Homo Sapiens Artificialis

Here is an interesting issue to examine: what moral judgment would you make about the use of three parents to one child? This is not a science fantasy but a genuine question which could lead to a change in the law.

It concerns mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Both ova and semen carry mtDNA but, at conception, only the female version is passed on. So, unlike nuclear DNA, it is not altered with every new generation – but is inherited complete. The reproduction is so accurate that it can identify the remains, say, of close relatives. It is frequently used in forensic investigations.

Unfortunately mtDNA can get damaged – and a child inheriting damaged mtDNA can suffer from very major problems. In theory (and, in some non-humans, in practice) it is possible to take an egg from a mother with healthy mtDNA, remove her nuclear DNA and replace it with the DNA of the would-be mother. The egg would then be fertilised by the prospective father’s sperm.

Since mtDNA can pass identically from mother to child and so on, it cannot be regarded as personal in the sense that nuclear DNA is unique to an individual (or identical twin).

In looking at the moral questions raised, some considerations arise.  Is this is a legitimate interference with the dignity of the natural process of conception? Is introducing a third progenitor into a process, which is normally confined to father and mother only, legitimate? And, if this methodology should be introduced, will it be a further step which will be used as a precedent for more questionable manipulation of the procreative process?

All these questions are important because they relate eventually to synthetic or artificial biology. Suppose that you want a substantial amount of spider silk thread. It’s not practical to use spiders, so you insert the thread-making gene into a goat which then makes spider thread, which can be extracted in quality from their milk. You could call it a goat-spider.

Last year, Craig Venter – a pioneer in genetic matters – succeeded in creating a living cell with the help of DNA constructed by a computer. And indeed you can purchase, at a high price, the building blocks of synthetic biology, and string them together as you wish.

The law controls such procedures when applied to human beings, and the triple parent approach described is banned. But currently the question of it being permitted in future is under discussion. So what comes next? The capacity to modify home sapiens radically is already possible theoretically, and will certainly come within practical reach – and maybe quicker that we think because digitising biological processes cuts many corners. But each step of the way there will be sensible arguments, often based on compassion, just like the need for healthy mtDNA. And the law will accommodate.

So should we stop right now? Is it possible to stop right now? If we do not stop right now at what stage of manipulated human biology will we stop?

There is a good account of the consultation on triple parents and mtDNA to be found at, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v481/n7382/full/481410a.html



will tell you about the damage done by faulty mitochondria.



About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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72 Responses to Homo Sapiens Artificialis

  1. tim says:

    Where do we stop? Like the Irishman in the joke, we shouldn’t start from here. We should have stopped earlier. Namely, by forbidding IVF. However, this was so obviously capable of giving great benefits to couples desperately wanting children, that this was never a practical possibility. I doubt whether it will be a practicable possibility to stop here – and will be interested to see how many say we should.

    The modern world (in Britain, at least) seems to be whole-heartedly utilitarian. If something can lead to a result perceived as useful, few will entertain arguments against it. I attended a discussion last night about the Brüstle case, recently decided by the European Court. This case decided (following what I had thought was a quite clear provision of a European Directive) that processes involving the destruction of human embryos were unpatentable (not, mark you, that these processes were illegal – merely that if you invented a new process of this kind, you couldn’t patent it). The panel comprised a chairman, a scientist, a lawyer and a philosopher. The philosopher was fairly neutral. All the rest of the panel (chairman included) vehemently deplored the decision. Of an audience of 200 odd (mainly lawyers), only one spoke in support of it. The scientist regretted the decision, because his work with human embryo stem cells would not (in the absence of patents) get commercial funding – and so, he claimed, wouldn’t happen. He believes (and convinced the panel and the audience) that his work would stop millions of people losing their sight. That was sufficient to settle the matter for the two lawyers on the panel.

    Conversely, many people seem to be very concerned about genetic modification of plants and animals, and I expect to hear more about this from other contributors.

    • Nektarios says:

      I agree with your guarded response Tim. Reading between the lines, betwixt the panel and the audience of 200 response, reminds me of a story that highlights what these geneticists are really up to.

      There were some geneticists digging around in the ground in the valley of Mesopotamia,
      God drew near and said, “Hi Chaps, what are you doing digging around here?”

      One of the geneticist’s looked up and said, “What are you doing here? We don’t need you anymore. Have you not heard we have broken the genetic code and so you can buzz off, we don’t need you anymore, for we can now make Man in our own image.”
      God,being gracious and gentle, that He is, retired from them.

      Three weeks later these same geneticists are still dgging around in the valley of Mesopotamia.
      God drew near. ” Still here chaps?”
      “Look, said one of the geneticist’s we told you before, we don’t need you anymore so buzz off.”
      God asked, ” But can you tell me why you are digging around here for three weeks?”
      The geneticist replied, ” Well, if you must know, we are looking for the dust which you created Adam from, then we can patent it and patent the man we will make.”

      “Ah wait a minute, said God, you cannot do that.”
      The genticist angrily turned and said, ” Listen – you are history, now we can do whatever we like and you can’t stop us.”
      ” And What have you got in those bags, asked God?”
      Just sand and earth and dust, and we will take it back to our labs, patent it, and use it to genetically make man in our image.”
      God said, ” You cannot do that, You cannot take away the earth and dust from here and patent it..
      “Why every not, asked the geneticist?

