The nature of human life and the application of human rights to reflections on human genetic material
I want to share with you an article I wrote in 1982, 26 years ago. The issues are stillwith us. Embryos are being used for experimentation in Austaslia, and payment for genetic material is being debated. I would like you to come ith me and share my thoughts, and pehaps get together and start talking about the issues which are my conclusion.
In 1982 I attended the March Conference sponsored by the Cente for Human Bioethics (Monash University).
Firstly, I was struck anew by the Humanistic blurb handed out at the Conference. I hadn't time to read it properly before.
"Humanism is not a set of doctrines, but an attitude to life. To the humanist, the miracle is here and now. It is the miracle of nature; there is nothing supernatural about it. Because the humanist believes tht this life is the only life we can expect tohave, it is especially importnat to make this life a good one." Barbara Smoker in "Humanism."
And also on the sme page
"Humanist Ethics is based on the principle tht only man himself can determine the criterion for virtue and sin and not on authoity transcending him." Erich Fromm.
These quotes were just bundled in with all myother material, butnow, after five months of thinking about the quesions, they seem very relevant to the invitro fertilization debate. How would you, personally, counter these asrguments?
During the Conference, Dr. Joe Santamaria, from St. Vincent, said "the nature of human life and the application of humanrights are central issues in this discussoin. Centuries ago the ancient palmist asked the question "Wht is man?"..our answer to tht question will determine the next set of questins an a refusal to consider the question is aslredy an answer."
How would you, personally, answer the question: "What is man?"
As I went on, refreshing my mind, I came upon a copy of the letter Archbishop Little sent to the Editor of the Age. I told my children tht this is "history" - because Melbourne is a world centre of invitro fertilization - and our own Archbishop was the one to start asking questions and sounding the alarm. In the left hand corner of the page is the ASrchbishop's coat of arms with "Kyrie Eleison" (Lord have Mercy) seeming most appropriate. The date is 20th November, 1981.
The letter said "Your report 19/11 of a Federal Government grant of $1000,000 to a research team to experiment on human life. The remarks of the team's s;pokesman suggest tht at least some of the embryos will not be dead when experimenttion is made. The laboratory production of the embryos for that purpose is gravely disrespectiful of life. It is scasrcely credible tht a project of such critical ethicalimportance for the whole community can be decided o whtseems to be the privat ethical judgement of a team, and be funded by public taxpayers' money, without any consultation of that public."
The letter goes on..for for this asrtile, it is enough. It is our money tht is enabling this research to go on, and it is a time for the ordinary person not only to be well informed on this issue, but to actively discuss the issues with other Christians and thenmake thier findings heard.
Getting bak to the Conference, it was John O'Hara, from Swinburne Institute of Technology, who warned us that the stories in the popular media were incorrect. The stories were about BIRTH AND BABIES. This is not right, said John O'Hara, the story is about CONCEPOTION AND EMBRYOS.
Dr. Carl Wood said that "The right of every individual to have childre is stted in the declarationof human rihts. Codes of medical ethics have emphasized the doctor's duty to relieve suffering...a variety of which is exemplified by the infertile patient."
However, the case study that Dr. Carl Wood presented made one stop and think. Tomake sure of my facts, I again listened to the tapes that I bought of tihs conference. For, quite simply, I did not believe my ears. Len Brennan, father of Pippin (born in July 1981, and conceived in the laboratory), indeed was not without children. He is, in fact a grandfather, and a father himself of six children to a prioir marriage.
This is importat to know, because the whole story of invitro fertilization hinges on the suffering of infertility, and how sasd it is (and how happy when a baby comes along). Certainly, Len's second wife ws infertile, but does the community have to allocate $100,000 to research infertility for a husband who alredy has six children? And those present wife says she is not a complete woman without a child.
What is it to be a woman?
Does a arriage need a child to be a complete marrige?
On page seven of my Conference programme there are a profusion of biro notes. They are made all over the page in big letters...on the top I have written "He who hustles best get the bikkies."
Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, Professor of Medicine, University of Melbourne, made it very clear that in the future the doctor is going to have the decision over death, or life, and that money will certainly come into that decision. That is, how much money is available to the medical team for the care needed."It is not acceptable to refuse treatment to patients who will certianly otherwise die, yet health care planning does not, at present, allow the predicted expansion."
At what time in the journey of being human do you give resoures for life?
Dr. Ian Brand, Executie Director, Preston and NOrthcoe Community Hospital maintained that the allocationof health care resources is a political decision. "The personality and influence of the project leader and the prestige of the project can be crucial" he said.
Underwhat conditions doees the community give its politicians the power to give money to medical research? What happens when we don't agree when life begins? Is the only answer death? And what about selling life? Is this a new form of slalvery? Who obtains the freedom to live in our society, and who gives the permission to do so? (copyright Hilarie Roseman)