Author: Rev. Dr. Stephen Fernandez
The newspapers is daily flooded with many issues that challenge human dignity in the field of bio-medical ethics from womb to tomb. I will expose two such issues, one on cloning and the second one on surrogacy.
Research on human cloning poses serious challenges to those who defend human life right from the moment of fertilization. The scientific and medical communities all over the world are eager to harness the powers of the stem cells of very young human embryos without considering the ethical consequences of these acts. Technological reproduction, and specially cloning would tempt many to view a child as a human achievement rather than as a gift of God. We need to educate ourselves on the new technology in order to dialogue intelligently and confidently with these researchers and at the same time question the morality of these new procedures and practices in the light of the teaching of the Church.
The Church is not opposed to technological progress. At the same time the Church seeks to guide what the technological development has to serve, viz. the human person. Pope John XXIII had declared this in his Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra. The Second Vatican Council also stated that technological progress is not to be seen as the conquest of the human person, but as the sign of the greatness of God and the fulfillment of his project and plans. John Paul II, in his address to the Ninth International Conference organized by the “Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to the Health Care Workers”, has not only expressed confidence in the mission of science, but also of the necessity of its union with faith. He affirmed:
“The Church for her part invites us to look confidently at the most holy mission of science and encourage every form of research which is respectful to man’s dignity, for she sees in it what we could term the inexhaustible capacities of intelligence, the reflection and imprint of the intelligence of God. At a time when human life is experiencing such serious dramatic aggressions, the Church, by virtue of her pastoral mission, feels the duty to support scientific research in the awareness that faith and science interface in that wisdom wherein God’s design fully upholds”.
A. ETHICAL ISSUES CONNECTED WITH HUMAN CLONING:
Cloning is a broad term that refers to the production of a precise genetic copy of any molecule (including the DNA molecule), cell, tissue, plant or animal. However, in popular terminology, cloning refers to the production of an identical human being through a process technically called ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’. It is the taking of the donated unfertilized egg (or sex cell) of a female of the species from any fertility clinic and removing its nucleus (i.e., the enucleation of the DNA or genetic material). Then, in a petri dish, the dormant DNA nucleus of a somatic cell (a body cell and not a sex cell) from the same species or from another of the species (male or female) is injected in the female sex cell. Then, by electric shock, the dormant DNA is (parthenogenetically) reactivated, and so begins to multiply like a fertilized egg, and then divide to form early embryos. No male participation is necessary, and the reproduction process is or can be parthenogenic. The result will be an exact genetic and biological replica of the one who gave the DNA. Thus, cloning is a form of artificial reproduction which is achieved without the contribution of the two gametes.
- Human Embryos that are in Continuous Cyropreservation
There are some researchers who argue that what is going to die through neglect ought just as well die serving some higher or noble cause, viz. research therapy. They maintain that the human embryo is a mere collection of cells. Others affirm the theory of delayed hominization which states that the soul is not infused until the primitive streak appears (at approximately 14 days) or when some other criterion of individuation has been met. All of them fail to understand that a human embryo is not a part of a human being, but the whole human being. The exact moment at which God infuses the soul into the body does not matter. The fact that the embryo is a whole confers upon it that unique and intrinsic dignity that forbids anyone to use it for mere utilitarian purposes. Donum Vitae states: “The freezing of embryos, even when carried out in order to preserve the life of an embryo – cyropreservation – constitutes an offence against the respect due to human beings by exposing them to grave risks of death or harm to their physical integrity, and depriving them at least temporarily of maternal shelter and gestation, thus placing them in a situation in which further offences and manipulation are possible”.
- Infertile Couples craving to have a Child:
When couples experience infertility, the quest to conceive a child becomes an all-consuming commitment, overshadowing every other aspect of a couple’s life. They seek some forms of advanced reproductive technologies which justify the destruction of fertilized eggs and depersonalizes the humanity of these beings existing in a petri dish. Natural law forbids us to place ourselves or another human person in a situation which endangers life and health. After egg and sperm meet, a human soul will always be infused by God, which makes this one-celled organism a human being. In the petri dish there lives several human embryos of which only two or three will be implanted. Those who are left behind face either destruction (which is willful abortion) or cyropreservation. Just as the Church condemns induced abortion, she also forbids acts against the life of these human beings. It is a duty to condemn the particular gravity of the voluntary destruction of human embryos obtained in vitro for the sole purpose of research, either by means of artificial insemination or by twin fission.
