A Grandmother Considers 'Dignitas Personae'

As a pro life grandmother I am grateful for the moral teaching of the new Vatican Instruction, Dignitas Personae. I’d also like to voice to a few added points on family concerns.

First off, all of us who recognize the conceptus as a new member of the human family will be happy to find the embryos defended again. And once again it is good for our society to be reminded that reason and faith are valid sources of knowledge, possessing an authority more than equal to scientific theories.

When scientific technologies overreach and fall into immoral ways. then correction is necessary. Yes, it is important to encourage scientific discoveries and advances. but it is just as crucial to say "no" when sound moral reasons impel refusals. Remember Hiroshima and applaud the principles stated in this instruction.

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I would also like to add a footnote in regard to some few familial implications of harmful reproductive technologies. Extended family members, i.e. grandparents, also have an interest in reproductive practices producing the next generations.

For example, moral differences may exist over the acceptability of certain reproductive technologies within the closest of families. Thus IVF can be used, at least with no third party donations, and provoke problems. A grandmother can wonder about the fate of those related embryos stored in a distant freezer. The relief of infertility manifested in a blessed new grandchild is a good thing, but it is saddening to remember how many other embryos were lost in the process, or still remain in a frozen limbo.

Thankfully, in the best case scenario, no dreadful donations of left over embryos for experimentation are envisioned. Another pregnancy may take place but no horrendous embryo reductions of embryos in the womb will be likely in this event. And the same holds for problematic embryo adoptions.

What an irony it is to see that just as long overdue recognition of women’s suffering from infertility, miscarriage and spontaneous abortion, new reproductive technologies appear that induce massive losses of embryonic life. These losses are added to the millions lost in legal abortion.

How can pro-life women craft a personal faith response to this prevalence of abortion and destructive reproductive technologies? I start by recalling that my own non-Catholic family of origin approved and practiced abortion with no qualms. I know for a disturbing fact that at least two previous pregnancies before my conception were aborted. These secret abortions were done by a family friend who was a hairdresser.

So, are these long ago aborted siblings and other lost lives of beloved family members, lost forever? No. I believe the good news that no human life will be wasted or permanently extinguished, no matter how brief its duration. The billions and billions of miscarried, aborted embryos (along with the infants who die) will live again in God’s loving future.

With God all human life can be seen as precious--and it can also be seen as rare in the light of the trillions upon trillions of empty galaxies that exist in the visible world.

Surely we believers can now take a similar faith perspective on the fate of the millions of embryos being lost or frozen in destructive reproductive technologies. These lives of unfulfilled potential join all the other human beings who have suffered a foreshortened, blighted existence in the creation that is groaning into birth.

Hope, faith and courage should characterize our Christian response to this round of technological challenge. We should never be conformed to the world but always seek to be transformed as we work for the coming of the kingdom. In the midst of the labor we can be thankful for the steadfast witness of the teaching church.

Sidney Callahan

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8 years 10 months ago
Grandma Callahan, You need not worry over lost blastocoel lingering in laboratory freezers or dismembered in petri dishes. Stem cells are stem cells, whether they are embryonic or "adult". The chorion, which is removed to harvest the cells, becomes the afterbirth, not the child. Blastocoel are not even properly embryos, which occur after gastrulation. After gastrulation, development is directed by both genetics and the "creative energy" of the embryo - it soul. A blastocyst demonstrates no such guiding energy. Embryologists will tell you that hybrids are weeded out at gastrulation. Unless you are willing to grant that hybrids where one parent is not human have human souls, you need not worry about the remainder - which behave the same way. Finally, the vast majority of blastocoel that die do so before ever implanting - indeed, most do not implant. Unless you believe in a heaven or limbo full of these souls, you can safely believe that they do not exist.
8 years 10 months ago
I find Michael Binder's clarifications helpful while I concur with Ms. Callahan about God not wasting anything of creation. This mystery of the earliest life is a 'mysterium tremendum' but I need more imagination to see how this blastocoel is somehow a 'creature' glorifying God. The nexus of science and faith needs much thought on the part of theologians and scientists to be persuasive to me.
8 years 10 months ago
As to Evangelicum Vitae, I have been given to understand of late that it states that if there is doubt, we should presume life. Upon reading what the Encyclopedia Britannica says about Gastrulation in its Macropedia entry on Growth and Development - and then following the references to the relevant text - no doubt is possible - blastocoel cannot have souls due to the hybrid issue, which means that what I have said does not conflict with E.V. or the Magisterium to that extent. Any interpretation of E.V. that does not first confront what Britannica says is more an attempt at loyalty than truth and Catholics are not bound to support hubris if the factual issues are clear.
8 years 10 months ago
I don't think I've ever read a Sidney Callahan reflection I didn't enjoy. This one is no exception. Thank you for your eloquent thoughts.

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