is concerned about this reality, not in spite of the fact that it is so personal and intimate, but because it is such. To say that something is personal and intimate and, therefore, beyond the scope of the Church's concern is to speak nonsense. It is to say that God and Church and religion belong to the fringes of our existence and should not penetrate to its core. It is to try to live while not allowing God to touch what is most important. This is why the Church is concerned about sexuality and procreation. This is why the Church's Instruction on Procreation says: "The gift of life which God the Creator and Father has entrusted to man calls him to appreciate the inestimable value of what he has been given and to take the responsibility for it: this fundamental principle must be placed at the center of one's reflection in order to clarify and resolve the moral problems raised by artificial interventions on life as it originates and on the processes of procreation." Science has its rightful place in the origin of life, and we shall look at that in later articles. For now, however, it is enough to say that there is a foolish lack of logic in saying, "Keep the Pope out of the bedroom, but usher in a corps of biologists, doctors and technicians." Article #3 MORAL DECISIONS -- Seeing the Whole Elephant by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan There is a fable about a group of blind men who had never been in contact with an elephant. They were introduced to one and then asked to describe it. One had touched its trunk and had no doubt that an elephant was much like a snake. Another had touched a leg and was certain that it was far more like a tree trunk. The one who felt its ear knew that the others were mistaken -- an elephant was similar to a broad-leafed plant. Everyone was right and everyone was wrong. None of them had a way to put it all together. Biology and medicine have blossomed in this century. I am sure it would not be far wrong to say that in the last fifty years they have discovered more than they did in all the years which preceded. This knowledge has not remained academic; it has been put into practice. Biochemical discoveries have led to new possibilities for drugs and therapy. Even mechanical and electronic inventions have led to medical techniques not even envisioned a few years back. Science fiction has become everyday reality. Increased knowledge inevitably brings increased benefits to humanity -- and, just as inevitably, it brings increased risks. Increased knowledge also means increased specialization; it becomes harder for anyone to know a great deal about everything, so he learns all there is to be learned about his own area of expertise. (It all lends some credence to the person who defined the specialist as one who learns more and more about less and less, until at last he knows everything about nothing.) His knowledge becomes deeper, while his field of vision becomes constantly narrower. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the study of the process of human procreation. The study of the problems of infertility, for example, has progressed far beyond the question of whether ovaries and testes are properly functioning, or whether the complicated duct systems of male and female are capable of performing their tasks. There are now possibilities of intervention at levels of micro-surgery, reproductive endocrinology, in vitro fertilization, intra-fallopian transfer, and varieties of other techniques. In this host of possibilities, there is a constantly increasing need for specialization, and so a constant narrowing of scope. At the same time, this growing body of knowledge has enormous potential to serve the good of humanity -- not only humanity in the abstract, but real men and women. In all of this the role of the Church is essential. It is not the Church's function to make judgments on the scientific facts which may become available. It is, however, the Church's function to examine the moral values which are involved in the application of those facts. The cytologist, who studies the structure and function of cells, would surely be mistaken if he tried to define the human person as nothing more than a conglomeration of cells. The biologist would be in error if he saw the individual human being as no more than a collection of functioning organs. It is equally wrong to see human procreation as no more than a joining of cells without reference to the beginning of the new person. The Church's function is, at times, to remind science that it can assist in procreation, but must not dominate it. It must never think it is dealing with cells to be manipulated, when it is actually dealing with persons to be loved and respected. It is the job -- the duty -- of the Church to call attention to the criteria of moral judgement. "These criteria are the respect, defense and promotion of man, his primary and fundamental right to life, his dignity as a person who is endowed with a spiritual soul and with moral responsibility and who is called to beatific communion with God," as we read in Instruction on Procreation. We are all tempted at times to judge all of reality on the basis of our own limited views, needs and desires. The teaching of the Church constantly calls us back to a wider vision of the dignity, value and worth of each human being at every moment of life. We will be sadly mistaken in our grasp of reality if we never see the whole elephant.
