Category Archives: Bioethics

Maybe I Should Have Been Frankenbabied…

Baby Frankenstein Costume

I was reading through my blog feed, trying to get caught up, when I happened upon this article regarding genetic modification of embryos. In a nutshell, the article takes a look at the morality (or immorality) of taking the nuclear DNA from an embryo and implanting it within a denucleated egg cell from a donor which contains healthy mitochondrial DNA as a “therapy” for patients with mitochondrial disease.

Is “therapy” the right word?

The article suggests that maybe not. The way they argue it, you aren’t “treating” a condition of the patient, but you are modifying the genetic make-up of the person from the beginning — taking some genes from the father, some from the mother and other genes (the mitochondrial ones) from a second woman (the donor egg). Then, you slap together all the pieces parts to Frankenbaby yourself a genetically “improved” embryo.

By the way, I just made up that word.

Frankenbaby = to genetically modify an embryo

Given that my condition is progressive and terminal and relatively uncommon, I’m kind of happy that the medical community is bothering to think up ways to help me out. However, (1) it’s a little too late at this point and (2) it’s not moral.

Keep trying, though…

Legalizing Euthanasia by Omission

I got this article in my inbox thsi afternoon from Zenit. It’s certainly worth taking a look at, as more and more legislation is being passed to undermine the dignity of life. It’s not so much a question of what the law specifies, but what it allows.

Legalizing Euthanasia by Omission: And Making It a Doctor’s Order by E. Christian Brugger

DENVER, Colorado, AUG. 24, 2011 ( A problematic new end-of-life medical form is rapidly gaining ascendency in U.S. healthcare. It is called the “POLST” document. (In my own state of Colorado, it’s called a MOST document.) The acronym stands for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. (MOST = “Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment;” its provisions are almost identical across states.) Click here to see an example of a standard POLST document.

The document consolidates on a single form provisions formerly dispersed over several documents: it acts as a living will specifying the scope of medical interventions a patient wishes in case of incapacitation; it makes specific provision for a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR); it has a box to check in the event a patient wishes to refuse treatment with antibiotics; and it allows a patient to designate a proxy decision maker.

Similar to other advanced directives, patients complete the POLST form when their capacities are in tact and the document becomes effective when consciousness is compromised.

But different from older-type directives, the POLST document has provision for the signature of a physician (or physician assistant). This gives the designations on the document the force of an actionable medical order.

The national trend, supported by Compassion & Choices(formerly the Hemlock Society [!]), is to structure state laws on medical directives in accord with the POLST paradigm (as illustrated by its recent adoption by states such as California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin).

Why is the document problematic? I will speak from first-hand knowledge of the legislation that normalized the document in Colorado. I believe my criticisms are relevant to all POLST-type laws in the U.S.

The Colorado law (signed in summer 2010) abrogated an extremely important condition on living wills going back two decades. The former law authorized adults to direct medical professionals to withhold or withdraw life-support only on the condition that they were terminally ill (or in a so-called persistent vegetative state [PVS]). So for purposes of the law the refusal was conditioned by the fact that a patient was already dying. (The PVS provision was accepted under the false assumption that it was a terminal condition.) Forty-five percent of the states in the U.S. presently impose similar statutory limitations on the removal of life-support.
The POLST-type legislation removes the condition that a patient is terminally ill or diagnosed in a PVS before a refusal order is actionable. In other words, the new law permits any adult patient to refuse any treatment at any time for any reason in the event they lack decisional capacity; and health care professionals, directed by a doctor’s medical order, ordinarily would be (and are) required to carry out the order. [Imagine what this would mean for the majority of suicide attempts… A person could file a POLST form with the local hospitals, commit some sort of self-harming act which would render them unconcious or incapacitated, and then the hospital staff would be bound to follow the directives of the patient in not providing care.] Although the law for strategic purposes is rhetorically formulated as bearing upon end-of-life medical decisions, it sets forth no requirement that a patient’s refusal of life-support must be limited to end-of-life conditions.

If someone refuses life-support with the specific aim (or intention) of causing his or her own death, the person is choosing suicide. Morally speaking this is no different from ingesting a lethal dose of medication, or sitting in a running car with the windows closed and a hose stretching from the tail pipe to the cabin. “Why are you doing X?” If the answer is: “To die,” then the person is intending self-killing, suicide, and that’s always wrong.

