Comments: opinions in mid-November

Archbishop RW thinks that the language of human rights "has become very detached from any specific appeals to revelation or to the divine. It has become strongly legal in colouring: rights are the liberties you can legitimately claim, a set of entitlements, the absence of which needs to be rectified by some authority, legal or political. This is a model that has served well in some circumstances; but it has increasingly been recognised that on its own it presents a negative (or at least a rather thin) view of the human good. What needs to be struggled for is simply the absence of limitations to our natural entitlements to free choice in our actions. Hence many of the current moral impasses in our culture, not least over issues around the beginning and end of life."

From the gay perspective the language of rights was a highly intoxicating one, and perhaps it still is in the current phase where the "right to marriage" is upheld. It certainly was not a thin, negative matter of "entitlements to free choice in our actions" but had more to do with respect for human beings and their relationships. It blended easily with a biblical discourse of liberation.

The language of human rights has canonical status in our current thinking about humanity and its welfare -- the Universal Declaration of 1948 being a key text. To say it has become thin and formalistic is a dangerous strategy unless one really has some better and more effective focus of value to propose. It is especially dangerous in that tyrannical regimes everywhere are always looking for an excuse to scotch the idea of human rights as a modern leftist invention.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Saturday, 14 November 2009 at 3:33pm GMT

Brava Libby Purves!

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Saturday, 14 November 2009 at 5:46pm GMT

Typically with Rowan Williams, idealization and theory building trump real world considerations. Just as he cannot quite really connect the dots between negative church preaching about queer folks and real queer folks actually getting punched in the face; so RW cannot quite imagine that a wonderful new alliance between civil government and religion would end up going all wrong. Yet. The real world cases recently before us in news and blogs are not all that encouraging.

Item one is the wonderful new alliance between Uganda Anglicans and others religious, with the Ugandan government - all to achieve new levels of horror, even more harshly targeting the Ugandan queer folks than ever before. This wonderful new alliance is enhanced so far with even louder repeats of old folk canards about gays being dangerous, especially violent towards children or the disabled, and so forth.

Item two is the wonderful news from the Roman Cathlic church in Washington D.C. USA, wherein the church threatens to withdraw from providing any and all civic services, because if it has to provide family benefits to same sex couples and their children, it will implode from the stink and dirtiness of having to do so. A huge range of needy citizens are thus threatened, because the church cherishes its negative beliefs about queer folks more highly than it commits to needy people. Shall Washington D.C. homeless folks be a hard politics bargaining chip? This winter season looks to be harsher, not mild.

Closer to British home? Item three could well be the consistent denials of citizen equality which would clearly follow if the repeated religion based efforts to pull back had been successful. A whole range of law and public policy in UK simply would not exist, not least those pesky domestic partnership laws for queer folks and their children. Or workplace, or housing protections?

The real augury of the real entrails is not good, then, so far as RW's valorized and visionary sight of a refreshed, new alliance between (mean conservative) religion and (duly armed) state governments.

Are we Anglicans now looking for vivid replays of Spain's Franco and the Spanish Roman Catholic church? Is this our shiny new model?

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 14 November 2009 at 7:45pm GMT

Me too. Thanks lots to Libby P. Power corrupts ...

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 14 November 2009 at 7:54pm GMT

Thanks, Libby. Some gentle sense in a turbulent world. Power does indeed corrupt and there seems to be nothing worse than those who feel they have lost power wanting to take it out on their imagined enemies.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Sunday, 15 November 2009 at 10:02am GMT

Rowan's silence on the Uganda anti-homosexual laws is immoral and unethical. He protects the right wing reactionary elements in the Church of England while he treats American Episcopalian's and Canadian Anglicans like they have a plague and do not deserve dignity and respect. I use to think Rowan Williams was a gentle soul but I no longer believe that. Spineless might describe his behavior and I would not be the least surprised if at one of his future public speaking engagements in some church or cathedral, a very vocal outcry from lay people and clergy awaits him. It will be interesting to see if he exhibits any backbone when he meets with the Bishop of Rome later this month. I wouldn't hold my breath. I know a number of Anglicans and Vatican II thinking Catholics who are deeply disappointed in The Archbishop of Canterbury. I wish The Church of England elected their bishops in the same manner as the Episcopal Church in America. At least the voices of the People of God might be heard. Many people think he doesn't know what damage he has created by his silence on the Uganda situation. I think he has just forgotten that Christ stood for the disenfranchised and marginalized. Very sad indeed.

