Columnists > How robust is the Catholic case against abortion and embryo experimentation?

12 May 2016 | by Clifford Longley

How robust is the Catholic case against abortion and embryo experimentation?


There is growing pressure from the scientific community in Britain for the law to be relaxed regarding experimentation on human embryos. This follows the news that scientists have successfully kept alive a fertilised embryo in the laboratory up to the 14-day limit British law allows. Some would like the research to be taken a stage further. Some emphatically would not.

Among the voices we can expect to hear will be that of the Catholic Church. This is a good moment to ask, therefore, how robust is the Catholic case, not only against embryo experimentation but in the whole field of abortion? If it has not been thought through clearly enough, its chances of winning the public debate are virtually nil.

Take the human status of the early embryo. The Church declares that human life begins at the moment of conception; hence the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” applies from that time onwards. But the definitive Catholic position emerged only relatively recently, in Pope John Paul II’s papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae in 1995.


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Comment by: Speighdd
Posted: 16/05/2016 22:11:21
Persuasive arguments in this case would have to disentangle certain confusions. Firstly, the difference between immorality and crime is that while the former is any injustice, the latter is an injustice meriting, even if not actually obtaining, the state’s intervention to remedy. So Clifford Longley is wrong to think that the state’s failure to remedy abortion, makes abortion not a crime, any more than its failure to remedy a lynching, would make lynching not a crime. Secondly, the difference between science and philosophy is not the same as between science and religion. Science works by numerically analysable observation, but philosophy is not religious dogma: it works by logically screened intuition. So the personal identity of the conceptus is no more a scientific finding, or religious dogma, than is personal equality among all races. Nor are either of these two truths merely matters of public opinion, but objectively rational insights against the background of which public opinion is to be judged as wrong about embryo experimentation as it has been about slavery and racism. The Catholic Church’s authority to teach morals as well as faith, does not make morals the same thing as, or conscientious moral allegiance dependent on, faith.

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