Article: #4 Moral Decisions -- The Search for Super Rat by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan Hardly a week goes by without news of a product removed from the market because it has been found to cause cancer in rats. Will the day finally come when we will all be dead and gone, leaving behind the healthiest rats the world has ever known? This indicates just how quickly products are developed and rushed to market. It indicates, too, the problems that science faces as it forges rapidly ahead without full awareness of the results of its own actions. Such speed is due not only to scientific enthusiasm, but even more so to commercial gain. Pressures for profit lead to cutting corners on testing and so to serious harm. Damage is bad enough when it is physical; it is far worse when it is moral. Yet neither science nor commerce are in themselves adequate judges of morality. Science has enormous potential for good; but its function is to discover what we can do, while it tells us nothing at all about whether we should do it. The Instruction or Procreation tells us: "Science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. The applications of scientific research are not morally neutral. The application of chemistry to the production of nerve gas has a moral dimension. The use of nuclear physics to produce more terrifying weaponry is not without moral significance. It is easy to lose sight of morality and focus instead on technical efficiency, thinking that this is a justification for the use of new discoveries. So thought the Nazis, who put such effort into building more efficient crematoria. Zyklon-B was a vast improvement over carbon monoxide as an efficient way of killing. Today we are told to be proud that abortions are now performed so efficiently and in such sanitary conditions. Even the apparent usefulness of discoveries can be misleading, especially when they serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many. Preservatives and pesticides have been used by food producers, even though they killed off the consumers. Of course, that can be a dreadful accident due to an honest mistake; but we have also seen manufacturers and users fight to keep unsafe products on the market, for fear of loss of profit or payment of damages. Popular ideologies are a dangerous source of moral justification. The racial ideology of the Nazis, which placed Aryans at the pinnacle of humanity and all others beneath them, led directly to seeing Jews as non-human subjects fit for oppression and experimentation. There is in our own culture a vague "meaningful quality of life" ideology, which holds that life is human only in the full consciousness of unblemished vitality outside the womb. THis creates a willingness to view the unborn as a storehouse of marketable tissue, to treat the handicapped as expendable and to neglect the ill and elderly -- even to the point of not only allowing death but even bringing it about. Technical efficiency, utilitarianism and current ideologies all fail as sources of moral guidance. What they all lack is real care for persons. Progress and profit become the norm, not love of neighbor. This is dehumanizing not only to the victims but even to the perpetrators -- and perhaps even more to them. When the Nazis fell, it was they who had lost their humanity while so many of their victims emerged in new dignity. Only an unconditional respect for the value, the rights and the good of each person can lay the real foundation for the moral use of our ever advancing knowledge and technology. This is what faith has to offer and what the church teaches. Science -- left without moral guidance -- will never come to this conclusion. Science must have conscience as well as knowledge, for without conscience it leads to ruin. We must love our neighbor as we love ourselves; and we cannot be satisfied with the dubious consolation that we have at least treated others as well as we treat rats.
Article #5 MORAL DECISIONS -- The Beat of the Tom-tom by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan There was a time when the best medical treatment available came with music -- and I don't mean the soothing sounds in the waiting room of the dentist. The practitioner was a witch doctor in a mask and he treated his patients with tortoise shell rattles, the beat of a tom-tom and a dance. The theory, of course, made a good deal of sense; otherwise it would never have been so popular. If diseases were caused by evil spirits, then the power of magic might be the best way to drive them out. There were drawbacks. The theory did not include anatomy, physiology or any concept of how foreign organisms could invade the human body. When I underwent surgery a few years ago, they were still using masks, but not tom-toms, no rattles, and not a trace of choreography. Yet I had great confidence in what they proposed to do; and it seems to have worked, since I am here to tell the tale. The problem with the earlier theory was that it was all one-sided. It saw everything in terms of the soul, with little knowledge of the body. It was all a question of moral good and evil. Its practice may have offered some sort of consolation to the sufferer, but it was not as helpful as it should have been to the whole person. It is possible today to fall into another sort of one-sided view. We have considerable knowledge of anatomy and physiology. We are quite clear about the origin of many diseases -- although not so many as one might sometimes think. We are able to enter into the structure of the cell itself and we have the capacity to intervene in most amazing ways in the origin of human life. Knowledge of the body is not