Posted by Chris Smith at Sunday, 15 November 2009 at 11:27pm GMT

I see that "sperm donors" and "surrogate mothers" are taken as normal and natural by some people here -- perhaps even regarded as a matter of human rights. Perhaps it this galloping expansion of human rights claims that RW is worried about?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:17am GMT

"I see that "sperm donors" and "surrogate mothers" are taken as normal and natural by some people here -- perhaps even regarded as a matter of human rights."

ONLY that they be available to same-sex couples, on the *same basis* as opposite-sex couples, SV2. Surely you can see that's only fair?

Posted by JCF at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 7:58am GMT

"I see that "sperm donors" and "surrogate mothers" are taken as normal and natural by some people here "

I am not sure where Fr Joe is coming from here. These arangements are becoming very commonly known though I believe have not been uncommon, if less well known, for a long time. I have certainly baptised and prepared for confirmation several children who just happen to have been born with the assistance of a turkey baster and sometimes a borrowed womb.

The only discussions of human rights I have been a party to in these circumstances have related to the child's right to know and I have taken part in several packages that were intended to account to the grown child the details and love that surrounded their conception and birth. I have taken part in similar projects for those adopting children too.

Unlike adoption, the majority of children I know who are born as described by Fr Joe come into the world without the intervention or subsequent involvement of any agency of the state.


Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 8:48am GMT

"Perhaps it this galloping expansion of human rights claims that RW is worried about?"

Other people's ears are closing more quickly to whatever Rowan Williams worries about the longer his mouth stays shut regarding Uganda.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 1:19pm GMT

"I wish The Church of England elected their bishops in the same manner as the Episcopal Church in America. At least the voices of the People of God might be heard."

Well, the silence from our Pesiding Bishop has been pretty deafening also.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:48pm GMT

But if sperm donation and surrogate motherhood are ok, why not human cloning?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:43pm GMT

[Aware that this thread is veering off-topic(s)]

"But if sperm donation and surrogate motherhood are ok, why not human cloning?"

What is it about sperm donation and surrogate motherhood that even SUGGESTS human cloning, SV2? I don't see a link (beyond "Vatican agin' 'em all!").

To me, it's as *specious* a question as "if two men can marry, why not a man and a dog?"

Posted by JCF at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:42pm GMT

Hard Spin to divert a polarized discussion from its going central hot topic - bringing up alleged iterations of Doomsday / Brave New World disaster - is a favorite hermeneutic ploy of nay-saying (usually conservative) believers. If you eat store bought bread, then surely you will end up eating horse dung sooner or later, won't you? One also sometimes can discern and provisionally infer a familiar, I'm rubber and you're glue so whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you - ploy.

I'm with USA comedienne Wanda Sykes. If you do not want to conceive via any modern technique of assisted reproduction, then do not do so. Surely how a child is nurtured and parented is at least as important - if not even more important? - than how a child happens to have been conceived?

Meanwhile the silence about the Uganda horror of most global Anglican leaders is so thick you could wait a few days for it to go all hard, then bang everybody up side the head for concussive impact.

Welcome. To Our New Covenant.

Posted by drdanfee at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 7:05pm GMT

Martin Reynolds, of course sperm donation and surrogate motherhood are common practices -- but how does that make them morally innocuous?

If there is no objection to reducing human fatherhood or motherhood to an anonymous biological provision of genetic material incurring no human connection would not cloning be a cleaner arrangement?

Childish is the suggestion that my thoughts on this are just Vatican ideology -- folks, you are supposed to be THINKING Anglicans.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 10:42pm GMT

"Childish is the suggestion that my thoughts on this are just Vatican ideology -- folks, you are supposed to be THINKING Anglicans."
- Spirit of Vatican II -

But surely, Spirit, you can detect that children who are actually 'wanted' will be happier in any environment than those who are brought into the world as an 'afterthought' and with no prospect of a loving parental relationship? This is one reason why the Vatican's banning of the use of contraceptives is so blatantly anti-humane.