      God replied, “THAT DUST IS MINE; make your own dust!”

  2. st.joseph says:


    I like it!

    • Nektarios says:

      st. joseph

      Glad you liked it, but sadly the sombre truth is that is precisely what lies behind
      the geneticist philosophy.
      The sop given to Government, the media and the general public is it will get rid of
      genetic deformaties and so on – this keeps the funds rolling in for their research.
      These possible spin offs mask all the real goals they have in mind.

      We will no doubt discuss the ethical and moral issues this journey the geneticists are taking in due course.
      Keep well,

  3. Vincent says:

    Is it significant that there is plenty of discussion on original sin – which involves looking at the past and rather theoretical issues, while – so far – discussions on practical decisions about how our society should use new knowledge about genetics seems to have attracted little attention?
    Leaving aside the moral problems always caused by IVF, I wonder if there is not more to be said about the use of a third party’s mtDNA. The phrase “three parents” is misleading. The mtDNA contribution is only concerned with the proper functioning of cella, (mtDNA is often called the cell’s powerhouse). There is nothing personal, only functional about it. (I speak subject to correction by the experts.)

    Would we object if someone had gene damage causing Down Syndrome, and the doctors replaced the damaged genes with healthy ones — even if the healthy genes were downloaded from a computer?

    • tim says:

      I see no objection to treating an individual with Down’s Syndrome by replacing his damaged genes with healthy ones (assuming, for argument’s sake, that such a thing might be possible). This is obviously different from what is done at present – whereby individuals are tested at the embryonic stage to see if they have defective genes, and if they have they are disposed of.

      • milliganp says:

        Your comment about Down’s Syndrome is offensive to those with the condition since it implies they are in need of improvement. We have some half dozen parishioners with this condition coming to our church and they are a wonderful models of faith and trust; their presence in the world challenges our understanding of what constitutes wholeness in the eyes of God. Jesus said “unless you become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of God”, these young men constantly hold out to us an alternate model of how we should live our lives before God.

      • tim says:

        milliganp, I hope you appreciate that I had no intention of being offensive (I’m putting my apology in here ahead of your comment, because otherwise it will get lost miles down the blog). Of course, Down’s syndrome people are people just like the rest of us. But in the eyes of the world they are defective. Other things being equal, one would wish everyone to be born with full health and intelligence. But there are ways of bringing this about which are acceptable, and ways which are unacceptable.

      • We all use a form of shorthand on blogs, so sometimes something doesn’t read the way we intended. I work with someone who specialises in disability and who has written a doctoral thesis on the theology of disability. She is firmly convinced, and I agree, that certain disabilities give us an added insight into human nature and that many disabled have or acquire their own unique spirituality from which we can learn. In addition there are so many people who live out their faith making the lives of the disabled better that the cure of all disability might actually be to the detriment of humanity.

      • tim says:

        No doubt good comes from evil, but one mustn’t do evil that good may come. I’m very willing to think that we can learn important things from the disabled. I don’t think this means that we shouldn’t do everything we properly can to remove their disabilities.

  4. Nektarios says:

    If you had read my rather light jokey posting above, you have part of the answer to your question.
    Again as an apologist for the geneticist lobby, you appeal to the emotions and to possible cures in the future. This of course is a long way off.
    The other problem is the geneticists at everypoint want to patent these genes. Like I pointed out
    in my jokey first salvo, the genes are not theirs to patent, they belong to God.

    You may say I’m too cynical, not a bit of it. There is a place for gentetic research and development, trouble is, it is a bit like academia, it has a place, unfortuately it does not know its place.

    No doubt you have seen in the scientific world as they discover this that or the next thing, two things. One is a military use and the other is money. Remember splitting the atom and where that led. Do you honestly thng that the sop given to the public concerning astronomy is the main reason various countries are involved in the space race? The amount of satelites whizzing around the globe are only interested in space exploration? If it was where, there would be little or no funding.
    Billions of dollars have been spent on it, but One of the other applications is spying on a scale we can scarce take it in.
    We could go into automation be it cars,planes, trains, or ones plastic bank card. All have led to greater problems than was ever envisaged, and is making Mankind uneasy to say the least.

    The basic trouble is, yes we are all sinners but there is much more about Mankind than that.
    We are inter-connected in all sorts of ways but live in fear of each other.
    We have communications nowadays unknown in my young days, now we can hardly talk to each other.
    One may ask, why am I so cautious when it comes to scientific advances? Well, it has more to do
    with what we are, than the actual science.
    You see, Man may have made great advances technologically, but psychologically,inwardly,
    we are still primitive, barbarous, ready to hurt each other, so self-centred and self-concerned.
    Millions and millions of people around the world have remained to extraordinarily narrow-minded, petty, superstitious and ready to hurt others in their own self interest.
    That is why these supposedly amoral genetic proposals in the hands of Man should be treated with the utmost caution.

  5. Our challenge is that the child ultimately “produced” by this process will have an immortal soul and will be made in the image and likeness of God. The moral arguments seem not fundamentally different to those relating to the use of donor eggs or sperm except that it’s another blow to the wedge being driven between science and faith.

