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List of Articles

Why should a disabled baby be lawfully killed?

What really happened in the papal commission on contraception?

Bishops in bloomers?

4 You’re wrong! The sun does go round the earth

The great sperm famine

Raped by a television screen

Two mothers but one baby

Human skin cells turn into embryos

Why should a disabled baby be lawfully killed?

This is the leading article from the Catholic Herald (22 August 2008) on which readers have commented favourably. But you might like to add your own points developing or questioning what has been said.

David Cameron is a decent man. His full acceptance, together with his wife, of their seriously disabled son is heroic and holy. And it gives him the right to be heard on the subject. But in such an important matter we must listen to him critically.
He believes in a free vote in Parliament on matters of conscience – in this case the specific issue of late abortions for the disabled unborn baby. And the principle of the free vote, although abused by Labour in the House of Lords, is one which we support.
But the question he was asked was whether, when in power, he would work to end discrimination against viable handicapped babies in the womb at a stage of gestation when the unhandicapped would be protected. That does not mean a whipped vote but using the influence of leadership, and the provision of parliamentary time and facilities. Notoriously, these were used to promote the passage of the original abortion Bill.
Sadly, despite his admirable personal family decision it seems that Mr Cameron does not believe that he should take any steps to dissuade other parents from exterminating their unborn handicapped children. Since Cameron is a thinking man, we would ask him to think again. Why should a disabled baby be lawfully killed?
Let us be clear about the facts. We are not talking about what is misleadingly called a bunch of undifferentiated cells. We are not talking about a human being with a rudimentary nervous system. We are not talking about a baby who cannot survive outside the womb. We are talking about a baby who can live outside the womb and, in many cases, can be born at natural term. If there is no handicap the law gives protection: if there is a handicap the baby can be killed at will. If that is not discrimination against the disabled, then it is hard to know what is.
If those who defend the indefensible follow their logic through, they should argue that the extermination should be delayed until the baby is already born. After all, a year or two of experience would give the parents the opportunity to see whether this was what they really wished. But of course that would bring parents face to face with what they were actually doing. And that would be uncomfortable. But don’t be reassured: one day even that eugenic logic could be advocated.
We are aware that handicap in this context means “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. We are also aware of the interpretation which has allowed relatively trivial handicaps to be included. At the very least the new Bill, which will be open for amendment in the autumn, could clarify this in accordance with Parliament’s clear original intentions. Counsel’s opinion at the time (1969), obtained by the Medical Defence Society, was that “a child may be considered seriously handicapped if unlikely to be able to live an independent life when of an age to do so”. Incorporating this would not remove the fundamental evil, but it could at least lessen its occurrence.
Meanwhile, we should reflect on a more fundamental point. When a severely handicapped baby is born, the burden of looking after that child usually falls on the parents – and it is, as Mr and Mrs Cameron know only too well, a dreadfully heavy burden that can be lightened but not necessarily removed by love and assistance. Yet the question remains: to whom does the child’s life belong? The Church’s answer is that its life does not belong to any human being, but to God alone.


What really happened in the papal commission on contraception?

The last 40 years has seen, in western countries, a dramatic decline in
active Catholic membership, marriages and vocations. And many would
attribute in large measure this sorry state of affairs to the publication by
Pope Paul VI of Humanae Vitae on July 25 1968. Its ruling that the
established teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception should remain in
force rejected the firm recommendations of the Papal Commission which had
been studying the issue since it had been appointed by John XXIII. It first
met in October 1963.

Professor John Marshall, a distinguished neurologist who had spent much of
his professional life studying the science behind natural family planning
and working with the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (now Marriage Care),
was a founder member of the commission. Now he was digging into his
excellent memory. This could be the last time a founder member would be able
to tell us about a proceeding of deep significance to the Church. I asked
him if the task had been to examine whether the traditional teaching should
be modified.

“On the contrary,” he replied. “The UN was concerned with discussions on
population problems, and our job was to establish the firmest and most
coherent support for Catholic teaching based on good science and
demographics. I don¹t think anyone at that stage thought of any change in
the teaching itself. But our little band of six realised the need for
additional firepower. So when we reconvened we had seven additions.”
Five of these additions were theologians, including Joseph Fuchs and Bernard
Häring  theologians of international reputation. How important were the

“Not just important  crucial, as it turned out. Pierre de Lochte¹s
contribution proved to be a turning point.”

He continued: “The commission, urged on by the growing scientific knowledge
that only a small minority of acts of intercourse could lead to conception,
had begun to consider whether the issue should change its focus from the old
categories of the primary and secondary ends of marriage  and its sexual
expression, to the community of love in the marriage. And the question of
the structure of the marriage act did not of course apply to the Pill. So we
had to dig deeper, and it was de Lochte who clarified that we were now
dealing with questions of fundamental theology.”

I wondered whether that was when the commission realised that the teaching
would have to change.

“Certainly not. There was strong opposition to any change from some, and
even those who were prepared to contemplate it were initially very uncertain
and alive to the momentous consequences of change. I would describe it as a
gradual realisation by the majority over periods of long discussion and
thought. You must remember that by the time of the final general meeting in
1965, there were 58 members, and now included Catholic married couples.”

I asked him to summarise the outcome of these considerations.
“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?” But he did not need my
reply; he is a succinct man with a brain like a scalpel blade. “The short
answer is that we concluded that the foundation is married love which
expresses itself ideally and most fully in the generous procreation of
children, both in their conception and continued care. Taken within this
perspective the need for every marriage act to maintain its structural
openness to conception is not necessary and may, in many circumstances, run
counter to the virtue of prudence.”

I asked whether natural planning would not have offered a satisfactory
method of achieving these objectives without interfering with the structure
of sexual intercourse. He took the view that it was man’s vocation to invent
or discover ways of bringing order to creation. The use of the safe period
was just such a control of nature, as were barrier contraceptives or the
temporary suspension of fertility through the Pill. All such methods reduced
the fullness of the sexual gift in a sense but, used responsibly, served the
higher end of marital love.

Although he and others were well aware that natural family planning, as used
at that time, could be a problem for many, the presentation by the late
Patty Crowley (who co-founded with her husband the Catholic Family Movement in America) of a survey she had been asked to conduct brought, he said, a taste of reality to those who had little pastoral experience.
It brought home the fact that well-motivated, active, Catholic couples had
on the whole valued the method but that a large majority had also found it
had harmed their relationship in various ways. It broadly concluded that the
method was not suitable for all couples and probably unsuitable for almost
any couple throughout the whole of their married lives. It would be
difficult to repeat such a survey now in the light of improved methods,
since practising Catholic married couples who use natural family planning
exclusively are no longer representative of the general population.

It was Patty who was later to reply to Fr Marcelino Zalba’s question: “What
then with the millions we have sent to hell, if the rules are relaxed?” She
responded “Fr Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your

“Perhaps,” Professor Marshall said, “the real turning point came in April
1965 when the four theologians who were opposed to change admitted that they
could not demonstrate the intrinsic evil of contraception through natural
law. They based their case on the tradition of the Church, and the moral
laxity which contraception would introduce. Interestingly, the Pope cited
the natural law in support of his final judgment  but without giving any
further reasoning. And none has been forthcoming.”