Not all sexual activity can be channelled into intentional parenthood. This limitation would condemn most human beings to perpetual abstinence. Sex is a gift from God, not a taboo.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 16 November 2009 at 11:08pm GMT

You are right Fr Joe, I have already made the leap to think that the methods used here to bring a new person into being are neutral. Some of these practices may be older than civilisation and apart from fertilised egg implantation don't require medical intervention.

Cloning brings a whole new set of challenges and choices and I guess I see these things as poles apart, perhaps I shouldn't?!!?

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 12:18am GMT

How's this for an 'Opinion in Mid-November? -

"He believes that what is going on in Anglicanism right now is nothing short of a new Reformation, similar to what Luther kicked off in Germany five hundred years ago. For the Anglican Church worldwide, he said, it will be mean a complete shift in orientation away from Canterbury, the historical spiritual home of Anglicanism, to Africa, the faith's new spiritual home."

This statement on 'Virtue-on-line' is speaking of self-proclaimed Archbishop Robert Duncan, ACNA,
on last week-end's visit to Canada for the first Synod there of ACNA in North America.

Bp Duncan rejects the term 'dissident' as applied to himself and the former Anglican congregations of ACNA; preferring to think of the 'Schism' being undertaken by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - against the 'othodoxy of ACNA.

Such hubris cannot but be looking forward to its day of reckoning - the day when ACNA loses all of the property it has tried to soborn into its own jurisdiction in both countries, which is slowly but surely being restored to the historic legatees

One wonders what will happen to those in ACNA who are still holding on to their various off-shore protectorates in Africa, South America and elsewhere, when they are called upon to register their real affinity/identity at Covenant Time?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 1:09am GMT

"If there is no objection to reducing human fatherhood or motherhood to an anonymous biological provision of genetic material incurring no human connection would not cloning be a cleaner arrangement?"

SV2, you're still not telling me where this idea comes from: assisted reproduction = "human cloning".

I find nothing intuitive---much less "clean"---about it. Any freshman biology class will inform one of the strengths of biological *diversity* (e.g., if anything, one would take genetic material from MORE THAN two sources for reproduction, not less!).

More disturbing, is that you seem to equate two men/two women desiring to have, and nurture, a child, as something *radically different* from the urge of a man and a woman to do the same. Why in the world would you think that . . . unless your concept of "Tab A into Slot B" reproduction is defining and *imperative*.

"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes __[the partner]__ and the baby carriage." Whether two men, two women, or a man&woman, the basic drive of "Pair-Bond --> Love greater than the sum of 2 --> Welcoming a Child" is the SAME. Human cloning simply doesn't compute into this pattern (i.e., no moreso for two men/two women, than for the opposite-sex pair. Beyond---perhaps---*non-implanted* embryonic experimentation, I can't see any justification for it whatsoever).

Now, SV2, can you let go of this idiosyncratic obsession w/ cloning, or must we have another pointless go-round? :-/

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 2:40am GMT

I'm wondering how cloning would make a cleaner arrangement?

I also fear a definition of "parent" that is limited to mere biology - are we supposed, as Christians, to be no more than animals, or seeking the higher ideal?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 7:07am GMT

". . . human rights has become very detached from any specific appeals to revelation or to the divine."

Perhaps, that's because the spokespersons for the faiths based in revelation have been so diligent in stripping away anything resembling human rights, welfare or well-being from their very public theological stances?

This is something Williams should realize, his having been a leading proponent in divorcing "the church" from the real-world, demonstrable harm its positions cause.

Once again, Williams clearly lacks the discernment and intelligence to provide leadership.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 7:14am GMT

Spirit,
You do understand the biological difference between producing a completely unique person with his or her own DNA from two parents, and replicating 100% the DNA of one individual?

If you do, how can you possibly treat the two as remotely biologically and morally alike?