our major problem. But we, too, are quite capable of not being as helpful as we should to the whole person. Over the years I have dealt with many doctors, not only as a patient but in questions of ethics and as a member of hospital ethics committees, and I have been edified by their real care for the whole person. However, there can be in medicine the temptation to deal with patients on some occasions at the level of tissues, organs and functions -- forgetting the reality of the fact that persons are spiritual as well. This is why it has been necessary to make laws about determination of death, fetal experimentation and experimental operations. This is why there should be legislation about the widespread murder of the unborn. What is lost to sight by some is the moral dimension of medicine. This is what the Vatican's Instruction on Procreation was driving at, when it said: "An intervention on the human body affects not only the tissues, the organs and their functions but also involves the person himself on different levels." There is always a moral dimension to be considered when you are working with persons. Medicine works best for the person when it looks at the total, integral good of human life. This is certainly true when medical science deals with human sexuality and procreation, where it touches on the most sacred aspects of life. It intervenes in a relationship that is "most sacred and most serious," in which occurs the inception of new life. Of course its intervention may be helpful; and if it is moral, then it is helpful to the whole person. But if it acts only in terms of tissue and manipulation and mechanics, then it becomes every bit as one-sided as is the theory of the witch doctor. Here, again, is an area in which the Church must speak. While medicine can and should look to its ability to help people, the Church should speak of the meaning of life and from this derive the limits to which we are free to intervene. What is technically possible is not always morally admissible. The tom-tom is not a cure for the whole person; but neither is the drum-roll that heralds every new discovery. Article #6 MORAL DECISIONS -- Amoebas Don't Date by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan Do you remember your high school biology days, when you got to peer through the microscope at an amoeba? It squished around and as it came across tasty morsels of microscopic matter, it surrounded and digested them. It kept busy ingesting nutrients. Well, don't we all? Living things, from the smallest to the largest need nourishment. Do you have a house plant? If so, you give it water and, perhaps, some fertilizer or plant food. Its ways of taking in food and digesting it are more complex than the amoeba's, but it is still ingesting nutrients. But when you bring it food, does it clap its little leaves and wag its stem? Or does it just sit there, sop up what you've dropped in the pot and flourish? Try that with a dog or cat. Some of your offerings may be accepted as delicious, while others are treated with disdain. Did you ever see a dog rush to its plate, take one sniff and then stalk off with a reproachful look at its owner? Dogs or cats also ingest nutrients, but with a new dimension. There is not only a complex digestive system, but there are taste and preferences as well. And people? Would a young man call his favorite girl and ask her out to "ingest nutrients"? Here there is a still more refined set of tastes and preferences, but the meaning of a meal together is more than flavor and far more than the mere ingestion of nutrients. There is now a personal dimension far surpassing whatever was taking place in plants or animals; and the human meaning of taking someone to dinner is a symbol of a whole variety of real human feelings. Indeed, on the surface is not the Eucharist itself the same old act of "ingesting nutrients"? But it is infinitely more besides. The eyes see the old familiar act of eating; faith sees living union with its Savior. What then of reproduction? The single-celled amoeba splits in half. Amoebas don't date. They don't mate. They don't even grasp basic math, because when they want to multiply, they divide. Pollination and seed production in plants are far more complicated, but even plants that pollinate each other exhibit no signs of mutual attraction. Mating, but no dating. Not so with animals. Some show signs of mutual attraction -- not the free choice of love, but the pair bonding which can be so strong as to keep pairs of some species together for life. They add a dimension to the reproductive process which makes it exactly what the plants are doing and, at the same time, a quite different sort of reality. Human reproduction is the same reality found in animals, and yet it is immensely more. Here is no simple, instinctive pair bonding. The human procreation of life -- if it is really and fully human -- demands not only fertilization but full and complete personal commitment. Marriage is the place where this occurs; and Christian, sacramental marriage is as far beyond this as the Eucharist is beyond the mere ingestion of nutrients. There is in human reproduction the capacity to join in a union bound up in Christ himself and giving rise to new Christian life as a gift to be cherished far beyond mere preservation of the species. All of this is why the Document on Procreation says: "For this reason marriage possesses specific goods and values in its union and in procreation which cannot be likened to those existing in lower forms of life. Such values and meanings are