The additional select group appointed for the final meeting to consider the
Majority Report consisted of six cardinals, 13 archbishops, one bishop and
the Pope’s theologian. The report was approved following preliminary voting
by the bishops on specific questions: was contraception intrinsically evil?
By a substantial majority the answer was no. Was the recommendation on
contraception in the report in basic continuity with tradition and the
teaching the Magisterium? By a substantial majority the answer was yes.
Subsequently, representations contrary to the Majority Report were made
privately to the Pope by those who believed that the doctrine could not, or
should not, be changed.

In view of the ultimate decision, I asked Professor Marshall whether he
thought that the Pope was determined from the first to reject any
recommendation for change.

“No, I believe it was an agonising decision for him. He was consistently
encouraging us to debate freely even when the developing trend of our
thought was reported to him. He was a man who was open to persuasion, and it
seems that in the end he was persuaded, by the so-called Holy Office, that the maintaining of the Church’s consistent authority was more important than the insights of the commission.”

“But might he not have been right in thinking that a change in such a firm
teaching would have been scandalous to many people, and eroded the Church¹s
authority?” I asked.

“Certainly there would have been many distressed people  particularly those
who were not aware that such changes in non-infallible teachings have
occurred in the past. As an example, the Council’s change in the Church¹s
teaching on freedom of conscience in matters of religion was even more
radical but did not attract popular attention. And the inevitable fuss would
have been as nothing compared with the long term effects of maintaining the

I wondered whether he was referring to the very substantial drop in Catholic
practice, marriages and vocations since then.

“Certainly that. Every survey has shown that around 90 per cent of Catholic
couples ignore the unqualified teaching of Humanae Vitae. And the most
recent widespread survey of parochial clergy showed that fewer than half
supported the total ban. We have the unusual but very destructive dilemma of
the Magisterium teaching a doctrine under authority and that doctrine not
being ‘received’ by the Church as a community. Perversely, the perceived
irrelevance of the Magisterium¹s teaching on marriage may have contributed
to the growth of the contraceptive mentality which is now so evident in
countries we think of as Catholic.”

I thought that the distinction between a doctrine being taught and a
doctrine being received had deep theological significance for the nature of
the Church. But that was for another occasion, so I asked Professor Marshall
to sum up.

“The papal commission could be described as an aberration. Asking experts
from relevant disciplines to study a doctrinal question and make
recommendations had never happened before  and it’s unlikely to happen
again. Yet there are so many problems. For instance, we are asked to tackle the shortage of vocations through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Excellent in itself, but it should be
complemented by a full-scale commission, making use of the Church¹s full
resources  clerical and lay. But I doubt if it will be.

“Frankly I am gloomy about the present prospects for the Church. The only
bright light is the growth of Eucharistic communities led by good priests.
That may be the future of the Church, as Karl Rahner suggested.”

The world has changed a lot in the 40 years since the publication of Humanae Vitae on July 25 1968. In many countries rates of abortion, divorce, venereal disease, births out of wedlock and teenage pregnancies have increased dramatically. In spite of the feminist movement countless women serve, often involuntarily, in what is described unthinkingly as the “sex industry”. The industrialised world puts intense pressure on developing countries to impose draconian population control policies that sometimes include forced abortion and sterilisation. And early contraceptive technology has paved the way for other scientific developments such as in vitro fertilisation, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation, all of which destroy human life in its earliest stages.

Paul VI predicted many of these developments in Humanae Vitae. And the encyclical’s supporters today often base their arguments on the terrible human costs of the sexual revolution. This is a powerful and often persuasive approach. But it has its dangers. The chief of these is that it can slide into consequentialism; in other words we present the dire consequences of the sexual revolution as the clinching argument for the truth of Humanae Vitae. It is far better for us to make the opposite argument: that the encyclical taught the truth about sexuality and that the devastating developments of the past 40 years might have been avoided if Humanae Vitae had gained widespread acceptance.

We infer that Professor John Marshall, who is interviewed on page seven, believes that Paul VI should have heeded the majority opinion of the papal commission on birth control, of which he was a founding member. We respectfully disagree. But we cannot contest the professor’s observation that “we have the unusual but very destructive dilemma of the Magisterium teaching a doctrine under authority and that doctrine not being ‘received’ by the Church as a community”. The crucial problem with Paul VI’s encyclical is that over the past 40 years we have not communicated its teachings effectively. Far too many people think of Humanae Vitae as “the encyclical that said No to contraception”, when they should see it as the encyclical that said Yes to the beauty of married love. As Pope Benedict XVI said in August 2006: “Catholicism is not a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost disappeared today. We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: we have a positive idea to offer.”

Thankfully, many gifted Catholic communicators have already taken up this challenge. Christopher West and Janet E Smith, to name just two, have helped to popularise the teaching of Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s profound Theology of the Body. Thanks to their efforts, and no doubt to the efforts of generations as yet unborn, Paul VI’s encyclical will eventually be widely seen as one of the bravest and most enduring statements of the 20th century.
(go to the bottom of this page to find Comments)

Bishops in bloomers?

Of course the Church has settled the matter by declaring that she has no power to ordain women priests. But, given the current fuss in the Church of England about female bishops, a thought experiment seems to me to be in order. What would be the outcome of having women clergy in the Catholic Church? I don’t want to get involved in theological argument here. I have my thoughts but they are not relevant to my purpose.

We can leave aside the enormous fuss and soul searching of contemplating and accepting the change – noting however that it might be particularly trying for previous Anglicans who had crossed the great divide. But since they converted because they had recognised the one true Church (didn’t they?) it shouldn’t really trouble them more than anyone else.

And we must look beyond the first generation or so because the pioneers of big social change often have to adopt extreme measures to succeed and may therefore be untypical. But twenty or thirty years later how might things be?

I would expect women clergy to be in a minority, and heavily weighted towards the diaconate. As a generalisation women seem to be less motivated by power and authority and more inclined to look for breadth of service. A weakness and a strength. But some would have risen, and there might well be a handful of bishops. There can be no reason for refusing episcopal status to those who are already priests – other than an unevidenced belief that women are unfitted for management.

But are women unfitted for management? Given that there are so many male managers whose incompetence is flagrant, I think it likely that any woman who could get through the stained glass ceiling would have exceptional qualities. I know of no studies which reliably show that, adjusted for variables, women are poorer managers than men. I would like to hear of any good studies. And of course there are some really first class female chief executives and entrepreneurs in the world of business.

On a prima facie basis it looks odd for a huge international organisation consisting of men and women to be run only by men. In the secular field one would expect that many of the decisions and value systems to lack the depth of understanding which women can bring. I do not say that the men would not try to include a female view, but they would probably not succeed. Women – again I generalise – place more importance on feelings and less on logic. They are impatient with theory and quick at identifying what really matters. They have less pride locking them into conservative but ultimately untenable positions. And certainly they would be better at understanding the needs and insights of rather more than half their of their constituency.

I know from long business experience that an absence of women at the boardroom table makes for a narrower range of considerations and poorer decisions. And you would be surprised at how much of what I write has been improved by the input of my wife or my daughters.

You might argue that this would not apply to an organisation like the Church but, since the Church is both human and divine, you would have to give some convincing reasons why it should be different.

But, as I say, this is just a thought experiment. So logon and do some thinking with me.


