Friday, September 30, 2011

Missing the point about the beginning of life

At the Statesman Journal's science blog, Susie Bodman (an editor at the paper) responds to the pro-life contention that life begins at conception:
As a biology student, I'm sorry, but the stipulation that "life begins at conception" is laughable to me. However, it's not for reasons you might assume — that I'm a godless scientist-in-the-making, a stereotypically liberal journalist, a pro-choice protagonist, a fire-breathing feminist or whatever else you might conjure up.

It comes from how biologists define life and distinguish it from inanimate things, such as rocks. Living organisms are characterized by having the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity and continual change.

A single cell is a form of life, and guess what eggs and sperms are. Yep, that's right. They are CELLS.

If eggs and sperm are already alive, well, then to a biologist life exists BEFORE conception.

Also, if those egg and sperm cells are made by you, and you were at one time conceived from egg and sperm cells arising from a couple who were conceived from egg and sperm cells and so on, so long as you're not at the end of an extinct lineage, life really is CONTINUOUS until you get back to the very first cell that formed on Earth.

Therefore, life doesn't just begin at conception. It's more like life BEGAN with the first cell 3.8 billion years ago.
Bodman really, laughably, misses the point. When we say "life begins at conception," we mean (obviously, I thought) that the life of an individual human being begins at conception. Biological life in general is continuous, as she notes; even the sperm and egg are "living." But the sperm and egg are mere parts of larger organisms, not human beings themselves. When they unite a new single-celled organism (the zygote) is formed -- a member of our species at the earliest stage of development -- who (given an adequate environment and nutrition) will actively develop himself or herself toward maturity. The textbook Human Embryology & Teratology explains: "Although life [defined broadly] is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed."

In short, Bodman apparently has yet to learn how biologists distinguish organisms (e.g., you, me, an embryo) from biological entities that are not organisms (e.g., sperm, egg, a strand of my hair).

That a distinct, living and whole (though immature) human organism comes into existence at conception is a matter of biological fact. Embryology textbooks and leading experts overwhelmingly confirm this:
The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology: "Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a singe cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

Langman's Embryology: "The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."

Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects: "Human development begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. … This cell [the zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being."

Dr. Jerome LeJeune, discoverer of Down syndrome chromosome: "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention; it is plain experimental evidence."

Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School: "It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life."
Learn more here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Bible and abortion: Nine truths

The pro-life movement is comprised of people of many faiths and no faith. So is MCCL. Ours is not a "religious" position. The facts of science (showing that the unborn is a living human organism) combined with sound moral reasoning (showing the equal dignity of every member of the human family) confirm the pro-life position that abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This truth -- like the truth that slavery is wrong, or that killing homeless people is wrong, or that kindness is good and praiseworthy -- is accessible to everyone, regardless of religious conviction. (See, for example, and

Having said that, Christians who embrace the Bible have additional reason to reject abortion and accept the pro-life position. From the Christian perspective, what we know from "general revelation" (science, natural law) is even further confirmed by "special revelation" (the teaching of Scripture). Below are the biblical truths most relevant to abortion, as best as I can discern them. These points should matter for anyone who believes the Bible is true or authoritative, and perhaps also for those who believe the Bible contains at least some truth or wisdom.

(1) Human beings are created in the image of God. 

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

It seems highly likely that we bear the image of God by nature -- by virtue of the kind of creature we are, one made in God's own likeness, with an inherent capacity (whether actualized or not) for reason, deliberation, love, etc. -- and thus we bear that image at all stages of our lives. There is no biblical basis for thinking that human beings can gain or lose their status as divine image-bearers due to accidental characteristics or stage of development, or that some members of our species are made in the image of God but not others.

(2) It is morally wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.

The fact that human beings are created in the image of God is the biblical grounding for human dignity and rights. This is made explicit in Genesis 9:6, which prohibits taking innocent human life on that basis. "Do not murder" (Matthew 19:18). See also Exodus 20:13 (the sixth commandment), Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:17.

Given the scientific facts of embryology -- which show that the life of a human being begins at conception -- it seems that the biblical prohibition on killing must include the killing of unborn human beings. Still, one could try to argue (as some have) that unborn humans are not meant to be included -- that by "man" or "persons" (those who ought not be killed) the Bible means only more developed members of our species (perhaps those who can exercise higher mental functions), not those at the earliest stages of life. So consider point (3).

(3) There is a continuity of personal identity throughout the life of a human being, beginning at conception and including the embryonic and fetal stages of development.

"Surely I was ... sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). "From my mother's womb you have been my God" (Psalm 22:10). "[Y]ou knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13). "Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?" (Job 31:15). "Before I was born the Lord called me ... [he] formed me in the womb to be his servant" (Isaiah 49:1,5). "Before I [God] formed you in the womb, I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5).