- Theological Debate over Embryo Adoption:
Today, there is a theological debate over the adoption of frozen embryos. The Catholic Church does have its clear position on the issues of the methods of reproductive technologies and has also condemned the ongoing practice of creating embryos. What is to be done to the thousands of embryos that are already frozen due to IVF procedures? With regard to cyropreservation of embryos, Donum Vitae states: “…even when carried out in order to preserve the life of the embryo…[it] constitutes an offense against the respect due to human beings…”.
- Problem of Identity Crisis for the Cloned Replica
In cloning, fertilization of the two gametes is replaced by the fusion of a somatic cell with a female enucleated oocyte. The most disturbing result is an individual who has a body structure very similar to that of the DNA donor. However, this does not necessarily imply that a perfectly identical person is created. The spiritual soul, which is the essential constituent of everyone who belongs to the human species and is created directly by God, cannot be generated by parents or produced by artificial fertilization or cloning. Further, psychological development, culture and environment always lead to different personalities. The popular image that cloning portrays, namely that the individual is an exact replica of the person fails to consider the person’s ontological and psychological reality.The person being cloned enters the world by virtue of being a biological copy of another being. His psychic identity is jeopardized by the presence of the other. And since he resembles someone who was ‘worthwhile’ cloning, he will be the object of fateful expectations which will constitute a true and proper attack on his personal subjectivity. And since both have the same DNA, fingerprinting for identification would be made difficult.
- Natural Vs. Artificial Reproduction:
The fundamental position of Donum Vitae with regard to procreation is that every pregnancy must occur within heterosexual marriage and be the result of the conjugal act between the husband and wife. So, the basic difference between natural and artificial reproduction is that in the latter, the procreative act is severed from its natural relationship to the sexual union within a marriage. Artificial reproduction establishes the dominion of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person, and gives the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists. As a result of this parents and children lose their dignity. The instruction is absolutely clear and unambiguous in its judgement on artificial reproductive technologies. Thus, it prohibits artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, surrogate motherhood, cryptoperservation of embryos, and most research on embryos and tissues. With regard to cloning, Donum Vitae states:Attempts or hypothesis for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through “twin fission”, cloning or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of conjugal union.Like all other reproductive techniques, cloning too replaces the conjugal act, and is considered illicit by the Church. Cloning represents a radical manipulation of the constitutive relationality and complementarity, which is at the origin of human procreation in both its biological and personal aspects. It tends to make bi- sexuality a purely functional left-over, given that an ovum must be used without its nucleus, in order to make room for the clone-embryo. Thus, cloning reduces the person to a technological production and removes the clone from the love act at origins. A clone is made by an act of technology and not born by an act of love between two people. Thus, the personal, unitive, two- in-one flesh dimension of marital love is rejected. A child has the right to be procreated, not produced.
- Cloning Ruptures the Bond of Basic Family Relationships:
In the cloning process, the basic family relationships of consanguinity, kinship, and parenthood are radically ruptured. Thus, a woman can be a twin sister of her mother, lack a biological father and be the daughter of her grandfather. The cloned person also may experience serious concerns about his/her identity because he/she is an identical duplicate of another human being. Each person has a right not to be deliberately denied a unique genotype. The dignity and worth of each human being is central to the personal identity and individuality of the cloned person – an idea rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of each person’s relationship to the Creator.
- Cloning radically exploits Women:
Women are radically exploited and reduced to a few of their purely biological functions such as providing ova and womb. In the process of experimenting on fetuses and embryos, their suppression before birth is required, and so the woman’s body becomes a mere research tool. Such experimentation is immoral and it is not permissible to use woman as a source of ova or use of her womb for conducting cloning experiments.