You’re wrong! The sun does go round the earth

Since this blog is liberal in its approach I thought I should include the introductory part of an email which was sent to me gratuitously last week. The remainder of the email contains supplementary information along the same lines. I felt that readers of Secondsightblog really ought to have this information.

The Christian Bible AND True ( non-hypothetical ) Science AND Logic declare:
The Sun Orbits the Earth Daily and
The Earth is NOT Moving!!
Facts: by Marshall Hall
* There is NO proof that the Earth rotates on an “axis” daily and orbits the sun annually. None.
* All calculations for eclipses, the space program, navigation, satellite
movements – anything that demands precision and accuracy – are based on a
non-moving Earth. Boiled down, heliocentric math is the same as Geocentric math.
* No experiment has shown the Earth to be moving ( much less at 30 TIMES RIFLE BULLET SPEED in solar orbit and at 250 times RBS around a galaxy. One would think such speeds would flap one’s collar a little even if the “science” establishment says no! )
* Multiple experiments have shown the Earth to be stationary.
* Revisionist history reveals the roles that Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Sagan et al have played in foisting this LIE on mankind.
* The logic against a moving Earth is overpowering.
* WORLD-CLASS astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle said take your pick between the two models.
* Copernicanism paved the way for Darwinism ( which then spawned Marxism, Freudism, Einsteinism and Saganism. )
* Star speeds are not a problem when the thickness of the universe is seen to be what it really is, that is, LESS than half a light day thick [ between 500,000 and eight billion mile radius ].
* NASA’s space program is labelled “Origins Research” and costs taxpayers mega-bucks. Computerized telescopes are programmed to send back “synthesized images”. The “image warper” permits “geometric transformations” while “origins technology… configures the multiple small mirrors…” in these telescopes. Talk about a con job!
* The Bible says The Earth is NOT Moving and cannot be moved. What’ll it be folks? False science as the source of absolute truth . . . or God’s Word?

(No, Marshall Hall is not the 20th century barrister, but describes himself as an “evengelical” or “fervent atheist”. Sagan is Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. He was a scientist with a flair for publicity, and his stance was sceptical.)


The great sperm famine

I pick up my newspaper this morning, 26 June, and I read of the shortage of sperm donors needed for artificial insemination. A major factor in the decrease is claimed to be that, from April 2005, children were given the right to know the identity of their fathers. So the reluctance of donors to come forward is understandable, for donated sperm can be used for up to 10 fertilisations. One would not care to receive approaches many years later from a small horde of one’s hitherto unknown offspring.
The morality, or otherwise, of artificial insemination is not the issue I want to address, but a more general point. Even the most secular in our society are prepared to grant dignity and rights to those whom they recognise as persons. But prior to this arbitrary recognition, they are cavalier. They are happy to accept hybrid embryos, or to speak of a bundle of undifferentiated cells, and to experiment in many different ways. They destroy, without further thought, any number of embryos. They use the term “potential” person as if, in this context, it means a possible outcome – much as we might describe a talented child as a potential lawyer. But here it means that the organism is a potential person in the sense that it is naturally ordered to become a person, given an adequate environment. Nor do they see that they themselves have a radical identity with the conceptus in their mother’s womb.
If this crisis over the shortage of donor sperm reminds people that the act of fertilisation, so casually undertaken, tends to lead, as night the day, to mature people walking down the high street, they might begin to consider the dignity and significance of the whole process of procreation from its very beginning.


Raped by a television screen

I am one of the few people who can remember the day that they were born. I can recall with clarity the telephone call to my granny’s house at tea time, announcing my safe arrival. A false memory of course, injected by accounts given to me when I was a child. But the probability is that a brain scan would show no difference whether the incident were false or true.
More seriously, a woman who claimed she was raped picked out her attacker with absolute confidence in an identity parade. In fact the man concerned had been on live television at the time, and her television was showing his programme while the incident took place.
Elizabeth Loftus, an American professor of law, tells us of hundreds of wrongful convictions of which the majority could be attributed to the false memory of witnesses. She even conducted an experiment in which a memory of a childhood incident was injected into subjects through suggestion. Although the incident had never happened it became a real memory for about 25% of the subjects.
It seems that the memories of witnesses to a crime can often be substantially modified by the wording or the way that questioning, either at interview or in court, is handled. And an immediate, but general, recall can be distorted as more specific questions are asked. The importance of corroborative evidence – other witnesses, CCTV, DNA etc – is clear.
Professor Martin Conway of Leeds University describes how what we remember of an incident is affected by the memories and assumptions that are already in the brain. These direct our attention to particular observations, and mean that, since each of us is different, so our memories of the same incident will be different.
This subject was most interestingly discussed on Radio 4’s Law in Action, broadcast on 17 June. I can only hope I have remembered the points correctly, but you can check the detail.
Of even greater interest to me is that it indirectly confirms that what we take from the world as it passes, or what we see on television or read in a book, is not objective. It depends to a large extent on our unique character and our previous experiences. We never see reality directly but only through our personal lens.


Two mothers but one baby

You might well blink. The idea that a child could be conceived, born and grow to maturity with two mothers and one father is a disturbing thought. Yet it’s already history. In the 1990s three-parent babies were conceived in the United States, with genetic material from two mothers, plus one father. The practice was swiftly banned but our enthusiastic British scientists are tackling the project again.
The female egg has two elements: the nucleus which contains the main genome and the mitochondria, which is sometimes described as the “powerhouse” of the cell. (There’s a detailed article on this in Wikipedia.) The mitochondria, it is now known, contain additional genetic material which can affect many human characteristics such as intelligence, energy and aging.
A mother with faulty mitochondria can produce children susceptible to many incurable diseases. These affect about one in 8000 of the population. The aim of the project is to replace the faulty mitochondria with a healthy version while leaving the nucleus intact. (Although the male sperm has mitochondria these are discarded, and play no part. This is how geneticists are able to trace long ancestry lines through female mitochondria since they are unchanged by a male element.)
The earlier American work had some success, but the British work is using a more efficient and safer method. Put simply, the egg from Mother A has the nucleus extracted, leaving only the mitochondria. Then the nucleus of the egg from Mother B is extracted and inserted in Mother A’s egg – which is then fertilised and implanted in Mother B.
From a biological perspective the project looks promising, and the results should be the birth of a healthy child rather than one destined to suffer from serious disease. However, much work needs to be done to ensure the safety of the procedure in the short and long term. And the long term is important because the foreign mitochondria will pass to further generations. But the odds are very much in favour of it becoming routine in the future.
A much fuller description appears in the 7 June issue of New Scientist – to which several public libraries subscribe.
There is, of course, no reason to question the full humanity of the person who is conceived in this way. But the usual moral issues arising from manipulating the normal process of human generation are taken to a further level by this tripartite parenthood. The tweaking or the insertion of additional genes, perhaps to correct a damaging characteristic, is hardly the same as incorporating something as substantial as foreign mitochondria which has deep and inheritable effects not only throughout the body, but also in the personality. Although we must accept that the intention of the scientists is a good one.
I feel that a conversation, attempting to explain to a child who its biological parents are, would be interesting to overhear. And a court case attempting to decide which parents would have responsibility for maintaining the child, and in what proportions, would make legal history.