Writers in both the Old and New Testaments use the same word to refer to unborn and already-born children (the Hebrew word yeled and the Greek word brephos, respectively). There is no distinction between them -- children are children, whether born or unborn.

During Rebekah's pregnancy in Genesis 25:22, "the babies [Jacob and Esau] jostled each other within her." When Jesus is conceived through the Holy Spirit, Mary is said to be "with child" upon conception (Matthew 1:18). In Luke 1:41-44, the unborn John the Baptist (probably near the end of his second trimester in the womb) "leaped for joy" in his mother's womb when he entered the presence of the unborn Jesus (who was probably a several-days-old embryo at the time).

Thus, according to the Bible, each of us was once an embryo and a fetus. Moreover, God cares for unborn human beings just as he cares for everyone else. He knows them and has plans for their lives. So it is almost inconceivable that the prohibition on killing innocent human beings is not meant to include the killing of unborn human beings. To have killed the embryo I once was would have been to kill me, a human being loved by God and fashioned in his image.

We can put our reasoning like this: The Bible prohibits the killing of innocent human persons; the Bible regards the unborn as innocent human persons; therefore, the Bible prohibits the killing of the unborn. Alternatively, we can say that the Bible clearly assumes that what/who each of us is began at conception; moreover, the Bible teaches that we have dignity and a right to life (grounded in the fact we are made in God's image) by virtue of what/who we are; therefore, we have our dignity and right to life from the beginning of our existence at conception.

(4) Children are a blessing.

"Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3). See also Matthew 18:14, Matthew 18:10, Deuteronomy 30:19. Child sacrifice is a particularly heinous form of murder (Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; Ezekiel 16:20-21, 20:31).

The biblical perspective is completely at odds with autonomy arguments for the permissibility of abortion, which claim that we have no obligations to our unborn offspring.

(5) Governments exist (in part) to protect innocent human beings from unjust killing.

"For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). See also 1 Peter 2:14.

Abortion -- the killing of innocent, unborn human beings -- should be prohibited by law.

(6) We ought to speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9). "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). "Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:3-4).

Thus, we should not stand idly by while innocent human beings who cannot speak for themselves are killed by abortion.

(7) We ought to help those in need.

"And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:16-18).

We should care about pregnant women who are facing difficult circumstances, not just as a means of reducing abortions, but for their own sake. The work of pregnancy care centers is vitally important.

(8) We ought to work to make our laws more just.

"Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts" (Amos 5:15). "Seek justice. Defend the oppressed" (Isaiah 1:17). We should be involved in politics and legislation in order to help restore legal protection for unborn children.

(9) God offers forgiveness through his son, Jesus Christ.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Ephesians 1:7). If you have been involved in an abortion (fathers, mothers, grandparents, abortionists, abortion clinic workers, etc.), the Bible says there is a solution. As Franklin Graham puts it: "[I]f a person is guilty of having an abortion, God will forgive them and will cleanse them, if they're willing to come to him and ask for his forgiveness and receive his son Jesus Christ, by faith, into the heart."


Gathering these nine truths together, here's what the Bible tells us regarding the abortion issue, as far as I can discern: Abortion is a serious moral wrong and ought to be prohibited by law (this follows from points 1-5). Consequently, we should work to protect unborn children, to help pregnant women and others in need, and to make our laws more just (points 6-8). Finally, abortion is a symptom of a fallen world. All of us are sinners, and the only answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ (point 9).

It seems that one cannot consistently give the Bible much credence while also failing to be pro-life and, indeed, taking some sort of action on behalf of the pro-life cause.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How much do you know about 'the worst human rights abuse in the world today'?

That's what Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey calls China's coercive one-child-per-couple policy. From his 2009 remarks before a U.S. House human rights commission:
Few outside of China understand what a massive and cruel system of social control the one-child policy entails. As the U.S.-China Commission summarized, the system is "marked by pervasive propaganda, mandatory monitoring of women's reproductive cycles, mandatory contraception, mandatory birth permits, coercive fines for failure to comply, and in some cases, forced sterilization and abortion."

The price for failing to conform to this system is staggering. A Chinese woman who becomes pregnant without a permit will be put under mind-bending pressure to abort. She knows that "out of plan" illegal children are denied education, health care and marriage, and that fines for bearing a child without a birth permit can be up to 10 times the average annual income of both parents, and those families that can't or won't pay are jailed or their homes are smashed in or their young child is killed.

If the brave woman still refuses to submit, she may be held in a punishment cell, or if she flees, her relatives may be held and, very often, beaten. Group punishments will be used to socially ostracize her. Her colleagues and neighbors will be denied birth permits. If the woman is, by some miracle, still able to resist this pressure, she may be physically dragged to the operating table and forced to undergo an abortion.

Her trauma is incomprehensible. It is a trauma she shares, in some degree, with virtually every woman in China, whose experience of intimacy and motherhood is colored by the atmosphere of fear created by the government, by government threats and determination to intrude itself in deadly fashion in the most private aspects of her life. The World Health Organization reports over 500 female suicides per day in China.