The morality of assisted reproduction can be discussed on its own merit swithout making unsuitable comparisons.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 8:21am GMT

". . . human rights has become very detached from any specific appeals to revelation or to the divine."

I'm always astonished at this strange underlying assumption that God could ever be against human rights.
Human rights are, after all, nothing more than the values that help us to try and eradicate man-made inhumanity and injustice towards other human beings.

To identify human rights may be complex and difficult and fraught with errors, but once a genuine human right has been discovered, it automatically becomes a theological truth.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 8:25am GMT

I'm surprised at the answers given to my perfectly innocent question. Some say nurture is more important than how a child was born -- no doubt; but irrelevant to my unease. Others say that contraception is very right and natural; I agree; but the issues I raised are quite other. Other say that my "slippery slope" argument ("no questions about sperm donation today; no question about cloning tomorrow") is a typical ploy of reactionaries -- yes, but it ain't necessarily always so.

Martin Reynolds 'made the leap to think that the methods used here to bring a new person into being are neutral. Some of these practices may be older than civilisation and apart from fertilised egg implantation don't require medical intervention.' Sperm donors may use artificial insemination or sperm banks; male-male couples sometimes give both their sperms to the surrogate mother. Fertilised egg implantation is more natural, I think, than for a woman (a slave-girl in Antiquity) to bear a child genetically her own and then hand it over to someone else with no bond other than that specified in a commercial contract.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 8:57am GMT

Slight correction: Vatican condemnation of artificial contraception would be relevant to IVF or artificial insemination even where the parents are a married couple, in that the sexual act and procreation are disjoined. But assisted procreation between a married couple seems to me quite natural or at least neutral.

If I had to choose between adopting a child and using an anonymous donor for half of its parentage (who would then conveniently disappear from the scene) I would find it more moral and loving to adopt.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 9:06am GMT

"..to bear a child genetically her own and then hand it over to someone else with no bond other than that specified in a commercial contract"
- Spirit of Vatican II -

This is rather demeaning of any adoption process, which ought to pre-suppose that the adoptive parents have a desire to nurture the child they are to adopt. The conception and birth of a child does not always happen with the informed consent and goodwill of the parent(s); so that when a child is born - into whatever circumstances - to be assured of at least one loving parent is a bonus.sometimes, the only way such a child can live up to its potential is through the loving nurture of an intentioal 'parent' figure. I can't see too much wrong with that.

In the 'right to life' arguments, surely the proponents would agree that every child actually born into this world has an equal 'right to life'. And if that life can be nourished by the attention of someone who loves the child for his/her own sake, then nothing is lost and much is gained by the society which benefits.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 9:46am GMT

"If I had to choose between adopting a child and using an anonymous donor for half of its parentage (who would then conveniently disappear from the scene) I would find it more moral and loving to adopt."

As someone adopted as a child, I do think that there can be a certain biological fetishism involved in modern technological "fertility treatments."

Posted by BillyD at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 11:34am GMT

"the only way such a child can live up to its potential is through the loving nurture of an intentional 'parent' figure. I can't see too much wrong with that."

I think it is rather tragic that a mother has to part with her child and have it adopted. Also I think the child should, as far as possible, have the right to know who its mother was.

But I was not talking about adoption in what you quote. I was talking about surrogate motherhood, where from the start the mother forswears any maternal bond to the child to be born. A child of a gay couple who asked "who was my mom" would be told "just some woman we paid to carry you in her womb" -- and that is demeaning it seems to me. In short, adoption heals a tragic situation, surrogate mothering may create one. Same for the child of a lesbian couple who asks "mom, who was my dad" and is told, "oh just some anonymous sperm donor".

"every child actually born into this world has an equal 'right to life'. And if that life can be nourished by the attention of someone who loves the child for his/her own sake, then nothing is lost and much is gained by the society which benefits."

Could anything be more obvious? But how does this address the issue?

Is there any Anglican teaching on this?

Are you not all in danger of doing what R Williams nags TEC about: treating an open question as if it were already closed and as if there were a consensus of right-thinking Christians on the matter?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 2:06pm GMT

"A child of a gay couple who asked "who was my mom" would be told "just some woman we paid to carry you in her womb" -- and that is demeaning it seems to me."