of the personal order and determine from the moral point of view the meaning and limits of artificial interventions on procreation and on the origin of human life." Medicine has much to offer in this area, but it must always realize that it deals with human life. Full human values are to guide it. In us, the power to give life is sacred and is never separate from God and Church. We are not amoebas. We are sons and daughters of God. Article #7 MORAL DECISIONS -- The Stork: An Endangered Species? by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan "Mommy, where do babies come from?" the child asks. "The stork brings them," comes the scientific response. When home birth was the norm, another favorite answer was, "The doctor brings them in his little black bag." The stork tends eventually to migrate from the area of reality to that of myth. The little black bag does not so easily leave the scene. Medical intervention in the area of conception increases each year, and within the last twenty years its possibilities have grown more than most of us could ever have imagined. Amniocentesis, sonography and laparoscopy present a range of possibilities for observation and diagnosis practically from the moment of conception. Intervention can even precede conception when we consider artificial insemination, gamete intrafallopian transfer, removal of tubal occlusion, in vitro fertilization and other techniques that we hear about almost every day. Later I will talk about all of those procedures and more besides. In every procedure, there are basic norms to consider. The Vatican's 1987 Instruction on Procreation says: "The fundamental values connected with the techniques of artificial human procreation are two: The life of the human being called into existence and the special nature of the transmission of human life in marriage." The document is quite explicit in saying that it does not reject procedures in this area simply on the grounds that they are "artificial." In fact, it encourages study and research into the causes of infertility and ways to remedy it. WHat it does insist upon, however, is that there are things which may be "technically possible" and yet are not morally admissible." The two fundamental values are a basic guide to making those moral judgments. Methods which violate the right to life are certainly not morally acceptable. This is one of the problems with in vitro fertilization. The procedure involves treatment to cause multiple ovulation -- the production of a number of eggs instead of only the one which is normally produced each month. These eggs are then taken from the ovaries, placed in a petri dish and fertilized with sperm. They begin to develop -- each one now a new human being -- and some are replaced in the uterus, while the rest may be used for experiment or simply destroyed. No matter how good the intention may be, the method results not only in possible life, but also in certain death. There are also procedures which violate the special nature of the transmission of human life in marriage. Insemination with the sperm of a donor violates the fidelity of the marriage bond. So also does the use of the husband's sperm to impregnate someone other than his wife -- as in surrogate motherhood. In both instances sex is reduced to the mechanics of biological reproduction and has lost its character of an intimate expression of personal love between husband and wife. When we purposely destroy the reproductive capability of sex, we do violence to a sacred reality. We do just as much violence to it when we remove its intimate and personal dimensions. The teaching of the Church is that we must preserve both. When we fail to do so, then we act wrongly and begin to destroy our own humanity. What is morally good builds us up, and what is morally bad begins to erode the fabric of our lives. There is much that medical practice can and should do. There is much, too, that it can but should not do. We have an obligation to know which is which, and that we shall take up in future articles -- always keeping in mind our two most basic values. Article #8 MORAL DECISIONS -- Turning a Blind Eye by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan It was the dawn of the Nineteenth Century and Napoleon was out to conquer Europe. It was the day of sail, when silent breezes pushed mighty fleets into the thunder of battle. Horatio Nelson -- a hero who had lost an eye -- was sent a signal from the flagship to disengage and break off his attack. He said he would confirm that order. He took the telescope, held it to his blind eye, and said he saw no such signal. He advanced; he prevailed; he won the day. He faced no court-martial. He was decorated, promoted and went on to even greater fame. This is, perhaps, the "exception which proves the rule" (whatever that means). Usually, turning a blind eye does not have such happy results. We are almost always better off with both eyes open, knowing where we are headed and how to get there. In the Instruction on Procreation this is indicated by the statement that "the Magisterium of the Church offers to human reason in this field too the light of Revelation." When we open our eyes to that light, what do we see? Each human being is special in the eyes of God. Each one is loved by God, not as a faceless form in a mass of humanity, but as an individual, as this actual person. Each one is sacred and each one is called to the fullness of eternal life with God. God has made us to receive His love. As the old catechisms used to say, "God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world; and, to