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The Barest Human Life: IVF, Embryos, and Political Responsibility

Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                            Winter 2020      vol. 3  issue  1

J. David Franks, Ph.D.

Chairman of the Board for Massachusetts Citizens for Life


Perhaps a million human embryos in the United States perdure in the limbo of cryopreservation as a byproduct, as it were, of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Many more have been “discarded” during and after the IVF process in the almost forty years since IVF arrived in America. (Those disposed of during the process are the ones that do not pass muster after preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Sex selection is sometimes a factor, and eugenic attitudes are prevalent.) Untold thousands of other “spare” IVF human embryos are destroyed in the conduct of scientific research.


IVF has led to the birth of more than a million children in the United States since the first successful American delivery occurred in 1981. But the multi-billion-dollar IVF industry that has developed remains virtually unregulated. Legal hedges against the eugenic dangers inherent in the process (given the genetic screening technologies now available), and hedges against the destruction of embryos, do not exist. The citizens of this democratic republic have not conducted a thorough conversation that the gravity of this matter demands.


IVF and embryo/stem cell research do not have to be carried out as they are carried out in America. Due to its 1990 Embryo Protection Act[1] and the protections afforded in the German Constitution, IVF and embryo research in Germany are regulated in a way that is sensitive to the fate of embryonic human life and sensitive to the danger of eugenics. [2] With regard to IVF, there is a limit of three embryo transfers per cycle, and every embryo created must be implanted—whereas in America, we have routine creation of “spare” embryos that are frozen, as well as routine destruction of embryos that are not thought fit for implantation. Germany has also codified significant restrictions on preimplantation genetic diagnosis. PGD not only threatens embryonic integrity (performed as it is through blastocyst biopsy) but is overwhelmingly employed as a eugenic measure. Germany has grappled with its eugenic history in a way that America simply has not. Given our long and dark record of eugenic crimes against humanity (epitomized in the 1927 Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell), a conversation about IVF and the fate of embryos is a grave ethical responsibility that America must not shirk. A purification of memory is necessary, especially if the immense power of our biotech industry is to be wielded for the human good rather than against it.[3] Further, Germany permits no embryo-destructive research at all (for stem cells or otherwise), in stark contrast to the American practice.[4] Again, Germany has walked the path of self-reckoning with regard to barbarous human experimentation that America has not traversed far enough.


It is the responsibility of the pro-life movement to initiate a deliberative civic conversation about more humane conduct of IVF and embryo-related research, especially given the routine destruction of so many human embryos in America.[5] Such a conversation is urgently needed in general, because the power of biotechnology continues to grow while eluding democratic oversight. Our responsibility as the most powerful nation on earth is to maintain a constant vigilance with regard to the intensification and reach of power.


A Modest Proposal


The cost of our unregulated IVF industry extends from the fate of embryos to their parents. A woman who had given birth to a child due to IVF struggled with her conscience for years over the fate of her eight cryopreserved embryos: “I wish someone had told me that I'd be haunted by the grief of my infertility struggle all over again as I wrestled with my decision.”[6]


The NPR story goes on, “A study published in the March issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility found that after successful IVF treatment, most of the 131 couples responding to a survey were dissatisfied with the education they obtained from their health care providers about disposal decisions. And less than 50 percent were satisfied with the emotional guidance they got.”


We have abandoned men and women who suffer from infertility to a process without the benefit of communal wisdom.


In Great Britain, where the world’s first successful IVF birth occurred in 1978, there was a public conversation about how to deal with the questions raised by this astonishing event, leading to the formation of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs).


My proposal is this: the President should establish a new bioethics commission to develop ethical guidelines for the humane conduct of biotechnology in America. The commission’s mandate should include intellectual ground-preparation for Congressional creation of a regulatory agency to control IVF and embryo research insofar as they are matters of interstate commerce or of fundamental human dignity. For matters beyond the scope of the national government, the presidential bioethics commission should provide guidance to the states and prod them towards passage of ethically indicated laws by stimulating and enriching a nationwide conversation about the human goods implicated generally in biotechnology and particularly in IVF and embryo research. The goal would be legislation that provides at least the level of safeguards currently in place in Germany.