But isn’t it the case that terminally ill patients also can direct the refusal of life-support for purposes of bringing about their deaths? It is true, the condition of terminality does rule out the possibility that patients will be motivated by suicidal intentions when taking advantage of the liberties permitted by the older-type law. But in establishing the refusal of life-support in the context of medical conditions diagnosed as “terminal,” the older-type law privileged as the normative context for refusing life-support the motive “to-be-free-from-burdens-in-my-remaining-days-of-life.” Suffering from a condition from which one was dying, the law granted a person the civil right to refuse procedures that prolonged the dying process.

This is not the place to rehearse the ethical argument for the legitimate removal of life-support. Suffice it to say that until recently, common ethical opinion accepted the judgment that if some treatment was futile or excessively burdensome, then a person legitimately could refuse the treatment, even if its refusal promised the hastening of death. [Note: the procedure, not the life, is judged burdensome.] One intends to be free of the burden of painful, risky, or futile treatments during one’s final days of life, and one accepts that one’s death may be hastened as an unintended consequence.

The POLST-type law grants adults the civil right to direct healthcare professionals to remove life-sustaining procedures when those procedures are not futile and when the burden imposed by them would be offset by a reasonable hope of recovery. It juridically extends the ordinary context for the refusal of life-support to include the motive of bringing about death. Without using the term, the new law authorizes euthanasia.

This is not the only problem with the POLST model, but it’s the most serious problem that the model introduces. Other problems, such as the document’s provision for the removal of food and water from patients for whom they reasonably would be judged to be ordinary/proportionate care, [by including this provision, the document is designating food and water as being outside of the standard of care or, in other words, an option which the designated healthcare proxy would have the authority to request or decline as he or she sees fit — meaning there would be no legal battle possible as happened in the case of Terri Schiavo. If the proxy decided to end food and water provision, that’s that.] or the simplistic designation, “No Antibiotics,” whether or not such drugs are medically indicated, already infect older type documents.

When the Colorado Catholic Conference, which I assisted, was fighting (ultimately unsuccessfully) at the state capital in Denver to amend the POLST-type legislation before passage to reintroduce the condition of terminality, we argued that the legislation as written was effectively legalizing euthanasia by omission. Some legislators believed that we were being alarmist. They thought that because physician-assisted suicide was not legal in Colorado, nor explicitly legalized by the proposed legislation, we had nothing to fear. We said we thought this was short-sighted, that groups like Compassion & Choices would find fertile soil in the law for advancing its aims. Most were unconvinced.

On August 17, 2011, Compassion & Choices (CC) launched a nation-wide public education campaign entitled “Peace at Life’s End – Anywhere.” The euphemism means “legal self-killing anywhere in the U.S.” (The press conference was held in Denver, Colorado!) The central purpose, indeed the sole purpose of the campaign is to tell people everywhere that they can kill themselves legally anywhere in the U.S.; all they’ve got to do is to refuse life-support, in particular food and water. The Web site reads:

One method of peaceful dying…universally available, legal, safe, painless and suitable for a gentle parting in one’s own home…is the purposeful refusal of food and fluids, in medical jargon known as voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED).

“VSED,” its press release stated, “is a legally recognized option for mentally competent adults who wish to end their suffering.” And best of all, “it requires no special laws or regulations. VSED is legal — for patients and their caregivers — today, in every state.” [Isn’t voluntary starvation an indication of mental disorder? Commonly known as anorexia?]

The POLST document is not a precondition for the success of CC’s campaign. Any living will that permits the removal of food and water would be adequate. But the new document sure helps.

If the POLST model is not already legally recognized in your state, five to one chance that legislation is being drafted at your state house as we speak. You might call your legislator and find out.

E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics and director of the Fellows Program at the Culture of Life Foundation, and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.


“Conceptual” Art
Originally uploaded by kenneth_rougeau

When does life begin?

That has got to be one of the most important questions of the day. I posit that this occurs quite early.

The female egg and the male sperm are haploid cells belonging to each person.  They have a function and belong to the organism, yet they are not of themselves a unique organism.  Their DNA, although haploid, is identical with that of the person.  Their function is to unite:  the egg works to chemically attract the sperm, and the sperm works to get to the egg.  “If fertilization is not accomplished, the oocyte typically ceases to be within twenty-four hours after ovulation; and sperm degenerate within two to five days.”[1]

Originally uploaded by abhilasha1190

Once the first sperm enters the egg, the entire scenario changes. Now, you have a new entity with its unique genetic code. How do we know this? Because it is in some way self-aware of the fact that it is now different, and reacts chemically for the protection of the new organism. This is known as the egg cortical reaction.