Really? You really think that this is the way that any couple, gay or straight, is likely to address this issue? You don't give parents much credit, do you?

Posted by BillyD at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 4:43pm GMT

Spirit
Techniques to assist reproduction were not developed for gay and lesbian couples, yet in your last contribution you single them out as acting immorally when they turn to surrogacy or sperm donation.

Do you have a general problem with these techniques, in which case we should discuss them independent of the sexuality of the prospective parents of the resulting children, or is this a particularly anti-lgbt parenting thing?

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 5:17pm GMT

" A child of a gay couple who asked "who was my mom" would be told "just some woman we paid to carry you in her womb" -- and that is demeaning it seems to me." - Spirit of Vatican II -

You seem so very sure of this VII, that I'm almost hesitant to suggest that the gay couple might just request of a single woman friend, who is sympathetic to their desire to adopt her child, that she become the biological mother of the child of one of them - conceived by artificial means (as may also be the case with an infertile heterosexual couple). In this way, both the gay couple and the mother of the child have access to the child's growth, nurture and development. This, to my knowledge, has actually happened.

I wonder if you would have the same vehement opposition to a Roman Catholic (heterosexual) couple, who decided to pursue the in-vitro fertilisation process to have a baby? Or is it just gays you have a problem with? What is the Roman Catholic view on in-vitro fertilisation?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 10:55pm GMT

Instead of "what ifs", SV2, this is a very fair-minded, balanced portrayal of one such real-life case:

http://www.allmovie.com/work/beyond-conception-men-having-babies-347766

No, it's not all sunshine-and-roses---but so what? (How many pregnancies are? How many aren't?). The alternative to this chosen arrangement is banning it---and THAT would be a violation of *human rights* (that phrase again) that I would find intolerable!

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 11:44pm GMT

The problem is, there is no consensus among right-thinking Christians, or ever has been.

Right-thinking? Do you think anyone but God has the right to make that decision? Do you believe that Benedict from Bavaria would consider you right-thinking? Let's say we set down a whole book of law on what everything means and Anglicans in this illusory worldwide church in Williams' demented imagination all have an answer to every point you bring up . . .

So, are we then "right-thinking" to all Christians everywhere? Does that eliminate the Reformation, the Great Schism, Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists? If you need that much security and assurance, better build a bunker somewhere and cut off all contact with . . . well, everything!

Foolishness in humans makes us lack the humility to look at each case as God would - individual and worthy of its own discernment. Laws are good to define barriers, not for answering all details.

And, like BillyD:

"A child of a gay couple who asked "who was my mom" would be told "just some woman we paid to carry you in her womb" -- and that is demeaning it seems to me."

Really?

I mean . . . really?!

If that's the answer the parent gave, they would be unfit parents for reasons that have *absolutely nothing to do with the method of conception and birth!*

Good God!

What is with playing these ridiculous what-if games?

What if we do embrace "traditional teaching" on birth and the whole world becomes too crowded to be viable? What if we embrace "traditional teaching" blah-blah and everyone is forced by law to procreate? What if we embrace "traditional teaching" yadda-yadda and the increased number of humans attracts the attention of aliens who decide to harvest us for food? All of those questions are as valid as any slippery-slope I've heard.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 5:13am GMT

I already stated that, though it is condemned by the RCC, I see in vitro fertilization as an aid to conception as a natural or neutral thing.

It is a red herring to suggest that I have difficulty with surrogate moms and sperm donors only when gay couples are involved; quite the contrary; I find it more troubling when a straight couple uses such "techniques". Why would a husband want his wife to bear another man's child?

"Really? You really think that this is the way that any couple, gay or straight, is likely to address this issue? You don't give parents much credit, do you?"

Another red herring; of course they would sugar the pill, but the message would be the same: "Well, dear child, we wanted to have you so badly that we got a really nice woman to be your mother/a really nice man to be your father; but it was conditional on your not knowing her/him because of the terms of our contract."

