‘If I can’t convince someone that abortion is wrong, how on earth am I going to get anywhere with embryo destruction?” That’s a question that looms over the head of even the most committed pro-lifer. How do you convince a non-Catholic that human embryo destruction matters if they have little or no respect for an unborn child at 12 or even 16 weeks? The question becomes even more pertinent when you live in Britain, which has the most liberal regulatory framework around the creation, experimentation and destruction of human embryos in the world.
It’s a tricky one and there’s no quick answer, but the only hope is to begin by reminding ourselves that embryo destruction does indeed matter.
Last month the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that embryos are marital property, not humans with constitutional rights. It is this view of embryos as property, to be used at will for our own ends, which has enabled the deliberate destruction of 2.3 million embryos in the course of IVF treatment in Britain since 1991. This figure does not include all the human embryos who remain in a fridge, suspended in a state between life and death, or those who have died after being experimented on and plundered for their resources.
But how do you persuade non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) from seeing the embryo as property to be used, rather than a human person to be loved?
First, we must start by showing that the human embryo is truly human. The scientific community has long held, and embryology textbooks unanimously and unequivocally state, that at the moment of fertilisation a new unique human being is created, with its own DNA distinct from the mother and father. At the moment of fertilisation, the hair colour, eye colour, height and face shape of this new human being is determined.
Dr Jérôme Lejeune, the father of modern genetics, whose Cause for canonisation was opened in 2007, famously said to American lawmakers that “to accept the fact that after fertilisation has taken place, a new human being has come into being, is no longer a matter of taste or opinion … it is plain experimental evidence.”
The science is clear, and it is on our side.
So you can lead an intellectually honest non-Catholic to the point of accepting that the embryo is a human being, not simply an object or a piece of tissue. The bigger challenge is enabling someone to see that the only proper and adequate attitude towards any human being (including the embryo) is love. This means that any action which would intentionally harm or end this innocent life is fundamentally wrong.
Such a conclusion is difficult to convey in a materialistic, throwaway culture, which largely supports euthanising the elderly (who are quite obviously human beings). Yet it is still possible to engage in a discussion with non-Catholics about the value of the human embryo, particularly within the paradigm of human dignity.
As Catholics, we believe that every human being has infinite and inherent value. This belief is grounded in the teaching that each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. But from my experience, most non-Catholics do not particularly struggle with the concept of human dignity. Many atheists agree that there is something special and valuable about human beings, even if they do not recognise the source of this human dignity.
Human dignity is recognised by the French, Italian and German constitutions and courts. The first article of the German constitution reads: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” Germany, whose painful history demonstrates the consequences of ignoring human dignity, also forbids the production of surplus embryos in IVF and experimentation on embryos, as well as embryonic cloning and genetic testing.
I once heard the example that most rational people would be disgusted at the thought of using an ear as an ashtray. This is because any sane person would recognise that a human ear comes from a human being, and we should treat human beings with respect, by virtue of their humanity. Therefore, if most people who do not know God still recognise innate human dignity, this can act as a basis in which common ground can be reached and a conversation about the embryo can move forward.
If non-Catholics accept the premise that the embryo is a human being, and then apply what they know about human dignity to the IVF process (ie, the selection and discarding of human life), they may begin to see the ways in which the embryo’s human dignity is assaulted.
The destruction of human embryos rests on the underlying perception of embryos as property. We destroy because we commodify. If a non-Catholic can see that a human embryo is a human being who cannot be owned, there is hope that they will begin to realise why human embryo destruction matters.
Clara Watson is a freelance writer
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