The Danger of a New Selective Eugenics

Address by Father H. Ennis

PRETORIA, South Africa, OCT. 14, 2006 ( Here is a text prepared by Friars Minor Father Hyacinth Ennis for a videoconference of theologians Sept. 27 on bioethics. The Congregation for Clergy organized the event. The text was adapted here.

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The Danger of a New Selective Eugenics,
Which Aims to Destroy Embryos With Defects and Illness

By Dr. Hyacinth Ennis, OFM
Pretoria, South Africa

Because of the wonderful advances made in recent years by human embryology, scientists can now detect various things about the young embryo while in the womb of its mother. Among the things that can be discovered are the presence of certain physical and even mental disabilities or handicaps in the embryo.

Unfortunately such a scientific detection and its concomitant information can lead people — especially impressionable pregnant mothers — to decide to undergo a clinical abortion. Just because the embryo is found to be defective, they (mothers and medical personnel) consider it being in their best interest to abort the said imperfect embryo.

This being the case, many medical specialists and indeed even legal systems, permit and encourage a so-called therapeutic abortion in such instances. This, for example, is the sort of an abortion permitted in the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of South Africa of 1996 which, “inter alia,” legally allows abortion when “there exists a substantial risk that the fetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality.”

The Catholic Church does permit medical procedures to be carried out on the human embryo “which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing” (“Donum Vitae,” I, 3). However, the use of such procedures to warrant the abortion of defective embryos (either because of physical or mental defects) has been roundly condemned by the Church in recent times.

It is one of the cases elucidated by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter “Evangelium Vitae” of 1995 (Nos. 14 and 63) where he calls it “eugenic abortion.” A similar line is taken by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2274) and by the Charter for Health Care Workers (No. 61) of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers of 1995.

Such a “eugenic abortion” is plainly and simply contrary to the Fifth Commandment and the “right to life” of the unborn child. It is at the same time a violation of the Hippocratic oath. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child of the United Nations in 1959 declares that “the child, because of its physical and mental immaturity, needs special care and safeguards, including legal safeguards, before as well as after birth.”

Thus, such a so-called eugenic abortion is a violation of legal justice and good medicine. It is a form of unjust discrimination against an innocent human life: Certain individuals are deemed worthy of living while others are discarded because of their inability to reach the technical standards of science in regard to human perfection. In this respect this type of “selective eugenics” becomes acceptable in some medical and legal quarters.

There is a naivete here that fails to recognize the depth of tragedy in human existence — it has rushed in where angels fear to tread. It fails to see that its “panacea” has only served to open a Pandora’s box of further problems of deeper consequence. The slippery slope has drawn closer to the abyss.

A line has to be drawn — such procedures are not in the best interest of the unborn child and only help to illustrate society’s incapacity to cope with so-called human imperfection and physical disability. Unborn children, especially the “defective” ones, are indeed, the most vulnerable of humans!

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