- Cloning violates the Natural Moral Law:
Research on cloning as it applies to the human person is degrading. It destroys the dignity of human nature by treating the human person as a material commodity to be manipulated according to whim and fancy. The end result is science without ethics, technology without morality, and the human person without God. Such activity is contrary to the method of procreation designed by God. Human cloning violates the natural moral law. In this regard, Donum Vitae establishes from the onset that the natural moral law will be the criteria on which the Church’s teaching is based.
- Cloning violates Two Fundamental Human Rights Principles:
Human cloning violates two fundamental principles on which all human rights are based: First, the principle of equality among human beings is violated because cloning demonstrates man dominating over man. Second, the principle of non-discrimination is broken since the entire selective-eugenic dimension inherent to cloning indicates this discrimination. The Resolution of the European Parliament on 12 March 1997 expressly states the violation of these two principles and strongly appeals for the prohibition of human cloning and for the value of the dignity of the human person. The basic reason for the Church’s rejection of human cloning is that it denies the dignity of the person subjected to cloning and the dignity of human procreation.
Human cloning is both “in method the most despotic and in its aim the most slavish form of genetic manipulation, its objective is not an arbitrary modification of the hereditary material but precisely its equally arbitrary fixation in contrast to the dominant strategy of nature”. Halting the human cloning project is a moral duty which must also be translated into cultural, social and legislative terms. The Holy See too expressed its unequivocal condemnation of the cloning industry.
The scientist cannot regard the moral rejection of human cloning as a humiliation. Rather, this prohibition eliminates the degeneration of scientific research by restoring its dignity. Today, the need of the hour is to re-establish the harmony between the demands of scientific research and the indispensable human values. When such research is undertaken to alleviate suffering, to cure illnesses, to make a better use of the earth’s resources, it becomes one of the richest resources for humanity’s welfare.
B. THE ETHICAL DEBATE ON SURROGACY IN INDIA
Known as the surrogacy capital of the world or The Cradle of the World, India is emerging as a leader in international surrogacy and a destination in surrogacy- related fertility tourism. There are more than 2,500 Assisted Reproductive and Fertility clinics in India. Reproductive technology raises the question of whether it is proper for science to interfere with natural reproduction. Treatments that introduce genetic material from a third party (e.g. AID, Ovum transfer, surrogacy) raise many questions. Does this technology violate the exclusiveness of marriage? What are the moral and legal rights and obligations of the contributor of genetic material? What are the emotional ramifications for the couple when only one partner is the biological parent?
Does surrogate motherhood reduce marriage to a contract without responsibilities? The fullest expression of love between man and woman finds its home in marriage. Marriage is the most ethically appropriate place in which to have and raise children. Children are the supreme gift of a marriage. But, no one can claim a “right” to a child, just as no one can have a “right” to a gift. Reproductive technologies which seek to ‘take’ a child apart from sexual intercourse do not treat a child as what he or she truly is.
- A Child asks his rights to be born of his own father and mother:
A child is not only “the most gratuitous gift of marriage”, but is also “living testimony of the mutual giving of his/her parents”. Sexual intercourse is the mutual giving of partner to partner. So, the most proper way to conceive a child, who is a gift from God, is from within a context which is itself a giving one. It is the child’s right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his/her parents”. The very nature of surrogacy arrangements rules such out.This applies not only to surrogacy arrangements in which the surrogate is the genetic mother of the child, but also to so-called “gestational surrogacy”, in which the surrogate woman carries a child not genetically related to her. The mutual giving of oneself expressed by “the language of the bodies” morally requires that the child not only be conceived through sex between its biological father and the mother, but also carried and gestated by its genetic mother. Thus, the child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought by his own parents. No child wants to live in a womb for hire.
