Saturday, 17 February 2007

Dignity confirmed

Fr John Fleming's lecture on Abortion in International Law hardly moved from the secular frame of reference, giving us a competent analysis for a foundational understanding of the issues which surround this matter.

His lecture gave us a framework for identifying and refencing the important values which are at stake in this issue. We should congratulate Fr John for the great service he has done; for as a Catholic Priest, confining himself to examining human values, he has made this study available to all, whatever their persuasion. Moreover, he has grounded the debate in fundamental principles such that we can recognise anew those essential human values which are so prone to mis-representation by political and media handling.

Allow me to present some of his material here:

1. The basic question - Do United Nations documents protect the rights of the unborn? Yet the issue currently hinges on two opposed positions - those who want a right to abortion and those who say that embryos have rights. In fact United Nations Law is a prima facie case for the protection of the unborn. United Nations Law transcends all philosophical, religious and cultural trends and uses reason to apply universal moral principles. So, once we recognise certain things to be true, we have a duty to respond to them in a morally adequate manner.

2.The nature of Rights. They are inalienable - you can't take them away, and they are inviolable - you can't override them.

3. "Everyone". This means all members of the human family - there can be no distinctions.

4. "Personhood". Equality is referenced to personhood - you can't distinguish between people. Nor is personhood determined by function - rather, "being" defines function. The question of function can't then be used against an embryo.

5. Interchangeable language? No, mixing two kinds of language doesn't help. "Person" is a philosophical term; "embryo" is a scientific term. Yet there is a relationship between these two frames - the basis of personhood is science. Science tells us that there is an embryo and what an embryo is, therefore we know that a person has come into existence.

6. With regard to what is Catholic the same principle applies. Namely, the Church applies a principle to that which science has determined. So we cannot say, a thing is right becuase it is Catholic, but rather, a thing is Catholic because it is right.

Specific cases:

1. Freezing embryos prevents embryo research. De-frosted embryos have serious metabolic disorders which makes them an unreliable source.

2. Rape. It is possible to discover where a woman is in her cycle are provide treatment which will prevent fertilisation. Also, it is not proper to prejudge the response that a woman might make. In cases of rape, there is a whole situation to consider in which people have rights.

3. Could we employ a better term than "person" and for instance, speak of "genetic coding" to distinguish an individual? Broadly speaking yes we could, but we have to remember that science changes and so such scientific terminology could become obsolete.

4. Using vaccines developed from foetal tissues. Actually, there should be moral pressure to develop vaccines that don't come from this source.

5.NaProtechology. Yes, we need to promote this kind of infertility treatment which co-operates with a woman's natural reproductive processes.

I hope that this will give you some idea of the lecture which Fr John presented. A small Google search made on his name will reveal just how extensive is his learning and what a competent guide he is in the whole field of Bioethics. If you hear of any future talks or lectures by Fr John - don't miss the opportunity, he is an excellent speaker.

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