be happy with Him forever in the next world." The creation of human life takes a special act of God in each instance, since there is no other way in which a spiritual and immortal soul can come to be. The start of a new human life is an act of God's creative love. This is also why human sexuality is so important and so sacred. The Instruction says, "Human procreation requires on the part of the spouses responsible collaboration with the fruitful love of God." This is one reason why the society in which we live has so many problems with love and the real, lasting commitment of marriage. There is a tendency to separate sex from its procreative function, and to treat it only as somehow uniting the partners or even as no more than recreation. That removes almost any concept of the sacred or of joining together in the work of God. There is a blind eye, and in this case it does not lead to victory. It makes people miss the real point of their own worth. The revelation of that saving and creative love of God also contains another implication. If human life is sacred and if each human being is truly loved by God, then we have the deepest sorts of obligations to each other. To say that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves is not simply to repeat a platitude. It is a truth that must come to life in us if we are to be what we are meant to be and if we are to find real happiness. In the end, the Lord of all life is God, not man. This is true from life's beginning to its end. On this basis the Instruction says: "No one can, in any circumstances, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being." To say that it is right to kill the unborn is once more to turn a blind eye to reality. In some way, I suppose, such blindness should not totally surprise us, since it is a blindness to revelation and can only be overcome by faith -- and for many that act of faith seems hard to come by. But there is an even deeper blindness at times -- a willful blindness to the reality of reason which simply refuses to see the facts. This is especially true in the area of respect for the life of the unborn. All evidence of science is set aside because people don't want something to be true. To turn one blind eye is bad enough, but to set aside both reason and revelation is to view ourselves and the world with two blind eyes. That can lead only to failure. Article #9 MORAL DECISIONS -- Conversations with the Mad Hatter by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan "Alice had been looking over [the Mad Hatter's] shoulder with some curiosity. 'What a funny watch!' she remarked. 'It tells the day of the month, and doesn't tell what o'clock it is!' 'Why should it?' muttered the Hatter, 'Does your watch tell you what year it is?' 'Of course not.' Alice replied very readily; 'but that's because it stays the same year for such a long time together.' 'Which is just the case with mine.' said the Hatter. Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English." (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland) In this and the next few articles, I will be talking about the life of the unborn. My intention is to look at why the embryo or fetus should be respected, why it should be considered human, why it should be treated as a person, and what sorts of medical procedures should or should not be applied to it. I would like to begin by getting out of the way some of the "Mad Hatter" arguments -- those which sound like English but have, in fact, no worthwhile meaning. "The Church is against abortion? Don't they know this is 1989?" What the date has to do with whether a thing is right or wrong is, I admit, beyond me. If there were any sense to it at all, then every New Year's Day should bring along with it a whole new set of rules. "What do you mean, robbery is illegal? This is 1990!" But then, why even wait for a new year? "Of course I can murder you! It's three o'clock!" Enough said. Even the Mad Hatter wouldn't have taken that argument very seriously. "It isn't human, at least not in the first few months. After all, it's not even an inch long." Short people, beware! If this argument is real, then it follows that the smaller we are, the less human we are. Or is there some magic size which determines our humanity? Six inches? A foot? Just as time is not the norm for making a thing moral, so length is not a norm for making us human. Of course, it may be hard for someone to realize just how so small a being can be human. That I will explain in coming weeks. But if you can honestly be convinced that length itself is the final answer, then sit down and let the March Hare pour you a cup of tea. The Hatter will enjoy talking to you. "It isn't really human, until it can live on its own, outside the uterus." This argument may mean various things. First of all, some people may propose it with the idea that the fetus, before it is viable (that means being able to live outside the womb), is part of the mother's body and therefore not an individual in its own right. People are sometimes surprised to learn that, no matter what else science may or may not say about a fetus, the one thing that it can say truthfully, absolutely, positively and beyond all shadow of doubt is this: The fetus is never at any stage of its life a part of the mother's body. It is, with no possibility of contradiction, from the moment of conception, clearly distinct from its mother. This point is, I think, important enough that it deserves more than passing reference; and so I shall devote a