PBA350H: Pre-Born Human Rights Beyond Abortion

  • Our focus is usually on abortion because it is the most common and most visible injustice when the right to life is denied to pre-born human beings.
  • However, the pro-life position on pre-born human rights has ethical implications on other issues beyond abortion as well.
  • If human rights are for all human beings, and they should start when the human being starts - which we know from science is at fertilization - what does that mean for stem cell research, assisted reproductive technologies, cloning?
  • The ethical questions for these issues aren't complex once you understand that human rights are for all human beings, but still it helps to talk through them and get familiar and specific with a few things to be prepared to talk about these issues

Stem Cell Research

First, let's start with this short explainer video about stem cells:

:?: From what you saw in the video, what would the ethical concerns be with the use of stem cells?

  • Answer: embryonic stem cells involves killing human embryos - young human beings - to harvest their cells
  • The objective of trying to save other people's lives is good, but we can't kill to save
    • e.g. introduce the infant - what if we could harvest really powerful cells from newborn babies that could have potential life-saving medical treatments, but we'd need to kill newborn babies to harvest those cells? Would it be okay? If it's not okay to do that to newborn children, why would it be okay to do that to pre-born children?
  • The distinction between embryonic and adult stem cells is important
    • Media coverage just often talks about “stem cells” without making the distinction
    • There's no ethical concern with adult stem cells - that's very valuable medicine and only helps people, it doesn't harm anyone
    • :!: In fact, almost if not all of the successful medical treatments from stem cells have come from adult stem cells so far! Innovative, ground-breaking, life-saving and life-changing treatments, all from adult stem cells with no human beings killed. This is where the progress is, and there are no ethical problems with this
    • Researchers have not yet figured out how to control embryonic stem cells sufficiently to make use of them in actual medical treatments (NOTE: careful with this claim, and check it periodically to make sure it's still up to date)
  • Also, helpful to know that umbilical cord blood stem cells are fine - these are adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood, not embryonic stem cells - no human beings are harmed in collecting this cord blood at childbirth
This background reading would be very helpful to have more knowledge and understand the context and be able to answer questions: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117

Assisted Reproductive Technologies

This is a great overview from a pro-life perspective to get some background knowledge and answers to FAQ: https://www.masscitizensforlife.org/in-vitro-fertilization-frequently-asked-questions-answers

This video provides a 2min overview of different Assisted Reproductive Technologies:

Let's take three types of treatments for infertility

:?: From a right to life perspective, which of these are ethical or unethical?

  • NFP methods: no ethical problems
  • Artificial insemination: No right to life ethical problems (no human beings are killed). People may raise other ethical questions in the realm of sexual ethics (e.g. whether or not it is appropriate to separate sex and procreation, or how semen is collected, etc.), but these are not right to life questions - no human beings are being killed
  • In Vitro Fertilization: very “wasteful” with human life
    • First, sidenote: Do human beings created from IVF have human rights? Yes, of course
      • Are they human beings? Are human rights for all human beings are just some human beings?
      • Look around the room, can you tell who was conceived naturally and who was conceived through IVF?
      • Human rights are for all human beings, whether they were conceived in love or through assault, naturally or in a lab - the method of conception doesn't make a difference as to whether or not we have an individual human being, and all human beings deserve human rights
    • Ethical concerns about IVF…
      • Creating children we know are very likely to die in high numbers
      • Intentionally killing “unwanted extra” children for medical research or through selective reduction abortions
    • Fertilization is not always successful and more than one child is needed because not all will implant or survive
      • Many human beings are created, and “extra” unwanted human beings are killed for medical research, embryonic stem cells, etc
    • Implantation is not always successful
      • There is a high chance that many children will not implant in the uterine lining or will not survive the pregnancy
      • So, they attempt to implant many at once
      • Many children will not survive
      • Sometimes, more children survive than are “wanted”, so IVF is linked in practice with selective reduction abortions, e.g. to abort 1 or 2 children if 2 or 3 have implanted successfully
    • :?: Could IVF be ethical if there was a 1-to-1 success rate?
      • In theory, it could be like artificial insemination, where all the right to life ethical questions are eliminated if there are never “extras”, never a ton of children with little to no chance of survival, never any selective reduction abortions
      • However, would it be ethical to kill the hundreds of thousands of children on the path to improving the success rate?
        • Trot Out the Toddler: Imagine there was a treatment that helped to cure a disability in toddlers, but it involved bringing 3 or 4 toddlers with the disability together, and typically all of them would die but one who might survive and sometimes be cured. If we did this thousands and thousands of times, we could eventually get better such that no toddlers would have to die and we could actually confidently cure all toddlers with this condition. Would it be ethical to kill thousands of toddlers on the way to developing a medical procedure that wouldn't have to kill anyone?

There's also a concern about treating human children as commodities to be mass produced like objects. Is that really an approach that respects the dignity of each individual person, the human rights of each individual human being?

