BIOETHICAL CHALLENGES WHICH THE CONTEMPORARY MAN IS FACING
‘I will claim for human life from a man and everybody – life of a brother’
1. A man of good will towards death civilisation and for life culture
The right for life is a fundamental human right, on which its other all rights grow. It is also the basis for other all good things which are the contribution of a man. The palette of attitudes is impressively extensive, which causes the fact that the first task of a Christian man is forming his conscience in accordance with the teaching of the Church and gaining a correct and reliable knowledge about the beginning of the human being. We are not allowed to follow simplified information of media. Honesty and prudence – necessary for deciding about the most fundamental questions – is built on moral sensitivity and knowledge. This sensitivity is gained through broadening religious life in the communion with God. In turn, knowledge does not have only religious character, but in the initial point it is based on scientific achievements. Hence, in the declaration of the Congregation of the Faith Teaching ‘Quaestio de abortu procurato’, and next in the encyclical ‘Evangelium Vitae’ it was reminded: ‘If the egg cell undergoes fertilization, life begins which does not depend on either father or mother, but on a new living human being, who is developing for itself. And it will never become human, if it had not been it at that time. The latest genetics confirms all this very clearly, which has always been obvious.(…) It namely proved that the human being has got a permanent structure from the first moment, that is, genetic information (…). From the moment of conception, a wonderful process of every human life begins, whose any abilities require time to be suitably arranged and prepared for action’(‘Quaestio’, 12-13, see also EV60).
In the contradiction with the above-mentioned statements, there are opinions of extremely subjective character, in which it is suggested that human life begins only with a kind of moments of its development. Whereas biological sciences allow for a statement that in human development there is no place for abrupt and quality changes. The whole development is taking place in a constant way. It is impossible to state which period is more important than others. Every moment in this development assumes the previous one, whereas the current one is an essential condition for the next one.
Whereas one event which is the only one in its kind is just the conception of human being. All other moments of its life are a consequence of the first one, the most important one. Finally, any doubts about the human existence should be decided about for the sake of life and one should counteract actions which are dangerous for human being. John Paul II formulates this norm unambiguously: ‘even the very probability of human existence would be enough to justify the most explicit prohibition of any interventions aiming at killing the human embryo’ (EV 60).
For a believer the basic indication comes from ruthless command of God expressed in the fifth commandment of the Decalogue: ‘Do not kill!’ (Exodus 20.13), which finds its grounds in the truth that ‘human life assumes God-Creator’s action from the beginning’ (encyclical ‘Mater et Magistra’, 194) and belongs only to God and in the most important commandment of love to God and a neighbour (see Mt 22.36-40). So, who destroys human life, is against God and His laws. Hence, there is God’s warning addressed in the very beginning of the Bible to people destroying human life: ‘I will claim for human life also from a man and everybody – life of a brother’ (Genesis 9.5). Also John Paul II emphasized with the power of apostolic authority that ‘direct aborting pregnancy, that is, deliberate as a purpose or a method, is always a serious moral disorder, because it is a voluntary murder of the innocent human being’ (EV 62). Next, the pope added: ‘The moral judgement of aborting pregnancy concerns also new forms of treatments done on human embryos, which are aimed at fair purposes by their nature, inevitably lead into killing embryos’ (EV 63). The Holy Father meant here: experiments on embryos, using them as ‘biological material’, the source of organs or tissues for transplantation, used for treatment of some diseases, prenatal diagnostic techniques, if they are motivated by eugenic right (EV 63).
2. The essence of dangers for human life in the prenatal phase
Pope John Paul II saw dangers for human life in the prenatal phase: ‘fear is caused by many and serious dangers of life of people and nations, especially weak and defenceless life’ (EV 3). Human life is the basic value and an inalienable good. It requires a definite protection, so regardless of a period and the quality of human life. Questioning of this command leads to a frequent weakening of the protection of unborn babies, incurably ill or old people. It also falsifies the reality, relativizing the value of life and making it depend on whether the birth took place or a man has an ability to decide about himself. Whereas life is or isn’t – its value does not need to be justified, but it should be explained, and our and others’ sensitivity to it should be raised.
One mustn’t omit the fact that God is life-giver from which life holiness and dignity of every man result. The Church feels obliged to defend it from the beginning till the natural death and respect requirements of both God’s law and the natural law. They are rejected especially through using procedures allowing for killing a baby in the prenatal period, that is, before its birth.
