Saturday, June 23, 2007

Once Upon a Cell

Many of the arguments advanced by "pro-choice" people and those who support embryonic stem cell research are based on the idea that embryos (or fetuses) are not human beings, with the rights that human beings enjoy under the law (including the right to life).

In a way, it's easy to see why the preborn child, especially in the earliest stage of development, is not commonly regarded as a human person (with the rights accorded to persons). When we utter the word "person" most people would immediately conjure up a mental image of a bipedal example of Homo sapiens — probably an adult. But clearly, teenagers, children, toddlers, and babies are also persons. They're just at different stages of development. And so we have to ask: what about the preborn, at any stage of development?

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk writes:
Embryos, of course, are remarkably unfamiliar to us. They lack hands and feet. They don't have faces or eyes for us to look into. Even their brains are lacking. They look nothing like what we are used to seeing when we imagine a human being. But they are as human as you and me. When we look at a scanning electron micrograph of a human embryo, a small cluster of cells, sitting on the point of a sewing pin, we need to ask ourselves a very simple question: "Isn't that exactly what a young human is supposed to look like?" The correct answer to that question doesn't depend on religion or theology, but on embryology. Embryos seem unfamiliar to us on first glance, and we have to make an explicit mental effort to avoid the critical mistake of disconnecting from who we once were as embryos.

Isn't it interesting that everyone who advocates the destruction of embryos, whether through abortion or embryonic stem cell research, was once an embryo? This reminds me of the T-shirt with the two embryos on it, with one saying to the other: "It may be hard to believe right now, but we'll be pro-choice someday."

Friday, June 01, 2007


The issue of whether the public display of graphic abortion images is morally licit is not simply a matter of individual taste, nor is it merely an instance of disrespect for the remains of human persons. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC has plenty of graphic images of dead people. Is the public display of these images a sign of disrespect towards the deceased? I think not. Does it cause some people viewing the images to become emotionally distraught? Likely. That is by design — the displays are meant to afflict the comfortable. And those who choose to view the displays have a further choice: how they will take their knowledge and use it to try to reduce the incidence of this kind of injustice. It need hardly be said that some choices have profoundly evil results. Abortion is clearly one of those choices, because it is the deliberate, willful destruction of an innocent human person.

So why are we so reluctant to publicly acknowledge the truth of what abortion does? Why do we recoil from the idea of displaying images of abortion's ghastly results? If we object to the public display of such images, we should logically object to the display of other images that also portray grave injustice, whether it is the torture and murder of Jews, blacks, or any group that has been stripped of personhood, of human dignity.

Fr. Frank Pavone, the current national director of Priests for Life, would be well aware of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about giving human remains due respect, and yet he also asserts that in order for people to be galvanized into opposing abortion, they have to see what it does to the unborn child. We have had in utero images of fetal development since the Swedish medical photographer Lennart Nilsson published his pathbreaking book A Child is Born, more than 40 years ago, but that did not stop the U.S. Supreme Court from effectively declaring unborn children to be non-persons (i.e. Roe vs. Wade) in 1973. Now, more than 46 million slaughtered Americans later, can we say that showing beautiful photos of unborn children has been effective in stemming the tide of this present-day holocaust? The data suggests otherwise.

One definition of insanity is: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. It's time to "Think Different" about exposing the truth about abortion. The current "soft" approach of showing beautiful babies in utero hasn't worked for the last 34 years.

You can read more about Fr. Pavone and his work at Priests for Life.