FIXME re: commodity culture https://www.endthekilling.ca/blog/2017/05/08/embryo-ashes/

FIXME CCBR position piece https://www.endthekilling.ca/blog/2018/11/22/in-vitro-fertilization-a-human-rights-perspective/


Now that we've talked through IVF and embryonic stem cell research, there are a few things to say about cloning:

  • Researchers have not figured out how to clone human beings yet, though cloning has been successful with other species
  • However, if a human being was cloned, would that clone have human rights?
    • Yes, obviously - is the clone a human being? Are human rights for all human beings are just some human beings?
      • If you take a look at anyone sitting in the room here, would you be able to tell who was cloned and who was conceived from IVF or who was conceived naturally?
  • Cloning has the same “wastefulness” problems as IVF - we have to kill a lot of human beings to get there
  • Also, in practical, objectives like “therapeutic cloning” are not actually to simply clone new human beings to live, but rather to clone new human beings to die - to clone a person so that the clones embryonic cells can be harvested to treat the first person. Created human beings for the purpose of killing them and harvesting their cells is a clear human rights violation.

Embryo Adoption

This needs more polished notes, but the core for this section is:

  • Introduce the concept of embryo adoption, explain what it is
  • Ask whether or not it's ethical?
  • Introduce the framing: adoption? surrogacy? or rescue?
  • Share the rescue/adoption perspective from Life Under the Glass, and the distinctions between moral and immoral ways to approach it, or the kinds of serious questions raised

FIXME really good chance to discuss this here, and opens the door up to vaccines because it raises cooperation in evil questions rather than killing questions

FIXME could probably turn this into its own seminar

FIXME Analogy to buying a slave to free them

  • Are you contributing financially to the slave trade?
  • What about Wilberforce and compensation for emancipation to bring about an end to slavery?
  • or Schindler bribing Nazi officials so that his Jewish workers wouldn't get taken away to concentration camps
  • etc

Other questions:

  • Some ask, is it justifiable to spend tons of money on embryo adoption if the resources could go to adopting a larger number of born kids who are suffering? (Not the same thing as saying you can kill the embryos, but rather a triage question. On the one hand, there are way larger numbers of human embryos who are in greater danger of either being directly killed, or dying from the freezing process. On the other hand, there are large numbers of born human children who are experiencing a higher degree of suffering while they wait for adoptive families. Like many situations of human suffering and mistreatment, we face the question of how to allocate limited resources. What is the most ethical way to direct resources? But also, important to not create a false dichotomy)
  • FIXME Summarize CCBR book's responses to common Qs
    • Frame the discussion: “These children exist. How do we rescue them?”
    • Primary moral questions: are you contributing to an unjust system (IVF industry)? For some Christians (esp. Catholics), objection that it contravenes natural law on sexuality and procreation.

FIXME need some background at the ready for Catholic objections from Donom Vitae and Dignitatis Personae, with responses from John Berkman and Charlie Camosy FIXME responses to the slightly psychotic view of some Catholics that we should just “thaw them, baptise them, and bury them”

FIXME Stephanie Gray gives the rescue-arguments for, and some (IMO bizarre) arguments against1), embryo adoption: https://youtu.be/mZNSD9pc_Zg?si=9LIR8T9K7lAZZzJa


  • The question is: is it ethical to use vaccines that have been derived from aborted fetal cell lines?
    • Pro-lifers may disagree on this. Some may advocate we avoid the use of these vaccines entirely. But many see this is a question of double-effect reasoning (or cooperation with evil) to determine whether or not it could ever by ethically permissible
      • “To summarize, it must be confirmed that:”
        • “there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;”
        • “as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one's own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole - especially for pregnant women;”
        • “the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one's children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);”
        • “such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.”

Cooperation with evil diagram

Stephanie's analogy about taking kidneys from your own children to help the other sick children seems seriously flawed, because she equates “sacrificing a window of opportunity for conceiving a new child / temporarily sacrificing the space where your new child is biologically supposed to live” with “taking necessary resources away from your own children”. But as pro-lifers who know that life does not begin before fertilization, how does it make sense to say that sacrificing a window of opportunity of fertility, for the sake of saving another baby's life, is the same thing as taking away from your children… when those children have not been conceived and therefore do not exist? A better analogy might be this: Suppose there is a newlywed couple in the United States during World War II, before the US has joined the war. They have heard about what the Nazis are doing and are increasingly concerned about innocent people being killed, so they prayerfully discern, and the husband volunteers to fight overseas. They are, at minimum, sacrificing a window of opportunity for conceiving new children because of his absence; at worst, they are permanently sacrificing that opportunity, because he could die overseas. Would we say that his actions are immoral, because he has a higher duty to his potential future children, and needs to stay with his wife so that they can welcome children? I would certainly agree with Stephanie that his actions are “extraordinary care” in this scenario and not something that can be demanded of him, but it seems ridiculous to say that he cannot go try to save other people's lives just because doing so means sacrificing opportunities for procreating with his wife.