“I can, so I will” has become the mantra of today’s society. Science and technology have advanced at a prodigious rate, producing ends that could only be imagined a few decades ago. But how is this knowledge being used?
Without ascendant principles to govern his increasing abilities, man has produced nuclear power and unleashed nuclear destruction, performed corrective surgery in the womb and destroys more than a million fetal children annually, learned to correct abnormalities in a woman’s egg and to have a child genetically-related to three or more parents.
Unrestrained advances in reproductive science have resulted in children being treated as commodities and their creation as services. A couple can have her eggs and his sperm united in a laboratory and a surrogate woman carry the child through term. Gametes from young college-educated men and women are sought by fertility centers for resale to infertile couples. Genetic diseases could soon be eliminated through an in utero analysis of a child’s DNA and “defective” children never come to term.
It is not only the pre-born who are in danger. There are increasing reports from Europe of persons being euthanized who are disabled with no terminal condition, who are cognitively impaired, who are very elderly and who are in long-term comas. Assisted suicide, which is a voluntary form of euthanasia, is already allowed in several American states.
Are we prepared to expunge the unwanted among us? Will there be limits? Will the disposable be identified by intelligence, age, family history, genetic purity?
In February, the Food and Drug Administration held hearings on gene replacement therapy. If approved, a woman who has a mutation in her mitochondrial DNA — a condition that could result in her offspring developing disabling conditions — could have the mitochondria in her egg replaced by a healthy version from another woman. The resulting egg would be fertilized in a laboratory with the husband’s sperm and implanted in the woman’s womb so a “normal” pregnancy could proceed. The resulting child would have three genetic parents.
While the initial justification is to remedy a genetic defect, once perfected, other purposes will likely be sanctioned. Will the courts deny both partners in a lesbian relationship to be genetically related to a child one of them may bear? Will the many participants in a polyamorous relationship be permitted to contribute to the genetic pool? Will an individual be allowed to clone himself with an egg and sperm created from pluripotent stem cells of his own body? Without a transcendent moral code, we face a dystopian future.
America — indeed the Western world — needs a spiritual renewal, the development of a public morality that can balance the scientific and technical capabilities at man’s disposal. The nation’s culture must be re-anchored in a deep belief in God. It must acknowledge the innate dignity of every person and guarantee the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death. It must recognize that every new discovery and every new development is not necessarily an advance for mankind.
The situation is not beyond hope. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, shortly before becoming pope, offered guidance to overcome the present societal narcissism:
“Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live ... It is only by means of men who have been touched by God that God can return to be with mankind.”
With God’s help, leadership from the pulpit and our actions and prayers, everything is possible. Will you be in the vanguard to confront the culture?
Lawrence P. Grayson is a visiting scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.