Canonical implications of embryonic stem cell research

Canonical implications of embryonic stem cell research

Apropos of this blog post, canon lawyer Ed Peters considers the legal implication of whether those who engage in embryo destruction are excommunicated.

So, one must ask: is the deliberate destruction of an embryonic human being outside the womb the canonical equivalent of an abortion procured within it? Cardinal Lopez Trujillo believes that it is, and I think he’s right. How?

Back in the late 1980’s, again in the wake of bio-medical developments, the question arose whether very early abortions caused by the IUD, RU486, and certain contraceptives, were encompassed by the abortion canon which, as canonists knew, envisioned later-term procedures. On 23 May 1988, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts addressed the following question: “Whether abortion, as treated in canon 1398, should be understood as only the expulsion of an immature fetus, or whether it is also the killing of a fetus accomplished in any manner and at any time from the moment of conception?”

The pontifical council ruled for the wider definition (AAS 80 [1988] 1818-1819), and eminent canonists such as Fr. Joseph Fox, op, explained then that the interpretation kept the canonical understanding of abortion medically up to date and morally consistent with the respect owed to innocent human beings regardless of the technique by which they were being killed during their first months of life.

Of course, whether the killing an unborn embryonic unborn child occurs outside of the womb or inside the womb is splitting hairs, but then I’m not a lawyer. Lawyers don’t get to appeal to common sense; they can only appeal to law and precedent.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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