Mary and Reproductive Ethics

Recently a N.Y. Times Magazine cover story described a pregnant woman’s decision to select, i.e. destroy by fatal injection , one of the fetal twins she was carrying.   Her doctor approved her choice since with her other children and her age she did not want to care for more than one child.  Ironically, her pregnancy was a high tech intentional procedure using a donated egg.  This case highlights the culture’s pressing ethical question:  why and how should humans reproduce? 

In the midst of wrestling with these reflections, the church celebration of the Marian Feast of the Assumption came round.  This time the gospel narrative of Mary took on a new relevance and sparked thoughts on the ethics of reproduction.  


I’ve always  been impressed with the revolutionary freedom of Mary’s assent to pregnancy.  Unlike women before her, Mary consciously consents to her pregnancy not in order to please a husband, or her parents, or to prove her fertile prowess and gain maternal pleasures, power and suport for old age.  The motive of Mary’s intentional planned pregnancy is cooperation with God’s creative new work of love and mercy.

Granted, that in giving birth Mary will also receive intense happiness and joy in bringing God's good word-- but not without the potential costs of love.  This commitment to giving rather than getting is the foundation for a morally worthy ethic of human reproduction.  Those in need are put first and protected.  No abortions, no lethal selections and no infanticides should be countenanced. 

Yet when Mary asks “How can this be?” she recognizes that an unprecedented new events can be accepted for human beings.  No other species can consciously know, plan or assent to their reproduction, much less intervene to further fertility, pregnancy or childbirth.  Human consciousness, awareness, rational planning, intention and new inventive methods for aiding reproducing are being validated as good news.

But humans in their freedom can abuse new scientific knowledge and technology when destructive technical procedures can be employed. While  selecting or killing a fetal twin in the womb is as lethal as elective abortion,  it seems more  clearly wrong--especially when the pregnancy has been technologically produced.   Perhaps this case can serve as a wake up call for the culture.  Which new reproductive procedures are to be welcomed as human blessings and which should be prohibited? And why?

Sidney Callahan


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Bill Collier
7 years 4 months ago
Which new reproductive procedures are to be welcomed as human blessings and which should be prohibited?A very thoughtful reflection about a disturbing issue, an issue that has unsettled even some pro-choice notables such as William Saletan. I can't help wondering what the surviving twin or triplet would feel-and they would be no less a twin or triplet though their siblings were intentionally destroyed-if they were to learn of the reduction procedure and the randomness of who lived and who died. (The NYT article described a doctor attempting to move at random one of the fetuses into the range of his needle.) I would think that such knowledge could be devastaing to a survivor, even if accompanied by a parent's statement that it was done to provide the survivor with a better life. 

This is twice in the last few months that the unsettling nature of abortion has gained traction in the media. Mara Hvistendahl's book ''Unnatural Selection,'' on the selective abortion of females and the demographic time bomb that results when sex ratios are significantly skewed, perhaps unintentionally awakened some people to a another seamy side of the right to abortion. The pro-choice Ms. Hvistendahl's solution-that the sex of the child should be withheld from the parents until well into the third trimester-would seem to run directly counter to the right she so vigorously supports. 

As to ''[w]hich new reproductive procedures are to be welcomed as human blessings and which shouldbe prohibited??, the more I read the Vatican's 2008 instruction ??D?i?g?n?i?t?a?s? ??P?e?r?s?o?n?a?e?,??''? ?t?h?e? ?m?o?r?e? ??I? ?a?m? ?c?o?n?v?i?n?c?e?d? ?t?h?a?t the Church's bioethical demarcations in that document are correct. In addition, as the instruction notes, the “fundamental ethical criterion” that must be used “to evaluate all moral questions which relate to procedures involving the human embryo” is that “’the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say, from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality,” and “’therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.’” DP, para. 4 (quoting from “Donum Vitae”). According to DP, “[t]his ethical principle, which reason is capable of recognizing as true and in conformity with the natural moral law, should be the basis for all legislation in this area.” DP, para. 5.      ? ? ??? ??  
Bill Collier
7 years 4 months ago
Sorry...The electronically garbled sentence in the third paragraph above (I am powerless to correct any garbled logic on my part) should read:

As to "[w]hich new reproductive procedures are to be welcomed as human blessings and which should be prohibited," the more I read the Vatican's 2008 instruction "Dignitas Personae," the more I am convonced that the Church's bioethical demarcations in that document are correct.

7 years 4 months ago
A great issue to bring up and reflect on.   Thank you.   We are part of the culture, we should be aware what we bring into it, and what we allow to flourish in it.  It is our duty as Catholic Christians.   I think this is what Jesus meant when He taught us the Lord's Prayer....."Thy kingdom come"  .... He wanted God's reign part of the culture.
Paula Van Houten
7 years 4 months ago
Thank you for this well-written commentary.  You wrote, ''The commitment to giving rather than getting is the foundatin for a morally worthy ethic of human reproduction.''  The commitment to giving rather than getting is the foundation of all life.

As a mother of twin daughters, I'm afraid my reaction to the New York Times article was completely emotional.  I could not even read it.  I took one look at the cover and threw the Magazine into the trash.


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