Tag archives: Conception

The Fetus and Federal Regulations

by Rob Schwarzwalder

June 21, 2011

The Code of Federal Regulations is an almost sure-fire antidote to insomnia. If boredom were a commodity, the Code would be its biggest resource.

The arcane and involved language of the Code is one reason why so few people read it. Yet within its myriad pages are the rules that govern government itself - how laws are applied, how legislation is to be understood, and even how words used in federal regulations are to be interpreted.

Some of those words are more important than others, and those that deal with the very nature of human personhood are, perhaps, the most important of all.

In the October 1, 2009 edition of the Code, we read that Fetus means the product of conception from implantation until delivery.

There we have it: an unborn child is merely the product of conception, conception itself evidently needing no interpretation (that it takes place through the sexual union of two image-bearers of God is, apparently, irrelevant).

What are we to make of this product? This collection of cells and blood and tissue stored within the veil of human flesh? Heres what David said of this product, this fetus, this creature:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

What is man that You take thought of him,

And the son of man that You care for him?

Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)

From conception onward, this fetus has all the same DNA as every reader of this piece. What are the criteria for its humanness?

Is it less human because of its size? If so, then anyone shorter than someone else is less human, as well.

Is it less human because of its development? If so, then anyone with a physical or mental disability is less human than those more physically or mentally advanced.

Is it less human because it is dependent? If so, then any child is less human than the parents on whose support she depends for food, clothing, shelter, etc.

And so it goes through whatever other comparisons can be summoned: Intelligence, appearance, etc. What changes at time of delivery, per the Federal Registry, is not the personhood of the child but his place of residence. He lives nine months within his mothers womb, and the remainder of his life outside it.

Even the term fetus, used as a medical euphemism by those unwilling to confront the unborn childs humanness, is telling if rendered honestly. Fetus is Latin for offspring or young while still in the womb. Those who persist in its usage for the purpose of dehumanizing that to which they refer cannot avoid the potency of language itself.

Sometimes euphemisms have their place. Saying that someone is all foam, no root beer is a pleasing way of conveying that the individual referenced is full of talk but has no substance or seriousness. Yet language, however we might use it to obscure, can never fully hide that which it described.

To this point, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his landmark work Ethics, wrote,

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.

The language of the Code of Federal Regulations is tedious. Its impact on American public life is profound. But its artful obfuscation of that which is most compelling of all what it means to be human is unsuccessful.

A fetus is a baby is a person is a human being. No euphemism can hide that truth and you can take that to the bank.

Whats in a Name?

by Family Research Council

January 25, 2011

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced the birth of their second child, Faith Margaret, this past Monday, thanking everyone for their support, especially Faiths gestational carrier. While Nicole and Keith were simply using the vernacular of the fertility industry, referring to their childs birth mother as a gestational carrier betrays an underlying cultural attitude fostered by technological developments in this field.

With advances in the field of assisted reproductive technologies [ART], a surrogate mother can carry a baby conceived with her egg and a donors sperm. Now there are also gestational carriers: a woman who carries a couples fertilized embryo to term, but is not herself the babys genetic mother.

Ethics within the field of ART are, admittedly, complex, but the shift from surrogate mothers to gestational carriers, while subtle, is significant. In the past, the words birth mother or surrogate mother and adoptive mother have been used to describe the situation in which a baby born biologically to one mother was given to another family. But as technology evolves, so does its vocabulary.

Regardless of the technical intent behind gestational carrier, the term is, at its root, dehumanizing. The phrase reduces a woman to a function, instead of a person in a relationship. No longer does her title represent who she is a woman, a mother bearing a child in her body she is her function, a gestational carrier.

Thanks in part to technology, our society makes distinctions between function and identity. Men can be sperm donors without being known as the father of the baby. We have children who are biologically one mans, but socially anothers. This calls into question the very nature of relationships. Not all fathers always act like fathers, and children may look up to another man as a father figure, but for most of human history, fatherhood was tied to biology, except in cases of adoption. This is no longer the case. Technology is changing what it means to be a parent: the creation and raising of a child can involve a sperm donor, an egg donor, a gestational carrier, or surrogate mother, and the couple that the child eventually lives with and calls Mommy and Daddy. And this technology defines people by what they do, instead of who they are. While calling someone a mother certainly does not describe the totality of who that woman is, at least the title of mother is defining her relationally, humanizing her, for the ability to have relationships is uniquely human.

Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, notes that the use of ART is turning baby-making into a consumerist activity. Pregnancy has been reduced to a bits and pieces brokered industry: sperm from a handsome Scandinavian stud, eggs from a beautiful Ivy League graduate, a womb-for-rent from a poor woman in India trying to provide food and education for her children, and brokers in the middle setting up the legal transactions to build a better baby the 21st-century way. Individuals are applying their bodies to bringing new life into the world through a segmented, fractured process,turning children into things to be designed and purchased. The Scandinavian man and the Ivy League woman are now means to an end. Lahl argues that children are not products to be made, but with the rise of medical tourism, that is what they are becoming.

Technology brings with it as many questions as answers. In the process of advancing our physical capabilities, it (in this case) blurs the bright line of relationships. I will not make a moral judgment on all blurry lines; not all things unclear must be rejected as wrong. But how we speak about things matters for words frame how we see the world. In this case, it is important to remember that people are fundamentally ends, not means thereto. Before helping ourselves to the vast array of opportunities technology offers, it is imperative that we ask hard questions and consider the ethical implications of each. When people are defined by their functions and not their relationships, are we seeing an age in which technology helps the body while harming the soul?