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Don't Let 'Geniuses' Blind You With Science

HELEN M. ALVARE

Please let this be a lesson to any and all who believe that they are not equipped to go up against some of the big names opposing us in our defense of the culture of life: Don't be intimidated. (Or in the words of Christ, so often repeated by Pope John Paul II, "Be not afraid!") Our opponents may be loud, they may possess impressive vocabularies, and they may even be quoted regularly in the prestige media. But, really, their arguments are the same ones you've heard again and again. In other words, pretty pedestrian and noticeably lacking in moral insight.

You would think I would have learned this by now, after 10 years "out there," debating the big names in the abortion industry. But still I suffer before every debate with the idea that my opponent is smarter, or smoother, or has more Ivy League degrees or experience than me.

Recently, I was asked to debate one of the leading voices on the opposite side of the debate concerning the new reproductive technologies. My opponent had degrees from several of the best schools in the country, including Harvard for his doctorate. He has worked at some of the most famous hospitals in the country and published one of the leading books in the field of new reproductive technologies. His thoughts are duly quoted in the major media whenever there is breaking news from the labs of biogeneticists around the world.

My early mornings and late nights were ruined from the moment I agreed to debate this man. I read about 20 books over the course of 12 weeks, trying to play "catch-up" in the field in which he has labored for decades. I consulted with three experts in the field and badgered them to figure out the toughest questions I might be asked. I read my opponent's book twice and his past congressional testimony three times.

And what did I find at the debate? Not a whole lot. A man who knew a tremendous amount about manipulating human embryos in the lab but little when the questioning turned from what can be done through technology to what ought to be done, and why.

At bottom, his "moral framework" was nothing more than this: People's desire to have biologically related children is too deep to frustrate. How they go about getting such children is not important so long as their "intent" is good. So if they want to get donated eggs and sperm, and hire a surrogate to gestate the baby, fine. If two homosexual men want to hire a surrogate and get a donor egg, fine. If a couple or an individual wants to clone someone, fine. If people want to buy custom-made embryos whereby they can pick the qualities of the father and the mother at the same time fine. People send their children to the best schools to give them an advantage, so why can't they buy them prenatal advantages? The morality of the act is determined by the intent of the individuals involved. If all "mean well' according to their own, individually defined moral codes, then all is well.

How could anyone get to this position? By a complete disdain for the integrity and the physical reality of the human body.

In the view of this scientist, fully formed human embryos, guided by inner processes completely directing their development, are not human life worthy of their own existence. They're human and alive. But not "human life" in the same way as older unborn children or those already born. Again and again, my opponent commented on the similarity between the gestational patterns of humans and animals. (In fact, in 1988 congressional testimony, after predicting that apes might, in the future, be able to carry human babies to full term, he lamented that this could hurt the endangered apes!) He seems to see the human body in a demeaning way, vastly inferior to the mind, and fit even for destructive experimentation at certain stages.

You don't have to be a genius to win points against this view of humankind. I simply pointed out to my audience that this scientist's own description of the beginnings of human life reveal the tiny person's membership in the human race and his or her marvelous, intelligent, self directed progress toward full development.

I asked the audience if the very fact that embryos are being destroyed by the thousands in the name of scientific research didn't, by itself, indicate our initial mistake in "manufacturing" life in the lab (or, in the words of the great Leon Kass, making man "simply another man-made thing"). I refused to allow any scientist to make "progress" synonymous with "technology discoveries" and insisted, instead, that real progress is measured by how well we treat one another especially the weakest among us.

There's real appeal in this view of human life. Appeal that even the cleverest scientific trick can't disguise. And you don't have to be a scientist to understand it.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Helen M. Alvare. "There's a Reason Why Buddhism Is Booming." National Catholic Register. (Dec 5-11, 2000).

Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.

THE AUTHOR

Helen M. Alvare is director of planning and information of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Copyright 2001 National Catholic Register

 

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