Friday, November 16, 2007

"we may not play roulette with a human life"

Even in trying times, we can't cast aside innocent life
E-Column by Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND Some weeks are easier to select topics for consideration than others and I must admit that recent events make this duty a bit more challenging this week than many others. I have already mentioned the death of my mother and though this continues to affect me I do not wish to make this personal event the subject of another consideration. Instead I think it is important to address another of the life issues, namely that of emergency contraception or Plan B.

Most Catholics, even those who wrongly maintain that artificial contraception is not immoral, usually recognize the necessity to respect and preserve newly conceived human life. This becomes the central question in evaluating the moral acceptability of emergency contraception in the case of sexual assault. Catholic principles do allow for the treatment of victims of assault, including treatment with those mechanisms required to impede the progress of sperm or the process of ovulation in order to preclude the conception of a child. Once conception has occurred then the duty to protect and preserve new innocent human life is exactly the same as that duty to protect and preserve new innocent human life conceived in the context of a mutually consensual relationship. This is necessary because otherwise we would be changing the value of the life of a child depending upon the circumstances in which a child was conceived. Once the existence of a new human being has been established then the life of that human being must be absolutely respected. Thus the use of a mechanism which is exclusively contraceptive presents no dilemma for emergency rooms including those in Catholic hospitals. In fact, there would be no difficulty or controversy at all if there were a mechanism which could be employed which was, in fact, exclusively contraceptive. Unfortunately I am not aware of any such mechanism and I believe that I am unaware of any such mechanism because such a mechanism does not exist.

Since there is no procedure or medication which can be given which does not simultaneously impede ovum, sperm or conception and the implantation of the newly conceived human being great care must be taken to determine the presence of an innocent human being, even one not yet attached to the womb of his or her mother, before the administration of the "contraceptive." It is here that clarity of language is so very important. While the mechanism is described as "emergency contraception," clearly indicating that preventing conception as a result of sexual assault is the goal, the truth is that "Emergency Contraception" prevents a lot more than "conception" understood as the union of ovum and sperm. This product, if used subsequent to conception and prior to implantation, impedes or even prevents the newly conceived child from making that first of essential attachments in its mother's womb. Using a bit of verbal engineering allows the proponents to assure us that the product prevents "conception" and does not disrupt "pregnancy." A closer look reveals that when proponents of Plan B use terms like conception or pregnancy they almost always mean an already implanted, growing baby in the womb of his or her mother. Most proponents of Plan B would maintain that pregnancy begins at implantation whereas it is much more honest to affirm that pregnancy begins at conception. Thus, though the language is the language of protecting a woman from a pregnancy as a result of sexual assault the truth is that the desire to protect a woman from such a pregnancy extends even to destroying the newly conceived child if necessary.

Nothing is to be done which impedes the natural progress of a child already conceived. This principle, at least in the ideal, is understood and practiced in Catholic hospitals. There is a huge difficulty with Plan B. If a pregnancy is confirmed by way of a standard pregnancy test then Plan B is neither warranted nor needed since such a readily identified pregnancy would not be the result of a very recent sexual assault. If the standard pregnancy test returns a negative for pregnancy then this only proves that the woman was not pregnant prior to the assault. The critical question, which must be answered with very great care, is whether the assaulted woman has already conceived a child as a result of the assault.

The answer to this question may not be able to be given with certainty and I maintain that it must be given with certainty in order to proceed with Plan B. The utilization of Plan B without this certainty runs the unjustifiable risk of destroying new life while ostensibly intending to prevent the assault from engendering that life. It turns an uncaring eye to the new life which may have already begun.

Some would maintain that since the intention is to prevent a pregnancy which may result from the unjust aggression of the assault it is legitimate to use Plan B even if the remote possibility of a pregnancy has not been absolutely eliminated. They suggest that a lesser degree of certainty of absence of pregnancy suffices. They suggest that even if a pregnancy does in fact exist the lack of knowledge about that pregnancy and the sole intention to prevent a pregnancy and not destroy one eliminates moral wrongdoing. They fail to recognize that we may not play this kind of roulette with the existence of a human life. It is illegitimate, even with good motives, to directly cause the death of a pre-born child. Intervention with Plan B without ascertaining with certainty the absence of an existing pregnancy is a direct attack on the life of that child and this is morally illegitimate.

There is no doubt that the intention of trauma treatment is to protect the woman who has suffered an assault but this must not extend to the destruction of an innocent child.

There is certainly a lack of respect in our country for pre-born human life but we in the Catholic community and our Catholic health care facilities must not in any way condone or cooperate in that promotion of the culture of death.

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