The last week of May was a tragic time for the unborn in Britain. After two days of debate, British parliamentarians voted in favor of a raft of anti-life and anti-family legislation that included allowing creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.
Register Correspondent Edward Pentin spoke May 26 about these developments with Father George Woodall, coordinating secretary at the Pontifical Academy for Life and professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College. Father Woodall is also a diocesan priest from Nottingham, England.
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, described the vote for research on human-animal hybrid embryos as a horror that has always been rejected by ethics. Why is it such an offense against human dignity?
Clearly, it’s a great offense to human dignity to start introducing interactions between the cells of human beings and sub-human beings.
We respect animals in the sense that they are part of God’s creation, and certainly they should never be subjected to any form of cruelty that would be gratuitous in any way. Nevertheless, there is a radical difference between one species and another, and this is a major step in breaking the barrier between species.
It’s something that is full of unforeseen and, indeed in many respects, uncontrollable consequences and therefore it is a major step in the wrong direction.
Because it is such a radical move in the wrong direction, Bishop Sgreccia rightly underlined that it is a major offense to human dignity and a danger for humanity.
What do you say to those who argue this type of research serves a greater good by helping to cure diseases and ease suffering?
There are two things: The first, and nevertheless weaker argument, is that there is no proof that will happen.
There’s no proof at all that we need, for example, to develop further stem-line cells from such beings. It has been proven that it is possible to develop very useful stem-cell lines for research from adult stem cells, which do not involve experimenting upon and destroying entirely innocent human beings.
That’s not the stronger argument, however, because even if good results might result from it, it would still not justify the move that has been taken. It is, of its very nature, intrinsically morally wrong to breach this barrier between species and to create beings in order to destroy them; to use human beings as if they were simply an object to be used and discarded.
It’s the gravest violation of human dignity to use another human being as an object for the benefit of someone else. So the good end does not justify the morally evil means.
Does this argument also apply to other legislation recently approved in Britain removing the need for a father in in vitro fertilization treatment and allowing creation of so-called “savior siblings” — babies who are a tissue match for a sick older brother or sister with a genetic condition?
Yes, and the point I just made is more direct because there would be an attempt to deliberately bring into being and use this human being simply as a source of products for somebody else.
Leaving fathers out of the question I think is another indication of the pressure from radical feminism. I don’t mean feminism that is concerned about the necessary promotion of legitimate equality between men and women, but those who want to remove what they consider as obstructions to career, namely motherhood and marriage and family.
It’s another step along that path following this particular ideology and I think it’s a very retrograde step.
But I come back to the point: It does definitely involve the major exploitation of a human being, the deliberate bringing into being of a human being in order to use that being as a mere means for somebody else’s good, and then kill and destroy that human being. It’s an outrageous proposal and practice.
Why does Britain seem to lead the way in anti-life legislation — why, for instance, is the country’s abortion limit set at 24 weeks when the average in Europe is 13 weeks?
Yes, it’s far worse in Britain. I suppose, unfortunately, we led the world in this immoral and unjust legislation in 1967. It’s an ignominious fact of our history.
I’m afraid that in Britain we’ve sold out to utilitarianism. People these days often look at maybe difficult cases or at people who mean well, people with good intentions, for example, people who want to avoid and cure terrible diseases — as everyone wants to do.
Now what happens when people see a good end or a particular problem that they want to solve and when they find a particular way of doing it, a technological means, they tend often just to put the two together: “I want to do this, it becomes possible to do it, and therefore I go ahead.”
They don’t ask the moral question: “Is what I’m proposing to do morally right? Is it, of its nature, coherent and compatible with human dignity or is it by its very nature a violation of that dignity?”
And I’m afraid it is. It is a serious violation of that dignity. There’s no getting away from it; that is exactly what all deliberate abortion is. And that’s why it remains always morally wrong even in hard cases and even for good intentions.
Law is supposed to be an instrument of justice, but it is not automatically. In many cases, as in this case, it has become an instrument of grave injustice to human beings, to society.
It’s a terrible shame. We have gone so far in the wrong direction.
Are you hopeful that change is eventually going to come?
It will only change if people whose moral foundations are good and proper and well directed speak up more often and more coherently, if they don’t fall into the trap of using utilitarian arguments against those who may propose these measures.
People speak sometimes about silent majority, and I think there is a very profound sense in the hearts and consciences of many people in Britain and far beyond it that what is going on in our country is very, very seriously mistaken. And hopefully they will wake up to this and then try to put things right.
This year is the year of the 40th anniversary of Paul VI’s encyclical on human life, Humanae Vitae [The Regulation of Birth]. It said quite simply that human life, marriage and the family are the bedrock of any civilized society and are the essential parts of the plan of God for human beings.
I think that message was prophetic, and it really needs to be heard and it needs to be applied in these situations today.
We are also just over 20 years on from the document called “The Gift of Life,” Donum Vitae, which looked in particular at the status of the human embryo and at the question of procreation. That text too was profoundly prophetic.
And I do hope what has been said by our Church so very well over so many years will be heeded and taken to heart by Catholics and by non-Catholics and that they also recognize that what the Church says and does is nothing other than to defend and promote human life and human dignity in all its goodness and all its glory.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.