later article to it. The second meaning of the same argument is really the one that falls into the Mad Hatter category. The total dependence of the unborn child on its mother means that it is not yet human. If it is the fact of dependence which is the issue, then the child is not human even when it is born. It still needs to be fed and clothed and sheltered. If left on its own it will die. That helpless condition lasts for quite a few years. In fact, if you listen to what mothers say, even some teenagers and an occasional helpless husband might not survive without a woman to care for them. In other words, if we take seriously the idea that being human is determined by total independence, then we are all in trouble. To conclude: In this area, as in any other, when you can take an argument and honestly and logically follow it to ridiculous conclusions, then there is some flaw in the argument. It is suitable conversation for the Mad Hatter. Article #10 MORAL DECISIONS -- By the Light of the Moon by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan A man who had been in the Peace Corps told me of a tribe of people who were convinced that the moon was far brighter than the sun. Their reasons were both logical and obvious. You can see the moon at might, even in the dark; but the sun can be seen only on clear, bright days. Where do you begin if you want to correct their misconception? Somehow, in this area, they seem to have gotten cause and effect completely confused. Where do you begin with people who say that the fetus is not a human being, when their reasons are a hodge-podge of misinformation? We might compare what they say with the facts and see what comes of it. "The embryo is just formless tissue." At the moment of conception the fertilized ovum (called a zygote) begins a process of growth and specialization. Within a week the one cell has become 150 cells, already forming the first organs that it will need to implant itself in the uterus. By the end of its second week, implantation will take place and the zygote will be called an embryo. By the end of its third week the heart has begun to beat. One week later, there is a nervous system, a functioning brain, and the beginnings of eyes and ears. When the embryo is only eight weeks old, it is complete and is referred to as a fetus. That one original cell has become 40,000 cells, with parts and organs all in place and under the direction of its own brain. The fetus is just over an inch long, but it is clearly human even to simple observation -- although still too small for its mother to feel its movements. By its twelfth week of life (the end of the first trimester of pregnancy) the fetus is three inches long. Organs and body parts grow and become more refined -- but no new parts are added. They have all been there since its eighth week. Movement has occurred since its seventh week of life, but it is not until it is about six inches long that its mother will become conscious of it. It is then only about sixteen weeks old. It will react to light and sound and taste. Its senses are operating quite well, thank you. By the twenty-fourth week the fetus is self-aware and responds to the sound of voices, especially that of its mother. There is even speculation that this is the first stage of learning language. By the end of the sixth month the fetus is at a stage of development sufficient -- with some care and attention -- to allow it to live outside the womb. Indeed, with special care it could survive even a bit earlier. This is the end of the second trimester. Its last three months in the womb are a time of added growth and strengthening, as the child prepares for birth. When that moment arrives, that one cell of nine months ago will have become a complex, wonderful human baby of some 6,000,000,000,000 cells. This could only have happened because from the moment of conception there was a living human being who was allowed to live and become what it was meant to be. Growth and development of this sort are overwhelming and scientific signs of life. To say that the embryo is ever just formless tissue is nonsense. Then why do people say it? Sometimes it is simple lack of knowledge. That is sad. But far worse is that statement when it comes from an abortion counselor or a nurse or a doctor. If it is due to lack of knowledge in their case, then it is criminal. If it is not due to lack of knowledge, then they are liars. In either case, I wouldn't take or follow their advice. Of course, if they told the truth they would be out of business and moonlighting as an abortionist is lucrative, even at the expense of human life. Article #11 MORAL DECISIONS -- Kindergarten Counseling by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan Where do you look for good advice? You feel unwell. You have stomach pains. You go to a doctor and he examines you. The result is a diagnosis of an ulcer and you begin a diet and proper medication. On the other hand, you could go to your local kindergarten and have a student tell you, "You have a pain in your tum tum. Take some green pills and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." A silly example -- or is it? How many people seek serious advice from those who know next to nothing? "My friend told me, and her mother was a nurse, so she ought to know." Really? "The fetus is a part of the woman's body and is not a separate human being." So we are told, and so are people counseled when they contemplate abortion. But a counselor who says this is either ignorant of the facts or a liar. When an ovum is released