Stem cell research: down the the slippery slope from contraception

 

Dermott J. Mullan, 404 Park Circle, Elkton MD 21921: mullan@bartol.udel.edu

 

Earlier this summer, the news media gave a lot of publicity to stem cell research, including promises that great medical advances will come from this research. The search for such advances is, on the face of it, a laudable goal. The problem is that in order to do this research, the stem cells often are extracted from a living human embryo. And in the process of extraction, this unborn human embryo dies.

 

The health improvements are only a promise at this stage of the research. But the killing of the unborn is not a promise: it is a fact.

 

How did our society ever get to the stage where an uncertain promise, with no guarantee of success, can so overshadow people’s thinking that they are prepared to kill another human being in an attempt to achieve the goal?

 

Actually, the same question arose about ten years ago, when researchers promised that Parkinson’s disease could be cured by implanting cells from aborted babies. Unfortunately, things did not work out as the researchers had hoped. In fact, when tissues from the aborted babies were inserted into Parkinson’s patients, the conditions of the patients deteriorated, with the appearance in some cases of bizarre symptoms (reported in The Lancet, March 17, 2001). Thus, the early optimism came to nothing.

 

There are even reports of parents who conceive a child with the specific aim of aborting the baby so that genetically suitable material can be available for a sibling. These “designer babies” are the latest development in the process whereby our culture has distorted God’s plan for pro-creation, i.e. the gift of participating with Him in bringing a new human being into existence, to anti-creation, i.e. the deliberate creation of life in order to destroy it.

 

How did things go so badly wrong? When did we start down this horrific road? Why are so few people in our culture questioning this massive holocaust? The answer is clear: it all started with contraception.

 

 

The distortion of God’s plan begins: August 14, 1930

 

For 1900 years, Christians believed (and taught) that interfering with God’s plan of pro-creation was sinful. This age-old teaching survived even the major disruption associated with the Protestant Reformation. The word “vice” was in widespread use by members of all denominations as a common euphemism for birth control.

 

And it was not merely Christians who believed that contraception was wrong. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Contraceptives are an insult to womanhood. The only difference between a prostitute and a woman who uses contraceptives is that the former sells her body to many men, the latter to one only…It is the work of our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue”.

 

It was in the year 1930 that a drastic departure from this age-old teaching occurred. On August 14 of that year, members of the principal English-speaking post-Reformation denomination, the Anglican Church, meeting in conference at Lambeth Palace in London, voted to do away with the old teaching. Anglican couples were told by their bishops that the use of contraceptives was no longer sinful.

 

The consequences of this revised teaching were enormous and widespread. It was as if an earthquake had struck, with its epicenter in the Anglican Church. So great was the influence of the Anglicans among the post-Reformation denominations, that the devastation of the earthquake spread rapidly from its Anglican epicenter to other Protestant denominations. Most of the latter eventually also retreated from the age-old Christian teaching that contraception is vice. Among the thousands of Protestant denominations existing in the USA today, it is virtually impossible to identify any that teaches unambiguously the sinfulness of contraception.

 

Contraception: two responses

 

Within a few months of the Anglican bishops’ vote at Lambeth, two perceptive observers, writing from totally different viewpoints, undertook the task of spelling out to the world just what the consequences of contraception would be.

 

It is hard to imagine two more unlikely comrades-in-arms in the battle against contraception. One was the Pope: the other was an atheist. Despite these differences, the writings of both men painted a vivid picture of the disasters that would accompany a contracepting world.

 

 

The encyclical “Casti Connubii”

 

Recognizing the threat that contraception posed to humanity, Pope Pius XI started working right after the Lambeth conference on a reiteration of true Christian teaching. The Pope labored mightily, and within four months of the Lambeth vote, he brought forth the encyclical “Casti Connubii”. This teaching, a 20 thousand word document to serve as armor for Catholics against the onslaught, has recently been referred to by Steve Wood, founder of Catholic Family International, as the most important document on family life in the 20th century.