  6. st.joseph says:

    In Genesis man was given the command to dominate and subdue the earth,but that this dominion was over the animal world and material evniorment.
    We are not given the same dominion over human life which is a gift of God,to be administered by man but not under his ownershipJust to re-iterate the comments above.
    By usurping Gods’s rights,he is falling into the temptation,’you will be like God’.

    • Nektarios says:

      st joseph

      I could not have put it better myself.
      A little knowledge puffeth up as the Scriptures tell us, and in this area of genetic science,
      it is still at the stage, of a little knowledge.

  7. Iona says:

    It seems that the experiement has already been carried out – see

    and the resultant embryo allowed to develop for a week before being destroyed as required by law.

    • Quentin says:

      Your link is to a very informative article — well worth reading. Yes, the consultation to which I refer concerns the change in law required to permit such embryos to continue to birth and maturity.

  8. st.joseph says:

    Iona thank you for that.
    They may do all they can to rid the human body from all the desease imaginal as they say i n the report..
    But only the Lord will heal our soul.

  9. tim says:

    It will not have escaped most contributors to this blog that God has rights over all His creation. This does not exclude (at the human level) the possibility of others having rights as well (not quite so important or extensive, of course). Take patents. If you patent an important invention, I may not use it without your permission. I may, however, think of a small improvement to it, and I may be able to patent the improvement. I do not get the right to use the improvement – but I can stop you using it. So we have a stand-off. If either of us is to use the improvement, you and I must come to an agreement on terms.

    This is simply to make the point that God’s rights in genes do not necessarily mean that humans can’t have any rights in them. The stronger argument is that genes are not new, or not invented by humans. You cannot have a patent for what is not new, or what you did not invent. So how do patents get granted on genes?

    The answer is that they don’t. ‘Gene patents’ do not give rights over genes as they exist in Nature. Typically they claim ‘isolated’ genes – or variants, or uses. At this stage readers may well lose patience with these quibbles, but that is the position.

    Far more important for readers of this blog is the morality of the underlying technology. Patent law (generally) tries to keep out of moral issues. Patent offices decide what is new. They have no expertise in morality. Not only this, but whether an invention is morally acceptable or not depends on how it is used (“The dose makes the poison” – Paracelsus). So most patent laws don’t put much emphasis on deciding what is moral – that is left to the general law.

    All that by way of preliminary. I want to argue that gene technology (and even patenting it) is not inherently evil. Obviously it can have great dangers. Correspondingly it can have enormous benefits (compare Prometheus and fire). The technology should be subject to moral rules, and the question is what these are. For Catholics, they must respect the dignity of the human being. Others may require respect for the dignity of all creation. In both cases, there is much room for argument about what this means. One final plea – let us not be too hasty to judge motives. On one side, it will be said that the scientists (and their backers) are only interested in exploiting their results to make money. On the other, that they are motivated primarily in helping the human race by curing the sick and making the desert bloom. In fact, motives vary – much of the impetus (I think) is scientific curiosity. Maybe, as St Joseph says, this is part of the temptation “to be like Gods” – but the most effective lies of the Devil are those that contain a hefty proportion of truth.

    • Nektarios says:

      Wonderfully argued and discussed, I must say.
      It is not the science so much, and I agree with the points you raised, it is
      the problem of human nature in its fallen state.
      The powers that be will, if they are given enough incentives to back research, will back
      progressive gene therapies and interference with Genes.

      Please don’t lose sight that geneticists want to change man into the image of man and here political, and other agendas apart from medical ones are no doubt being looked at.
      If they succeed in making man in their image – what then?

      • tim says:

        I absolutely agree that Man’s fallen nature means we have to be careful – with genetic technology at least as much as with other things (banking?).

  10. st.joseph says:

    This will sound very silly to unbelievers.
    But apart from the most important gift God gave us islife,with that life He gave us free will.
    Their soul may not be used for experiments-they ought to have a choice whether they wanted to give it up for experimentation or not.I am not sure whether the church teaches that mutilation of organs or parts of the body, for another purpose or for an unsufficient reason is no tjustfied.
    If I donate my organs (actually they wouldnt’t be useful ) I would have to give my permision and for my body,it needs my consent. I know it is not licit to endanger ones own life,but for donation of an organ that one can live without,as long as there is no pecuniary advantage, is not only permitted but is often an act of heroic charity.
    I suppose the mother can speak for their children I dont know.

  11. Nektarios says:

    st. joseph

    It is a sad reflection on the medical profession and geneticists, they are specialists in a particular field, sadly however, when it comes to humans in particular, they lose sight of the whole person.

    Reguarding organ donation: I don’t know what the Law is on this issue presently, does any know?
    It seems to vary from getting permission when one is alive and carrying a donor card; Or it could be,
    if one doesn’t have a donor card, if one suddenly dies, they will take it as an acceptance that one does not mind if ones organs are used; The third option seems to be, one expresses a wish that
    ones organs are not used, but if they cannot find it, they will transplant your organs if needed
    if one dies suddenly. So they will take your organs when they want regardless of ones wishes.

    The philosophy is, once one is dead,it makes no difference to the deceased whether their organs are used. This is sheer arrogance on their part and a pitiful lack of understanding of total a human being,
    especially in the light of the last day, resurrection and Judgement to come.
    It could be one or more of my organs is in a sinner who is unrepentant, a God hater, ( but how they can hate something they claim does not exist, as do atheists, defeats me) does that mean part of who I was is in heaven and part in hell? To the medical profession, once life, soul and spirit has departed, then all one is, is a lump of dead meat. No so – ALL MATTER IS ENERGY!