Human skin cells turn into embryos

We have all applauded the developments and potential uses of adult stem cells because they do not involve the use of embryos, and so avoid some serious ethical problems. Techniques for manipulating adult cells have made good progress, and several therapies have been developed.
But there is an ethical cloud on the horizon. Some experts believe that it will be possible to take skin cells and turn them into gametes (sperm and ova). The result may very well be the conception of possible human embryos.
There are plenty of difficulties on the way. One of the most formidable is achieving meiosis. This is the process whereby the gametes, unlike other cells, retain only a single set of unpaired chromosomes. which, in fertilisation, combine to make a double set – each derived from the different “parent” gametes.
The prospect of achieving this is a decade or more in the future. But you might like to think of some of the ethical issues which arise – particularly as British biologists are likely to be leaders in the field.



About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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43 Responses to STOP PRESS

  1. Horace says:

    Can a cell have a soul?

    This is the sort of thing that I had in mind when I commented on “Cybrids and Hybrids”
    “Perhaps our attitude to genetic manipulation will similarly change with time as we get to know what we are really doing.”

    When I was a medical student ( in the late 1940’s ) I raised this very point with our lecturer, as I recollect a Fransiscan, and was told “because St Thomas said so!”.
    I never was able to verify the reference but was later told that St Thomas Aquinas considered ‘ensoulment’ to take place ‘when the body was sufficiently developed to receive it’, a very reasonable and logical suggestion! (As one would expect from the learned Doctor) This also must follow from the Eccles/Popper notion of the ‘liason brain’.

    I realise that ‘ensoulment’ is irrelevant to the question of destruction of the conceptus, but this sort of discussion does mean that things cannot be altogether simple.

    One should also think about the tragic cases of Siamese (conjoined) twins – and (again as a medical student) I was once present at the birth of an Anencephalic infant.


  2. Congratulations on being the first to comment on the STOP PRESS page. I hope that others will imitate. You probably realise that, if I post on the Home page, it goes in at the top – and pushes everything down. So I use STOP PRESS to prevent my latest article apparently disappearing from sight too soon.
    You raise two very interesting questions, and they both deserve treatment.
    Genetic manipulation depends to a large extent on what one means by it. Perhaps you could bullet-point some issues.
    The question of ensoulment, and therefore the nature of the soul, is truly fascinating. It’s one I would really like to get to grips with. Certainly theologians of great authority have had different views over the centuries. So we may not find any answers, but we can hope to identify some questions. Give me time!

  3. Horace says:

    I do not know enough about genetic manipulation to be really helpful.
    I do know something about the brain – which was my medical specialty.
    The case of the Anencephalic infant raises some very debatable points. This is a baby literally without a brain. Is such an infant a human person?
    The Working Group of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences produced guidelines on the definition of death as follows :-
    a) spontaneous cardiac and respiratory functions have irreversibly ceased, which rapidly leads to a total and irreversible loss of all brain functions.
    b) irreversible cessation of all brain functions, even if cardiac and respiratory functions which would have ceased have been maintained artificially.
    To me this implies that the accepted position for adults is that the death of the brain implies the death of the person.
    So presumably a baby with a dead brain is dead.
    But if the baby never had a brain at all?

    A school of thought, perhaps best exemplified by Sir John Eccles and Karl Popper, argues that the brain is the organ which mediates liaison between the body and the ‘self’ or soul.
    The ‘liaison brain’ is considered to be part of the neocortex and therefore presumably ‘neocortical death’ might be equated with death of the ‘person’. Such arguments seem perfectly reasonable to me.

  4. My provisional reaction is to agree with Horace that a baby without a brain could not have a soul. I write provisionally because I am trying to achieve a fuller understanding of all these issues. There is a good deal of material on all this to master. For example, is there a distinction between human life as such, and human life ensouled? There are different views, historically and currently, about the nature of the soul. Including its relationship to the mind. We can experience it as matured people through its effects – our consciousness that we have moral obligations etc. But it’s hard to get a handle on it.

    I will certainly write on this eventually but, as Horace will be the first to know, a simplified description which does justice to the question is something of a challenge!

  5. Iona says:

    The BMA medical encyclopaedia informs me that most anencephalic foetuses are miscarried early in the pregnancy; where the pregnancy does continue to term, most are stillborn; the few that survive usually do so for only a few hours at most.

    Does this make the question of ensoulment academic?

  6. Not quite, I think. There are some factors. If an anencephalic baby did miscarry but retained life if only for a few minutes, and if it it had a soul, would you baptise it?

    This is the sort of thing moral theologians are given to disagreeing about. For instance there are those who would claim that even a normal embryo/foetus requires at least the rudimentary start of a brain to appear in order to be ensouled. Others who don’t hold this to be necessary might still maintain that in an anencephalic there is no potentiality to have the characteristics of a soul, e.g., intelligence, freewill etc.

    In other words, I think we simply don’t know.

    The Church has taken a ‘safety first’ approach in similar matters. So, subject to correction, I would conditionally baptise it.

  7. I have been doing a little further reading on the anencephalic baby. At least one reputable theologian holds a view that the brain should be seen only as the vehicle through which the powers of the soul work. He therefore argues that the absence of brain does not preclude the rational soul. It simply can’t be expressed. Indeed a new born baby cannot act rationally but still has a rational nature. And similar considerations would apply with brain death.

  8. Mark says:


    I read Quentin’s interesting article concerning “Two mothers and one baby”. I had noted a news item from 2005 in which a team from Newcastle University received special approval for embryos to be created in this way, with genetic material from two mothers (at that time, the HFE Act from 1990 did not make any provision for this type of research, as it could not have been envisioned at that time). Again, as with the creation of the cybrid cells that has recently been passed in the HFE bill, the idea then wasn’t to implant these early embryos into the womb of the mother- they were designated for preliminary scientific experimentation, presumably with the intention of their destruction after 14 days, although the news item did not explicitly mention this. And so the same sorts of ethical issues concerning the destruction of embryos existed here as they do with IVF treatment, the creation of cybrids, etc. According to Quentin’s article it seems that now, in the U.K. too, measures are proposed for investigating means by which these modified embryos could be implanted (where I suppose we are looking at a modified form of the usual IVF procedure).

    Approximately 27 genes are contained in the mitochondria, compared with more than 25,000 in the nucleus, where most of the cellular DNA resides. However, defects in those 27 genes can lead to some severe debilitating diseases, such as various types of muscular dystrophies. Since the faulty mitochondria are effectively replaced by the genetically sound mitchondria from the second ‘mother’, in spite of various problems and technical difficulties that will need to be overcome, it would have to be acknowledged that the ultimate outcome of this type of research is likely to be that these mitochondrially linked diseases would be effectively eradicated. I would be personally more optimistic that this research will succeed in reaching its intended goals than the recently approved experiments involving cybrids.

    Nevertheless, I suspect that, after careful contemplation, this technique in principle would be considered by many to be, from a strategic point of view, unacceptably too intrusive, leading as it does to an individual that has a genetic imprint arisen from three “parents”. There are other real concerns, such as possible side-effects that would be passed on irrevocably to subsequent generations – even if the risk of the mitochondrial diseases has been eliminated.

  9. Horace says:

    I seem to remember that mitochondria are believed to be symbiotic bacteria which somehow became incorporated into animal (and human) cells. As such their DNA is not really human DNA – so what is the problem?
    There are, of course, still all the ethical problems of IVF.

