Thursday 19 March 2015
Defending Human Dignity in Reproductive Health
Remarks of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations At the Conference on “Defending Human Dignity in Reproductive Health: Exposing the Dangers of Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Highlighting Successful Infertility Treatment Using the Billings Ovulation Method” United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library AuditoriumNew York, March 19, 2015
Remarks of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations At the Conference on “Defending Human Dignity in Reproductive Health: Exposing the Dangers of Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Highlighting Successful Infertility Treatment Using the Billings Ovulation Method” United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium New York, March 19, 2015Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,  I am delighted to join you this afternoon as we focus together on defending human dignity in the decisions surrounding the creation of human life and the love with which every human person deserves to be created, welcomed, and nurtured. That so many people use the expression “human dignity” in the discussion of human rights is truly a sign of progress in the ethical dialogue among persons and nations, but it is important at the same time that the phrase, and its underlying significance, never be reduced to flowery speech. Human dignity means something, and something very important.  When we speak about human dignity, we are referring to the intrinsic worth of every person no matter what race or sex, no matter how young or old, strong or vulnerable, healthy or handicapped, wanted or unwelcomed, economically productive or incapacitated, worldly influential or insignificant.  Every human person has this dignity by the very fact of being human. We bear that dignity at conception. Human dignity is not something that we acquire when we reach a certain size, birthday, or mental ability. It’s not given by the state, though it ought always to be recognized by the state.  Christians believe the ultimate foundation for our human dignity is our relationship to something far greater than the state, far greater even than ourselves. More specifically, Christians believe that human dignity flows from our relationship with God, who created us in his image and likeness and called us to live in communion with him and others.  For that reason, human persons are never reducible to the sum of their body parts, vital signs, or physical or intellectual attributes. They’re always greater because they’re always connected to something greater. Their worth is such that the only fitting response to them is love.  It’s important to remember in this age of rapid scientific and technological changes that human dignity is not a scientific category but an ethical one. It cannot be measured in a microscope or weighed on a scale, but it is just as real and its truth must be respected just as much as scientific discoveries. For science to serve rather than hurt us, we must always link what we can do to what we should do. Not everything that is scientifically possible is ethical, or personally or socially helpful.  When we examine the subject of human dignity with regard to human reproduction, we need to look, with the love that is fitting to human dignity, at the woman involved, the man involved, and the child parents hope to conceive.  Respecting the dignity of woman means accepting and valuing her at the level of her full humanity, including the maternal meaning of her femininity and the innate patterns of her reproductive cycle. Such rhythms — and the maternal ends to which they’re directed — are not fundamentally problems to be solved, maladies to be remedied, or worse evils to be rejected, but rather aspects of the woman that ought to be embraced as part of the reverence owed to woman in accordance with her dignity.  Various modern techniques of human reproduction do not respect this full dignity of the woman. They regard fertility and pregnancy as diseases rather than normal states of a woman. They reduce or reject, rather than reverence, the motherly aspects of a woman’s body and personality. They try to convince us that it is consistent with a woman’s dignity for her to become pregnant in a hospital by a doctor with a pipette in his gloved hands than as the fruit of an act of loving union with her husband and the father of their child.  I hesitate to use the graphic imagery, but we must have the courage and love for the dignity of women to speak forthrightly: every woman and man knows that something is not right about these modern techniques, no matter how strong the beautiful desire for a child, no matter how severe the suffering associated with struggling to conceive, and no matter how great the compassion we have for those in these circumstances. Such a means of conception is just not worthy of a woman’s dignity. A woman is not a biological specimen, but a person, and any interventions on her body and personality must be more than technologically effective, but respect her nature as a person and the dignity and love to which as a person she’s owed.  Men, likewise, have intrinsic dignity that must always be respected in attempts to help parents conceive. We must care for men enough to speak frankly: in many of the new techniques of assisted reproduction, men are reduced basically to serving as sperm donors, something demeaning of their personal dignity. Men are human beings, not horses, and any attempt to diminish men basically to purveyors of biological material is unworthy of their dignity. The fatherly nature of a man goes far beyond his providing 23 chromosomes to a future child. It involves a union of love with his child’s mother in raising the child, a union that extends far beyond the moment of conception. Many modern techniques of human reproduction are making man’s role increasingly superfluous, something contrary to his dignity as well as to the personal good of men, women and children.  Third, children’s dignity must be respected in the way they’re brought into life and treated after their life begins. It’s important to remember that each of us was once a one-celled embryo. We’re not any more human now that we’re bigger, older, and stronger than we were then. While our capacity to act in accordance with our dignity has certainly grown, our human dignity hasn’t. And society’s respect for that dignity ought to be consistent from the very beginning to the very end of every human life.  In accordance with human dignity, every child deserves to be conceived in an act of love between two parents who are totally committed to each other for the long term and to raising together those children arising from their interpersonal bond. While we know that not every child is conceived in these circumstances, and while a child’s intrinsic dignity is never reduced or eliminated because a child is conceived in any other way, it is nevertheless important for anyone who wants the best for children always to promote what is in most accordance with their dignity.  Speaking specifically about the context of human reproductive technologies from the point of view of the dignity of children conceived and the way that they are conceived, we can say that it is not inconsistent with that dignity for science to assist the couple to conceive in a worthy way with various of the techniques developed, like hormonal treatments, endometriosis surgery, the unblocking of fallopian tubes and other interventions. But it is another thing to replace the act of love altogether by conceiving a child in a laboratory, as well as by the buying and selling of eggs and embryos. To be consistent with human dignity, children must be begotten in love, not manufactured in labs. Children are persons, not products. We must respect the human dignity of children enough to state things straightforwardly.  We are already witnessing some of the terrible offenses against human dignity that occur when the starting point of the dignity of a child to be conceived in love in the natural way by parents committed to each other and to the child is ignored.  In fertility clinics, the majority of human embryos that are conceived through in-vitro fertilization are thrown away or deep frozen in liquid nitrogen to remain indefinitely. Others are manipulated to test for certain human genes that are desirable for parents — indeed with the intent to “produce designer babies” — while those that don’t meet those arbitrary criteria are generally discarded or used for experimentation, even experiments to clone human beings.  These offenses against human dignity all start with a failure to respect human dignity unconditionally at the beginning. Human beings must not be treated simply as masses of cells to be chosen or rejected, used or discarded. Once we refuse to respect human dignity at one stage of life, then there is no firm foundation to respect human dignity at any stage of life. Human dignity becomes arbitrary, something that some human beings have and others don’t. And once we start to give people the chance to determine when human dignity begins and ends and where it applies, there’s no guarantee that our own dignity will be respected if we don’t meet those judges’ criteria.  There’s another way to help couples who are struggling to conceive children. There’s a better way.  This way is much more consistent with respect for the full dignity of woman and her maternal nature, for the full dignity of man and the paternal meaning of his masculinity, and for the intrinsic dignity of every child.  This way — or in fact several similar ways —embraces women and her innate cycles of fertility so that these rhythms can be prudently and unselfishly used both to help conceive children as well as to space out the births of children when serious reasons exist.  That is why the Catholic Church proposes and teaches the use of means like the Billings Ovulation Method: It fully respects the dignity of the woman, the man and the child. The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations is thus happy to sponsor this conference. We will be hearing a presentation on the Billings Ovulation Method and how it respects the dignity and health of the woman in spacing childbirths and in helping couples struggling to conceive children.  We’ll also be hearing a presentation on the emotional problems, health consequences and other concerns linked to the business of the selling of human eggs and embryos, as well as the dark secrets of surrogate motherhood. I’m happy that you’ve joined us this afternoon for this important discussion.