Bioethical questions answered

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From in vitro fertilization to human cloning, Catholics today are faced with challenging bioethical questions that are multiplying at an alarming pace. A Jan. 10 conference held at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington attempted to bring some clarity to the discussion.

Dr. John Bruchalski, founder of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, and Dominican Sister of Nashville Terese Auer, bioethics chair at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, were the keynote speakers at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the St. Charles Borromeo Respect Life Team and the diocesan Respect Life Office.

Bruchalski's "conversion" story is well-known to many in the local pro-life community. He completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Eastern Virginia Medical Center and the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk in 1991.

"I had a change of heart on the issue of fertility in the middle of my residency," he said.

He turned away from a career of providing a full-range of reproductive services to women, including abortion, to open the Tepeyac Family Center in 1994. The center's mission is to combine the best of modern medicine with the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

As a clinician, Bruchalski said he tries not to be judgmental when seeing patients "who suffer with the challenges of society."

The subject of his talk was "Brave New World: I Make All Things News," which was taken from the title of the 1932 book by Aldous Huxley.

"We've come a long way in reproductive health" since Huxley published his book, Bruchalski said.

"The church has been helpful in trying to keep up with reproductive changes," he said, "but how do we speak to a new generation?"

We need to be "revolutionary" in our thinking, he said.

In his practice, Bruchalski said he tries to move people from fear to trust.

When a woman comes to him who has been involved with in vitro fertilization, Bruchalski asks her two questions: Are the embryos they make in the lab your children or your property? Do you love them or do you own them?

"Those are the questions that have opened the door for so many patients," he said.

At Divine Mercy Care, the umbrella organization for Tepeyac, "we believe that health is based on sacrificial relationships found in community," Bruchalski said.

"Medicine is an act of mercy. We hate the disease, but love the person."

Bruchalski said the center is guided by the principles of service, inspiration, unity and mercy. He called Tepeyac a "hybrid practice" that combines social justice with the Gospel of Life. He takes care of patients with and without insurance. No one is turned away.

"We try to be a sign of contradiction to the Affordable Care Act," he said, by transforming hearts through healthcare.

A bioethics curriculum

In her keynote talk, Sister Terese said "we owe a debt of gratitude" to Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for being the inspiration for developing the bioethics curriculum at Saint John Paul the Great High School. It is believed to be the only four-year program of its kind offered at a Catholic high school in the United States.

Every student is required to take four semesters of bioethics classes. "We want the students to know why something like in vitro fertilization is right or wrong," she said.

"The person who is created would not be a person if God did not infuse them with a spiritual and immortal soul," Sister Terese said. "We must never lose sight of their dignity."

Sister Terese described the different stages in the life of a human being - from zygote to embryo to fetus - before recognizing the milestones in the history of artificial reproduction.

In 1949, Pope Pius XII condemned the fertilization of eggs outside the womb. The world's first "test tube" baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978 in the United Kingdom, while the first American test tube baby was born in 1981.

The Vatican's 1987 document "Donum Vitae" condemned in vitro fertilization.

Sister Terese said IVF clinics often seek egg donors on college campuses and pay a higher rate to students at Ivy League colleges.

The annual number of IVF births is increasing at a rapid rate. According to published reports, an estimated 5 million babies have been born through IVF during the past 35 years, but only 7.5 percent of fertilized embryos will result in live births, Sister Terese said.

Sister Terese said there are several reasons why artificial insemination is ethically wrong: it violates the marital bond; masturbation is used to collect the semen; extra embryos are frozen or used for medical research; and it replaces the sexual act within marriage.

"A good end does not justify an evil means," she said. "A child is a gift, not a right and no one has the right to have a child. The dignity of all human life must be respected."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015