In 1932, Aldous Huxley published a satirical novel entitled Brave New World – a look into the future when test-tube reproduction had completely replaced pregnancy and birth. Much of what he predicted has come to pass, even if some of the details are different; the technological revolution in procreation which he envisaged is now with us. He emphasized strongly, however, that this did not represent progress but regress; it did not add to human happiness, and it deprived man and women of their basic human qualities. Huxley was an agnostic.
Virtually the same point was made two years ago in a document emanating from the Vatican known by its Latin title of Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life.) It stressed the dignity of the person, the value of human life and the nobility of conjugal love. It analyzed and found wanting the techniques of artificial procreation which have received the most publicity, including conception by petrie dish and surrogate motherhood. It also rejected artificial procreation involving a third person besides husband and wife – calling it “Contrary to the unity of marriage, to the dignity of the spouses, to the vocation proper to parents, and to the child’s right to be conceived and brought into the world in marriage and from marriage.” One cannot use means and methods in the transmission of human life, it said, which would be licit in the transmission of the life of plants and animals.
Medical research scientists who demand total freedom for their work naturally condemned the document. But there were also protests from four medical schools at Catholic universities (Italy, Paris, Louvain and Nymegan).
Two years later and almost every Canadian knows that medical research and practices are out of hand. There is the threat of the abortion causing killer pill RU-486 (The Interim, February 1989, p.10)
Doctors in Florida plan to use 30 pre-born babies as guinea pigs for the AIDS drug AZT. (The Interim, December 1988). In Halifax, Dalhousie University medical researchers doctors … have proposed using tissue from aborted babies into patients with Parkinson’s disease (co called “fetal transplants,” to which Nova Scotia’s Catholic Bishops have objected). Doctors Robert Casper, Toronto, and Duncan Farquharson, Vancouver, practice “selective reduction,” i.e., abortion of multiple unborn babies (The Interim, February 1989, p.1) by women who have taken “fertility pills” to conceive (The Interim, July/August 1988, p.8).
Even pro-abortion Planned Parenthood supporter Senator Laurence Grafstein had a brief moment of clarity the other day thinking about medical technologies such as freezing embryos (for how long? For whom? By whose decision?). He headed a recent column of his “The end of ethics” (January 26, 1989).
In January 1989, the Vatican issued a statement re-affirming the authority of Donum Vitae for Catholic institutions (Ossveratore Romano, January 23, 1989). It acknowledged that the 1987 statement “continues…to meet determined resistance in the wide-spread technological and efficiency mentality that cannot be convinced how it could not be licit to use a technology that has already succeeded in producing several hundred human beings.”
It re-iterates the competence of the Church to speak on such matters. It declared that it is not allowable for Catholic authorities to claim a right to dissent from the teaching of the magisterium on these matters.
The underlying theme of Donum Vitae, the Vatican States: Again, is the inseparable connection wiled by God and unable to be broken by man between the two meanings of the conjugal act; the unitive aspect and the procreative aspect. It is never permissible to exclude either of these. The origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving; he cannot be desired or conceived as the product of medical or biological techniques, he cannot be reduced to an object of scientific technology.
Full title is Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation. (February 1987). Published under the title Vatican on High Tech Conception (pp.28) by Life Ethics Centre.
At a two-day meeting in Rome, November 7-8, 1988, Roman Catholic bishops from around the world discussed Catholic teaching on birth control. The meeting was one of three conferences held in Rome at the end of October and the beginning of November addressing questions raised by the birth regulation Encyclical Humanae Vitae, by Pope Paul VI of twenty years ago, 1968. One conference was for students, another for bishops and a third for moral theologians.
At the bishops’ conference Third World bishops charged wealthy nations such as the U.S. and Canada with “imposing contraceptive policies” as the price for financial aid to developing countries.
A U.S. participant and expert on family issues, Bishop James McHugh of Newark, N.J. said some of the complaints were directed against the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Planned Parenthood. Canada too finances IPP. These countries and agencies, the Bishop said, are making “fertility control” a condition of aid.
Cardinal Jean Margeot of the Indian Ocean Island national Mauritius said it was a “paradox that while the church was fighting to protect the dignity and health of women, it also had to face the “heavy artillery” of women’s liberation movements.
“In fact, he said, the church is on the side of women – those who are pressured to take birth control pills, who are sterilized under government programs, who are forced to undergo the trauma of abortions, and who are badgered by husbands to “sort it out with your doctor, but don’t become pregnant.”
No dissent from “Humanae Vitae”
Pope Jon Paul II has said that in defining contraception as “inherently immoral” (intrinsice inhomestum), Paul VI intended that there should be “no exceptions for any reason.” He was speaking to a meeting of moral theologians and others from various countries who had gathered in Rome for the congress on “Humanae Vitae: 20 years later” in mid-November 1988.
The meeting was sponsored by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, headed by Msgr. Carlo Caffarra, and the Academic Centre of the Holy Cross. The meeting was funded by the Knights of Columbus.
The Pope declared that the teaching of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae is not man made but is “written by the creative hand of God in the nature of the human person.” To dispute it is “the equivalent of refusing to God Himself the obedience of our intelligence,” and can threaten the very cornerstones of Christian doctrine.
The teachings of the Church, the Pope affirmed, are a “unitary whole, a sort of symphony, in which each truth harmonizes with the others.” He notes that doubt and hesitation over teachings of Humanae Vitae have spread to other fundamental truths of faith and reason.
The Pope stated that the Church’s teaching authority, or magisterium, is instituted by Christ to “illuminate the conscience.” The consult one’s conscience specifically to contest the truth of the teaching of that authority is a refusal both of that authority and of moral conscience.
The conscience does not create moral norms, and no “personal or social circumstances” can justify exceptions to the moral norms taught by Humanae Vitae.
The Pope said that teachers and theologians have a duty “to defend and deepen the ethical truth” taught by the encyclical. He hoped that moral theologians in seminaries would follow the Church’s teaching authority so that all ministers of God should speak the same language. [Full text in the English edition of Osservatore Romano, December 19-26, 1988.]