- Surrogacy is not the same as adopting an abandoned child
Reproductive organs are purchased by patrons of surrogacy just as sexual organs. Women are often reduced to their biological capacity. Some people argue that if adopting an abandoned child is morally praiseworthy and a gift of love, then why can’t surrogacy be likewise? Certainly, children who are adopted are not “the fruit of the specific act of conjugal act” of the parents raising them. But, it is one thing to raise an orphaned child; it is another to cause a child to be an orphan. So too, it would be one thing for a couple to raise a child which isn’t biologically both of their own or a child which is genetically their own but not gestated by the mother whose furnished the egg; it would be another for them to intentionally cause such a child to be born.The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other. The child is the fruit and thus the sign and symbol of the union between this man and this woman.
- Paid Surrogacy treats persons as market commodities
Surrogacy asks all of us some very difficult questions: what does it mean to be a parent? How should we consider children? Obviously, money frequently changes hands in surrogacy. Paid surrogacy violates the dignity of the personhood of our offspring, for only THINGS have prices- people are too valuable to be for sale.Is sex crucial for generating children? Or is it the case that as long as children come about from love, then parents are exercising proper stewardship over their offspring? There are two equal purposes of sex in marriage, the unitive and the procreative and that both must be present in each act of sex in marriage. Marital sex should be both physically and emotionally unifying AND open to the transmission of new life. Human love should be both love-enhancing (unitive) and life- giving (procreative). This connection between unity and procreation is “inseparable” and a requirement in “each and every marriage act”. Artificial contraception delivered unity without openness to procreation. Namely, if it is wrong to separate procreation from unity with the use of artificial contraception, it is wrong to separate procreation from unity and have offspring apart from the sexual act of the married couple. In short, no sex, no babies.Homologous forms of assisted reproduction breaks/ separates procreation from the sexual union of man and woman; also all heterologous forms of reproduction (such as surrogacy) do the same thing. In God’s plan, impregnation is very much linked to generation (giving birth to a child). To allow impregnation as an act which is separated or delinked from marriage, for someone to be an impregnator non-conjugally, is not the proper way to achieve motherhood. Further, renting a womb leaves the door open for those in same sex unions, single heterosexuals e.g. single menopausal women to become parents, couples with serious fertility issues, like survivors of uterine cancer.Infertility is “a difficult trial” and we express sympathy towards “the suffering of spouses who cannot have children”. “Physically sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of human person, for example, adoption, various forms of education work, and the assistance to other families and to poor or differently abled children”.
- Surrogacy offends the dignity of the child
Surrogacy is to be opposed as it offends the dignity of the child, the uniqueness of the mother-child relationship, and the sanctity of marriage. It also treats women and children as commodities. Conception, gestation, birth and nurturing are part of a continuum of life relationships. Child and parents grow into relationship together, a relationship meant to last a lifetime. The relationship is generic, gestational and nurturing, and strengthening the child-parent bond. Surrogacy fractures that continuum of relationship, introducing at least two, if not three, “mothers”, and more than one set of parents. This is done to meet adult needs, not for the good of the child. Pregnancy belongs to the marital relationship. To gestate an unrelated embryo is a violation of the “unitive good” of marriage.
- Surrogate Mother if married, offends her own Marriage:
The profound notion of marital communion, of the two in one flesh and the having of children through this “two in one flesh,” is broken by the intimate use of the woman’s body who is impregnated (and bears a pregnancy) in a way which isolates her husband, which excludes him from this part of her life, because he makes no direct contribution to the pregnancy and because it is established in her as a result of an embryo transfer procedure performed outside of the context of their expression of conjugal love. She becomes pregnant and he is not the father. He has no part in the pregnancy. The child is not an expression of their union
- Pregnancy is an essential part of Marital Intercourse – Pregnancy outside marriage is infidelity
When married persons engage in sexual intercourse and the wife becomes pregnant, the pregnancy (and thus the becoming pregnant) is not casually related to their intercourse, but morally speaking is an intrinsic part of their marital intercourse. And so, only a marital act should make a woman pregnant. Embryo adoption by way of surrogacy intentionally separates pregnancy from marital intercourse; therefore it vitiates the marital act and is a violation against marriage. The marital act, as the source of a new life and of childbearing, has an essential meaning not present in a single person, and gives childbearing its context so that the woman becomes pregnant through her free expression of love for her husband.Nonconjugal impregnation is a violation of a woman’s bodily integrity and the use of a woman as an object, because it lacks the meaning and character of marriage that dignifies being impregnated. When heterologous embryo transfer is deliberately chosen by a surrogate woman, it forms a union to which she is not entitled. The technician who effects the embryo transfer impregnates her, and that is an event properly belongs to the marital union. Marriage is thus, the only setting worthy of true and responsible procreation.