At present radical change of perceiving parenthood is taking place and there is no sensitivity to the exceptionality and the value of every human life. This attitude results from the excessive emphasis of rights of an individual in the areas which are traditionally reserved for generally binding laws compatible with nature and human dignity, a basis for his further rights and duties. In practice these rights take a form of ruthless ruling of the stronger ones over the weaker ones, adults over the unborn, the healthy over the ill. Practised relativism is based on discussing the basic terms: dignity, life, health and the very humankind. And these terms in our civilisation – reaching back to Greek, Roman and Christian culture - have universal meaning. Whereas the success of relativism is based on the fact that we are required to justify their meaning, and, finally, even defence of binding power of the basic moral rules. Whereas, we must remember that the legitimacy of these terms is understandable for every man of good will and who is listening to the voice of his conscience – they do not require further explanation or constant justification, as such.
In the contemporary catalogue of human rights, for some time, there has been a concept of rights belonging to each of us, the so-called reproductive rights. The word ‘reproduction’ suggests subject context, whereas procreation pays attention to subjects. Reproductive rights mean acknowledging it as a natural right to give an access to all couples and individuals to contraceptive means, abortifacient means and abortions in order to decide freely about a number, time intervals and a moment of giving birth to babies, as well as a right to information about these means. In a similar spirit, opinions are formulated, which pay attention to the suffering for infertile couples or many cases of personal tragedies of women who become single mothers of ill or disabled children. So, there is an argument raised that ‘forcing’ these women to give birth to their babies is a requirement of heroism from them, to which nobody has any right, and it is also an inhuman action which is deprived of sensitivity. Hence, there is supposed to be a justification for the right of having a baby conceived through artificial methods, or – on the other hand – a right to abort pregnancy in a case of a serious illness, endangered development or genetic defect of a conceived but still unborn baby. What is more, doctors of righteous conscience, who refuse to participate in the prenatal diagnostics undertaken for eugenic purposes, are stigmatized publicly, accused of breaching the law and sometimes punished with disciplinary, professional or punitive sanctions and they also bear the civic responsibility for the so-called defective birth. For, in the latter case, the birth of an ill or unwanted baby is treated as a source of a harm done by a doctor, which is a suffering for a mother or a family.
In an ethical and legal debate, the problem comes down to whether a conceived baby should be treated in subjective categories ( is somebody), like any other man, who has his rights, or objectively ( is something), that is, only like a valuable thing about which one must care in specific boundaries. If we assume the latter attitude, then in case of a choice between a mother’s interest (like her physical or psychic health) and maintaining pregnancy, a woman’s need will always be prevailing. If we treat a conceived baby as a subject – then it will not be possible to negate its interests, including the right for birth, in similar situations.
There is also a growing tendency to relativism of the value of life. A mentally or physically disabled person, or simply a person with low quality of life, raises emotions and pity. They are often expressed with belief that it would be better for this man not to have been born. It is believed that as long as a child’s parents are alive, the child will be under a suitable care. Whereas, after their death – the child will suffer from forgetfulness and loneliness. Sometimes even believers cannot realise the fact that these people are a particular good in fact – for, life as such is revealed in them and due to it, they should be accepted and respected, and not only in regard to their professional or social achievements which will be their contribution. The suffering of these people’s families also shows that they receive extremely gratuitous love, much empathy from them and they experience extremely deep relationships with them. These people are witnesses of the value of human conscience for us and the presence of Christ in another man. Indifference to their situation, leaving them without a suitable care or support, burden conscience of each of us to some extent.
As a result of the moral commotion, there is a general opinion that accessible means in solving the situation of unwanted pregnancy or a conceived baby with disability are allegedly a right to abortion (called as a right for resignation from pregnancy) or a right of access to cheap contraception and early abortive means (used after an intercourse). Whereas infertile couples are allowed to a procedure of extracorporeal conception, generally called in vitro – as an alternative of further attempts to have a baby. This procedure, known in breeding plants and animals, was introduced in medicine and, in fact, is not a medicinal procedure. Its purpose is creating a man in a laboratory and transferring him mechanically into a mother’s organism. In this procedure a bigger number of embryos is created and undergoes selection. It is predictable that some of them are exposed to destruction or intended for freezing. In order to increase a chance for a successful surgery, a few embryos are transferred to a mother’s organism. After some time, their development is checked and in most cases one of them is kept – which is evaluated as the best one. The others are intended for selective abortion, in order to reduce a risk connected with a multiple pregnancy. Regarding high popularity, in some environments of this way of coping with infertility, it is astonishing that the effectiveness of the in vitro method is measured with a number of births in ratio to a number of attempts of conception is only a few percents.