China is the only country in the world where female suicide rates are higher than male, and according to the Beijing Psychological Crisis Study and Prevention Center, in China the suicide rate for females is three times higher than that of males. The result of this policy is a nightmarish brave new world with no precedent in human history, where women are psychologically wounded and girls fall victim to sex selection abortion. ... [M]ost children grow up without brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles or cousins. ...

I, and we, appeal to President Obama to seriously raise the plight of Chinese women who are every day cruelly and systematically assaulted by population control police. China's population control policy is violence against women and violence against children by the hundreds of millions.

It is the worst violation of women's rights in human history. I believe it is outrageous that the Obama administration lavishly funds, to the tune of $50 million, organizations including the U.N. Population Fund that partner with China's National Population Planning Commission. Let me note very strongly that this is not a partisan issue.
Go here to read the personal testimony of one woman (among millions) victimized by China's forced abortion policy. She and her family suffered physically, psychologically and emotionally; her baby was killed by the government, and she could do nothing.

In a new Weekly Standard article, Jonathan Last explains the one-child policy, traces its history, and notes the many ways in which it is "an epic disaster" that so many of us in the Western world are either clueless about or willing to ignore or even support. He writes:
Under One-Child, couples wanting a baby were required to obtain permission from local officials first. (In 2002, the government relaxed this provision; you can now have one child without government clearance.) After having a child, urban residents and government employees were forbidden from having another, with some exceptions. In rural areas, for instance, couples were often allowed to have a second baby five years after the first. There are a total of 22 exceptions which allow Chinese to have a second child, but they tend to be narrow: 63 percent of couples are bound to a single child. Any more than two—even for the lucky exceptions—and the government institutes penalties. Sanctions range from heavy fines to confiscation of belongings to dismissal from work. There are reports of violators having the roofs of their houses removed, or their doors and windows walled shut.

And then there were the forced abortions and sterilizations. On this score, the Chinese government had help from the West. In 1979, as China prepared to roll out One-Child, the government signed an agreement with the United Nations Population Fund, which pledged $50 million to help control births—a euphemism that in practice meant groups of government workers rounding up pregnant women and forcing them to have abortions. The U.N.'s presence opened the door for other Western organizations, including the Ford Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which poured resources into China in an effort to kill babies. These groups were not unaware of what was happening. The IPPF's Benjamin Viel wrote admiringly, "Persuasion and motivation [are] very effective in a society in which social sanctions can be applied against those who fail to cooperate in the construction of the socialist state." ...

All of which brings us to the practical problems of One-Child. ... [T]he country is now on the brink of radical population shrinkage. By 2050, China will be losing, on net, 20 million people every five years.

And whatever effect One-Child had on China's fertility rate, it also produced two unexpected changes in the country’s demographic profile.

First, One-Child created an enormous sex imbalance in the population. In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in China (and other Asian countries) there is a strong cultural preference for sons. Once Chinese were limited to one or, at most, two children, it became enormously important to parents that their one child be a male heir. The combination of ultrasound technology, which allowed sex-determination in utero, with industrial-scale abortion created an atmosphere in which it was thoroughly routine for mothers to abort female babies. This practice has become so widespread in China that there are a mind-boggling 123 boys born for every 100 girls. ...

China's sex imbalance means that the country has a large cohort of men for whom marriage will be a statistical impossibility. By the late 2020s nearly one in five Chinese men will be "surplus males." This has all sorts of cultural consequences—increased violence and political instability historically attend gender imbalances. But from a demographic standpoint, it means that China's already low fertility rate is functionally lower than it looks—because of the sex disparity among children who are born, many fewer than half will be females who have the opportunity to reproduce.

The other unintended consequence is that One-Child has radically altered China's age structure, giving it many more old people than young. In 2005, the country's median age was 32-years-old. By 2050, it will be 45-years-old, and a full quarter of the populace will be over 65. That means 330 million senior citizens, most of whom will have little or no family to care for them.

China has no pension system to speak of and will have only 2 workers per retiree—which isn't much of a tax base from which to build one. The age ratio may cause a labor shortage, too: In the next 10 years, the number of Chinese aged 20 to 24 will drop by 45 percent. All age-cohorts will shrink, except among the elderly. It is a looming demographic catastrophe—[Demographer Nicholas] Eberstadt calls it a "slow-motion humanitarian tragedy." All of these problems are as obvious as they are unavoidable; yet they are rarely acknowledged in the West.
Read all of Last's piece.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Human embryos cannot be patented

The following news release was issued today, Sept. 21.

A ban on the issuing of U.S. patents on human embryos was enacted into law on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. The pro-life policy was enacted as part of the "America Invents Act" bill (H.R. 1249) and could have a direct impact on researchers involved in clone-and-kill activities at the University of Minnesota and other institutions. The bill, which runs 58 pages in its final form, makes numerous changes to laws that govern the granting of patents in the United States, which is a function of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a division of the Department of Commerce.