    There is also the dirty business in the medical profession of taking and selling donor organs to other countries at a price.

  12. Iona says:

    Nektarios – I think the situation at present is that your organs can only be used if you have given prior permission. But I also think there’s been some recent discussion about changing that, so you would have to give prior denial of permission if you don’t want them used, otherwise it will be assumed that you don’t mind. With children, I think their parents are the ones who give or withhold permission.

  13. Iona says:

    With regard to Quentin’s original question, – how we are to regard a three-parent embryo – now that I’ve read his reference to Wikipaedia on mitochondrial diseases, I think perhaps the procedure might be regarded in the same light as a transplant. Thus the embryo has two parents, like all the rest of us, but has had a faulty part removed and replaced by a healthy part. Thus the procedure may be potentially acceptable ethically (if “in vitro” conception is acceptable, which the Church says it isn’t).

  14. st.joseph says:

    Maybe if Christians made more of a noise on abortion ,that it is an offence against our faith and our belief, that a soul is preseent at conception,like the Muslims with wearing their Burka,it might make more of an argument against it!

  15. st.joseph says:

    I read a little booklet many years ago-still on my shelf and it is called ‘Introduction to Eugenics by

    John Cavanaugh O-Keefe.1995. Can be found on the Web. if typed in.
    Nothing new to those who know already ,but good for reminders!

    • st.joseph says:

      LIFE printed a booklet Warnock Dissected. The last sentence of their Conclusion I quote.
      In our submission to the Warnock LIFE ended by pointing to the heavy responsibility that rested on the Commitee. It was charged with examining the social,ethical and legal implications of new scientific techniques which pose issues of the gravest signifcance for society. Wornock could have been a turning -point in our history.It could have urged a return to the path of decency and justice.It could have issued a Magna Carta for human life at its earliest stages and caused us all to lift our eyes to something that we can indeed ‘praise and admire’. Instead the Committee’s Report simply encourages us to descend further along the downward path. It looks for ways to make respectable things which all decent people in their hearts know are unworthy of a civilised society.
      A unique opportunity has been missed.

      • Nektarios says:

        st. joseph
        Your hitting the nail right on the head, and directing in part where the blame rightly
        belongs. The way you describe the Committee Report’s findings is worthy enough to be put in every religious newspaper in the land. Perhaps Quentin could as part of the Editorial team of the Catholic Herald could see what you have written here writ LARGE.

  16. milliganp says:

    It is interesting that the philosophy surrounding medical ethics is almost entirely utilitarian, whereas few reasonable politicians would argue for utilitarianism in government or economics since society has a natural sense that the minorities need to to protected; sadly this protection is not extended to the unborn in our society.
    Iona suggests that 3 parent IVF is morally neutral to the usual 2 parent IVF. I would argue that we need to consider that we are effectively saying that it is reasonable to prevent human beings with certain conditions being born which implied we are making value judgements about individual lives.
    I’m sure one day someone will say to someone with Down’s Syndrome “why didn’t your mum have an abortion?” (if it’s not already happened)!

    • I have now read the Guardian article. The process requires that a fertilised egg be destroyed to donate its mtDNA which, for Christians is the destruction of an initiated human life. It is therefore definitely not morally neutral.

      • st.joseph says:

        There is a great difference between research on the seperate gametes and that done on the embryo once conceived.

      • I think I misread it, it’s an egg that is abandoned, not an embryo.

      • Quentin says:

        There are in fact two methods of achieving the objective — one of which (spindle transfer) does not require the destruction of a fertilised egg. What I had primarily in mind was the issues raised by using material from three people. In practice, anyhow, fertilised eggs get routinely destroyed when IVF is used — and so not acceptable.

  17. st.joseph says:

    Also the noted French geneticist Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the chromosome responsible for Down’s Syndrome, maintains that no experimental knowledge of any signficance, can or has been discovered , from research on the embryo that can not be obtained from that done on the seperate gametes before fertilization.
    The successful diagnosis of a genetic disorder, for example has been acheived by examining the DNA which was removed from the polar body of a human egg.
    We are talking about genetic and chromosomal research and there is no reason why this should not be done prior to the embryo stage. The gene responsible for cystic fibrosis has been located in the embryo, but its existence has been know before hand.

  18. Nektarios says:

    Fellow bloggers,

    I don’t know about all of you, but the blog is getting bogged down with technicalities of recent
    genetic advances and the legal position, not of the fertilized egg or of the embryo, apart from destoying both, but it seems primarily laws governing geneticists and genetic science.

    There are thousands if not millions of man and women that cannot procreate, but genetic science
    give hope of doing so to fulfil their longings to be parents. Of course this will give an Amen to the trials the geneticists are doing and as the press for more and more freedom to do more. But for many it will be a false hope, a unfulfilled longing.
    The geneticist charter it seems we will make advancments by public demand through raising expectations and hopes – which is essentially emotional blackmail.