In the ethical evaluation of the in vitro method, we cannot omit health dangers. Genetic information, indicating possibilities of human development is defined at the time of conception. It decides about individual attributes of a person, as well as belonging to the human species. In the first days of the embryo life of the human being, processes of adapting of a newly appearing organism to the needs of further existence, take place. Methods of artificial human procreation disrupt this process – regarding different environmental conditions, in which there is a combination of reproductive cells in a laboratory, in comparison with natural conditions of a mother’s organism.
Hormones applied to a woman, with a purpose of simultaneous gaining a few egg cells (for their in vitro conception), influence genetic features of both these cells and a woman’s health. Sometimes the so-called hyperstimulation syndrome of ovarian is caused, with coagulation disorders, edema, depression syndrome and life dangers.
In addition, lack of natural biological barrier, which protects from combination of immature cells or the genetically damaged ones, favours the formation of other disorders of a child. Other repair processes in the form of various expensive therapies are often necessary, which are born by the whole society, not by the means responsible for the results of undertaken practices. In the case of these treatments, we notice an increased number of spontaneous abortions and genetic changes, as well as frequent births of babies with development defects.
These dangers require applying preimplantation diagnostics which is based on finding genetic changes of an embryo gained from in vitro. On this basis the selection of people in the embryo phase is done: noticed or suspected genetic changes are the basis for a decision about destroying a baby’s life – as an unwanted baby just because of genetic disorders. Moreover, babies are often rejected on the phase of their development because they are of unwanted sex by parents. Therefore, the in vitro method is another experiment on a human being. This ‘production’ of a human being is a form of possessing human life. Embryos in an excessive number are frozen for the purpose of their storing and finally using them in further attempts of gaining pregnancy, if earlier attempts appear to be ineffective. The very process is against human dignity. Moreover, the embryo is a human being and each embryo appears to be a defenceless member of human family, whose dignity and rights were ruthlessly trampled.
3. Truth about human sexuality and responsibility for a baby
Human sexuality defines human identity and forms human life. Not only is it all about making a man or a woman able to have intercourse, biological procreation, personality, psyche, emotionality, but also about the character of relationship between a woman and a man, in which sexuality is built between them through unity, a sense of closeness and safety. Sexuality also enables to decide about offspring responsibly in a way compatible with natural periods of woman’s fertility, and readiness to have a baby. This context of human procreation is contrasted with in vitro technique in which this unity and anastomosis between spouses are separated from the act of conception: sperms are gained from a father in the act of masturbation, a mother’s organism is often manipulated and a baby becomes ‘a product’.
Considering a proper understanding the nature of a relationship between spouses, it should be stated according to the thought of the Vatican Council II that marriage and marriage love are directed towards the welfare of spouses by nature and towards conception, birth and upbringing of offspring. Children are the most valuable gift of a marriage and, to the greatest extent, they contribute to the welfare of the very parents. So, real respect for marriage love and the whole sense of family life are aiming at a situation when spouses, not excluding other purposes of marriage, would be likely to cooperate bravely with God’s love, who is still enlarging and enriching human family through them. Christian spouses should be aware that in their behaviour they cannot be led by their own whim. They should always act in compatibility with a well-formed conscience, adjusted to God’s law. Deciding to have more children and forming a spirit of sacrifice in themselves, they take on a noble, human and Christian responsibility, as well as they gain from generosity (see ‘Gaudium et spes’’, 50).
The presented intention of God towards human sexuality was overshadowed by more and more popular contraceptive mentality, also among people of the Church. It causes a situation when even the Catholics lose their willingness to be parents of their other children, they close themselves up to life – through immoral contraceptive or early-abortive means – or they even give in ‘a temptation of one child’. Whereas not only do they contribute to a demographic crisis in this way, but they also restrict their spiritual-moral development, they forget about the future of their families and risk their old age in loneliness.