A patent is a government-conferred property right that gives an inventor exclusive rights to manufacture or use his invention for a defined period, usually 20 years. The patent holder can license others to employ his patent for a fee, called a royalty.

"During the 2011 state legislative session, the University of Minnesota and others who support human cloning issued the laughable claim that the state would lose $48.4 million if they were unable to receive taxpayer funding for human cloning," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). With the new patent law in place, researchers cannot receive royalties from creating and killing young members of our species.

When it became clear that Congress was likely to take up a sweeping revision of the patent laws, MCCL, working in concert with National Right to Life in Washington, D.C., insisted on inclusion of language to codify a previously enacted temporary prohibition on any patents being issued on human embryos. The previously enacted provision was the 2004 Weldon Amendment that required yearly reauthorization. President Obama signed the bill codifying the Weldon Amendment into law last Friday.

The key language, as it appears in Section 33 of the enacted measure, reads as follows: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism."

The powerful Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) lobbied strenuously against enactment of the ban.

The substantive scope of the Weldon language was explained by then-USPTO Director James Rogan in a letter dated Nov. 20, 2003, as follows: "The USPTO understands the Weldon Amendment to provide unequivocal congressional backing for the long-standing USPTO policy of refusing to grant any patent containing a claim that encompasses any member of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development ... including a human embryo or human fetus … [which] applies regardless of the manner and mechanism used to bring a human organism into existence (e.g., somatic cell nuclear transfer, in vitro fertilization, parthenogenesis)."

"Scientists who want cures for people are focused on adult stem cell research and not on the creation and destruction of human embryos," Fischbach said. "Currently 72 adult stem cell treatments are helping people every day, whereas killing human embryos has resulted in nothing but dead human embryos."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Peyton Manning gets adult stem cell procedure

Superstar quarterback Peyton Manning -- who has suffered from a neck injury -- has reportedly received an adult stem cell transplant using his own stem cells. Adult stem cells are ethically-derived and have successfully treated many patients; embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, require for their derivation the destruction of embryonic human beings, and have yet to benefit a single human patient. From Dr. David Prentice:
Manning has had three surgeries on his neck in the last 19 months. Little detail was available, but the information indicates that the [stem cell] procedure may have used adipose (fat) derived adult stem cells from Manning's own body; this autologous procedure (using your own adult stem cells) bypasses any problems of transplant rejection and is relatively safe. Manning's adult stem cells may have then been injected around the site of his problem vertebra in the neck, to assist healing and help with spinal disc fusion. In that respect, it sounds similar to the procedure that Texas Gov. Rick Perry received in Houston, Texas, for his back problem. ...

[T]here are actually over 2,200 FDA-approved adult stem cell clinical trials ongoing or completed, most of which in this list are in the U.S. That includes several adult stem cell trials using adult stem cells for spinal fusion, and even a couple of adipose-derived adult stem cell trials in Indianapolis. Maybe Peyton realized that only adult stem cells had real potential for safe and ethical treatment of patients. Hopefully, he will talk about his experience so more people understand the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells.
Manning could join many other awesome people -- most notably Jack Bauer -- in benefiting from ethical stem cell research.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Local infanticide case highlights importance of Safe Haven law, tragedy of abortion

The Mississippi River baby, named Angel by local authorities, was wrapped in this T-shirt.
From a story last week in the Pioneer Press:
The body of a newborn baby girl was recovered Monday from the Mississippi River near Winona, the fourth time since 1999 that an infant has been found dead in a stretch of the river south of the metro area.

The Winona County sheriff's office said an infant weighing about 7 pounds was found floating downstream in a plastic bag about 2:20 p.m. and was taken to the Dakota County medical examiner's office in Hastings for an autopsy.

Each of the babies was found four years apart. The other three were all discovered along the river's banks in Goodhue County, about 60 miles to the north. Their deaths remain unsolved.

A boater discovered the first infant in 1999 near a Red Wing marina. The little girl was wrapped in a towel, and her umbilical cord was still attached.

A newborn boy turned up in 2003, floating along the edge of Lake Pepin's Methodist Beach in Frontenac.

In 2007, dock workers at Treasure Island Resort and Casino found a baby girl floating in the casino's marina. ...

