Battling a Brave New World: Regnative Prudence and Pro-Life Legislation Part 3

On March 15, 2017, Wesley J. Smith published an excellent piece in The Human Life Review entitled “Brave New World is Closer Than You Think”. In his article, he details much of the history surrounding the beginning of life issues that are found within biotechnology. He further explains that while much of the biotechnology issues such as human cloning were hotly debated topics within the political realm ten to fifteen years ago, much of that has cooled to the point where they are hardly spoken of within the various legislatures. He concludes by noting that this ought to be rectified. Mr. Smith is absolutely correct in his analysis.

But why exactly? Why must pro-life organizations and pro-life legislators begin to consider bioethical issues within the legislature? These are important questions that should be explored thoughtfully in light of the present day circumstances. Firstly, is the issue of regnative prudence. In order to proceed, the reader may need to look at two particular passages from St. Thomas Aquinas’ On Kingship where he describes the duty of a king (lawmaker),

Therefore, since the beatitude of heaven is the end of that virtuous life which we live at present, it pertains to the king’s office to promote the good life of the multitude in such a way as to make it suitable for the attainment of heavenly happiness, that is to say, he should command those things which lead to the happiness of Heaven and, as far as possible, forbid the contrary (On Kingship, Book 1, Chapter 4, 115).

Of important note is how Aquinas describes the duty the authority must do in order to promote the good life of the multitude. The end of the command, in this case law, then is to not only to promote virtue (the good life), but to help the multitude to attain Heaven itself.

But Aquinas continues when he also asserts the lawmaker’s duty in this way,

Finally, for the proper direction of the multitude there remains a third duty of the kingly office, namely, that he be solicitous for its improvement. He performs this duty when, in each of the things we have mentioned, he corrects what is out of order and supplies what is lacking, and if any of them can be done better he tries to do so” (On Kingship, Book 1, Chapter 4, 121).

Here Aquinas is describing the duty of the legislative power to help correct disorder within the community. This means that if a disorder arises that needs to be corrected in order to promote the good life then lawmakers are within their purview to help correct the situation. Otherwise, the lawmaker is acting contrary to his/her duty and not helping people achieve their final heavenly end.

While many legislative pro-life organizations are working to correct the disorder of abortion, little is being done to correct the biotechnology field when it comes to the good life. For example, according to a Bioethics Defense Fund fact sheet only 8 states have enacted a complete ban on human cloning in the last 20 years that mammalian cloning has revealed to be possible. Furthermore, the vast majority of states in the US allow for cloning researchers to pay for human eggs for research.

But one must remember cloning is not the only biotech issue that society is facing. The fertility industry is also largely unregulated as well. It is not unheard that in some cases where surrogacy is involved that if the child is “deemed” genetically unfit the surrogate mother is coerced into an abortion. Furthermore, there is little regulation on how many human embryos can be implanted into a woman. Many states simply rely on the fertility industry to self-regulate this issue. Of course, since there is no law, as a result there are doctors who implant many embryos into a mother. One infamous case of this practice was the case of Natalie Suleman, otherwise known as the “Octomom”. While Miss Suleman kept all of her unborn children, there are cases in which a woman who is pregnant with more than three children at once are pressured into what is called selective reduction. This reduction is simply an abortion that reduces the amount of children that the mother is pregnant with. Mandating, by law that only a certain amount of embryos to be implanted would help curb this problem.

But much of the aforementioned is old news. There are even more moral problems that have recently arisen in the biotechnology industry today as well. Recently, it has come to light that geneticists can make a child from three biological parents. Not to mention the revelation that an artificial womb has been developed, which can eventually be used for good purpose such as letting premature infants continue to gestate so that they may better mature and be physically prepared for life outside of the womb. But it is also likely to lead to other problems such as if it is ever perfected to the point to fully gestate a child from embryo to birth, how do we prevent cases where the child simply becomes an assembly line commodity? Furthermore, what effects will the child suffer from since he/she will never gestate inside his/her mother and will not develop the bond that naturally develops during the entire duration of the pregnancy?

Many of the aforementioned bioethical problems stem from two issues: 1) that the sexual act is separated from procreation and 2) children are seen as objects, or, to put it more precisely, property. The reality is that when the sexual act is separated from procreation moral problems arise. While many parents of children conceived through in vitro fertilization may argue these points the truth is that the legal system treats these embryonic children as property in the case of divorce or breakup. These children are merely seen as products that were produced in a lab and destroyed with impunity if one of the spouses no longer wishes to have any more children. With respect to cloning, it completely abolishes the need for the sexual act, but furthermore some in the scientific community only see the child as a medical tool for their research. Yet another form of property to be used in unethical research since this research typically destroys the child.

It is time that both legislators and pro-life organizations to be more proactive in lobbying for much needed legislation to address these issues. Both Americans United for Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund have model legislation on the numerous bioethical issues. Simply ignoring these issues is acting contrary to the promotion of the good life as Aquinas states. Failure to bring attention of these issues to legislators who may not know all the ramifications hinders the legislator to correct “what is out of order.” Pro-life organizations need to be aware that legislator has a special duty to society and they have a special duty to the legislators who make laws. Regnative prudence dictates that laws need to be passed to deal with these morally vicious problems.

In vitro fertilization has been in existence for 39 years and mammalian cloning for the last 20 years, yet little has been done legislatively to curb the abuses of life that have resulted. While many legislators and pro-life organizations have been overwhelmingly vocal about the tragedy of abortion, many researchers have slipped into vicious habits when it comes to the subject of how to treat human life at its earliest stages because little is spoken about these topics. It is time that the pro-life movement recognizes the need to pass laws that help promote the virtue of justice when it comes to these very numerous bioethical issues. Staying silent, speaking very little, or not lobbying at all on these issues only allows vice to continue in these realms. It is time to help others recognize, through law, that human life is not property. Not only does Justice demand it, Heaven demands it as well.

Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college.  His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics.  From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.  During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.  From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives.   In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas.  He currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together. They attend St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land.
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