    On a related subject I note – from John L Allen :-
    The Vatican is currently considering the issue of “embryo adoption,” according to a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and may release some sort of ruling shortly.

    More complications?


  10. It’s true that mitochondria have a bacterial origin, although many of the bacterial characteristics have been lost. But I do not see why this should alter its “human” status since it is present in the human gametes, contains some DNA, and affects the development of the human being in important ways. After all, normal nuclear DNA is biological or chemical in its origin and contains the code specified in combinations of four different molecules. As it happens much DNA is common to many species, including humans, although the same DNA can produce very different effects depending on its modifiers. The bottom line is that the human being has a unique blueprint (as do other species)which is formed from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA – which interact. Ironically mitochondria are the most efficient way of tracing the identity of the individual through its ancestral line, since only female mitochondria are uncontaminated by the process of reproduction.

    The adoption (and revival) of frozen embryos is indeed interesting. You can read more about this, and other issues concerning early human life, as discussed by the US Bishops at

  11. Mark says:

    Regarding Horace’s comment concerning mitochondrial DNA not really being human DNA, as Quentin has indicated it is true that, according to the best available evidence, if we can envisage an early, unicellular world approximately two billion years ago, ancient prokaryotes (probably ancestral bacteria) were engulfed by other cells, and the presence of the “swallowed-up” cells conferred an evolutionary advantage on those cells (perhaps, for example, in terms of how they were able to maximise their utilisation of energy). These engulfed prokaryotes, over a long time period, gradually lost their ability to exist outside of the engulfing cells, and became mitochondria. One of the functions of the DNA is to code for cellular proteins. You can imagine that, perhaps initially, there was a great deal of functional redundancy in the proteins encoded in the DNA of both the consuming and consumed cells (as they produced similar, or the same, proteins to perform identical functions). However, over time, the role of the mitochondrial DNA was largely taken over by the DNA in the nucleus of the cell, even including, to a large extent, that DNA which encoded proteins specifically needed for the mitochondria: transport processes developed to ensure that proteins required for the mitochondria were moved out from the nucleus to where they were needed. Therefore the 30 or so ‘residual ‘genes left in the mitochondrial DNA produce proteins that are specifically required for mitochondrial function – they are not functionally ‘vestigial’. Interestingly, all species containing mitochondria have a residual pool of mitochondrial genes; evolution has thus far not eliminated functional mitochondrial DNA (or the genes contained therein) altogether.

    Considering any human cell, since mitochondrial DNA remains integral to the overall functioning of the cell, it should be properly considered as being important, and forms a part of the “genome” (meaning the total genetic composition of the cell). Whether this is only a very tiny percentage of the total DNA is not entirely relevant, since its functional role remains distinct and important. From that perspective, I don’t necessarily see a clear distinction between “human” and mitochondrial DNA.

  12. tim says:

    The thoughts of the Professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle are of interest. The rebuttal “you think that because.. (you’re a Catholic, atheist, were dropped on the head at the age of 2, etc.) is always insulting and also much less convincing than a reasoned response to the arguments themselves. However, not being able to respond to the arguments (not knowing what they are) perhaps it is pardonable to raise the question of the professor’s interest. Newcastle is a leading centre of Hesc (human embryo stem cell) research, and has battled (often successfully) with the Government’s regulatory authority to remove ‘irrational’ limitations on this. Your comments above on human objectivity are in point.

  13. Iona says:

    Having followed Quentin’s directions to Wikipedia, I now know a lot more about mitochondria than I did before. Having read all the comments above, I know still more.

    Quentin initially questioned the parentage of the two-mothers-one-father child. In the case he describes, where the baby is carried to term by the woman whose ovum provided the nucleus, I’d be very inclined to say she (and not the woman whose ovum provided the mitochondria) is the mother. This is partly because of the intense physical bond between a pregnant woman and the baby she is carrying, and partly because (rightly or wrongly) I feel there is more core genetic material in the nucleus than in the mitochondria. If it were the mitochondrial-origin woman who was carrying the baby, I’d be less certain.

    Wasn’t there a case a few years ago when a “surrogate mother” who had carried to term a baby to whom she was not related (implanted in her as an early embryo) on giving birth refused to give it up to its genetic parents, on whose behalf she had obligingly lent her womb? How was that one decided?

    Is it REALLY likely that a nucleus separated from its own cytoplasm and implanted in the cytoplasm from a different ovum will “take”? How far did the Americans get with the experiment?

  14. In the American experiment apparently healthy children were born, but no one knows for sure that they will continue to be healthy. However the technique used was simply to inject mitochondria into normally fertilised eggs. So this was mixed with the original mother’s mitochondria. The experiments were outlawed by the authorities.
    The technique I described enables only the mitochondria from one ‘foreign’ mother to be used, with the nucleus from another. I understand it is still at the experimental stage, but is believd to be much safer than the American technique.

  15. Frank says:

    I have read that the pro-life organisations speak of embryos and foetuses as ‘persons with potential’ rather than ‘potential persons’. The latter suggests that embryos will grow into being ‘human’ ie. recognisable, but that there is a definite early stage when they ‘merely’ have potential; the inference is that during this stage it is licit to abort them.
    My favourite argument for stating that ‘personhood with potential’ occurs at conception is to ask why the Church does not call Our Lady (in the title of one of her greatests privileges) ‘The Immaculate 14-day old embryo’.
    A true horror story of sperm donation (though as ‘donation’ suggests ‘gift’, perhaps this is the wrong word for such an activity?) occurred in a small town in the US in the 1970s/1980s. A fat, bespectacled, curly-haired, blonde and highly respectable local doctor was managing to find many so-called (anonymous) donors for his female patients. Suspicions were aroused when many boys and girls in the town started growing into plump, bespectacled, blonde, curly-haired children. Then the truth came out.
    The most poignant story of ‘sowing seed carelessly’ I read comes from Kierkegaard: he says that as a young man he once went to a brothel – and forever after was haunted by the thought that he might be a father but not know it.

  16. Iona says:

    Re the Great Sperm Famine: – is it not extraordinary that children conceived through IVF have the right to know who their biological father is, yet (cf Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill) if they are being brought up by two lesbians they do not have the right to have a father at all?

    Current legislation seems to be full of such contradictions. A teenager in school cannot be given a mild pain-killer without parental consent, yet can be given the Morning After Pill (a hefty dose of artificial hormones, surely more dangerous than 500 gm of paracetamol) without parental knowledge, never mind consent.

    A baby can be aborted at 24 weeks for social reasons, yet if born prematurely (not intentionally aborted) at the same stage will have a team of medics working hard to save his/her life.

  17. Frank says:

    Iona has pointed out the problems attendant upon ‘do-it-yourself ethics’. If you don’t begin with unchanging principles i.e. that children need fathers and should know who they are; that parents should be the primary moral guardians of under-age children; and that life should be protected from conception, you will end up in chaos – as these examples show.

  18. tim says:

    Perhaps there is something to be said for the anti-Galilean view. For most practical purposes (terrestrial navigation – anything that’s not rocket science) the earth is fixed in space, and the sun goes round it. This must be what the author of the Bible meant: the idea that the earth was spinning like a top would have made no sense to most of the ancients, meant only confusion in the short or medium term and perhaps brought the sacred text into disrepute. We may assume that the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing.