Under the state's Safe Place for Newborns law, enacted in April 2003 [actually 2000], a mother or immediate family member of a newborn can place the unharmed child into the hands of a hospital employee on hospital grounds with complete anonymity during the first three days of the child's life.
A horrific tragedy. (Recent developments here.) As the story notes, Minnesota (and other states) has a law in place to help prevent newborn abandonment. From the Minnesota Department of Health:
Safe Place for Newborns Law—Minnesota Statutes 145.902—The law allows a mother to leave her newborn baby, within seventy-two hours of birth, at any hospital in the state. The newborn must be unharmed and left with a hospital employee on the hospital premises. The hospital cannot inquire as to the identity of the mother and cannot notify the local social services agency of the newborn until the mother has left the hospital. This law was passed for mothers of newborns who are in crisis and at risk for abandoning their baby. Additional information can be obtained at or call 1-877-440-BABY (2229), a 24-hour toll-free crisis hotline.
It is important that pregnant women who feel that they are in desperate circumstances know that this option exists. The abandonment or killing of newborn babies should never, ever happen. Learn what you can do to spread the word here, and learn more details about the law here.

Stories like this also provide an opportunity for pro-life advocates to make the case against abortion. Everyone (well, almost everyone) knows that dumping a newborn baby in the river is wrong. But there is no morally relevant difference between a newborn baby and her younger, unborn self; both are living members of our species, and human beings deserve respect and protection irrespective of age or stage of development. Moreover, infanticide cases effectively put the lie to sophisticated bodily autonomy arguments for abortion (see my discussion here)—our obligations to these little human beings are so obvious!

Infanticide is tragic. But it can help clarify for us the tragedy of abortion, which is ongoing and happening on a much, much larger scale.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three ploys for assisted suicide

Massachusetts is threatening to join Oregon and Washington in legalizing physician-assisted suicide. In a new essay, Faulkner University professor Adam J. MacLeod writes:
People quite naturally recognize that life is better than death, that the deliberate destruction of life is an evil to be avoided, and that the state has a role to play in preventing suicides. It follows logically from these uncontested (and incontestable) observations that state laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide are just and efficacious. But, like magicians who use distractions to remove the important object from view, proponents of legalized death have shrouded the inviolability of human life in a mist of confusion. Exposing their ploys is the first step in defeating their efforts to advance the culture of death.
MacLeod then refutes three popular "ploys" used by advocates of assisted suicide.

(1) The Alleviation-of-Suffering Ploy

"In public, proponents of assisted suicide most commonly characterize assisted suicide as the only hope of relief for 'suffering patients' who are afflicted with serious illnesses," MacLeod writes. The problem? "Assisted suicide is neither necessary, nor actually used, for the alleviation of pain. Indeed, the data show a wide gulf between the public justifications for assisted suicide and its actual use in practice."

Moreover, "A much more common motivation than pain management appears to be simple clinical depression. In 2006, the Royal College of Physicians released a statement revealing that patients who want to die will change their minds—will choose life—after they are treated for depression in 98% to 99% of cases. "

(2) The Unnecessary Prolongation Ploy

"A second favorite ploy, related to the first, is to conflate prohibitions against assisted suicide with extreme measures to keep people alive." The problem? "Though legalization proponents trade on fears of being artificially sustained after one’s time has come, prohibiting assisted suicide is not the same as forcing people to live beyond their time. To affirm that life is always worth defending from attempts to destroy it is not to claim that one should always make efforts to lengthen life."

MacLeod continues:
Nor does respect for human life entail that the terminally ill must bear up stoically under extreme pain. Showing respect for all persons regardless of their condition or circumstances means providing needed medical care, including palliative care, when the terminally ill are in their final weeks and hours. That some forms of palliative care hasten impending death is not a reason to condemn its administration. The purpose of administering palliative care is not to kill but to relieve pain. ... The line that we must ask a physician not to cross is the line at which he adopts the patient’s death as his purpose.
(3) The Personal Autonomy Ploy

"The most common motivation for assisted suicide patients is a desire for personal autonomy, to control the time and manner of one’s own death." The problem?
Proponents of legalization invoke a radical conception of personal autonomy. The idea is that each individual person makes the value of her own life by choice. When an individual ceases to value her own life, when she no longer prizes those treasures that life enables her to enjoy, she ought to be free to end her life.

People do not make their lives valuable merely by choosing to live. If this were the case, then the lives of small children and senile adults would have no value and would be unworthy of protection in law. As a matter of fact, myriad laws protect human life at various stages of human development, even in states—Oregon and Washington—that permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill. These laws do not discriminate against the very young or the very old, or against those who ascribe the least value to their own lives. States invest resources in suicide prevention and privilege citizens to prevent suicidal acts, by force if necessary. None of these laws provides for weighing the instrumental value of the life being saved.

So even in states that permit assisted suicide, the law reflects our understanding that life has value, regardless of the conditions in which it is lived. Laws preventing suicide preserve the communities of which the suicidal person is a part. The personal autonomy ploy rests upon the deception that suicide affects only the one who commits it, and that this individual alone should have a say in the matter. But suicides are not purely autonomous acts. Just as the family and neighbors of each person recognize the intrinsic value of that person, the family and friends of a suicide realize the irremediable loss that suicide causes.