    What moral framework can the Christian Church work with here? We are talking cutting edge science. We have not been here before.
    What is not cutting edge science however, are the human beings with all their flaws.
    The Church may well have the theory, the practice and the cure for the souls of mankind,
    and we all will die anyway, eventually.
    Because of many factors in this old fallen world, there are many, many, many thousands of orphans, healthy in body but in need of loving parents. It is understandable wanting ones own children, and a feel for such too,
    If gentetic science can make progress in dealing with diseases which kill millions, then it
    would be more worthwhile in the long term.

    • st.joseph says:

      The Gospel last Sunday and the homily after it I think maybe pertinent here.
      There will always remain a lot of other dreadful things that happen to human beings e.g natural disasters,earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes.
      We don’t see Jesus (this applys to the Gospel)doing anything about them. He speaks of such things as coming.
      And even if all had good health,what about wars, violance, injustice, and malice etc?
      Jesus far from wiping out injustices and malice ,allowed himself to be tried and convicted by unjust judges and on the evidence of false witnesses ,and then killed.
      If we think about everyone being healed and other unpleasant aspects of life being banished, it wont bring peace on Earth.
      The only True Peace is our Eternal Salvation with the Lord in Paradise prepared for us all when we die.

      You are right when you say if genetic science can make progress in dealing with diseases which kill millions then it would be more worthwhile . Jesus didn’t heal everone ,He often hid from people and went to pray
      Blessed Pope Paul 2nd encouraged it-but only without taking the life of another,
      I am sure with a little more research it could be achieved without the destruction of an embryo.
      But the way I see it,it is very difficult to convince scientists who dont believe as we do.
      We need to keep on praying.

      • Nektarios says:

        st joseph,

        Quite so.
        We are getting on, at least I am, and am aware we have to pass on the Faith and all that that means to a younger generation.
        In the last days, the Scriptures tell us, “Knowledge will be increased”; It also tells us, with the increase of knowledge, there is the increase of sorrows.
        Lets be clear, it is not your sorrow or my sorrow as such, but the sorrow of mankind, for we are all interconnected.
        Science presents positive images to the mind and God bless those engaged in what is termed good science, that is actually doing good and is ethical, (in a Christian context of course).
        Sadly, much of science has heaped sorrow upon sorrow on mankind. One can think of the Atomic bomb, Chemical science that has produced chemical warfare possiblities and killing people enmass.
        We can think of pollution of our waters, rivers and streams. We can think and perhaps even lament the downward spiral of all this and the many other problems the wake the scientific world has brought upon us, too numerous for me to mention here. But just in case, you think I have run out of scientific blunders and uses gone wrong, we can look at the enviroment, we can look at the world science and technology has heaped upon us with the media, with music, with mobile phones and so on and the downside impact on humanity.
        I come back to this point time and again, the problem is not so much science(a lot of it is good), but man and the uses it is put to is often not good.
        Much of it not thought through enough, leading to all sorts of sorrows further down the line. I see this in pharmaceutical industry in particular, where profit, and not conscience rules.
        Remember thalyidomide-(I am sure I have mispelt that)? It was banned in Britian and Europe because it produced in many cases babies with no arms or legs. Did they withdraw it? No, they didn’t, they went and sold it in Africa and other poor countries, with the same results which these people will have to bear all their lives. Don’t be too ready to accept the blurb the geneticists put out or any other science group for that matter.
        The scientists argument of course is, one cannot impede science. Perhaps not, but we can stop and make certain science applications never seeing the light of day. Is this one of them on mtDNA?

      • tim says:

        Nektarios, ‘the pharmaceutical industry, where profit and not conscience rules..’? You will need to give more specific instances of what you disapprove of. The one you give – of thalidomide being sold in Africa after it had been shown to cause deformities in Europe – I frankly don’t believe. Please provide references. I should add, I am all for impeding science when necessary.

  19. st.joseph says:

    I agree with .
    The two things that struck me closely to my mind, were the Thylomide (I have spelt it wrong too) tablets , I had very bad morning sickness and I took one and remember at the time so well,but for some unkown reason (I was only 21) and very naive but would not take anymore, and I thank God for it . I put up with being sick for months
    The other thing is the artificial hormones with the contraceptive pill getting into the water, that are affecting the fish and changing their sex.
    It is doing all sorts of damage.
    When I was studying at Birmingham University Hospital to teach NFP we had to in 1982 for to pass the Central Board of Midwives to teach , we had a lecture that sounded ridiculous at the time,it was when a female is born with so many ovum, and women were taking it,long before it had been tested for 20 years,that it could in the future of their children and grandchildren make them infertile by destroying the ovum. I dont know.
    We do not know what it is doing to male sexuality either.
    But we do know the consequences it has on womens health.
    When the first contraceptive pill was introduced many years ago,and I know this from someone who was at the WHO meeting abroad I think Amsterdam (I am not sure) but where it was said of the effects, but they didn’t want to news to come back to England,Dr Anna FlynnRIP who was my Tutor came straight back and released the news. Then the pill was changed, but it still has its health hazard.
    Then the scientists are trying to discover through more science cures that have probably been caused by science in the first place.
    A crazy world or what? I often wonder if God has a sense of humour-but Iam sure He doesn’t see it as a laughing matter.

  20. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – I think I remember reading somewhere that male fertility is declining, and that this may be because of the higher levels of oestrogen getting into the water supply as a result of so many women being on the pill.

