Thursday, April 27, 2006

Martini and Marino on Oozytes and Monozygots

I’m embarrassed now. After having quoted Cardinal Martini with a degree of approval (see my blog: “Spelling out the principal of the lesser evil”), I now have read the full interview, courtesy of Sandro Magister. It makes rather uncomfortable reading—especially the way in which the Martini (the Cardinal) virtually fauns at the feet of Marino (the bioethicist). This bit especially bothered me:

Marino says:

“But science comes to the rescue to suggest alternatives to the creation and freezing of embryos. There exist more sophisticated technologies than those used today, which provide for the freezing, not of the embryo, but of the oocyte at its stage of two pronuclei, the moment when the two chromosome pairs, the female and the male, are still separate, and a new DNA chain has not yet been formed.

“In this phase, it is not possible to determine which path the cells will take at the moment when they begin to reproduce: they could produce a baby, or two twin monozygotes. The embryo does not exist, there is not a new genetic patrimony, so there is not a new individual. From the biological point of view, there is not a new life. So can we also think that life is not present from the spiritual point of view, and that there are therefore no problems for a person of faith in evaluating the idea of following this path?”

To which Martini replies:

“I understand how these things upset many persons, especially those most sensitive to ethical problems. And I am also convinced that the processes of life, and thus also those of the transmission of life, form a continuum in which it is difficult to identify the moments of a real and proper qualitative change. The result of this is that when dealing with human life, we must have great respect and reservation in regard to everything that in some way manipulates it or could exploit it, from its very beginnings.

“But this does not mean that it is not possible to identify moments in which no sign of an individually distinguishable life yet appears. It seems to me that this is the case you are bringing up with the oocyte at the stage of the two pronuclei. In this case, it seems to me that the general rule of respect can accompany the technical treatment that you suggest.”

In other words (and I add that I have even less biological expertise than Cardinal Martini professes to have), because at this very early stage after conception (the first few days?) there is the possibility that the fertilized egg (the “oozyte” at its stage of two pronuclei) may become either one or two (or more?) individual human beings, we may treat it as if it is not yet human at all. I don’t think this follows, does it? It is either one or more than one individual, it is not no individual at all? Is it? Or am I missing something here?

Magister gives, as his first reference for comparison at the end of the article, the references to the relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is worth keeping the accepted teachings of the Catholic Church in mind while reading this conversation. Especially these:

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal:

466 … Christ's humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God [Lk 1:28], was redeemed from the moment of her conception.

The implication is that at the point of conception—even though science may not yet be able to predict whether one or more human beings will result—God knows exactly how many individuals he is dealing with, for he has created their very soul (or individuality, or personhood, or however else you want to modernise this concept). He knew and intended, for instance, that Jesus was going to be just Jesus (and not Jesus and Joseph Jnr), and that Mary was going to be just Mary (not Mary and Martha).

The fact that we cannot yet see a soul under a microscope does not give us the right to consign its “outward form” to the waste bin.


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