Suicide should not be inflicted upon anyone. To assist its commission is to do violence to the very fabric of civil society. For the sake of doctors, their sick patients, and the communities in which doctors and patients live, Massachusetts and Montana should strengthen their legal commitments to protect the sick and suffering. 
Be sure to read the entirety of MacLeod's piece.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A personal testimony regarding China's practice of forced abortion

The following is excerpted from a statement by a Chinese woman, Wujian (an alias), before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 10, 2009.
My name is Wujian. I was born in a small village in northern China. ...

It was the spring of 2004 when I found out that I was pregnant. It was beautiful to sense this life growing inside of me: what a miracle! Meanwhile, I was also very fearful since I did not have the permit for pregnancy or the birth permit, which means, according to Chinese law, this baby was not allowed to be born into this world. During that time in my hometown, this was the law decided by the Chinese family planning policy ...

Pretty soon, my lower stomach began to bulge. In order to protect my baby, I had to hide myself in a very old, shabby house in a remote area. There was no electricity at all in the room ... Fear and loneliness filled me every day, but as long as I could have my baby, I could stand anything. ...

Eventually, the family planning government officials found out about my pregnancy. So they searched all over trying to arrest me, and while they could not find me, then they caught my father instead. They put my father into the detention center and beat him every day. On the fourth day after they caught my father, one neighbor came and told me that my father was dying: they would continue beating my father -- even to death -- until I went to the local hospital to get abortion. ...

Very soon after this, the worst thing happened: when several family planning government officials broke into the house where I was hiding, and without any words, they drug me into their van.

As soon as I got into the van, I found that another mom was already inside the van. She told me she was carrying her first baby, and that she was 28 years old. She did not have the permit of pregnancy or the birth permit, and she was 7 months pregnant. She was so eager to keep this baby that she was fighting with the government officers in the van. Suddenly, one government official in his 20's slapped her on the face and immediately her mouth began to bleed. Being thus insulted, she screamed like a lion and fought with the family planning government officials.

About one hour later, the van stopped in the hospital. As soon as I was drug out of the van, I saw hundreds of pregnant moms there -- all of them just like pigs in the slaughterhouse. Immediately I was drug into a special room, and without any preliminary medical examination, one nurse did an oxytocin injection intravenously. Then I was put into a room with several other moms.

The room was full of moms who had just gone through a forced abortion. Some moms were crying, some moms were mourning, some moms were screaming, and one mom was rolling on the floor with unbearable pain. ...

I was pulled into another small room. One nurse pulled out one big, 8-inch long needle for the intramuscular injection. ...

At that moment, I was the only mom in the room. I began begging the nurse while I cried, "I have already had the oxytocin injection, please let me go; I will go as far away as possible and I will not tell anyone else what you had done for me and I will be grateful for you for the rest of me life." The nurse did not respond to my begging -- she looked like wood.

Then I kept saying to her, "You are an angel, as a nurse or a doctor who is helping people and saving people's life; how could you become a killer by killing people every day?" ... Soon she became very angry at what I said, and told me that I talked too much. She also told me that there was nothing serious about this whole thing for her. She did these all year. She also told me that there were over 10,000 forced abortions in our county [county, not country] just for that year, and I was having just one of them. I was astonished by her words and I realized that my baby and I were just like a lamb on the cutting board. Finally, she put the big, long needle into the head of my baby in the womb. At the moment, it was the end of the world for me and I felt even time had stopped. ...

After the injection, my baby became very quiet for a whole day. I was so naive that I thought I could leave the hospital because I had finished the forced injection. I wondered if perhaps my baby was lucky enough that she could survive.

To my great surprise, the next evening I was drug into a surgical room. ... While I was lying down on the surgical table I found that there was bloody fingerprints on the wall, left by other moms during their surgery of a forced abortion.

One doctor told me that I brought too much trouble to them already because my baby was supposed to flow out by itself after the injection. Since it did not come out as expected, they decided to cut my baby into pieces in my womb with scissors, and then suck it out with a special machine.

What had I done in my life that made me deserve this kind of punishment? What evil thing was this all about? Even a wild animal like a tiger will give her life to save her own baby tiger. As a mom and a human being, could I not even protect the life of my baby? ...

I could hear the sound of the scissors cutting the body of my baby in my womb. ... I preferred to die together with my baby at that moment. ...

Eventually the journey in hell, the surgery was finished, and one nurse showed me part of a bloody foot with tweezers. Through my tears, the picture of the bloody foot was engraved into my eyes and into my heart, and so clearly I could see the five small bloody toes. Immediately the baby was thrown into a trash can. ...

Finally, I was allowed to go home from the hospital. I did not eat anything, or even drink any water, for several days. I barely talked with anyone. From time to time at home, I could hear the mourning of my father. He was released after I was caught, but he had been beaten terribly; it took him over a month to recover physically. Looking at my father, thinking of my dead baby, I cried day and night, and frequently the picture of the little bloody foot came up in my mind. Physically I recovered after about one month, but psychologically and spiritually -- never! ...