    • st.joseph says:

      Iona ‘
      Yes it is suggested that could be the reason.It is affecting fish, especially whales.
      I will sort some papers out, and see if I can get any more info on it.

  21. tim says:

    Quentin, given that the Church doesn’t approve of IVF when two people are involved, how is the involvement of a third person going to change the situation? I have learnt from you that the Church has no position on the use of condoms in extra-marital intercourse. Will the same apply here, by analogy (if you are going to produce a child by a forbidden method, you should at least aim to produce a healthy one?). Is it a question of the parental rights of the third contributor? I’m missing the point.

    • I think you are mistaken on the matter of condom use outside marriage.

      • Quentin says:

        Thanks for this Paul. I have asked many people much more learned than I to give me chapter and verse – without any results. I look forward to getting the references from you.

      • Thanks a bunch, Quentin! I try to teach and hold to what the church teaches, but I don’t always agree (but accept).
        I posted a question on the EWTN Moral Theology forum several years ago on the question of “if a man rapes a woman and uses a condom, is he committing less of a sin”. I was informed that rape / adultery / fornication are sins in the created order but that use of contraceptives is a sin in the spiritual order and that sins in the spiritual order are greater than sins in the created -thus it’s more of a sin to use a condom than to rape. I thought the answer was utterly mad but accepted that a doctor of moral theology might be better informed than myself. My personal reason says that to create a life without being willing to support and nurture it is a grave evil – but that’s only me vs the ‘logic’ of moral theology.

    • Quentin says:

      It may be that your analogy holds – I’d be interested in others’ views. However I am confident that if the usage of ivf revealed damaged mitochondria that embryo would not be implanted. Of course there are two relevant issues in ivf: the claimed unnaturalness of bringing about conception in that way – which worries me less, and the destruction or freezing on unwanted embryos – which is a different issue altogether, and worries me more.

  22. Nektarios says:

    Fellow bloggers,
    The Fathers and doctors of the Church were not confronted with much of modern day moral
    malaise, nor could they conceive of a technology what makes it possible to conceive outside the normal way. However it is not beyond Scripture, Children conceived by unnatural methods
    (whatever Scripture meant by that), is still owned of God. Presumeable that also means, they also have a souls and a spirits and God can indwell them.

    Degrees of worry, Quentin on `the destruction or freezing of unwanted embryos may be a different issue practically speaking, but it is one movement morally speaking and a downhill spiral at that.
    Are you worried that the Church is being challenged? So it should be at every point, Otherwise
    what the Church is not only saying is, we are the authority on ALL ISSUES OF LIFE, MORALITY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, but also the Church deems that Mankind of which those who think they have authority are part, are incapbable of making such decisions.
    None of us knows everything, so we all need each other, only God knows everything. The Church says human life is sacred, no it isn’t. only God is Sacred.

    Also if you let the Church make all the moral decisions and so on, it makes men secondhand men.
    It is to rob you of your God given authority in your own life and demand conformity to its machinations who never knew a woman or had children. It is to make you dependent on Priestcraft, which is both silly and an abdication of our God rights as regenerated, saved, born again, call it what you will, human beings in Christ Jesus.
    This attutude by the Church institution and our total submissive place in it, is a travesty
    and I would go so far as say, sins against humanity.
    I am very sorry to put it so strongly.
    It is not anti – Catholic but the Catholic Church needs to descend the stairs of it’s comforting illusions and cosy half truths, be more humble and sit in the dust with the rest of us who will, and learn of Christ anew and the freedom one actually has in Christ Jesus.

  23. Iona says:

    If in doubt, err on the cautious side. If unsure whether it’s ok to destroy “unwanted” embryos, or indeed to create them in a petri dish in the first place, best not to.
    Nektarios, you seem to suggest that Scripture somewhere makes reference to “children conceived by unnatural methods”, since you add “Whatever scripture meant by that”. Where is this reference, as i don’t sem to recognise it?

  24. Nektarios says:


    I was always taught, if in doubt, don’t!

    The text I was referring to was in St.John’s Gospel, 1:12-13.
    This broadens it out from purely natural reproduction to forms of reproduction demanding
    the decisions of other humans, for instance geneticists?

  25. Nektarios says:

    Re: your message of Feb.11 @ 1209
    Sorry about the delay in replying to you, on e Thalidomide in Africa issue.
    Please Google in, Africa – thalidomde facts and figures. Read all the associate files too.

    • tim says:

      Thanks, Nektarios, I’ll have a look at those – maybe not all of them, if there are lots….

      • tim says:

        Nektarios, I did a Google search “Thalidomide Africa fact and figures” (and another, since I’ve just seen that you put the words in a different order, but it seemed to give much the same results). I haven’t found articles which seem to me to support what you said. Can you give me one or two specific references? Or maybe other readers can? What I did turn up were articles saying that thalidomide is now used for new indications (leprosy and certain cancers) which is resulting in some new cases of deformed births (particularly in Brazil). Was this what you had in mind?

  26. Iona says:

    Nektarios – “…him who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God Himself”

    I wouldn’t have thought “the will of man” in this context could possibly be stretched to refer to scientists and petri dishes, but rather to the intention to conceive a child, e.g. as an heir, but the method of conception still being natural.