The opposition against contraceptive mentality, which falsified the truth about human sexuality, requires, first of all, personal deep conversion. It orders to reject the dominating in the contemporary culture way of thinking about a child as a danger and unnecessary burden, and look at the child as a chance and valuable gift. Although opening up to life may be connected with a crisis, or personal and financial renunciations – it is difficult to speak or think about a truly Christian attitude without it.
Not only contraception but also a claim for a right to abortion are the expression of the same mentality which raises a feeling in a man that he may voluntarily manipulate his body, as if he did not participate in the dignity of his person, and decide about the results of his fertility in a different way than cooperating with the natural order of a woman’s cycle or caring about periodical restraint. Contraception and abortion are two extremes of the same attitude, expressed in a short statement: ‘I do not want to have a baby’. The expression of this attitude is also resorting to the in vitro method as a way of conception. This time the claim is the following: ‘I want to have a baby’ – even at the cost of vocation to life by unknown people in laboratory conditions, killing or freezing siblings in the earliest phase of existence. For example, let’s note the construction of quoted sentences: they express a badly understood sense of parenthood – as a right for treating it as a subject of one’s property.
What is extremely dangerous, is formulating a right for abortion because of a development defect of a baby. This baby has a definite right to be born, to love and be loved. A claim for the right for abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy proceeding, even if its source was to be fear or a feeling of badly understood responsibility for a child, expressed in the words: ‘I will not bear this burden’.
In both situations – in a tragedy of infertility, fear connected with pregnancy – the Church stands up for the human being. It does not condemn anybody, but it is trying to suggest good solutions, including realistic treating the reasons of infertility and raise awareness of the dignity of human life in every phase of his development, in human consciences. The Church understands desires and fears, but it also reminds that the good can never be achieved through unworthy methods and that there are moral principles whose binding character can never be rejected. In a situation when spouses are unable to give life (in a physical dimension), the purpose of marriage can be fulfilled in a spiritual and also practical dimension. For, it is all about infertile couples who devote themselves for the sake of others or generously adopt one child of a large number of children awaiting adoption.
4. Our attitude
The opposition against all these practices aimed against human life is expressed first in an unambiguous pro-life attitude. It means a prohibition of inactivity, not taking a clear attitude. It is necessary to get engaged in an active defence of human life from the moment of conception. In a wider social and political dimension, one should care about not discriminating families and pro-family policy, providing care to large families. Practical expressions of such an attitude are: making human consciences sensitive to the right of every human being to live, regardless to the quality of its life; helping pregnant mothers who are in a difficult life situation, especially those who are persuaded to abortion; managing ‘windows of life’; spiritual adoption of a conceived baby; a prayer for a development of good manners of life in today’s world, starting with our Homeland. Indifference to the fate of endangered babies is not a suitable basis for a Christian, because it leaves the defenceless in the hands of those who have insensitive consciences to their right to live. Whereas an unambiguous attitude of respecting and protecting every human life, also the life of the ill and the weak, has a dimension of a Christian testimony – affection for life and affection for a neighbour, and, first of all, affection for God, the giver and ‘lover of life’ (see Wisdom Book 11.26).
We mustn’t stop at declarations. Many Christians face dramatic decisions concerning depriving an unborn baby of life. It must be explicitly repeated: ‘Do not do evil, in order to gain the good. No action, which leads to the danger of human life (also in earlier phases of development) or even to killing, can be excused even with the most glorious purpose. Badly realised desire to become parents – with the consent to ‘sacrifice’ of a few human beings in this purpose (babies in excessive numbers, babies ‘with defects’, aborted babies because ‘too many’ of them were developing in an uterus after implantation) – blames conscience for their death.
A Christian must care about the truth. Therefore his task is also exposing lies, among which a lot of harm is done by suggestions that in vitro fertilization would be a treatment of infertility. It does not treat anything – infertile people remain such, and they entrust ‘producing’ a baby to others.