When the sperm fuses with the egg plasma membrane, it causes a local increase in cytosolic Ca2+, which spreads through the cell in a wave…  There is evidence that the Ca2+ wave or oscillations are induced by a protein that is introduced into the egg by the sperm, but the nature of the protein is unknown.  The Ca2+ wave or oscillations activate the egg to begin development [Development of what?  Of the new organism], and they initiate the cortical reaction, in which the cortical granules release their contents by exocytosis…  The contents of the cortical granules include various enzymes that are released by the cortical reaction and change the structure of the zona pellucida. The altered zona becomes “hardened,” so that sperm no longer bind to it, and it therefore provides a block to polyspermy.[2]

“…there now appears to be a distinct organism directing its own processes of growth and development…  The [egg cortical reaction] especially seems characteristic of a new organism, whose existence depends upon a structural barrier to outside forces, rather than of a gamete cell, whose existence is fundamentally oriented toward uniting with another gamete…”[3]

[1] Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo:  A Defense of Human Life (New York:  Doubleday, 2008), 36.

[2] Bruce Alberts et al., Molecular Biology of the Cell, 4th ed., (New York: Garland Science, 2002), (accessed November 28, 2010).

[3] George and Tollefsen, Embryo, 38-39.

Trouble Across the Pond

From Zenit:

Many parents in Britain believe it’s a case of “suffer little children” at the moment as new sex education legislation continues to make its way through Parliament.

I hadn’t planned on returning to this issue so soon, but pro-life, family and human rights groups warn there is a real danger that the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which the government says would mandate Catholic schools to teach pupils how to procure abortions, could be passed unless a concerted campaign is now mounted against it.

Campaigners of all three monotheistic faiths and others are deeply concerned the legislation, which would also include the teaching of divorce and same-sex relationships to primary school children aged seven to 11, could be rushed through Parliament in a “clearing up” procedure before Britain’s general election, expected in early May. The bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on March 8, and could go to the Lords committee stage before the end of the month.

During this week’s debate in the Lords, the distinguished Catholic peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool, spoke passionately about the bill being “a wholly unacceptable assault on the rights of conscience, beliefs, the integrity of religious foundations, and the integrity of families.” He added that the way the government has ignored parents’ concerns on such a sensitive matter “smacks of arrogance and the worst kind of nanny state,” and quoted the results of the government’s own consultation in which 68% of respondents voiced opposition to such sex education in the national curriculum.

“I cannot begin to tell the Minister how much anxiety this has engendered, and not just among Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Anglicans, who as a matter of conscience believe abortion to be the taking of an innocent life,” Lord Alton said.

Yet so far the bishops of England and Wales have been silent on the bill or actively supported it. The chairman of the Catholic Education Service, Bishop Malcolm McMahon, wrote a long article in the London Times last week without indicating any objection to the legislation. (Some Catholics are reportedly already discouraged after he said recently that people in same-sex civil partnerships should be able to be head teachers of Catholic schools.)

The CES’s director, Oona Stannard, insists the bill is a “positive step forward” and that Catholic schools would not be compelled “to promote abortion” under the legislation (despite Ed Balls, Britain’s education minister, saying recently that Catholic schools “must explain how to access abortion”). But even if Catholic school children are exempt, campaigners say other children will still be vulnerable to the promotion of lifestyles that are against the natural law.

The absence of opposition from the bishops, which some charitably think may be tactical, has led to prominent Catholics such as Lord Alton and respected priest bloggers to formally protest on behalf of the Church. It’s also been noted how laudably a Protestant campaign group, Christian Concern for Our Nation, has responded to the dangers of the legislation and its problems with regards to Home Schooling.

Some Catholics have taken the matter into their own hands and set up an online petition asking the bishops to speak out. So far it has attracted nearly 2,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, Catholics and other Christians in Britain will join together in a National Day of Prayer and Fasting (organized by the pro-life movement) on Monday March 14 to pray that the bill will be defeated. Campaigners are also urging those opposed to the bill to make their concerns known to peers and the Conservative Party, without whom the legislation cannot be rushed through parliament.

It just boggles the mind that people would think it necessary to teach 7-11 year old children how to procure an abortion.  (Emphasis mine throughout.)

Frozen Embryos

To give you some “headline news” this Monday morning on embryos — just to keep you thinking…. 🙂 Please, pray for them!

What Should We Do with the Frozen Embryos?
Fr. Tad Pacholczyk wrote this great article in The Boston Pilot. In summary, he states that there is not a clear moral resolution to this issue. He offers suggestions on how to reduce the number of embryos which are frozen. He states that while embryo adoption has not been morally condemned, it is still morally problematic and could contribute to the expansion of IVF/fertility clinic’s immoral practices. He makes the point that sustaining these embryos may not be extraordinary means, although unusual, and we may be morally obligated to sustain them in this way until they die of natural means. As always, Fr. Tad gives a well-reasoned, thought-provoking article which is well worth your time to read.