  27. Nektarios says:


    I left it not as a statement, but as a question.
    The NIV translates it slightly differently – that is what I was reading.
    However, theologically speaking, it does not matter if they can make a corpse of a body,
    if there is to be a soul in that reproduction by scientists, the fiat of a soul, spirit and life being present is always a fiat of God.

    • I personally believe you are misapplying scripture. John is talking about the conception of Christ; Jesus wasn’t born of “the will of flesh” – lust, or “will of man” – marital intercourse, but “the will of God”. Since we can presume that artificially conceived babies have a soul, God obviously co-operates in their generation which may raise the question as to how “immoral” such a thing is (barring the issue of selecting and discarding fertilised embryos).
      If I’ve missed your point, please excuse – after upsetting St Joseph I’m reluctant to argue.

      • Nektarios says:

        Paul Milligan

        Please, Paul, you are not upsetting me at all.
        If you noticed, I left it as question, not as a statement of belief.
        What is a statement of belief is, Mankind’s creation is a fiat of God alone. God’s Fiat is infinitely beyond us and creation out of Nothing. Man, especially geneticists are, as I have said previously, seeking to make man in man’s image. It is impossible for us as mere creatures to arrogantly imagine God will or does co-operate in changing God’s Fiat
        to making man in man’s image – the idea is nonesense. God’s creation Fiat is not up for graBs or discussion and foolishly imagine God’s co-operation.

        As we are discussing Homo Sapiens Artificialis, let us be clear. Man does not create anything. He makes things from materials already present in creation.
        Does that clarify for you what I actually meant?

    • It would have been useful if I’d read the NIV! This passage of scripture is read at the end of the Tridentine Mass (aka TLM) which was the mass of my youth, so the Knox translation is burned into my brain.

  28. Iona says:

    Paul, that thought has occurred to me too; if artificially-conceived babies are “ensouled”, as presumably they are, this presupposes God’s co-operation in their creation, even if it is in a petri dish. Unless perhaps these are babies who “would have been conceived anyway” (I have come across several cases where people who were waiting for IVF have suddenly found themselves pregnant, after years of unsuccessful “trying”, before they actually had the IVF treatment).
    Nektarios, perhaps you could quote us the exact wording of the NIV, – John 1 12-13? Mine isn’t the NIV. In fact, I can’t even think what the “I” stands for.

    • Quentin says:

      Your remarks and Paul’s remarks on the ensoulment of the “petri dish” baby are interesting. I suspect that the problems arise from our views on ensoulment, which do not take fully into account the total integration of body and soul. Ultimately there is mystery here but I think we might elucidate more than we have so far. I have been thinking about this a good deal recently but as yet have only the vaguest ideas of what might clarify the process.

      • Nektarios says:

        Nevertheless, the body, soul and spirit is integrated, we are tri-partied beings.
        Perhaps you mean `Mystery’ in the sense we cannot weigh or meaure the soul or spirit?
        One thing we can say however is, that which is seen is of time and of this world. It will have a beginning, a middle and an end.
        That which is not seen, the soul and the spirit are not of time, but timeless.
        Perhaps the Mystery is in the fact the soul and the spirit are beyond thought as is death?.
        Can we by our thought find out God, who cannot even by thought discover ourselves totally?
        We have another problem, that of language and articulating all these matters. We can do little at the thought leve lbut supply adjectives, descriptives of the properties of the
        soul. But as we all know the descriptive is never the actual.
        What is difficult for some of us, is to come to and see the limits of our thought process which is a response to memory.
        The integration of the body, soul and spirt in mankind is totally unknown to us, only God knows that and can divide that. For us it is imposssible. Does that help the discussion along?
        We cannt

    • Nektarios says:


      I am not saying that in John’s Gospel 1: 12-13 it does or does not include those who come to be on account of genetic manipulation. I quoted this passage as a possible broadening out to include artificially conceived babies because, if they have souls and spirit and life as well as a body, then the soulical and spiritual aspects and the intergration into one human being made in the image of God, is the fiat of God alone.

      The quote you requested of John’s Gospel 1:12-13 from the NIV reads: `Yet to all those who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – (v13). children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

  29. Iona says:

    Quentin, I agree about “ensoulment” being a bit of a problem in that it suggests a separation between body and soul, whereas in fact the two are – or should be seen as? – fully integrated. Either way, it doesn’t solve the petri dish problem.

    You wouldn’t care to share those vaguest of ideas?

    • Quentin says:

      When and if they become somewhat less vague.

      • Nektarios says:


        Forgive me for interrupting the discussion with yourself and Iona.

        Firstly, it is not vague, and secondly, Iona, you cannot agree about ensoulment because
        we do not understand what, how and wherefores of this integration betixt body, soul and spirit.
        Let’s see if the light of God’s word on the matter dispels some of the vagueness in the limits of our thinking on this issue.

        Psalm 138 (139) most other translations of the Bible.
        I am reading from the NIV translation.

        Some important statements here by the Psalmist as he was inspired by the Spirit of God.

        Verse 13: For you created my inmost being;
        You knit me together in my mothers womb.

        Please note: Concerning our inmost being ( soul and spirit) the word created is used.
        It is spiritual.
        The place of this knitting together of soul and spirit is in the womb, not in a petri dish.