    But can the thesis of the unmoving earth (as distinguished from the treatment of Galileo) be defended on other grounds? Perhaps. Doesn’t relativity say that there is no privileged frame of reference? If we choose the earth as our frame, then the rest of the universe is rotating about us at unimaginable speed, but this may show only the weakness of our imagination. One might argue theologically that the Earth is a specially privileged frame of reference, because it is the home of human beings, the species in which God became incarnate. I believe Newman was concerned about the Galileo controversy, feeling that too much had been conceded too early – could he have been right?

  19. Daisy says:

    I would find it easier to get my imagination around Tim’s idea that our frame of reference could be the earth, with the sun moving around it, if it was not part of the solar system and did not depend on the sun for its ability to sustain life. I don’t think I can fault his argument ultimately, and I take his point that in earlier times the writers of the bible had to use the language of everyday experience. But poor old Galileo turns up again and again in the hands of those who want to show the Church as the enemy of science. I feel sure that Tim has his tongue in his cheek. Or is his cheek simply around his tongue?

  20. Frank says:

    Didn’t the word ‘bloomer’ enter the dictionary with Amelia Bloomer who devised her own form of attire when bicycling? This is a digression.

    Everything Quentin says about women’s (often superior) abilities is true. If we were discussing a purely human institution there would be every reason to include women at the highest level. (Margaret Thatcher is apposite here). But the Church, I need hardly point out, is not merely a human institution. By ‘Church’ I mean, of course, the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church is a purely human institution so naturally they are free to legislate whatever suits the majority vote. The sadness is that some devout Anglicans have only recently begun to realise this. The good news is that they are free to join the Catholic Church. The bad news is that the Catholic Church often doesn’t welcome them as it should. (I have this on the authority of my pp, a former High Church Anglican, who is well up on the politics of both Churches.)

  21. Horace says:

    ” . . .it looks odd for a huge international organisation consisting of men and women to be run only by men”
    Is the job of priests, bishops and the Pope “running a huge international organisation”?

  22. RM Blaber says:

    Apropos the Sun orbiting the Earth, pace Copernicus and Galileo: it is quite feasible to argue for a Ptolemaic Universe, in many ways. The geocentric Universe is, in fact, the natural one, from our standpoint. It is the human, subjective, Universe.
    Think of the Earth as the centre, not merely of the solar system (or rather, the Terran system), but of the entire visible cosmos. This stretches out 13.7 billion light years in every direction to the circumference of an enormous sphere, which constitutes the Big Bang, which happened some 13.7 billion years ago. The sphere is expanding with time, and all distances inside it can be translated into times.
    Thus, when we look at the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), what we are seeing is light that is over 2 million years old. Telescopy is a form of chronoscopy!
    This is why it is nonsense to talk about distant objects, that might be millions, or even billions, of light years away, in the present tense, and say, for example, ‘The Universe is accelerating’. The most we can say is that it was accelerating (if it was), at some time in the past.
    It is also nonsense to say, ‘The Universe would look different if we went to the Andromeda Galaxy (or some other Galaxy)’. It might well, but since that is impossible, we can’t actually make the trip to confirm that.
    So, old Claudius Ptolemaeus didn’t get it so wrong after all!

  23. RM Blaber says:

    If the Pope decided that it was right to ordain women to the diaconate (presumably he’d do that first) and then the presbyterate and episcopacy, we, as faithful Catholics, would have to accept that, wouldn’t we?
    However, for reasons which he and his predecessors have already stipulated, he’s not going to do that, and I doubt that any future Pope will, either, so I see little point in the Gedankenexperiment.
    As for the Anglicans – they have made clear that there is no room for traditional Anglo-Catholics in their midst, so the latter will have to come to Rome, if they wish to retain their integrity. There is, as Margaret Thatcher famously opined, no alternative.

  24. RM Blaber says:

    Can a soul inhabit a cell? Well, the answer is ‘Yes’, obviously, and this is clearly the teaching of the Catholic Church.
    For the reductionist, rationalist scientist, however, the idea is a nonsense. He can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell souls, whether vegetable, animal or rational. Neither can he weigh or measure them. Consequently, as far as he is concerned, they simply don’t exist.
    It seems useless to point out that there are lots of other things that ‘don’t exist’ by this logical positivist criterion – love, for example, or justice, mercy, or beauty. A lot of mathematical ideas – even numbers themselves – are on pretty shaky ground!
    The fact that something is metaphysical rather than physical, and spiritual rather than material, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but so prevalent have materialist ideas and materialist thinking become that to assert that is almost to convict oneself of insanity these days, or extreme eccentricity at the very least! The tide will turn, but we have to remember that we are in competition, not just with secularism, but with militant Islam as well, and who knows what vicissitudes we must face there until we achieve our final victory?

  25. I assume Horace is questioning the term “management”. There are many things that management do. They set the basic objectives and mission. They maintain the values of the business. They make the general rules and give specific instructions from time to time. They are responsible for the proper maintenance of the structure and they approve directly, or indirectly, promotions and appointments. They decide to what extent the business will be authoritarian or how much responsibility they will devolve. They are responsible for morale. Etc.
    Now all these functions are also performed by the authorities of the Church. We may talk about the Holy Spirit guiding the Church, but we would do well to remember that the present Pope when he was a cardinal said, on Bavarian television, that we should be wary of praying the Spirit in aid because the Church had so often made unwise decisions that we would be unlikely to wish on the Spirit.
    The Church authorities are more than managers of course, but they are managers. And in its human face as an organisation it by and large manifests the characteristics of secular organisations.

  26. For R M Blaber.
    If my Gedankenexperiment (what a lovely word, I will use it frequently in the future) has any merit besides being a flight of fancy, it lies in the possibility that we would benefit from more feminine influence at all levels. There are already some excellent feminine theologians. Not feminist theologians but people who, not surprisingly, are able to bring additional dimensions to our understanding precisely because they are women.
    I spent much of my business life trying to promote women wherever possible, and often succeeding. I didn’t do this for fun but because their presence meant that we all did a better job.

  27. Horace says:

    Do the MANAGERS of the Church HAVE to be deacons, priests, bishops . . .?
    Certainly at parish level, and I suspect also at diocesan level, many management functions are carried out by lay individuals who are often predominantly women. Should we perhaps be suggesting that such people (and their responsibilities and powers) should be properly recognised and designated by appropriate titles?
    The diaconate, after all, started in order to give the apostles time to devote themselves “continuously to prayer, and to the ministry of the word (te diakonia tou logou).”
    So I repeat:-
    Is it the JOB of priests, bishops and the Pope to be “running a huge international organisation”?
    Another Gedankenexperiment?

  28. Trident says:

    Has Horace missed Quentin’s point? There is management and mangement. Yes, a good deal of low level management is already carried out by women. This is extremely important. But take the bigger questions – for example the English translation of the new liturgy (very badly handled) or the recent directives on the availability of the Latin Mass. I don’t suggest that female input would have made a difference here, but it certainly wouldn’t have done any harm. And look at exegesis. The Old Testament was unavoidably written, at the human level, for a patriarchal society. To discover the Holy Spirit’s true message it would be necessary to study it in terms of women as well. And that can scarcely be done without female input.