from the ovary, it is moved toward the fallopian tube and drawn into it, to be taken toward the uterus. It is in the woman's body, but not attached to it. It is like an object flowing in a stream, moved along by the flow, but quite distinct from the stream itself. If that egg is not fertilized, it will move on and be washed away in the menstrual flow as the uterine lining breaks down and prepares for the following month. If it is fertilized, then the lining will not break down and the zygote (the fertilized egg) will become an embryo, implanting itself in the wall of the uterus where it will live for nine months. How does a woman's body know if that lining is supposed to break down or not? The fact is that the zygote immediately begins its own living activity. Before it ever implants, while it is still freely moving, it produces a substance (chorionic gonadotropic hormone) which signals certain cells in the ovary to produce the hormones necessary for pregnancy. It is the first communication of the child with its mother. It is an already complex and highly developed embryo which arrives in the uterus and implants itself there. Aha! In an earlier column I said that the fetus or embryo is never at any time a part of its mother's body. Yet here I am saying that it implants itself in the uterus. A plant, growing in the earth, depends on that earth for its life. But clearly it is not a part of the earth even though it grows there. As roots enter the soil and anchor the plant there, so does the embryo anchor itself in the thick, rich tissue of the uterine lining (the endometrium). The two never become one. Another way to picture their connection is to compare it to the interlacing of the fingers of two hands clasped together. They are joined, but they never become one hand, nor does one ever become a part of the other. A geneticist can examine the cells of the embryo and clearly identify them as human. He can compare the cells of the embryo to cells of the mother and say beyond all doubt that both are human and are from different persons. Each has its own unique genetic code. If you take cells from the embryo and transplant them into the body of the mother, her body will begin a rejection reaction and try to eject that foreign tissue. They are two distinct human beings and neither one is a part of the other. But don't they share the same blood? Absolutely not! The two systems run side by side in their own veins and arteries in the placenta (where the embryo is attached to the uterus). Nourishment, oxygen and waste are passed back and forth through the thin walls, but the two blood streams never mingle. Indeed, if by accident veins are broken and they do mingle, there may be serious problems as each system treats the other as foreign. None of what I am saying is either philosophy, or theology, or theory, or speculation. It is simple, provable, accurate, scientific fact. There is no doubt about it. At no point in its existence can the embryo be truthfully spoken of as being part of its mother's body. Anyone who tells you differently is a kindergarten counselor or a liar. Don't trust him. Article #12 MORAL DECISIONS -- Quack, Quack! by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan You see a man walking down the street with an animal on a leash. It has white feathers, flat yellow feet, a flat beak, a pronounced waddle; and as it goes along, it says, "Quack, Quack!" With careful attention to every detail, and using all the hidden powers of your intellect, you conclude that it is a French poodle. If you can do this and stick to your conclusion no matter what evidence is brought forth, then you can begin to enter into the mentality of the pro-abortion crowd. Ignore all proof, block out any hint of truth, insist that things are the way you want them to be whether they are or not, and they will welcome you with open arms. If you can get yourself into this frame of mind, then you open up to yourself whole new vistas of possibility. You too can enjoy de-personalized, irresponsible, shallow sex, with no regard for yourself, your partner or the consequences. You can ignore the deepest values in life and enjoy a carefree existence, not worrying too much about the fact that you may have to kill someone now and again. "The fetus is not human; it's not a person." Those who want abortion want that statement to be true, so that they don't have to live with guilt. Those who perform abortions (and who, of course, see the dead fetus and know the statement isn't true) pretend it is, so that they won't lose a lucrative business. A woman may go through tremendous turmoil because of a pregnancy. She doesn't know where to turn; but lying to her about the humanity of her child is no solution at all. What makes a human being a person? One answer -- indeed, the most important answer -- is the presence of a human soul. Of course, you can't see the soul. You don't know, by direct observation, when it arrives or when it is gone. Then how do you know when it is present? The answer is that you see its presence by its actions. When you are in a room looking through a window on a windy day, how do you know the wind is blowing? You can't see it. From inside the house you can't feel it. But you can see what it does. Leaves move, trees bend, light objects are tossed about. You know that there is a wind. This way of knowing is called inference. The presence of one thing leads you to infer the existence of another -- a perfectly valid and scientific way of arriving at the truth. So, too, with the soul. How do we know that the soul