        Now look at verse 15: My frame was not hidden from you
        when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

        Please note: My frame (body) the word used is not created, but the word, `made’ is used;
        that is my `body’ is of material already created – the earth.
        With Adam, his body, soul and spirit were knit together from the ground -the earth
        along with with his spiritual soul and spirit.
        Since Adam and Eve the womb of the woman, with the participation of the man’s seed is where this knitting by God takes place.
        It is still a mystery to us, but for God, all is known.

        Verse 16: Your eyes saw my unformed body.

        Ones life, days or length of time we will live, what is going to happen to us individually,
        `were written'(note: Past tense) in your book before one of them came to be.

        What can we take from all this? Man is God’s creation. The knitting together of soul and spirit is also God’s creation, but the outward body is of the earth and by God
        knitting it together in the womb we have ou tri-partied being, made in the image of God.
        The soul and spirit of Man will therefore, will never come to be or knit together in a petri-dish ever. This is way beyond man’s understanding or power till the end of time.

  30. st.joseph says:

    The in vitro technique falls foul of the Church’s doctrine already enunciated in Humanae Vitae, concerning the inseparability of the unitive procreative aspects of the marriage act. This principle is based on the fact that the human being is a union of spirit and matter. The marriage act is not just a biological union, but also a spiritual and personal one. That is to say, if the act is not open to procreation it will not be a loving and unitive act.
    The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves the reciprocal respect of their right to become a father or a mother only through each other.
    The intrusion of a third party, in any way whatsoever, is opposed to the exclusive fidelity between the spouses that is demanded by the marriage bond.
    Just as these two aspects cannot be seperated to inhibit aa pregnancy nor can they be separated to faciltate it. The Church is rigorously and logically consistent here.

    The pro-experimentation lobby maintain that life is a continuous process, whereas, it fact it is a continuous process after fertilization which has always historically been considered the moment of conception (not implantation in the womb). No moment more or after is as significant as this one. The organised unity of the forty six chromosones and their genes which is to be the individual person is already there. Although at fertilization the embryo may be as small as a full stop this does not impede all the genetic information being present, even though the cells have to develop as they do rapidly from this moment. Just as the size of the micro-chip is no barrier to the great quantity of information it is capable of storing,so in the case of the human embryo.It has is own independent life , though requiring the envionment of its mother’s womb to develop, may be best shown by the example of the deep-sea diver used by William May ‘He is viable so long as his life-line is functioning properly.

    The Church, however, is completely logical and consistent in believing in the human status of the zygote or embryo, and hence that a human person can never be a means of benefit to others at the expense of their life.

  31. Iona says:

    Nektarios; you say:
    The place of this knitting together of soul and spirit is in the womb, not in a petri dish.
    and further:
    The soul and spirit of Man will therefore, will never come to be or knit together in a petri-dish ever.

    There are quite a lot of people around now who were conceived in petri dishes and subsequently implanted in wombs. They appear to be normal. Are you saying that they are abnormal in not having a soul, or a spirit, or the two together?
    This is what puzzles me. It’s a very unnatural way to conceive a child, and I can quite see the Church’s point that children should be conceived in the usual and natural way; and yet God doesn’t seem to be expressing His disapproval by refusing to co-operate.

    • Nektarios says:


      No, I am not saying that. What I am saying that the body, which includes male and female
      genes XY chromosomes and all that is of the earth. However it is done it may produce a body.
      However, the soul and the spirit of man is not of the earth and are timeless.
      Further, only in the womb can or will God knit body, soul and sprit together. As I say, this knitting by God of spirit, soul with the body cannot and will never take place in a petri-dish.
      Finally, get the measure technologically where IVF and the geneticists are actually at.
      They are not creating life. Life exists in the woman’s egg and the man’s sperm.
      All they are doing is taking a healthy sperm cell from the male and impregnating the womans egg with it. Then they have to transport it from wherever in the Lab to implant it in the woman’s womb – that is all.
      To hear the way they go on about their achievements, it really is nothing to write hoe about.
      But the knitting together, only takes place and can only take place in the womb of the woman.

      • Nektarios, according to your theory stem cell research and the destruction of “non-viable” embryos are both OK because the soul only “happens” in the womb. This is at complete odds with Catholic teaching – but of course you’re Orthodox, different rules.

  32. Iona says:

    Nektarios – you distinguish between the words “created” and “made” in Psalm 138 (or 139), and draw conclusions about exactly what they mean. Do you happen to know the exact meanings of those words in the original (Hebrew? Greek?)?

    • Nektarios says:

      Off hand, not exactly.
      Created means essentially that which God created out of nothing. Created in the Godhead is thought and action simultaneously. The Word speaks and it comes into being. That is God working in His Omnipotence.

      Made, or making is producing something from materials that already exist. This is what man does but he cannot create something out of nothing. Man may think at times he is omnipotent, but in fact he is limited to only making, albeit to us some of it quite ingenious.

      God in His Omnipotence can create a new heaven and earth in an instant which He is going to do sometime. The word speaks it and it is.
      With man he can speak all he likes, but he cannt create anything only make from material that exists already. the soul and spirit in man are immaterial.
      That is about as near as I can give you by explanation off the cuff of the difference between created and made. .

  33. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – I am in full agreement with you about the supreme significance of fertilisation as being when human life begins. There is no other event so dramatic in the process of development.
    Also, I’m relieved to see you back.

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