  29. Frank says:

    To respond to Trident’s point; I once read Sister Joan Chittister’s gloss on the Old Testament: horrendous! Full of ‘oppressive males’ and ‘oppressed women’. The OT must not become a department of ‘gender studies.

  30. Trident says:

    I agree with Frank that the OT must not become a department of gender studies. I don’t know the Chittister book. but I just wonder whether a woman reading it might react differently.
    I am not an expert on exegetics, but I understand some of it is based on the assumption that the human writer uses the context and culture of his time. Consequently the inspired meaning must be winkled out. The obvious example is the idea that the world was created in 6 days.
    Take the idea that Eve was created from the rib of Adam. We know now that the male chromosome is a de-natured form of the female chromosome. So, if anything, the sequence was the opposite. We don’t blame the writer because he expressed the story from a male-dominant point of view. But an exegete might argue that the inferiority of the female cannot be deduced from the account.
    I don’t know whether Frank regards himself as the head of his household, as the Bible says he should. But if he does, it may not follow that this should universally be the case. Need there be a head to a household?

  31. Lucius says:

    I think there is much flawed analysis in Professor Marshall’s remarks. Cooperating with the procreative reality of sexual relations is not the same as deliberately blotting out from sexual relations its procreative meaning and its essential connection with the marital unity. Once you do that all kinds of sex becomes licit because pleasure and emotional satisfaction became THE end of sexuality. Human nature says otherwise.

    Everything Pope Paul said would happen with the use of contraceptives has in fact happened: the demeaning of women, rampant marital infidelity and the lowering of moral standards, irresponsible men.

    I have difficulty in accepting the anecdote concerning Fr. Zalba about sending people to hell.

    I really cannot see what a commission is going to do about vocations. In going to the Blessed Sacrament we go to Christ Himself the source of vocations and generosity with God and conversions. How can a commission top that?

  32. Frank says:

    There is an old saying that the man is ‘head’ of the household and the woman its ‘heart’. This reflects the complementary nature of the sexes, their equal dignity and their difference. More I will not comment on my own household!

    I have read that Eve being formed from Adam’s rib is a nobler thing than being formed of ‘the dust of the earth’ like her husband. Esther and Judith are two great women of the OT, suitably honoured. The Song of Songs celebrates the union of Christ with His Church through the imagery of the sexual love between man and wife. So the OT is not all about ‘patriarchy’ as Sr Chittister (a militant feminist nun) and her devotees infer.

    Indeed, the creation of the sun and the moon could be translated as the male/female principle in cosmology (see the fascinating post by an astrologer in response to the article on why children need fathers).

  33. gerry says:

    “The population bomb… is a dud,” writes James H.
    Well, up to a point! Birth rates are falling in most regions of the world as more and more countries provide effective contraception for their citizens.
    Contraceptive use by couples, according to the United Nations, is over 60% in Europe, over 70% in North and South America, and over 80% in Eastern Asia. In these regions, in one, or two, or three decades time, it will be fair to say that the population explosion is a dud. The bomb will have been controlled.
    Happily for the argument, unhappily for the citizens, there is one region of the world where effective contraception is not easily available: this is Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan. In Afghanistan contraceptive use is below 5%, in Sudan below 10%, in Iraq below 20%, in Pakistan below 30%, and in Africa as a whole also below 30%. Many other countries in the region have similarly low figures for contraceptive use.
    Consequently, the population of Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan is increasing rapidly. In round figures, it was 300 million in 1950, 600 million in 1976, 1,200 million in 2002, and is expected to be 2,400 million in 2050, and onwards from there.

    That is to say, the 300 million people who lived in that region in 1950 have already increased by one billion (1000 million), and are expected to increase by another billion by 2050. When 300 million people increase by two billion in a century it is fair to call it a population explosion.

    It’s difficult to know what to do about these huge and ongoing demographic changes, but if the New York Times really does believe that overpopulation was “one of the myths of the Twentieth Century”, I’d advise changing to the Washington Post.


    Contraceptive use update

    The figures in my Reply above are from the UN 2005 Contraceptive use chart. The 2007 chart is now available. My apologies for not being able to access this chart earlier. There are two changes:

    There has been a substantial increase in contraceptive use in Iraq, from 13.7% of couples in 1989 to a preliminary or provisional estimate of 49.8% of couples in 2006.

    In Afghanistan contraceptive use by couples has increased from 4.8% in 2000 to 10.3% in 2003.

    All the other figures for contraceptive use and population are unchanged.


  34. Some of you will know that, owing to pressing a careless key, I sent a number of comments off into the blogosphere, never to be recovered. This was particularly a pity in the case of the Marshall interview as your views here are very important. I will attempt a short summary, but, as I rely on memory, please forgive me for omissions and be ready to correct my mistakes.
    There were some excellent points being made on the effects of the population explosion in the Third World. But the point was made that disaster from over population has often been prophesied but never come to pass. My own feeling is that we put far too much emphasis on reducing carbon footprint (which will make, at best, a minor impact) and put far too few resources into the technologies, of all kinds, to cope with what we expect to happen both in terms of population and global warming.
    There has not been as much discussion as I would like to have seen on the matter of Humanae Vitae, and the views of the commission. This is not merely a question of the strength of arguments or the validity of the Magisterium’s teaching – though I do not forget a strong comment that an inappropriate reliance on conscience turns us into a Protestant direction in which everyone can pick or choose which bit of the faith he pleases. But there is also a most serious problem when a deep divide occurs between official teaching and its acceptance by the Church as a body. That this has happened is a fact. There have already been unfortunate consequences, and undoubtedly there will be more.
    In the later responses we were beginning to look at a key phrase in HV (which is a repetition of the same phrase in Casti Connubii): “The Church…teaches as absolutely required that any use of marriage whatsoever must retain its natural potential to procreate human life.” The “whatsoever” is italicised in both the English translation and the official Latin equivalent.
    Absolute and unqualified rulings are a hazard because, by definition, they must withstand the most extreme examples. Thus a young married couple, one of whom is infected with HIVAIDS, must live a life of celibacy – if the marriage survives. The same is true when one member is so physically incapacitated that penetrative intercourse is impossible. Natural Family Planning may solve the problem in some cases, but it cannot do so for all. Yet no convincing argument, it is generally agreed, has been proposed to support this rigorous teaching.
    It would be interesting to read how contributors tackle this question, and what arguments they would use for and against.

  35. Horace says:

    Consulting Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubii – both documents from the Vatican Website I cannot find this “key phrase” [“The Church…teaches as absolutely required . . . . ] although the point is obviously made.
    Can anyone give me Section and Paragraph numbers?