A Brief History of American Failure to Consider the Exposed Embryo


The obstetrician and gynecologist John Rock, a Massachusetts Catholic, who would later be a decisive agent in the development of the birth control pill, and his research assistant Miriam Menkin, were responsible for the first human fertilization outside the body of a woman, “in glass” (in vitro) in 1944. It is hard to overstate how radical this moment was, the unveiling of human life in its origins—though, ominously, an unveiling that necessarily meant the human life thus seen for the first time by human eyes would not live long. Like Cockcroft and Walton splitting the atom in 1932, this momentous event of small physical scale meant an unprecedented unleashing of power.


Power must always be checked. But this ultimate biopower has gone unchecked in the United States. The absence of adequate regulation of IVF has much to do with the post-Roe political climate.

“In 1975, pressed by scientists in the field to fund research on human in vitro fertilization, which would necessarily include the destruction of at least some embryos, the federal government instead issued a ‘temporary’ moratorium on such funding to allow for time to study the issue.”[7]


Marsh and Ronner in The Pursuit of Parenthood correctly lament how unregulated IVF is in America, but because they do not agree (while not bothering to provide arguments for their disagreement) with a desire to respect the dignity of embryonic human life, they conflate a ban on federal funding of embryo-destructive research with a failure to regulate: “More than four decades after the temporary moratorium was put in place, the funding ban still exists, now enshrined in annual congressional appropriations bills. From that day to this, the federal government has not funded, regulated, prohibited, or approved such research. …Privately funded research is conducted, but this is not the same thing as NIH-funded research, which is independent and peer-reviewed and would allow for impartial and systematic assessment of existing and new technologies. The inability of the United States to develop a coherent national policy on these new reproductive technologies ultimately led to a research and clinical free-for-all, and in the ensuing decades, increased political polarization has only made many reproductive specialists more wary of any federal regulation of their field of research and practice.”[8]


Marsh and Ronner track the transition of IVF from the scientific explorers who blazed the trail to for-profit practitioners, the shift from academic medicine to private fertility centers—though embryo-destructive research is conducted in both academic and corporate settings.


As the profit motive became more salient, sensational cases of fraud and malpractice erupted in the press. Eventually, Ron Wyden as a member of the House of Representatives was able to get legislation passed bearing on IVF in 1992. The Wyden Act was not a matter of regulation, but of consumer protection. Ominously, though, under pressure from the IVF industry, this law was crafted in a way that forestalls regulation, even by state governments: “By the time of the Wyden Hearings, physicians active in the development and use of IVF had soured on the idea of outright federal regulation, convinced that professional guidelines developed by the American Fertility Society would ensure compliance with ethical standards. Wyden acceded to this majority view, including in the bill a provision prohibiting either the secretary of health and human services or state legislatures from establishing ‘any regulation, standard, or requirement which has the effect of exercising supervision or control over the practice of medicine in assisted reproductive technology programs.’”[9]


IVF and the question of embryo-destructive research have been intertwined from the beginning. The biomedical research community was relentless in trying to secure federal funding for embryo-destructive research. It did not want regulation, because regulation might bring the kind of humane standards Germany has in place.


Marsh and Ronner continue the story: “[Clinton’s] victory had raised hopes in the biomedical community that he would be more open to funding research on IVF and human embryos than his two predecessors had been. …Clinton appointed the distinguished cancer researcher Harold Varmus as head of the National Institutes of Health. Varmus in turn quickly impaneled the Human Embryo Research Panel, …which recommended an end to the federal funding ban. Its detailed report provided guidelines for federal funding of research on existing embryos and for the creation of embryos specifically for research.”[10]


Clinton, surprisingly, refused the recommendation to create embryos just to destroy them in research. The panel still hoped, though, that the NIH would be able to fund research on “improving techniques of in vitro fertilization, basic research using ‘spare’ embryos remaining from infertility procedures.”[11] These “spare” IVF embryos have always been eyed by the researchers.