 

The Pope approached the issue from the standpoint of the age-old Christian teaching that goes all the way back to the first earliest chapters of the Bible. When God originally made man in His image and likeness, He created them male and female. There is something about the gift of sexuality that is in the image and likeness of God. It is not hard to see what that something is: sexuality is meant by God to be used by husband and wife to give themselves entirely to each other, leading to growth in their love for each other,  and also possibly making new life grow. As part of that new life, God uses His infinite creative power to bring forth from nothing a new human soul, a soul that will live for eternity. 

 

Pope Pius wrote that God’s plan for husbands and wives includes cooperating with Him not simply to bringing forth children for this world, but also “fellow citizens of the saints, and members of the household of God” (Ephes. 2, 19). This is a serious duty of married couples. If people choose to interfere with God’s plan for bringing new human beings into existence, the Pope reminded Catholics that such a choice is intrinsically evil. Always. The evil is so serious that mortal sin is involved.

 

The Pope predicted that access to contraceptives would tend to make people become promiscuous. Nature has its own way of discouraging promiscuity: there is always the possibility of pregnancy. But contraceptives make it possible to circumvent this aspect of nature. 

 

Moreover, human nature being what it is, when contraception is available, men are more likely to treat women as objects of pleasure. And if women are treated as objects in their own home, the dignity of womanhood and motherhood eventually disappears. God’s plan for the woman to be the heart of the home (Pope Pius XI’s phrase) is thwarted. Contraceptive marriage no longer provides the natural situation where men and women can fulfil their distinct and complementary God-given roles with dignity and joy. This leads to the break-down of marriage itself, both as an institution and as a sacrament.

 

The Pope painted a truly disastrous picture of what would happen to families if contraceptives were allowed to become part of marital life.

 

 

The novel “Brave New World”

 

Aldous Huxley, a novelist with no religious beliefs, was not quite as quick off the mark as Pope Pius XI. But he came close. Four months after the Pope issued his encyclical, Huxley started work on a novel describing what a contracepting world would look like. By August 1931, the novel was complete. Included in Huxley’s picture of such a world, there is a grim picture of what the Anglican Church would become as a result of its support for contraception.

 

It is not easy to recommend this novel. Its description of the promiscuity that is fostered by the controllers of society makes for unsavory reading.

 

But the primary focus of the novel, and the aspect which shows most clearly the link between contraception and stem cell research, is its detailed description of how God’s plan for family life is completely set aside and replaced by the sterile world of test-tubes. Babies are deliberately engineered in test-tubes to have varying degrees of intelligence. The smartest ones are called Alphas: from this group, the controllers of society emerge. Below the Alphas, there are four lower grades, the lowest being Epsilon: these are referred to as semi-morons, and are designed to perform the most menial tasks in society. The controllers decide how many of each class of human is to be developed at any time. This is “family planning” carried to its logical extreme.

 

In this brave new world, God’s plan for human life is totally destroyed. There are no family units, apart from a few “savages” who are permitted to live the old way in folk museums in remote parts of the world. For those who live in the “civilized world”, the words “mother” and “father” lose all meaning, and in fact are treated by the citizens as obscene terms that somehow refer to an earlier primitive stage of the human race. This is truly Hell on Earth. And Huxley considers that this will be the natural endpoint of the Anglican Church’s decision to allow contraception.

 

Huxley also points out in the novel that the decision will backfire on the Anglican Church. Bishops in the Church are portrayed in the novel in scandalous terms. Citizens are forced to participate in a ceremony that is a mockery of the Eucharist. This dismal prediction of the future Anglican Church has led Steven Kellmeyer, the author of an article in ENVOY magazine, to describe the pro-contraceptive Anglican Church with the graphic title “Little Lost Lambeth”.

 

 

Contraception: why did the Anglican Church deviate from the age-old teaching?

 

Kellmeyer, in his ENVOY article describes how the 1930 Lambeth vote in favor of contraception came about. The vote was influenced by certain “enlightened” bishops and advisers with connections to the “modern” research field of eugenics. The term “eugenics” had been coined in the later 1800’s by Francis Galton, to describe the prospects of breeding a better human being, just as one would work on breeding a better horse or dog. By the early 1900’s, a research fellowship had been established at University College, London, thanks to Galton himself. This ensured that the cause of eugenics would be taken up and fought for by the intellectual elite. 