I know that there are millions of Chinese sisters who are suffering and will suffer the same thing that I suffered. Who can help them? Who can save them? The one-child policy and forced abortion policy have killed millions of innocent lives in China. How can this inhumane crime be stopped? When can this inhumane crime be stopped?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Do I matter simply for being me?

The following two claims seem awfully difficult to deny:

(1) I am intrinsically valuable and a bearer of rights by virtue of being me. So, for example, if you decide you want to kill and eat some living entity, and if that living entity turns out to be me, then you are poised to commit a very serious moral wrong. Regardless of my condition or circumstances, the fact that the entity in question is me is what matters morally. I matter simply for being who I am -- for being me.

(2) I was once an embryo and fetus, just as I was once a newborn, toddler and adolescent. This truth is confirmed by intuition and sound philosophical analysis informed by the scientific facts of human development. Therefore, to have killed the fetal human being in my mother's womb 26 years ago would have been to kill me.

From these two claims, it follows that it would have been wrong to kill the unborn human being I once was. By extension, it is wrong to kill all unborn human beings, who are the same beings as their future adult selves, and who have a right to life simply by virtue of who and what they are.

A defender of the moral permissibility of abortion will probably have to deny either (1) or (2). Which one, and on what grounds? It is an unenviable task.

'When having a choice diminishes family solidarity'

Here is the abstract of a forthcoming journal article by Prof. Richard Stith of Valparaiso University School of Law:
This Article explores a little-noticed dimension of abortion and assisted suicide (or voluntary euthanasia): how choosing to reject those options can have a negative impact on the legally authorized choosers. Women who refuse abortion may be blamed for their choice by boyfriends, neighbors, employers, and others. Similarly, infirm or dying persons may find family and other caregivers upset by their refusal to agree to assisted suicide when voluntary death seems the sensible option. Finally, the author questions whether a life chosen as an option can ever have the dignity of a life simply accepted, i.e., whether the child a mother once chose not to abort suffers from her having been able to choose otherwise, and whether the severely disabled but suicide-rejecting person suffers from having to justify her continued existence.
Here's a bit more explanation of three main points, from the article's introduction:

  • "[A] woman's free choice for life may diminish what is called here the 'causal' basis of solidarity, relieving a father of his erstwhile responsibility for bringing about a birth."
  • "[Regarding the] 'sympathetic' basis of solidarity between parents (and with others) with regard to the burdens of childcare, ... compassion is significantly lessened by a belief that the mother voluntarily chose to be in her plight; similarly, the debilitated grandmother may receive less sympathy if she appears for no good reason to reject assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia."
  • "[C]hoosing to let someone exist (or continue to exist) tends to reduce that someone (who may even be oneself) to a thing, thus sharply undercutting the 'personal' basis of solidarity with a newborn child or with an aged parent."

These problems arise because the unjust killing of abortion and assisted suicide are offered as legitimate options. They shouldn't be.

Notes Stith (page 27), "Making life optional harms even those who choose and affirm it, for its very optionality means that someone's life is no longer a necessity that all must accept as a given, but rather a contingency that might have been avoided by the legally empowered chooser. The chooser is thus to blame for that life's burdens. The only logically possible way to undo this blame is to reconvert contingency into some form of necessity."

The 45-page article can be read here.

Awkward family moment

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Attend a pro-life meeting near you

The MCCL Fall Tour begins this Sunday, Sept. 11. Pro-life educational meetings will be held at 39 locations all across Minnesota through the middle of October. If you live in Minnesota, please find the meeting nearest you and plan to join us.

The presentation is titled, "What Would You Do to Save a Life?" In addition to informing attendees about Obamacare, abortion trends, human cloning legislation, Planned Parenthood and more, MCCL staff will equip you to make a difference and save lives.

The stakes are too high not to get involved.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who counts? The question of membership

"At bottom, the 'life issues'—including especially the conflicts over abortion and embryo-destructive research—involve the deepest and most fundamental public questions for a nation committed to liberty, equality, and justice. That is, the basic question in this context is who counts as a member of the human community entitled to moral concern and the basic protection of the law? Who counts as 'one of us'? Equally important is the related question of who decides, and according to what sort of criteria? These are not narrow concerns commanding only the attention of a small number of highly motivated activists at the fringes of our society. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a public matter that is more important than this 'question of membership.'

"The stakes could not be higher. 'Persons' have human rights and are owed the moral respect and forbearance of others. 'Nonpersons' live at the mercy of others, and are routinely instrumentalized, manipulated, or even destroyed in the name of the individual or collective interests of those who are indisputably persons. We, as a nation, must get this question of membership right. ...

"The pro-life movement offers the only answer to the question of 'who counts' that is consistent with America's grounding norms of equality and justice. ...