5. Engagement of the Catholics in the public life
Lay Catholics cannot resign from getting engaged in the public life: for the sake of care for the widely-understood common welfare, from participation in elections, from active support those social and legislative solutions which are compatible with the Christian conscience. Their duty is ‘spreading the Christian spirit in the temporal order’ with awareness that it comes with its own laws (see the doctrinal note of the Congregation of Faith Teaching concerning some issues connected with participation and attitude of the Catholics in political life, point 1). This duty comprises among the others, the defence of human life. It is extremely important now, when there are attempts to impose an opinion that there are no unchangeable universal values, law should be only an expression of the will of the majority, open to the worldly, cultural and political pluralism. In the name of falsely understood tolerance, it is expected – even demanded from the Catholics – to resign from introducing what they think is true and righteous, according to faith, into social and political life. Practice shows that today beliefs of the Catholics are pushed aside onto a margin of social discussions, and considered as anachronistic. The Catholics are not allowed to oppose publicly to proclaiming law concerning deciding about parenthood. It concerns especially issues connected with the evil of contraception, in vitro procedure, abortion, gender ideology, institutionalism of the same-sex people, promotion of social behaviour patterns, which are contradictory with a traditional model of family. Whereas the Catholics should be proud of their beliefs, because in the centre of their faith there is not only universal fatherhood of God, Creator and the Saviour of the man, but also personal dignity of everybody, without any exception, and the dignity of human conscience, which sounds with a canon of universal and unchangeable values, especially truth, love, justice and solidarity.
The duty of every Catholic participating in public life is his faithfulness to the teaching of the Catholic Church and the very Christ. There can be no question of any compromise in faith issues and morality. The basic duty of a person engaged in action for the sake of the common welfare is taking care of unambiguity. In every situation a Catholic is supposed to be a witness of Christ. It may be connected with high social responsibility for him, his personal renunciations, the fact that he may become the subject of public criticism, distancing of others to him or rejecting him. It is unacceptable for a Catholic to have dualism in attitudes, that is, confess other principles in private life and engaging other people in public life, as well as stand up for solutions contradictory with confessed faith. Within the boundaries defined by Christian sensibility it is possible to use ‘the diplomatic procedure’, understood as a skill of a clever proceeding in life, acknowledging the rules of functioning democratic institutions, and making it possible for responsible participation in social or political discussion. So, sensible engagement of a Catholic in public life means sensibility and righteousness in achievement of purposes. One of them is building an honest authority and presence in places deciding about making and applying law. Therefore, it seems necessary to take a proceeding strategy in a case when it is impossible to achieve the most wanted solutions. In the situation in which it would be possible to reject or abolish law bout abortion completely – if it was implemented in practice, John Paul II pointed that ‘a parliamentarian whose personal absolute opposition against abortion would be clear and known to all people, he would behave righteously, by giving his support to propositions, whose aim is restricting harmfulness of such an act and in this way, aiming at decreasing its negative results on the plane of culture and public morality’ (EV 73). Therefore, it is also possible to take part in a political compromise, but only when it serves to achieving greater good, but is not a method of solving ethical problems or defining criteria of good. In the case of abortion, the target solution is, among the others, law which does not accept an eugenic recommend to kill a baby, and in the case of in vitro – rejecting it as a procedure which is a danger for dignity, as well as life and health of a baby in the early phase of his development.
A big danger for the Catholics engaged in forming public life, both in the nationwide dimension and local self-governments and non-governmental activity, seems to be their loneliness. It often happens that they do not even gain enough spiritual support, help in forming their conscience and suggestions about proceeding compatible with the Catholic faith. In a public opinion of their political activity – which is natural – there is sometimes a tendency for criticism and distrust from other members of the Church. There is often an accusation made about the lack of radicalism or participation in forums which are not fully accepted by some Catholics. So, it should be remembered that the basic task of believers is – let’s repeat – being present in the world of politics. Their cooperation in achieving political compromises is supposed to assure a complete protection of values, dictated by Christian conscience, in particular conditions and circumstances of their action. The Church and every believer are responsible for a proper formation of conscience. It is necessary to know and understand conditions of functioning in the public sphere which cause constant dangers for faithfulness in made moral choices.
Politicians and parliamentarians face a special responsibility, when they make decisions concerning the matter of life and human dignity. When they proceed according to their righteous and well-formed conscience, they deserve special gratitude and acknowledgement, which must be expressed on this occasion. Living accordingly with one’s beliefs, being able to justify and defend them - even exposing oneself to consequences, which will be given to them by a logics of cyclical fight for authority – is an authorization for acknowledging their greatness and faithfulness to expressed ideals.
The document accepted at 361st General Meeting of the Polish Episcopal Conference
Warsaw, 5 March 2013