The 1975 moratorium on federal funding of embryo-destructive research was reaffirmed in this context as an appropriations bill rider called Dickey-Wicker.


With the 1998 isolation of human embryonic stem cells, the biotechnicians were again clamoring for federal funding of embryo-destructive research. This set the stage for the first major public question confronted by President George W. Bush.


2001 was the last time the fate of embryos was a topic for general discussion in America. Bush addressed the nation on August 9th to deliver his Solomonic decision concerning federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. That address, and the public conversation preceding that decision, focused the mind of the country on bioethics in a singular way. Of course, 9/11 soon overwhelmed the conversation: endless war and increasingly bitter polarization have not since afforded much room for renewed civic deliberation on the fate of embryos.[12]


The American Pro-Life Imperative


That was a moment in our public discourse when we might have proceeded more deliberately as a people when it comes to bioethics—had the conversation had the time to unfold fully. It was a necessary conversation to have then; the need has only become more urgent. The pro-life cause essentially confronts issues of bioethics and biopower, focused as we are on life at the margins (at the beginning, at the end, in conditions threatened by eugenics), so this national conversation is one that pro-lifers should earnestly commit to restarting. It belongs intrinsically to our mission to do so.


The fate of embryos in the process of IVF fits squarely within our care as “single-issue” pro-lifers. As a movement, we do not pronounce on the question of the morality as such of the procedure. But our service to the American conscience here has to do with presenting scientific and ethical facts concerning the human embryo.


We are committed to the founding proposition of the United States of America, what President Lincoln isolated from the Declaration of Independence: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Both Jefferson and Lincoln used the word “men” to refer to individuals of the human species, what would be anthrōpoi in Greek or homines in Latin. Insistence on the equality of each member of the human species with regard to the right to life is what defines the pro-life movement as a legal and political cause.


After years of war, and in this time of intensifying partisanship, it is essential for us to recur to our shared first principles as Americans, so that we might come to understand again the reason for the great financial and technological power wielded by this country and so that we might reforge civic friendship in a common commitment to care for the most vulnerable.


The barest human life is to be found in the human embryo.[13] Our character is revealed in how we stand with regard to that bare humanity. The question we must ask ourselves as a people: will we assume our democratic responsibility to conduct ourselves humanely with regard to bare human life?


The Humanity of the Embryo; Eugenics and Bio-Capital; and German Defense of Human Dignity


For the balance of this essay, I will consider three points as an aid to such a conversation. First, I will answer objections to the humanity of the embryo raised by political philosopher Michael Sandel, who is neither friend nor foe of the pro-life movement. Second, I will consider how and why bio-capitalism will continue to object strongly to the regulation of IVF and embryo research, noting the eugenic pressures involved. Third, I will discuss the superiority of German law on this score by reference to the philosopher Jürgen Habermas.


1) Sandel (who served on Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics) asks good humanistic questions in the face of technocratic biopower, but he rejects the pro-life stance with regard to the humanity of the embryo. He does so with arguments that seem somewhat confused: “It is undeniable that the blastocyst [the embryo from about five days after fertilization] is ‘human life,’ at least in the obvious sense that it is living rather than dead, and human rather than, say, bovine. But it does not follow from this biological fact that the blastocyst is a human being or a person. Any living human cell (a skin cell, for example) is ‘human life’ in the sense of being human rather than bovine and living rather than dead.”[14]


When someone notes that a human embryo is human life, what is meant is that a human embryo is a self-organizing individual of the human species. A skin cell is not “human life” in the relevant sense.