Of course is the third person is invited into the family that is a different matter, which also raises some problems I would think.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 9:12am GMT

Mark Brunson, your reply is flying off in every direction. You have no moral problem with surrogate motherhood and sperm donors (either anonymously commercial or as third parties welcomed on a familial basis into the life of the couple). I, like many people, do find this troubling. I do not see what is ridiculous about my position.

Of course I use the phrase "right-thinking" ironically. Actually it is a phrase used by dogmatists, and here I am targeting the liberal dogmatism that too easily assumes all "right-thinking" people support it.

"Right-thinking? Do you think anyone but God has the right to make that decision?"

But people here are saying parents have the right to make decisions about sperm donors and surrogate wombs. They do in fact have that right, given freedom of conscience. But I have doubts if it is objectively a good thing. I can't imagine making such a choice myself or encouraging others to do so.


Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 9:24am GMT

JCF, I said nothing about banning sperm banks or surrogate mothers.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 9:26am GMT

Because I don't agree with you, my answer is "flying off in every direction?" Interesting. Perhaps you were unable to follow the first time. Read again.

So, you have problems with surrogate mothers and sperm donors. So what?

What, in fact, *is* your point? You haven't been too clear, yourself, about what it is you're trying to prove/make clear/settle. What does any of it have to do with Williams' - and indeed, all religious leaders' - inability to relate to the actuality of the world around them, to offer anything of value to the world they accuse of refusing to engage *them*? If you recall, that was where you began with this rather shakey argument on surrogate parenting. I could care less about surrogate parenting, frankly, neither in favor or against, but I don't see why such vaporous arguments against surrogate parenting should stand as an example of Rowan Williams' moral authority!

I didn't say your position is ridiculous - whatever it is - but that the bases you have presented *are* and remain so. They are based in your personal fantasy.

I also note you make no attempt to answer about the likelihood of a surrogate parent saying what you presuppose they would. Are you going to dismiss that as "ironic" usage, as well?

I generally agree with you, but see no point or, indeed, valuable insight that you are offering here.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 10:28am GMT

Spirit

I think a lot of people are not so attached to the concept of biological parenthood as you seem to think. A husband would not think that his wife was having another man's child, but that he and his wife together would be bringing up a baby and be his or her parents.

If you have ever spoken to parents who have children that are biologically theirs and who have also adopted, you will find that most of them feel feel exactly the same about all the children.

Biology really does not matter that much at all.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 11:04am GMT

"Another red herring; of course they would sugar the pill, but the message would be the same: "Well, dear child, we wanted to have you so badly that we got a really nice woman to be your mother/a really nice man to be your father; but it was conditional on your not knowing her/him because of the terms of our contract.""

Lots of parents can pitch of these sorts of answers in demeaning ways, it seems to me, unless you subscribe to the theory that all children heretofore have been conceived intentionally, by people in valid marriages, after due thought and prayer, while thinking about the Baby Jesus.

Posted by BillyD at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 1:19pm GMT

"Lots of parents can pitch of these sorts of answers in demeaning ways, it seems to me, unless you subscribe to the theory that all children heretofore have been conceived intentionally, by people in valid marriages, after due thought and prayer, while thinking about the Baby Jesus." - Billy D

Brilliant. Having had three children, first as a Roman Catholic and later as an Episcopalian, I can assure you that there were no such thoughts in our heads at the time, nor should there have been.

Perhaps the problem is that too many people are separated, in very unreal ways, from an understanding of the reality of life.

I can recall one theology teacher in my Roman Catholic college, who pointed out that condoms were not necessarily evil, because he recalled (presumably from his time as an Army chaplain) they were used by some soldiers who placed them over the barrels of their rifles, to keep out water and dirt.

Oy vey!

With distorted visions of "good" and "evil" as that priest was exercising, condoms for sex - bad but condoms for guns - good, we should not be surprised by some of the things which come from Rome or its friends.

What I can also recall, however, are the good and caring RC priests you would sometimes find who would counsel in ways that were more like "the Church teaches "x", but you should prayerfully follow your conscience."