 

And where did Galton get the idea of improved human breeding from? From a cousin of his, Charles Darwin by name. In his book The Origin of Species, Darwin had pointed admiringly to the skills of pigeon and dog breeders in developing certain favorable characteristics in animals. Darwin claimed that nature itself (given a long enough time) can also breed favorable characteristics in all species, including man. In this sense, Darwin claimed that there is no distinction between man and any other animal.

 

Darwin’s ideas are very far removed from the Judaeo-Christian view that God created man to be essentially distinct from the animals.  Darwin rejected the Christian view that God has a plan for the life of each human being. Darwin’s ideas remove God from the picture of biology. In the words of a famous modern evolutionist (Richard Dawkins): “Darwinism made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

 

So it was ultimately Darwin’s ideas, disseminated into “intellectual” society via the eugenics movement, that led to the momentous vote of the bishops at Lambeth on August 14, 1930.

 

Once contraception is accepted, God’s plan for human sexuality is inevitably set aside. And without that plan, anything goes as far as sexuality is concerned. Aldous Huxley depicted some of the grisly results in Brave New World, results that have now become all too real for us in 2001 in the form of stem cell research.

 

The Catholic Church repeats its teaching against contraception

 

After Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical Casti Connubii in 1930, Catholics were able to use it to defend themselves against the danger of contraception for a few decades. Those were the decades when the Catholic Church in America rose to its greatest flowering, with record high numbers of priests, nuns, seminarians, with correspondingly large numbers of converts, and high percentage attendance at Sunday Mass. And Catholic families were strong bastions of God’s plan for family life: the statistics prove that divorce rates and annulments among Catholics during those decades were miniscule.

 

But things changed in the 1960’s when a new method of contraception reached the market: the birth control pill. This pill was unfortunately the means whereby Catholics became infected by the contraceptive mentality. The story makes for grim reading.

 

It starts with the calling together of a commission to advise Pope John XXIII as to whether or not Catholic teaching should be revised to allow for the pill. Pope John died before the commission completed its work, but his successor Paul VI authorized the commission to continue. Paul VI expanded the commission to 64 members, including clergy and members of the laity from many countries around the world.

 

In the early meetings, most of the commission members were in favor of retaining traditional Catholic teaching. But at one point in their deliberations, a prominent theologian (Father Bernard Haering CSSR) addressed the commission and, despite his apparently impeccable Catholic credentials, he convinced the members that the Church needed to change. So persuasive were his words that the Commission eventually voted to retreat from traditional Catholic teaching. The vote was lop-sided: 60 members of the Commission voted in favor of change, and only 4 against. This vote, which was supposed to be confidential, was passed on to the Pope for his consideration. Needless to say, word about the vote leaked out, and it became widespread “knowledge” that Catholic teaching on contraception was going to change.

 

But the Pope did not follow the commission’s recommendation. Following the lead of Pius XI in 1930, Paul VI in 1968 decided to repeat to the world, in no uncertain terms, the Catholic teaching on contraception. Using the full authority of his office as Pope, he proclaimed this teaching formally in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on July 25, 1968. Rejecting the opinion of the majority of the commission members, Pope Paul sided with the 4-vote minority. (As it turned out, one of the 4 votes was cast by an archbishop from Poland who would later become Pope John Paul II.)

 

The teaching of Humanae Vitae is clear and unambiguous: contraception in all forms, including the pill, is mortally sinful. The reason given was the same as Pius XI had used. That is, contraception separates love from life, and therefore interferes in a fundamentally destructive way with God’s plan for the gift of sexuality.

 

Pope Paul recognized that his teaching might be difficult for some married couples to accept. But in a rare expression of pastoral concern, he pointed out that everyone, including priests, also occasionally encounter hard times in their lives as they “strive to enter by the narrow gate”. When I read that sentence, the tone sounded to me as if the Pope might also be including himself in this statement. And when hard times come, the Pope wrote, all of us need to turn to Christ in Confession and the Eucharist for assistance. Christ never demands the impossible, but is always willing to help people rise to His calling for them.

