National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Noble Objectives Alone Don’t Justify Fetal Experimentation

BY Jim Cosgrove

May 3-9, 1998 Issue | Posted 5/3/98 at 2:00 PM

 

Proponents of fetal experimentation suggest such studies will lead to advancements in medical knowledge that will vastly benefit the human race. Among many cited “possibilities” are growing organs for transplantation into adult human beings, the elimination of birth defects, and even the “improvement” of the genetic “maps” of all human beings, leading to a jump in evolution that staggers the imagination.

All of these assertions divert attention from the central problem with fetal experimentation: the reduction of preborn children from human beings created in the image of God to mere biological scrap— useful material to be manipulated and disposed of.

We find specific guidelines on fetal experimentation in Donum Vitae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 1987 instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation:

“Medical research must refrain from operations on live embryos, unless there is a moral certainty of not causing harm to the life or integrity of the unborn child and the mother, and on condition that the parents have given their free and informed consent to the procedure. It follows that all research, even when limited to the simple observation of the embryo, would become illicit were it to involve risk to the embryo's physical integrity or life by reason of the methods used or the effects induced.

“As regards experimentation, and presupposing the general distinction between experimentation for purposes which are not directly therapeutic and experimentation which is clearly therapeutic for the subject himself, in the case in point one must also distinguish between experimentation carried out on embryos which are still alive and experimentation carried out on embryos which are dead. If the embryos are living, whether viable or not, they must be respected just like any other human person; experimentation on embryos which is not directly therapeutic, is illicit.

“No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings, or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother's womb…. To use human embryos or fetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person….”

“In the case of experimentation that is clearly therapeutic, namely, when it is a matter of experimental forms of therapy used for the benefit of the embryo itself in a final attempt to save its life, and in the absence of other reliable forms of therapy, recourse to drugs or procedures not yet fully tested can be licit” (Donum Vitae, no. 4).

Source: The Facts of Life: An Authoritative Guide to Life and Family Issues, by Brian Clowes PhD (Human Life International, Front Royal, Va.). Reprinted with permission.