  36. Horace should look at the foot of Section 11 of Humanae Vitae. The italicised phrase “any use whatsoever” comes from the 1968 CTS translation. It is accurate but here for safety is the Latin: …id docet necessarium esse, ut quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat. (quilibet matrimonii usus is italicised).
    In Casti Connubii the equivalent is in Section 56.
    The current Vatican site translation of HV is: “The Church.. teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”

  37. RM Blaber says:

    ‘The Church… teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.’
    Why? What is it about procreation that is so essential? The planet is already groaning under the weight of the human beings in existence now, and if the demographic projections of the US Census Bureau and the UN are correct, and the world’s population reaches 9 billion or so by 2045, we face a Malthusian Catastrophe. Literally billions of people could die. There could be war – a World War, even, which would almost certainly entail the use of WMD and make the last one look like a tea party.
    The Church, far from doing anything to prevent this, is making matters worse. It is, in effect, telling people to ‘Reproduce, reproduce – it is your duty to reproduce!’ Go forth and multiply, indeed. Is the idea to hasten Armageddon? Does the Vatican and the hierarchy really want to see all those billions of people die of famine, thirst, disease and war?
    Far from procreating more, we need to procreate less – a lot less. That means artificial methods of birth control, and a recognition that human sex is primarily unitive and hedonic, and only secondarily reproductive. There is no moral imperative to procreate – indeed, on the contrary, at the moment there is a moral imperative not to.

  38. gerry says:

    Quentin is not quite right in writing that “disaster from over population has often been prophesied but never come to pass.” The Save the Children Fund website opens with “hunger and malnutrition are leading causes of death around the world.”

    The World Food Programme map shows the countries where over 35% of the population is undernourished. Almost all are in sub-Saharan Africa, almost all have doubled their populations twice since 1950 and are expected to double them again by 2050, that is to say almost all will have increased their populations nearly tenfold in the century 1950-2050. (Tajikistan and North Korea are the exceptions to these generalisations) Undernourishment at over 35% is a disaster for the country involved.

    And this malnutrition and hunger will get worse as the population doubles once again.

  39. Let me take the coward’s way out. I think I was quoting from a remark made by another contributor. But I would like views, particularlly from Gerry, on the argument that the best way to set about the problem is to work to increase the general standard of living of thse vast areas which have these problems. That is, as societies make industrial etc progress, so they no longer feel as dependent on a multiplicity of children to support them in old age. And of course they begin to divert their growing incomes to consumer goods (not an unmixed blessing). And so the rate of population growth declines. This is of course a long process and, in the intervening period, there is an mismatch as infant mortality and the longevity of the old improve before people fell confident enough to reduce family size. In the longer term again we get the First World problem of the total fertility rate being well below population replacement needs.
    I have no particular brief for Gordon Brown but, as far as I can see, he has been the strongest political advocate on increasing Thirld World resources.

  40. gerry says:

    Thanks Quentin.

    “Prosperity is the best contraceptive” is one of the two commonest reasons given for putting off the provision of effective family planning to the poor. It implies that the poor must wait until they are wealthy enough to purchase family planning for themselves, or until the state is wealthy enough to provide free family planning. How long will this take? A century at least, but doubling has been happening four times as fast as that, and is still happening twice as fast. Wealth creation can never keep up with this rate of population increase, unless enormous oil deposits provide huge wealth, and even then wealth creation can keep up with population growth only for a time.

    There seems to be a belief, behind the idea that prosperity is the best contraceptive, that prosperous people do not need family planning. In fact, they need it almost as much as the poor. If they did not have it, the population of wealthy countries would start to double repeatedly and they would soon not be prosperous.

    (The poor need family planning more than the rich. Thomas Roberts SJ one-time Archbishop of Bombay put it like this in ‘Search’ April 1964: “A typical case: an Indian lives in a mud-hut with his wife and several children, too poor to be able to afford any light and forced to be with his wife every night for twelve hours in the dark and having nothing else at all but her love.”)

    The second commonest excuse for not providing the poor with family planning is ‘we must educate the women first’. This involves nearly as long a wait as the wait for prosperity. Suffice it is to say that the women of the Gaza strip have been well educated for two generations and their fertility rate at 5.5 is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, this week’s British Medical Journal notes: “In Iran, where the total fertility rate (“average family size”) declined from 5.5 to 2 (replacement level) in just 15 years, all couples must learn about family planning before marriage and contraception is endorsed by the pronouncements of religious leaders.”

    Fifty years ago, the governments of – at that time – poverty-stricken South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan saw the need for effective family planning. They are all now prosperous. Most countries of the Far East soon followed their example and are becoming prosperous. They are quick on the uptake over there.

  41. Gerry, delighted to see your reference to Archbishop Roberts. He once consecrated my youngest brother Pope Paphnutius I (though I have seen no signs of infallibility in him yet). And it was Roberts whose first, prophetic, comment to the media after HV was “The encyclical was dead before it hit the ground.”
    Teaching the poor how to control the size of their families is a necessary but not sufficient objective. (And much work has been done by Catholic agencies in this regard.) But a deeper need is motivation. While the poor see large families as their source of care in times of dependency, or believe – often correctly – that many of their children will die in infancy, this motivation is lacking. It is only when stable economic structures are in place, and trusted, that this will come about. Even then it will be slow because traditions take time to dissipate. I am only arguing that the problem must be tackled holistically and that placing too much faith in contraceptive knowledge may be seen as a substitute for correcting more fundamental causes.

  42. gerry says:

    Thanks Quentin,

    Yes, holistic – i.e. firing on all cylinders – wealth creation, and education, and family planning.

    Almost every week for half a century we have seen newspapers adverts from aid agencies urging us to help the poor, bringing them prosperity and education. Millions of us contribute. We ought to wonder why we are not succeeding. One of the reasons is that not for 40 years have I seen an aid agency advert about the need for family planning.

    Poverty stricken countries have been urged to go for prosperity and education. The four Asian tiger economies have gone for prosperity, education, and family planning. The result can be seen by comparing GDP per capita in 1960 and 2005.

    In 1960, Yemen, Tanzania, and Mozambique all had a higher GDP per capita than Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. By 2005, Yemen’s GDP per capita had fallen from $924 to $798; Tanzania’s from $509 to $328; and Mozambique’s from $463 to $344. On the other hand, Hong Kong’s GDP per capita had risen from $429 to $25,603; Singapore’s from $393 to $26,676; South Korea’s from $155 to $16,387.

    (Hong Kong, a colony for over 200 years, ended up richer per capita and with a longer life expectancy than the UK.)

    Now, I’m told, that GDP per capita is only a very rough guide to a nations real wealth, and many other important factors come into it, but the changes are so huge that we ought to consider that the absence of family planning in the first group and the availability of family planning in the second group played an important part.

    In most of sub-Saharan Africa the unmet need for contraception – women who say they do not want any more children or who want to delay the next child – is about 25%. In Uganda, over one-third Catholic, the unmet need is 40%. (Cardinal Wamala of Kampala, who resigned in 2006 when he reached 80, was fiercely anti-contraception.) We could start with providing help to these poor women with their unmet need and then the ones who believed they needed many children for their old age would soon follow. It is fifty years too late, but it would show willing.

  43. Frank says:

    Thank you for highlighting the CH’s excellent editorial on the question of handicapped babies.

    David Cameron’s position is the default one these days: I might personally find something wrong or distasteful, but who am I to judge other people, still less make legislation on the basis of my own private views.’

    This leads straight to your latest debate on (the then) Cardinal Ratzinger’s paper on conscience and truth: conscience requires us to search for Truth – not my truth, your truth or David Cameron’s truth. Otherwise ethics becomes a free for all – as we see today.

    Incidentally, I note that Fr Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life in the US, shows unrelenting reasonableness and logic in his arguments against the ‘pro-choicers’. This, coupled with grace and prayer, has made many converts. We must never give up on good people who hold erroneous views, i.e. the David Camerons of this world.

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