 

Pope Paul reiterated the warning that Pope Pius had sounded in 1930: contraception is not merely an isolated moral problem. It leads to further moral problems, including marital infidelity, a lowering of morality, and the tendency to treat women as objects.

 

But more presciently, Pope Paul VI pointed out that once couples are allowed the use of contraceptives, there will be serious consequences. Specifically, he asked: what is there to stop the government from stepping in and imposing its will on the people? What is there to stop the government from imposing whatever method of contraception that the government judges most efficacious?

 

 

Pope Paul’s prophesy fulfilled in America

 

This prediction in Humanae Vitae is nothing short of prophetic. Long before the Chinese government decided to impose coerced abortions on its people as a form of birth control, the Pope predicted that just such an evil would occur once contraception was accepted as “normal” procedure by couples.

 

Unfortunately, we do not need to go to China to see how the evil of contraception spread according to the Pope’s prophesy. It happened right here in America. In 1973, the judicial branch of the US government decreed that unlimited abortion was to be the law of the land. In one fell swoop, the US Supreme Court, in its “Roe v. Wade” decision, overruled the anti-abortion regulations of all 50 state legislatures. What argument did the Supreme Court use to arrive at this decision: they referred to a “right to privacy”. This right appears nowhere in the US Constitution. However, the court had created such a right in 1965, claiming that this right could be found in "emanations from the penumbras of the constitution". Never has such a vague basis been provided for a judicial decision.

 

However, it is essential to ask this question: what was the 1965 case for which the court considered it necessary to invent the “right to privacy”? The answer is: “Griswold v. Connecticut”, a case concerning access to CONTRACEPTION. The US Supreme Court in essence decided in 1973 that abortion is legal because the Court had declared contraception in 1965.

 

Here we see in the most literal sense possible a fulfillment of Pope Paul’s prophesy: once you allow contraception (in 1965), you are opening the floodgates for other forms of birth control to be introduced by the government (in 1973).  The fulfillment of this prophesy in America is stunning.

 

 

The contraceptive mentality infects the Catholic Church: Phase I

 

The issuance of the encyclical Humanae Vitae caused consternation among certain Catholics who had expected Church law to change. In America in particular, a well-orchestrated public protest against Humanae Vitae was organized on July 30, 1968. The protest was led by priests and theology professors at many of the most renowned Catholic colleges and universities. On television and in newspapers, the message was spread as loudly as possible to Catholics that they could reject the Pope’s teaching.

 

This has given rise to as much a disaster for the Catholic Church in America as “Little Lost Lambeth” was for the Anglican Church after 1930. No novelist has arisen to follow Aldous Huxley’s lead in the context of the Catholic Church in America. Regrettably, there is no need for such a novelist: what was predicted for the Anglican Church is already widespread among Catholics. Opinion polls indicate that most people who call themselves Catholic in America now use contraceptives as frequently as non-Catholics do. Divorce rates are now as high among Catholics as in the general population. And as the Pope predicted, contraception leads to widespread approval of abortion among Catholics as well. This became appallingly apparent in the 2000 presidential elections, when more than 50 percent of self-professed Catholics voted for Al Gore, despite the latter’s open support for the barbaric procedure known as partial birth abortion. And at least six self-professed Catholics in the US Senate voted publicly on two separate occasions in favor of partial birth abortion.

 

So widespread and long-lasting has been the damage that followed on after the public rejection of papal authority on July 30 1968 that the only image that comes close to an analogy is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. (See my article “The Catholic Hiroshima” in New Oxford Review, Sept. 2001, p. 22.)

 

 

 

 

The contraceptive mentality enters the Catholic Church: Phase II

 

The public outcry by the theologians in 1968 is long gone. But the effects linger on in the American Catholic Church. Not only have 70 percent (or more) of Catholics stopped attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis, but even the faithful Catholics who go to Mass each Sunday have been denied access to Church teaching.

 

To see this, I note that thirty-three years have elapsed since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae. To be more precise, between July 25 1968 and the day on which I am writing this (Oct. 21, 2001), the number of weeks that have elapsed is precisely one thousand seven hundred and thirty-four. Adding to this the six holydays of obligation each year, the number of required Masses since Humanae Vitae has been nineteen hundred and thirty-three.