Sandel goes on: “…the fact that every person began life as an embryo does not prove that embryos are persons. Consider an analogy: Although every oak tree was once an acorn, it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that I should treat the loss of an acorn eaten by a squirrel in my front yard as the same kind of loss as the death of an oak tree felled by a storm. Despite their developmental continuity, acorns and oak trees differ. So do human embryos and human beings, and in the same way. Just as acorns are potential oaks, human embryos are potential human beings. The distinction between actual persons and potential ones is not without ethical significance. Sentient creatures make claims on us that nonsentient ones do not; beings capable of experience and consciousness make higher claims still. Human life develops by degrees.”[15]


It is useful for Sandel to illustrate so clearly what seems to be a widespread confusion. For example, Justice Blackmun in the majority decision of Roe v. Wade likewise calls the fetus “potential human life.” The language of potency derives from Aristotle, whose analysis of the continuity of substantial form through organic change is alluded to, though mangled, by Sandel. Do acorns and oak trees differ? Yes. They differ according to the stage of development. Are they different kinds of things? No. They are both instances of oakness; indeed, an acorn is the self-same instance of oakness as the oak it grows to be. If “acorns are potential oaks,” it is because acorns are potentially the mature oak thing. But this is so because an acorn is that same instance of oakness in its immaturity. The embryo is not potential with regard to being a human; it is only potential with regard to human maturity.


Are oak seedlings still only potentially oaks? Are babies still only potentially human? The whole point of actualization analysis is to understand that perduring through organic developmental change is one individual of a certain kind, a certain thing whose identity endures despite traversing the path from immaturity to maturity.


It should be noted that I have not availed myself of the language of person (or of soul). To do so is not necessary. The question is whether we have an individual of the human species at hand.


The bioethicist Eric Cohen does not need recourse to personhood language to note: “In the end, I believe the pro-life rationalists have the better argument, at least from the standpoint of being decent egalitarian democrats. I believe it is impossible to establish rational grounds for giving the early-stage embryo less ‘moral status’ than the later-stage fetus or newborn—without also dehumanizing, in principle, other classes of human beings, or making our humanity so conditional that the weak become more vulnerable to exploitation. If it is certain powers that the embryos lack, then there will always be other non-embryonic human beings that also lack them. And so the only rational view of the embryo that is fully consistent with democratic decency and democratic equality is the welcoming one—to treat the embryo as ‘one of us.’”[16]


Sandel makes much of the chestnut that embryos are supposedly lost naturally at high rates: “But the way we respond to the natural loss of embryos suggests that we do not regard this event as the moral or religious equivalent of the death of an infant.”[17] Many, perhaps incorrect, assumptions have gone into that chestnut. Aside from that, though, recognizing the humanity of the embryo does not require the exact same response to human life in each of its stages. There are differences relevant for, say, our emotional response, including the fact that the embryo does not feel pain. It is also the case that an embryo does not have a personal history.[18] What they do have is their utter powerlessness, their total dependence on our willingness as a society to see their humanity or not.


Sandel then makes an argument that seems to be derived from Habermas: “Having criticized the view that regards embryos as human beings, I do not suggest that embryos are mere things, open to any use we may desire or devise. Embryos are not inviolable, but neither are they objects at our disposal.”[19]


The question is: how exactly do we show due respect to this barest human life? How is it that we avoid treating them as mere objects for our disposal…if we destroy them?


2) In 2016, there were 502 IVF centers in the country.[20] It is a $3-4 billion industry. This multi-billion-dollar industry that has gotten used to operating unregulated will employ significant capital to secure the complicity of legislators to resist the establishment of a regulatory agency. It will be difficult to overcome the money that would be thrown into the fight by bio-capital.


Pro-lifers must be prepared to make a case to the American people (and the case might have to be made to certain fellow travelers too) that there is often a need to limit markets, that regulation can be a necessity. The power of bio-capital must be tamed by the democratic judgment that human dignity requires constraint on how the IVF process is carried out (and on research involving embryos). The technocratic researcher’s will to know must be educated to be humane; the prospective IVF “consumer” is owed the wisdom of the community.


