as published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, As I See It column, on Aug. 26, 2015
By Raymond Delisle
So I reached into my wallet the other day and noted that it said “organ donor” on my ID, which made me stop and wonder about all the press lately about fetal tissue which is used in medical research. What is the same and what is different from my organ donation?
Let’s start with the similarities. As a Catholic, I believe that when I’m dead my soul has left that body, the temple of this world. It was part of me and I truly want that my body be prayerfully and respectfully reposed in the grave as prayers for my soul are offered by believing survivors. But it is no longer me. I have the right to donate organs from that body to science so that they may help others in the future. In effect, it is another form of self-giving, in which I, as the steward of my body, offer myself up for others. But a fetus is not an organ. It is a unique living being.
At the heart of the choice to donate my organs is the fact that it was my decision, someone else did not make it for me. That is an important distinction in this debate over fetal tissue. I did not sell my body or organs, and I did not prematurely end my life in such a way as to make my body more “usable” to researchers. Those would not be acts of good stewardship of a body that was given to me by God and my parents. I did not create it.
Now the child in the womb which is being aborted has not had a choice. That choice was made for him or her. Did the mother who made that choice also make a conscious choice to offer that dead child’s body up for research? Even if you believe she had a right to have that life aborted, can she ever have the right to approve taking it in such a way that the parts are more harvestable? Lastly, can the institution have a right to sell these parts, given that public morality has always been against the selling of organs by donors?
It is not that fetal tissue research derived from a miscarriage, for example, is inherently wrong any more than research with my organs once I die is inherently wrong. The problems here would be hastening death to procure tissue or harvesting before the child is even dead to get the tissue, as well as the lack of consent by even the child’s guardian, let alone the potential of profiting by that action. It doesn’t take a fanatic to see how wrong this can be.
In the end, people will argue that it is better that something good come out of something evil like abortion. Sadly, we never seem to learn from history that the end never justifies the means and that good intentions do not make up for evil actions. You cannot make goodness from wrongdoing. The wrongdoing is still there. Let’s try for the good, for goodness sake.
Raymond Delisle is chancellor and director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester.