Mom proposes a quiz:
1) Man has unlimited dominion over his body.
2) Man has a reasonable, limited dominion over his body.
3) Modern medicine intervenes in biological functions.
4) The thrust of modern medicine is to intervene for the benefit of the biological organism only.
5) The thrust of modern medicine is to intervene for the benefit of the whole person when it interferes with biological functions.
6)Generative faculties are a biological function.
7) In the practice of medicine, the Church teaches that man has a limited dominion over his biological functions.
Humanae Vitae says that man has no dominion over the biological functions related to the transmission of life.
True or False Quiz Answers
1) Man has unlimited dominion over his body. FALSE
2) Man has a reasonable, limited dominion over his body. TRUE
3) Modern medicine intervenes in biological functions. TRUE
4) The thrust of modern medicine is to intervene for the benefit of the biological organism only. FALSE
5) The thrust of modern medicine is to intervene for the benefit of the whole person when it interferes with biological functions. TRUE
6)Generative faculties are a biological function. TRUE
7) In the practice of medicine, the Church teaches that man has a limited dominion over his biological functions. TRUE
Humanae Vitae says that man has NO dominion over the biological functions related to the transmission of life. TRUE
Question: What is the Church's reasoning for the apparent disparity between man having limited dominion over his biological functions in the practice of medicine but no dominion over those biological functions which are generative, that is, related to the transmission of life?
So, how does the
Church square its "NO dominion" position over those biological
functions pertaining to our generative faculties versus its "limited
dominion" over our biological functions exercised in the art and science
of medicine? Be sure to take the Quiz.
In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI quoted from Pope John's encyclical, Mater et Magistra: Human life is sacred; from its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.
It is in that quote that Bernard Haring believes Paul VI attempted to best anticipate and answer our question. It is as if the Pope is suggesting (and this is a highly nuanced inference) that we have limited dominion in medicine, in general, but that we have no dominion regarding our generative faculties, in particular, because we are dealing with sacred human life, itself.
Haring thus comments: Here again we encounter unequal members in the comparison: the absolute sacredness of biological laws and rhythms is compared and equated with the sacredness of human life. The difference is as great as between "no dominion" and "limited dominion."
He then counters: Biological functions, including the human sperm and ovule, are not human life nor the inception of human life.
McBrien describes the natural law theory of those who support the traditional teaching: It is a concept of nature as something so mysterious and sacred, they maintain, that any human intervention tends to destroy rather than to perfect this very nature. Because of this mentality, many advances in medical science were prohibited for a time, and the same was true for other areas of scientific experimentation.
The majority theologians counter this: The dignity of the human person consist in this, that God wished man to SHARE in His dominion ... ... In the course of his life man must attain his perfection in difficult and adverse conditions, he must accept the consequences of his responsibility, etc Therefore, the dominion of God is exercised through man, who can use nature for his own perfection according to the dictates of right reason.
The idea of unequal members in comparison somewhat mirrors the issue of parvity of matter. If in our exchange of points and counterpoints we give equal weight to all arguments, then we can end up looking rather foolish and unreasonable. No one will pay attention to us when we claim that masturbation is as serious a matter for our mortal souls as murder. They may even erroneously conclude that, if the Church is so incapable of properly guaging seriousness and weightiness regarding its natural law applications to birth control, mass attendance and abstinence from meat, and cannot countenance something as reasonable as fundamental option theory, then what does it really have to say about abortion or genocide or war, which it holds out as moral equivalents of masturbation insofar as one's eternal destiny is concerned?
It is NOT enough to talk in terms of why certain allegedly serious offenses are exculpable and to continue to frame up the questions surrounding these very important issues in terms of 1) legitimacy of authority 2) dispersion of magisterial authority 3) weakness of the human will and lack of consent and metastabilization 4) invincible ignorance, etc ad nauseum. Those are NOT issues central to our consideration of the Natural Law and do NOT provide rationale, reasons, logic or convincing arguments regarding WHY certain human actions are supposedly intrinsically evil!
And, in answering why any action is "intrinsically" evil, let's not engage the logical fallacy of setting forth possible extrinsic consequences or additional slippery slope fallacies.
WHERE are the central issues engaged? WHERE are the reasons set forth?
By the minority report's own admission, they were engaged but found wanting in reason. Nothing has changed in 30 years.
I am going to
call the body of issues you are articulating here "the Frankenstein
Now please do not recoil from this statement because I am not suggesting that you be confronted by rustics with torches and pitchforks!! At least not literal torches and pitchforks!
Calling it the "Frankenstein question" does not imply something visually hideous, thoroughly menancing, but pitifully tragic as the "abomination in the eyes of God" constructed by Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's classic.
In current artful renditions the monstor has been beautified and made socially acceptable and even admirable. In "Dark Angel" the human-amimal hybrid is constantly remined she is not totally human, expendable, and therefore rendered into the caricature of an oppressed, persecuted antiheroine.
So with changing times a certain understanding or interpretation of natural law and the associated question of dominion has faded. Whether looking at natural law as something mechanical or not depends upon whether there are mechanical or biological limts to what mankind as a species is. If I say that natural law supports the species, we have to assume that there are limits to what the human SPECIES IS.
In this regard I do not see how we can get around the role of what is essential (ens) and what is cosmetic.
In the same vein of thinking medicine would be understood as the art of pursueing and reconstructing and supporting this biological image of the species. A surgeon may "harm" me with his tools in the ultimate pursuit of reconstructing me to a set image, pattern and associated functions. This a priori image would include the dynamic functions and processes such as reproduction.
So regarding birth control, a philosophical question would be whether ABC supports this de facto image of the species along with the dynamic functions.
The question of whether ABC is within the channel limits of this a priori image & associated process is very much in doubt and I can understand those who answer in the negative, as difficult and as impractical as this may seem.
You suggest that as co-Creators we have a lot of leeway in redefining this image and process. Does this suggest that we may have some room to play Dr.Frankenstein or the geneticists who made Dark Angel?
But whether all this has much to do with spirituality, holiness, and grace may be another question. If the pursuits of Frankenstein leads to death, then this definitely does set some general principles, but maybe not absolutes.
Mom of Four responds:
Your hyperbole and metaphor are very colorful and well conceived toward the end of shedding some light on this issue.
I thought of the
Imago Dei, Michael, when you referred to your "a priori" image.
Coming forth from the Creator's Hand and even designed by Him prior to even our
conception or time spent in the womb, it is a wondrous and fearsome thought to
think of what wo/man is, higher even than the angels!
So, it is with great circumspection that we approach the limits of our dominion and approach the boundaries of that which is restricted to God alone. How might we enhance our Imago Dei? How might we disfigure same?
Not only do we consider our primal origin and primal ground, but also our intimate connection with our ongoing primal support and our most unitive experience in our primal destiny. Clearly, the prayer of the Church moves us all to the unitive. Clearly, formative spirituality moves us from the purgative to the illuminative to the unitive. Clearly, marriage is the sacrament and sign of the communion of communions. All goods and purposes and intents in human life are a striving toward the unitive, subordinated to this journey back to God. There are many gifts but they are all ordered to this beatific end, the unitive life.
Not all of the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12 are given to all, but communion is. Not all time, talent, treasure or technology is given us as stewards, but communion is. Not all peoples are gifted with the power of procreation, but communion is. All of these gifts, material and spiritual are teleologically ordered toward our ultimate end, the Unitive Life. Yes, even the procreative.
It is precisely in such a consideration that we can see the starkest of contrasts and sharpest of reliefs insofar as we consider our biological functions, which may be improved on and enhanced toward our highest ends, the unitive, by medical healing arts whether we are seeking cures or in training programs for optimal physical fitness. It may be unnatural to interfere with the normal sleep-wake cycle when we use anesthesia during surgery, sleeping pills to induce sleep or amphetamines to stay awake for finals, but it is not intrinsically evil. It may be unnatural to interfere with the body's circadian rhythms by working graveyard shifts and sleeping during the day and to regulate this changed regimen pharmaceutically, but it's not intrinsically evil. It may be unnatural for weight trainers and atheletes to take synthetic steroids to strengthen muscles, and even illegal for olympians to do so, but it is not intrinsically evil. It may be unnatural to inhibit the body's hunger with appetitie suppressors, but it is not intrinsically evil. There are dozens upon dozens of examples where pharamaceutical regimens do NOT enhance bodily functions in a normal way but rather inhibit biological clocks, circadian rhythms, sleep-wake cycles and hormone metabolic cycles (such as regulate steroid levels to keep them at natural levels and not abnormally high levels or low), but they aren't intrinsically evil. But, for heuristic purposes, let's say some of the above examples are going against nature in a manner that is evil, still there is nothing that would give rise to a silly notion that they are so seriously evil that God would be so offended by our machinations as to want to be apart from us for Eternity. Regulation of fertility cyclicity, as a bilogical function, is not different just because it involves our generative faculties.
Here is where the incommensurability sets in, the imbalance. By equating the isolated sperm and ovum and any activities involved in bringing them together with human life itself, the stage is set for the logic that drives the natural law perspective of Humanae Vitae. If the underlying presupposition is that sperm and ova and their journey toward each other is as sacred as human life itself, then the greatest of all natural evils would not be earthquakes and floods and tornadoes but rather our wet dreams and certain parts of our menstrual cycles. Clearly, this is absurd.
Clearly, we now have the rationale to distinguish between something as natural and harmless as masturbation (or say nocturnal emmissions) versus something as unnatural and harmful as certain genetic manipulations, vis a vis individual cells. It is not the fact that one is manipulating a sperm or ovum per se that would make certain genetic manipulations possibly evil inasmuch as there are other pluripotent stem cells, which are no more equated with human life itself, in and of themselves, than are gametes. Even the Catholic Bishop's Conference knows the difference between a pluripotent stem cell, even an embryonic one, and an embryo, so one would think we could all figure out the more elementary fact that neither are gametes human beings. Hence, the parvity of matter relevance. It is at the moment of conception that one climbs on the moral slippery slopes.
The point is, there is interfering and there is interfering, Dr. Frankenstein. Some interference is benign and benevolent. Some is evil. Of the evil types, some lesser and some greater and the fact that the biological function being interfered with is generative versus the sleep wake cycle or some other circadian rhythm or versus the Kreb's cycle or some neuroendocrine or other hormonal cycle doesn't make it evil or, if evil, a greater one.
Therein lies the flaw in Huamnae Vitae, Human Life. It erroneously raised certain biological functions to the level of sacredness of human life. On one hand, we have a major category error. On the other, we've equated eating a hamburger with murder. Now, let's change our storyline to that of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde for THAT is the game the ordinary was truly playing in trying to preserve the fiction of an authentic moral teaching based solely on firmness and constancy of tradition (which was in error).