"[E]ach human being is intrinsically equal in basic dignity simply because of who he or she is as a member of the human family. Each human being is valuable and irreplaceable, regardless of her age, size, location, race, sex, usefulness (or burdensomeness) to others, her possession or lack of certain favored physical or mental capacities, or the worth assigned to her by others. ...

"The pro-life movement rejects the notion that there are pre-personal (e.g., embryos and fetuses) or post-personal (e.g., cognitively disabled patients) human beings. Indeed, the pro-life movement sees such competing approaches as inverting our best moral traditions, effectively privileging the claims of the strong over those of the weak. The pro-life movement believes that these frameworks for contingent personhood produce monstrous practical results (including, for example, a sliding scale of moral and legal standing for people based on their cognitive ability, usefulness, strength, and so on). Instead, the pro-life movement takes its bearings from Hans Jonas's injunction that 'utter helplessness demands utter protection.' ..

"The pro-life movement holds that the only coherent (non-self-destroying) understanding of human equality is one that encompasses all human beings, without discrimination on the basis of accidental characteristics such as age, size, condition of dependency or vulnerability, circumstances, or the esteem of others. It is anathema to the norm of equality to permit a part of the polity to set exclusionary criteria that disqualify other living human beings from moral regard and the most basic forms of legal protection. True respect for equality dictates that if anyone counts, everyone must count. Conversely, to treat any human being as sub-personal is to commit a grave injustice."

-- O. Carter Snead

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Analysis shows strong link between abortion and mental health problems

A new study -- "the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature" -- is getting mainstream media attention.

The meta-analysis was published by Dr. Priscilla Coleman on Sept. 1 in the British Journal of PsychiatryNotes Dr. Randall K. O'Bannon of National Right to Life:
Coleman examined 22 of the best designed studies on abortion and mental health over the years 1995-2009 which tracked outcomes for 877,181 women, 163,831 who had experienced abortion. Coleman found that aborting women showed an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, with particular risks (e.g., substance abuse, suicide) even higher.

Moreover, Coleman's meta-analysis showed that 9.9% of the incidence of mental health problems in the population group of aborted women was directly attributable to abortion. This also included 34.9% of suicides in this group.

By anyone's definition, this is a substantial risk.
Dr. Coleman says:
I firmly believe women deserve an accurate appraisal of the best available evidence and they should be making truly informed decisions. Applying basic methods of science, this quantitative review easily provides an objective depiction of the state of knowledge ... Women considering an abortion should know abortion may increase their risk of experiencing mental health problems as opposed to being told that there are no risks or very minimal risks, which seems to be common practice.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taxpayer funding of human cloning offers no benefits to Minnesotans

The following news release was issued today, Sept. 1, 2011.

Since July 1, 2011, Minnesota state law has permitted the use of taxpayer funds for human cloning. Such research is unethical, deeply unpopular among the people of Minnesota, and offers very little potential for therapeutic benefits, in contrast to ethical stem cell research that is already saving lives.

During the regular 2011 legislative session, the House and Senate passed a measure to continue the existing (2009-2011) prohibition on state funding of human cloning (in addition to passing a second measure to prohibit cloning outright). Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the pro-life provision (and all other pro-life measures), and it was subsequently excluded from the special session compromise in a deal struck between Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers.

The measure would have simply prevented state funding of human somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the process by which organisms are cloned. SCNT produces a new human organism at the earliest stages of development who is genetically virtually identical to an already-existing human organism.

The University of Minnesota, among some others, vigorously opposed the prohibition on human cloning funding, despite admitting that its scientists are not currently pursuing the research. The University explained that it might want to pursue SCNT in the future in order to create cloned human embryos to then kill for research (so-called "therapeutic cloning"). No therapeutic benefits have resulted from cloning research; continuing success with ethical adult stem cell research, and the breakthrough of ethical induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) research, seem to make cloning therapeutically obsolete.

Writing in the Star Tribune, University researcher John Wagner dishonestly claimed that legislation banning human cloning was "a full-scale assault on stem cell research" and would "criminalize lifesaving work at the University of Minnesota." The bill would not have affected any stem cell research—or any other current work—at the University.

"University of Minnesota scientists and spokespersons shamelessly misled Minnesotans about the nature of SCNT, the result of SCNT (an organism at the embryonic stage), its relation to stem cell research, and its therapeutic potential," notes Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "In addition, never did the University offer an ethical defense of creating young members of our species by cloning in order to kill them for research purposes."

MCCL has launched a new feature on its home page ( tracking the time elapsed since state funding of human cloning was legalized and the resulting benefits for Minnesotans. There have been no benefits.

Polling confirms that most Americans oppose human cloning. "It is indefensible that our tax dollars can now be used to clone human beings," states Fischbach. "The next state Legislature must rectify this unjust and wasteful policy."

MCCL is Minnesota's oldest and largest pro-life organization with more than 70,000 member families and 240 chapters across the state.