 

I can personally attest that I have attended all one thousand nine hundred and thirty-three required Masses since Humanae Vitae, as well as about one thousand more daily Masses at which a brief homily was preached. In the course of attending these Masses (more than 3000 in number), the number of times I have heard a sermon on the sinfulness of contraception is a small number: two.

 

One occurred on October 7, 1979, when one of those 4 faithful voters on the papal Commission came to Washington DC. This one-time voter was now the Pope, and he gave a sermon the like of which I have never heard before or since. Pope John Paul said: “You Americans are well known in the world for giving good things to your children. But I tell you that the best thing you can possibly give them is brothers and sisters.” Here was the message of life proclaimed fearlessly: put aside the evils of contraception (the Pope told us), and let God bless you with children, who are the primary good of marriage. As it happened, when we heard that sermon on the mall in Washington, my wife and I were expecting our seventh child: when he was born a few months later, we named him John Paul.

 

The second time was a brief mention at a Sunday Mass in my parish in Elkton MD where a priest from a religious order listed contraception among a list of sins.

 

Apart from the Pope in 1979, and Father Stafford OSFS in the early 1990’s, I have never heard even a single Sunday sermon on the sinfulness of contraception. Not once in more than three thousand Masses. And it is not as if we were dealing with an obscure theological topic that is of interest only to scholars. On the contrary, the topic of contraception is something that may personally affect all married Catholics every day (or night) of their lives.

 

This widespread silence among preachers about the contents of Humanae Vitae is puzzling. Perhaps this silence is related to the post-Vatican II requirement that homilies be tied in some way to the scripture readings of the day. There is only one passage in scripture that deals even remotely with birth control (Gen. 38, 9), and this passage is nowhere to be found (as far as I know) in the readings for cycle A, B, or C.  In any case, my experience as a layman is unequivocal: the contraceptive mentality has entered into the preaching practices of all the Catholic Churches I have attended since August 1968. It is no wonder that Catholics in America practice contraception as frequently as non-Catholics. It is no wonder that the majority of Catholics in America think that there should be no limits placed on the availability of abortion.

 

Summary

 

We Catholics have certainly been given clear warnings about the evils of contraception in the writings of Popes Pius XI and Paul VI. These warnings have been repeated clearly in the preaching and writings of our current Holy Father. Pope John Paul II has personally taken up the task of spreading the word about the evils of contraception in every country he visits. It is as if he sees his visits as a chance to allow Catholics to hear an item of Church teaching that their local priests have decided (for whatever reason) to avoid.

 

Pope John Paul II has brought forth some new arguments to show why contraception is inherently wrong. In particular, the Pope has been at pains to stress the essential self-giving that is meant to be at the core of sexuality. The strongest argument I know against contraception (apart from intrinsic disgust with such unnatural practices) emerges from Pope John Paul’s writing: when couples call upon God to witness their marriage vows, they are taking an oath before God that they will use the gift of sexuality as He planned it. If the couple then decides to use contraception, they are breaking their oath. Because of this, contraception is akin to perjury.

 

The predictions of the Popes that contraception leads to a general decline in morality has certainly been borne out in America. What contraception does is to separate the two aspects of God’s plan for sexuality: the unitive (to bring couples together in love) and the procreative (to have children). Once these two aspects are separated, there are certain inevitable consequences. For one thing, people begin to regard sex as something to be used for recreation without the “burden” of children. And the creation of children becomes separated from the love of husband and wife: babies can be brought into existence in a test-tube.

 

Another consequence of accepting contraception is that there is no longer any logical defense against homosexuality. If sex can be used for pleasure without any possibility of having children, then homosexual behavior becomes permissible. In recent years, there has undoubtedly been a great upsurge in public support for homosexuality in America. And consistent with the lack of preaching against contraception, I have never heard a single homily on the intrinsic sinfulness of homosexual practices.

   

And we have already seen that contraception led to abortion in the US Supreme Court. Thus, contraception has paved the way for both abortion and homosexuality. And it is precisely this atmosphere of general rejection of God’s plan for sexuality that has brought us to the stage where unborn babies are being killed for stem cell research. God help America.