Human Embryology and Church Teachings

E. Correct Formation of Conscience

As Aristotle so wisely noted over two millennia ago, if we are to be able to think straight, our empirically derived concepts of the material world should correspond with it. If they do not then we are precluded from thinking critically -- we will have lost the Categories (Aristotle, Analytical Posteriora 2.19, 100a 3-9, quoted in McKeon 1941). Similarly, if people cannot even accurately know the empirical reality involving the human embryo addressed above, how then can they think critically or rationally about issues involving the human embryo, or reliably form their consciences correctly regarding it? Their consciences are truly darkened, leading not only to immoral personal decisions (Irving 1994a, pp. 42-62; Irving 1999a, pp. 22-47; Irving 1999b, pp. 203-223), but to immoral professional, political, public policy and legal decisions as well (Irving 1993b, pp. 243-272; Irving 1993c, pp. 77-100; Irving 1994b, pp. 82-89; Irving1999a, 22-47; Irving 2000a, pp. 44-55; Irving 2001a, pp. 1-24; Irving 2001b, pp. 1-12; Irving 2001c, pp. 1-17; Irving 2001d, pp. 1-32; Irving 2002a, pp. 1-22; Irving 2004, pp. 1-31).

As extensively noted, violations of the dignity of these early human beings are usually accompanied by the use of erroneous science and deceptive linguistic jargon in the attempt to justify these immoral actions. This use of contrived rhetoric to refer to the newly created human embryo or fetus is now amazingly extensive; for example: a pre-embryo vs. an embryo; a being on the way vs. an already existing one; a seed vs. an organism; a phase sortal vs. a substance sortal; information content there vs. information capacity there; a biological individual vs. an ontological individual; a transient nature vs. a stable human nature; a biologically integrated whole vs. a psychologically integrated whole; a biological life only vs. a personal life; an unconscious biological life vs. a conscious personal life; a lower-brain life vs. a cortical-brain lif"; no one home vs. some one home; a zoe vs. a bios; a possible or potential human being vs. an actual human being; a possible or potential person vs. an actual human person; an object vs. a subject; an evolving member of the human species vs. an actual member of the human species; no rational attributes or sentience there vs. rational attributes or sentience there; no human cognition vs. human cognition, a ball of cells vs. an organism. Politicized terms such as spare or left-over embryos or products of conception are often used. Further rhetoric includes the false distinction between therapeutic and reproductive cloning, the deconstruction of therapeutic cloning to mean stem cell research, and the deconstruction of totipotent to mean pluripotent (Biggers 1990, pp. 1-6; Denker 2008, pp. 1656-1657; Irving 1991, pp. 1-400; Irving 1993a, pp. 18-46; Irving 1994a, pp. 42-62; Irving 2003a, pp. 1-42; Irving 2004a pp. 1-31; Irving 2005 1-36; Kischer and Irving 995, pp. 4-13, 129-184, 224-247, 248-257, 267-282). As noted above, even the centuries-old honored term "conception" itself has now been erroneously redefined as beginning at implantation rather than at fertilization, even in the law.

Fortunately, the international nomenclature committee on human embryology formally rejected the false term pre-embryo. To quote O'Rahilly and Müller (2001, p. 88), the term:

(1) is ill-defined because it is said to end with the appearance of the primitive streak [about 15 days] or to include neurulation [formation in the early embryo of the neural plate (Stage 8, about 23 days) followed by its closure with the development of the neural tube (beginning at Stage 10 through Stage 12, about 32 days)]; (2) is inaccurate because purely embryonic cells can already be distinguished after a few days, as can also the embryonic (not pre-embryonic!) disc; (3) is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) was introduced in 1986 "largely for public policy reasons."

The term was also eventually clarified in a statement by the Pontifical Academy for Life (although the term remains in the "Foreword" of Donum vitae):

From a biological standpoint, the formation and the development of the human embryo appears as a continuous, coordinated, and gradual process from the time of fertilization, at which time a new human organism is constituted, endowed with the intrinsic capacity to develop by himself into a human adult. The most recent contributions of the biomedical sciences offer further valuable empirical evidence for substantiating the individuality and developmental continuity of the embryo. To speak of a pre-embryo thus is an incorrect interpretation of the biological data. (Pontifical Academy for Life 1997a)

Yet new, clever and ever erroneous scientific claims and linguistic rhetoric continue to confuse and darken the human conscience. Josef Pieper, a contemporary Catholic philosopher and theologian, recently wrote an amazing small book concerning the advertising and communications industries, The Abuse of Language - Abuse of Power, that is astonishingly applicable to the rhetoric found in these related debates about the human embryo today. Such rhetoric, he notes, is not new. Plato attributed it to the Sophists whom he described as, "highly paid and popularly applauded experts in the art of twisting words; able to sweet-talk something bad into something good and to turn white into black." The truth itself cannot in all honesty be the decisive concern of those who aim at verbal artistry, he notes. Rather, as Plato forces Gorgias to admit, "such sophisticated language, disconnected from the roots of truth, in fact pursues some ulterior motives." Language is thus invariably turned into an instrument of power. "The place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudo-reality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth." This is precisely what bothered Plato with his own contemporary Sophists. What makes the sophists so dangerous, said Plato, is that they "fabricate a fictitious reality." That the real world in which we all live can be taken over by pseudo-realities whose fictitious nature threatens to become unnoticed is truly a depressing thought. And yet this Platonic nightmare possesses an alarming contemporary relevance, for the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for it. (Pieper 1992, pp. 7, 18-20, 34-35).

This darkening of the human conscience on these various but related issues concerning the early human being is of considerable concern to the Church:

The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life. ... [W]e need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. ... Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 1995, pars. 4 and 58).

What is needed, the Church recognizes, is a cultural transformation: "The first and fundamental step towards this cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life." It is especially important to "re-establish the essential connection between life and freedom" and "between freedom and truth," because when freedom is detached from objective truth "it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis." In turn, this lays the ground for society "to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority." In particular, "there is a need for education about the value of life from its very origins" (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 1995, par 96).

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