Conscience and the Dignity of the Human Person

davinci_person.jpgIntroduction
Almost everyone agrees that we ought to respect persons. They think we ought to do so because persons are not “things” that can be disposed of at will. They regard them as beings of moral worth, with a dignity that ought to be respected by others and endowed with rights that ought to be recognized and protected by civil authority. Surely almost all Americans make their own the “self-evidence of the truth” affirmed in the Declaration of Independence that “[all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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Father Ford, Paul VI and Birth Control: Germain Grisez Offers New Light on the Papal Commission

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Anyone interested in the rise of the phenomenon of public dissent by Catholics from the Church’s moral teaching in the last 40 years is familiar with the controversy generated by the publication of the papal encyclical "Humanae Vitae" issued by Pope Paul VI on July 25, 1968.

That publication was preceded by five years of careful review on the part of the Pope on all sorts of questions related to the regulation of birth. Part of that review was entrusted to a study group made up of ecclesiastics and experts, popularly referred to as the "Papal birth control commission."

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Hard Cases for Defenders of Abortion

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There are several “hard cases” that advocates of abortion find difficult to justify. In the recent, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice (New York/London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, Routledge Annals of Bioethics, 2011), author Christopher Kaczor identifies these contradictions of reason as 8 “hard cases.”  The first two cases he treats, 1. murder of pregnant women, and 2. sex selection abortion, I will consider for this essay and elaborate with material of my own.

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Surgery in the Womb for Babies with Spina Bifida

william_e_may.jpgSurgery of this kind in the 1980’s
Spina bifida is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryo’s neural tube. Some verterbrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. This can cause long term mental and physical crippling to the child and at times death in the womb due to the build up of fluid and swelling in the brain.

In the 1980s it was possible, using prenatal screening, to detect neural tube anomalies such as spina bifida and then to perform a therapeutic action on the developing unborn child in the womb.  The most common procedure to treat this anomaly was to insert a shunt  into the child’s brain to drain the fluid thus releasing the pressure and providing great benefit to the child’s neurological and physical development.  In fact, at a hearing at the US Senate sometime in the mid 1980’s, sponsored by then pro-life Senator Gordon Humphrey a couple and their physician, with the child—at the time a born baby girl resting on her mother’s  lap—gave testimony in which they described the wonderful surgery that had been done on the child while still in the womb after a prenatal diagnosis had shown that she had suffered from a neural tube defect and that fluids were building up in her cranium, exerting pressure on her brain. This timely intervention was successful in minimizing the harm this girl suffered after birth, and the surgical intervention posed no serious risks either to the child or her mother. The child still needed to have a shunt to remove fluids from her brain after birth, but she did not suffer debilitating mental deficiencies and other symptoms associated with spina bifida.

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