is gone? That a person is dead? By inference. There's no vital activity, no movement, no response to stimuli. There is no growth. There is no activity at all from the brain or from any organs. Deterioration sets in. The person is dead. The soul is gone. How do we know when the soul is present? There is life, internal activity, response, and growth. If nourishment and other conditions for survival are met, then life will go on. The adult will emerge from the adolescent, the adolescent from the child, the child from the infant, the infant from the embryo, the embryo from the fertilized egg. There is one unified, steady and inevitable process. There is one life from beginning to end, one life principle, one soul, one person. This realization is not guesswork. It's not a theory. It is the result of inference. The pro-abortion people say that the fetus or embryo is not human, not a person. They say that science supports them and that the presence of human life or human soul is just a theory of the theologian or philosopher. The pro-abortionists lie -- to us and maybe even to themselves. Theologians and philosophers are not theorizing. They are looking at the obvious evidence and drawing a clear conclusion. The scientist will draw the same conclusion, if he is faithful to the evidence. The abortion supporters are theorizing. And it is the most stupid sort of theorizing, because it has to reject all the evidence. The baby is a person once delivered, and not a person that split second earlier before delivery? That's truly stupid. That is saying, "It's a person when I say so, and don't clutter my mind with evidence." You may as well say, "Ignore the feathers and the quacking and say hello to my poodle." Article #13 MORAL DECISIONS JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM... by Reverend Monsignor James J. Mulligan Remember Dragnet and Joe Friday? All he looked for was the facts; and once he got them, then he made up his mind and another case was solved. There is, of course, the opposite school of thought: "My mind is already made up. Don't confuse me with the facts." This must be your frame of mind if you want to support abortion. In preceding articles we have looked at an abundance of facts -- all of them true, none of them theory or guesswork. From the moment that a human egg is fertilized, it begins to grow and develop. With astonishing speed it develops its heart, its circulatory system, its nervous system and its brain. From the first moment it is alive and self-contained. It depends on another person for life. But don't we all? And not only in the womb. Yet even in our dependence upon others we do not cease to be ourselves. Neither does the embryo. From the first it has its own life and it is never just a part of its mother's body. It has its own unique genetic code, its own identity. Only poor scientific procedure, sloppy thinking or downright stupidity could confuse the identity of this unique being with another. By the time a woman even realizes she is pregnant, there is a beating heart and a functioning brain within her child. By the time most abortions are performed -- even the earliest of them in the first trimester -- there is a clearly recognizable human being. To recognize that the embryo is a person is not a matter of faith. It is a simple use of human reason. You have a living, growing, human individual. To conclude that it is not a human person does violence to reason. In fact, the only motive for even trying to claim that it is not a person is that there are those who would prefer that it not be a person. The pro-abortionist must make a blind act of faith and be willing not to be confused by the facts. The human being in the womb or from the moment of conception must be accorded the rights due to any human person. Most basic of all is the simple right to be allowed to live. This is not undone or outweighed by what many now like to speak of as a woman's "reproductive rights." Both men and women have rights over their own reproductive faculties. But rights also involve obligations and responsibilities. A man cannot rape a woman and then claim innocence on the ground that he was merely exercising his reproductive rights. There is a limit on rights and that limit is defined by our responsibilities toward the rights of others. The rapist is a criminal because he violates the rights of another. A woman has reproductive rights. Those rights are also limited by responsibilities, including the responsible use of sex. Her rights are also defined by relationships with others, and among those others is the child in her womb. No claim of "reproductive rights" can be taken as an excuse for murder, any more than it can be taken as an excuse for rape. The child in the womb must be treated as a person. It must be nourished and cared for. It must be defended in its own integrity. Its rights must also be recognized and those rights create in others corresponding duties and responsibilities. Obligations to the unborn child begin with its right to be allowed to live. They also include the obligation of proper care, and this means proper medical attention as well. This will be the topic in some of the coming articles, when we look at ways in which medicine can and should (or should not) intervene in the life of the unborn. In what has been said here and in what will be said in the future, we must keep sight of the facts. Life is too precious and too sacred to be ignored. The facts here are too important to be overlooked. -------------------------------------------------------------------