Here I would appropriate the work of philosopher Elizabeth Anderson: “…The individualistic preference model of freedom also masks the ways in which commodification can destroy autonomy. When autonomy is reduced to the expression of preferences and preferences are identified with actual market choices, theorists don’t ask if these ‘revealed preferences’ adequately express a person’s own reflective attitudes, or whether they express irrational preferences or the preferences of others. When individuals are supposed to be the automatic and self-sufficient bearers of autonomy, theorists don’t question the social relations of domination that exist prior to market transactions and that condition the choices individuals make there.”[21]


That is, a common, civil deliberation is necessary for us to gain a level of self-knowledge about our preferences such that we see our desires against the horizon of history and the common good. Who are we? What do we owe to each other? Does my present preference well reflect who I really am? Are we callous to the mystery of human origins and the vulnerability of barest human life? Is that who we are? As Americans? As humans? Are we mere nodes in the circulation of eugenic biopower and bio-capital? Is that who we are? Or are we humans who, say, desperately want children or a cure for this disease, and want to be able to share that burden with our community? Are we honoring our scientific spirit of discovery when we destroy? Are we honoring the scientific desire to relieve man’s estate when we destroy bare human life?


These questions perhaps become even more pointed when we confront the fact of the eugenic determination of IVF through preimplantation genetic diagnosis and the use of IVF for reasons other than infertility, including sex selection.


The eugenic trajectory of IVF was there in England (the birthplace of the modern eugenic ideology) from the beginning: “[IVF pioneer] Robert Edwards argued that IVF might help reduce and perhaps eventually eliminate the occurrence of heritable diseases, if only they could be diagnosed in the embryo. This was one of the key arguments made in Great Britain by medical scientists in their quest to legitimize the new technology. In the end, public and governmental support for IVF in Great Britain in the 1980s was driven in some considerable measure by its promise to conduct the research needed to allow women to have babies without genetic disorders. Fulfilling Edwards’s vision, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) was first developed in England in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”[22]


Eugenically determined bio-capital shallows our desire, shaping it as consumerism and further integrates us into its control system by suborning us into practices of controlling those below us—that human life which is more and more exposed, more and more bare: imperial biopower’s feudal articulation.


Cohen puts it well: “By making reproduction into a process of division by [genetic] class, we transform the welcoming attitude of unconditional love into a eugenic attitude of conditional acceptance. Of course, we would do this in the name of compassion, or mercy, or equality. We seek to give our children healthy genetic equipment, and to spare those who would suffer by ‘nipping them in the bud.’ But the pursuit of genetic equality requires a radical program of genetic discrimination. Whatever we might think about the moral status of the early embryos tested in PGD, they are certainly not nothing. They are real organisms, with the same genetic identity as embryos that they would have through life if those who created them in the first place decided to let them live.”[23]


The pro-lifer will note that we are not engaged in, say, “curing” Down syndrome when we discard the youngest humans who have the syndrome. Killing is not curing.[24]


3) The German Constitution, the Basic Law, is a document of the highest democratic ideals: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. …Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity.”[25]


The German stance with regard to IVF, embryo research, and even abortion should mortify Americans into reclaiming our Lincolnian ideals.


The eminent Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas notes that there is a different flavor to discussions of biotechnology in our two nations: “In Germany, the philosophical discussion is skeptical, often introducing highly normative conceptions of the person and metaphysically loaded conceptions of nature, in arguing the question of whether further developments in genetic technology—predominantly in the fields of organ breeding and reproductive medicine—are permissible. In America, by contrast, the discussion focuses primarily on the question of how developments that are already taken essentially for granted should be implemented, even insofar as these developments point beyond the application of genetic therapies toward ‘shopping in the genetic supermarket.”[26]


I would suggest that this has much to do with how the Basic Law has shaped the German conscience.[27] That constitution reflects the catastrophic horror flowing from the Nazi assumption that there is such a thing as human “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben), the whole infernal panoply of eugenic control: coercive sterilization, euthanasia, human experimentation, all leading to the Holocaust. The Basic Law was created precisely in the shadow of the most terrible exercise of biopower the world had ever seen.