- When there is a 3rd party – a donor gamete: an unrecognized form of adultery
■ It is in and through the love of husband and wife and the intimate union of their bodies and entire beings that initiate the process of the beginning of human life.
■ Each of them contributes to the creation of another being.
■ A donor gamete introduces a third party genetic offspring into the relationship between the actual mother and father.
- Legal Issues:
Many countries outlaw commercial surrogacy. Agreements on surrogacy are not binding under Norwegian law. Egg donation is prohibited and is a criminal offence in many countries.Surrogate motherhood and related birth technologies continue to pose legal and ethical dilemmas.
- Motherhood: Can the question of motherhood be ethically resolved?
But what kind of woman would carry a child to term, only to hand him over moments after birth? Surrogates challenge our most basic ideas about motherhood, and call into question what we’ve always thought of as an unbreakable bond between mother and child. Many disparage the practice as interfering with the miracle of life, while others compare gestational carriers to prostitutes who degrade themselves by renting out their bodies. Some medical ethicists describe the process of arranging surrogacy as “baby brokering” or baby outsourcing.A surrogate mother will be deprived of important information about her or his heritage. Parents try to explain that their biological mother isn’t the same person as the mommy who tucks them to bed every night. Should the child be told, when old enough to understand, the pertinent details of his or her conception and birth? Should the identity of the surrogate mother be routinely disclosed? What if the surrogate mother wants to be known to the child? What if she doesn’t? What if she insists on visitation rights or other ongoing involvement with the child? Should a child be deprived of personal information – information that not only might be important medically but can also affect the child’s individual being?In the case of heterologous embryo transfer: though they have two elements of parenthood, gestational and nurturing (or social), they lack the third element of being the genetic parents.
- Risks for surrogate women:
Some medical practitioners state: “We first see their age, the medical history, their blood work and their obstetric history especially. If they have one caesarean we do take them but if it’s more than one, we do not. If their health is not good we don’t take them.”Yes. IVF and cloning require surgically extracting eggs from women’s bodies, a process that generally begins with the use of powerful fertility drugs to make their ovaries produce many eggs at a time instead of one. Some women develop a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can further damage their fertility and lead to serious medical complications and even death. Children conceived by IVF, if they do survive to birth, have been found by some studies to have an increased risk of some serious birth defects. The reproductive technology industry has been aggressively promoting an understanding of reproduction which is both sterile and asexual.Women are being lured with huge amounts of money to do something to their bodies that is totally unnatural and also life threatening. Egg donation has never been studied in any scientific way to prove its safety. Financial considerations seem to dominate the decision of many people and can money compensate for the grave risks of egg donation? Shrewdly the industry calls the transaction as egg “donation”. The demand for human eggs and hence the commercialization of human eggs has reached undue proportions as the IVF industry wants to pursue technological solutions without considering the ethical issues. Sadly, hardly any one in the IVF industry seems concerned about the risks or harms done to the women who provide the eggs, who are generally treated as commodities. The irony of it is the question: it worth the risk in a country with has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world?
In examining all these issues, we conclude that surrogate motherhood is morally wrong. It affects the way people begin to view the birth of children. Further, controversies between the adoptive and biological parents may develop, causing arguments over whose child she or he really is. The best decision, when biological parenting isn’t possible, is to adopt one of the many abandoned children waiting for a parent.
I stand with many others who call for the banning of surrogacy. For a mother to give away a child she loves is not a generous act as it violates the love–life bond. The child is torn from its mother’s love, a love that necessarily belongs to the child. Unfortunate situations may require giving up a loved child for adoption. But it is precisely the unfortunate circumstances that justify it, not the mere desire to be generous.