Dignitas Personae
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued this instruction on the dignity of human persons, commenting particularly on certain bioethical issues. The three main sections are:
1. Anthropological, Theological and Ethical Aspects of Human Life and Procreation
2. New Problems Concerning Procreation
3. New Treatments which Involve the Manipulation of the Embryo or the Human Genetic Patrimony

The Only Bit of Good News…

From an excerpt of a University of Michigan press release talking of the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Consortium:

In addition to deriving new embryonic stem cell lines, researchers will use recently developed techniques to convert adult skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, known as iPS cells. These reprogrammed cells display the most scientifically valuable properties of embryonic stem cells, while enabling researchers to bypass embryos altogether.

Yes, please, bypass the embryos.

Dignity of Life Speaker Series: Fr. Tad Pacholczyk – “Care and Treatment Decisions for Compromised Patients at the End of Life”

Wednesday, February 25, 2008
Following 7:00 pm Ash Wednesday Mass

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D.
Director of Education, The National Catholic Bioethics Center

Fr. Tad is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts. As an undergraduate he earned degrees in philosophy, biochemistry, molecular cell biology, and chemistry, and did laboratory research on hormonal regulation of the immune response. He later earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Yale University, where he focused on cloning genes for neurotransmitter transporters which are expressed in the brain. He also worked for several years as a molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church
47650 North Territorial Road
Plymouth, MI 48170
(On the corner of Beck & North Territorial)

This series is sponsored by Gospel of Life Committee at OLGC. For more information, please contact Mark Renfer @

Fr. Tad studied for 5 years in Rome where he did advanced work in dogmatic theology and in bioethics, examining the question of delayed ensoulment of the human embryo. He has testified before members of the Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Virginia and North Carolina State Legislatures during deliberations over stem cell research and cloning. He has given presentations and participated in roundtables on contemporary bioethics throughout the U.S., Canada, and in Europe. He has done numerous media commentaries, including appearances on CNN International, ABC World News Tonight, and National Public Radio. He is Director of Education for The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia and directs the Center’s National Catholic Certification Program in Health Care Ethics.

The Dignity of Life speaker series is a response to the crisis of modernity as described by Pope John Paul II. He wrote that the crisis of our age is the pulverization and degradation of the dignity and uniqueness of the human person. The speaker series address this crisis and hopes to offer concrete avenues to transform the culture into a genuine civilization of love.

Tale of Horror of the Day

Courtesy of “The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology” by Lori B. Andrews:

After Jonathan Slack cloned headless frogs, other researchers suggested cloning headless humans to serve as organ donors. They argued that, with no brain, such creatures would not be considered persons under the law.

I just had to stop eating my Cheerios after that. I mean, most of the book talks about human life being treated in a horribly callous way, but that…takes the cake right there. Even in the researchers’ argument, they are looking for ways to depersonalize and dehumanize…human people! The question is more like: “How can I make this not a person, so that I can do whatever I want to it and others will not object?” Well, a good start would be to call it a “creature.” Oh, wait. They already did that.

So disgusting.

Oh, No Way

OH boy!  I snatched up this book from the library, and even in the prologue I found something so utterly horrifying, that I just had to stop reading to let you know:

From “The Clone Age,” by Lori B. Andrews, page 7:  “Is it the wrong time for a pregnancy, but you want to freeze the fetus in case you later want to bring to life that very baby?  Cryogenic Solutions of Houston offers such freezing, even though the technology to ‘reanimate’ such a fetus is not yet available.”


Although, I probably shouldn’t be surprised, it’s not like people don’t already freeze their children — that we don’t have thousands of little kids on ice right now.  But something about how very callous that statement is just struck me in a unique way.  This is not about a couple wanting desperately to have kids and the only way is to conceive in a petri dish.  This is about your personal convenience!  That poor child has already been conceived normally and is growing and thriving in his or her natural environment, and you want to rip him out of your body and freeze him — oh, but hang on there kid, because some day I might decide that I want you?!!?!?!

There is nothing in that decision that has anything to do with love — except for the extreme, selfish love of self of the individual making that horrible decision.

And, supposing you do this, what do you tell your kid???!?  “Hi, honey.  Yeah, well I want you now, but I didn’t want you earlier,”?????  What is that going to do to the poor kid’s self esteem?

This is a sick, sick world in which we live.