Habermas notes how the chastened German approach contextualizes individualism in terms of objective order, thus shaping individual preferences, making them more objective, more open to being shaped in mutual interaction and common deliberation: “An entirely different viewpoint emerges if we conceive of rights held by individual subjects as the mirror image of an objective legal order which obliges state authorities to observe their duties to protect weaker or helpless parts of society. This applies to the cases of protecting the life of the unborn, who are unable to protect their individual rights by themselves. This shift in perspective brings to the foreground objective principles that are embodied in the legal order as a whole. Objective right realizes and interprets the basic idea of the mutual recognition of free and equal persons who voluntarily associate with one another in order to legitimately regulate their common life through the means of positive law.”[28]




We are free only when we take care. The etymology of “care” lies in crying out, lamentation, grief. Care is the cry of the heart. May heart speak to heart so we might learn the cry from each other. May each of our hearts, and all American hearts together, follow out the extent, the reach, of our responsibility. If that which has lain hidden since the foundation of the world, the beginning of human life, has been unveiled in these days through the power of biotechnology, our care must stretch further, even to the extremity of the barest human life.



[1] http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/eschg/BJNR027460990.html

[2] Thankfully, the incidence of IVF fetal or selective reduction (abortions performed due to transferring too many embryos at one time) has dropped significantly in America, with younger women opting more and more for single-embryo transfer.

[3] One of America’s most damaging, most persistent, and most characteristic spiritual faults is its failure to live up to the grave moral responsibility of purifying memory, a spiritual practice necessary for reconciliation in the body politic: “Purification [of memory] aims at liberating personal and communal conscience from all forms of resentment and violence that are the legacy of past faults, through a renewed historical and theological evaluation of such events. This should lead - if done correctly - to a corresponding recognition of guilt and contribute to the path of reconciliation. Such a process can have a significant effect on the present, precisely because the consequences of past faults still make themselves felt and can persist as tensions in the present” (International Theological Commission, Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past: 1999, introduction).

[4] Details on the German policy can be found at https://www.eurostemcell.org/regulation-stem-cell-research-germany. The German policy on embryo-related research echoes the 2001 compromise announced by President George W. Bush concerning the federal funding of research utilizing embryonically derived stem cell lines. However, there is a massive difference in that the destruction of embryos is simply not permitted in Germany. American restrictions on federal funding do not in any way touch the common practice of embryo-destructive research in America.

[5] Though not analytically rigorous, this law school professor opines in ways that must be answered by pro-lifers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fertility-clinics-destroy-embryos-all-the-time-why-arent-conservatives-after-them/2015/08/13/be06e852-4128-11e5-8e7d-9c033e6745d8_story.html. 

Philosopher Michael Sandel likewise sees hypocrisy in the pro-life movement: “Few of those who would ban the creation of embryos for research have called for a ban on the creation and destruction of excess embryos in fertility clinics” [The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 111.] Whether that is historically accurate, we need to re-commit. (There are indications that the pro-life movement has not been ethically inconsistent on this score: the Virginia Society for Human Life strongly objected to the establishment of the IVF program at Eastern Virginia Medical School by Howard and Georgeanna Jones, which produced the first American IVF baby. And the pro-life movement has secured protections for embryos in Louisiana that should serve as a model for other states, including the designation of IVF-created human embryos outside the womb as juridical persons: https://biotech.law.lsu.edu/cases/la/health/embryo_rs.htm.)

[6] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/08/20/489232868/after-ivf-some-struggle-with-what-to-do-with-leftover-embryos

[7] Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner, The Pursuit of Parenthood: Reproductive Technology from Test-Tube Babies to Uterus Transplants (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), 7. Destruction of “some” embryos isn’t a forthright description: Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe had “gone through hundreds of embryo transfers before Louise [Brown] was conceived”: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-33599353. This book provides a useful history of IVF, though Marsh and Ronner’s treatment of the question of the humanity of the human embryo is tendentious, which affects their historiography and their analysis.

[8] Ibid., 7. In a way, that last sentence indicates where opposition to regulation of IVF and embryo research would now arise. Marsh and Ronner’s account of why regulation did not get anywhere does not seem to tell the whole story. Perhaps a “Catholic” approach that simply said No to all IVF may have inhibited necessary political compromises to see regulation into reality? Perhaps scientists from the start wanted federal money without federal regulation? It is not clear. More historical work needs to be done.

[9] Marsh and Ronner, 118. Again, the authors, who want some real regulation of IVF, have to confront the fact that the greatest resistance to such regulation would come, and perhaps has always come, from IVF practitioners themselves.

[10] Ibid., 143.

[11] Ibid., 143.

[12] In the meantime, the 2007 breakthrough innovation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) completely undercuts one of the key rationales researchers adduce as to why they should be allowed to destroy human embryos: https://lozierinstitute.org/time-to-end-embryo-destroying-stem-cell-research/.

[13] I speak of “bare human life” following the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben.

[14] Sandel, 115.

[15] Sandel, 116-117.

[16] Eric Cohen, In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology (New York: Encounter Books, 2008), 75.

[17] Sandel, 124. For reasons to doubt the chestnut, see, for example, https://f1000researchdata.s3.amazonaws.com/manuscripts/11187/a7e89722-a6d7-448e-ac9b-ed051c629b0a_9479_-_gavin_jarvis_v2.pdf?doi=10.12688/f1000research.9479.2&numberOfBrowsableCollections=19&numberOfBrowsableInstitutionalCollections=5&numberOfBrowsableGateways=22.

[18] However, an embryo does have a personal history in the story of the man and woman engendering him or her.

[19] Ibid., 125.

[20] This according to the 2016 CDC numbers, which are the most recent available: https://www.cdc.gov/art/pdf/2016-national-summary-slides/ART_2016_graphs_and_charts.pdf.

[21] Elizabeth Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 165.

[22] Marsh and Ronner, 173. It is a bitter irony that the U.S. and Britain have again embraced eugenics in this way, while Germany has put up some real resistance to that ideology.

[23] Cohen, 92-93.

[24] “Of course, if we could avoid conceiving a sick or disabled child, we would do so. And if we could safely cure Tay-Sachs or Down syndrome during pregnancy or in vitro, we should do so. But once conception has taken place, and in cases where there is no cure, we are left with the decision to accept or reject a life in-progress—a life that is real enough to us that we can evaluate and pass judgment on its genetic characteristics. With the arrival of [PGD], we may face a radical transformation of assisted reproduction—a transformation made more significant by the rising numbers of women and families turning to IVF to have children. In this new world, genetic testing would become a standard part of IVF, and the tested embryos would be divided into different classes: those doomed to suffer killer diseases like Tay-Sachs would be separated from those that are not; those doomed to suffer disabilities like Down syndrome would be separated from those that are not; those prone to suffer late-onset diseases like breast cancer would be separated from those that are not” (Cohen, 92).

[25] https://www.btg-bestellservice.de/pdf/80201000.pdf

[26] Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 75.

[27] Laws shape the character of the people. This is why pro-lifers are committed to changing the laws even as we seek to change hearts and minds.

[28] Ibid., 76-77.


J. David Franks received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston College, writing a dissertation on the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and political theology. He was a professor of sacred theology for almost a decade at St. John's Seminary in Boston, teaching across the range of systematics and morals. There he co-founded the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization and its Catechetical Certificate program. An activist as well as an intellectual, David serves as Chairman of the Board for Massachusetts Citizens for Life and directs its Lincoln Forum for Human Dignity, which advances liberal arts and high-cultured approach to reigniting civic conversation. David is also the doting father of six children.