The sad thing is that the reality that is seen and incorporated by much of the lower level clergy in the RC Church, is ignored (if seen) by the self-perpetuating hierarchy.

Parents -- whatever their sexual orientation -- truly loving and caring for their children -- however conceived or received -- is what matters.

Too much of the focus of SV2 seems to be like the proverbial discussions of how many angels there are on the head of a pin.

Posted by Jerry Hannon at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 5:02pm GMT

"Parents -- whatever their sexual orientation -- truly loving and caring for their children -- however conceived or received -- is what matters.'
- Jerry Hannon -

Thanks, Gerry, for your input on this subject. I can't help but echo your sentiment here - along the lines of "suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not - for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" (however, conceived!). The most important thing here is that children are wanted and properly cared for. This is not always the case with 'naturally conceived' children.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 18 November 2009 at 9:28pm GMT

I take it then that none of you have any "moral" misgivings or objections to sperm donation or surrogate motherhood (whether anonymous and commercial or by a loving arrangement with a friend of the couple? I wish, though, that you would make an argument for your case rather than fly off at tangents or treat the matter as merely a frivolous debate like that about the number of angels on a pin.

So, Ron Smith, Erika Baker, Jerry Hannon, Martin Reynolds, BillyD, Mark Brunson, JCF, drdanfee, please give me a REASON why we should regard these techniques as natural, neutral, or a jolly good thing. Give me a reason for regarding it as ridiculous to worry about such trivial matters.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 2:20am GMT

Spirit

I have never said they were trivial matters. My point had always been that they are not exclusive to lgbt people and that they should be discussed as topics in their own rights, not tacked on to the lgbt debate.

And I have also said that your fears that the resulting children will be told or made to feel that they were somehow cheaply purchased without any regard to their human dignity are, according to my experience, misfounded.

From my point of view, once you have uncoupled biological parenthood from the real thing that develops through lovingly bringing up a child, there is no reason why sperm donation, for example, should automatically be morally wrong.

In the UK there are now safeguards in place that remove anonymity from sperm donors so the resulting children can later trace their biological father if they wish, and also have access to medical information.

Could you not imagine that saying to a child "your parents wanted you so very badly and so I helped them that you could be born to them" can be a truly positive thing to do?


Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 8:35am GMT

I can think of several reasons, SV2.

1. Sperm donation and surrogate motherhood have always happened. Not necessarily in the medicalised way they now do, but people have always cared for children that were not necessarily biologically theirs. Women who wanted children have generally found a way. The turkey baster method isn't exactly new. This suggests to me that, as so often, the Church laying down the law on what is and isn't acceptable in how people order their family life, has the potential to turn them away.

2. Insisting that children should only be conceived between a husband and wife in a marriage is blind to the real world, where children are (naturally) conceived by all sorts of people in all sorts of relationships. We did stigmatising 'bastards' - it wasn't fun, didn't work and caused a lot of harm. Most of us now realise the best thing to do is to value all children, however conceived, and to support and honour all parents who are doing their best to bring them up in love.

3. Many cases of IVF (not to mention IUI) are done with donor sperm, because the male partner does not have viable sperm of his own. Generally in modern medicine we try to reduce harm and temper suffering whenever we can. If a couple is suffering greatly because he cannot produce viable sperm, why should not we help them to have a child to love and bring up? It will be their child because they care for it. As others have said, if you talk to people who have had a child with donor sperm, then you will find that they know it is theirs, even if it may not be biologically so. To think otherwise is biological determinism of a decidedly unchristian sort, to my mind.

4. I confess that I find surrogacy more difficult. In this country it's highly regulated and cannot be entered into for profit. But to me any decision made about a case should rest on the best interests of all involved, including the surrogate mother, rather than on half-understood dogma about the 'right' way to conceive a child.

5. Finally, our church is immensely blessed by the bright, beautiful and happy five-year-old child of a lesbian couple who attend regularly. I've never seen a more wanted or contented child. If you have to think that hard and work out so many logistics to have a child, then you tend to really love and care for it.

Posted by Olivia at Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 9:57am GMT

SV, I personally don't doubt that there's a moral component to IVF and the rest of the things we've been discussing, as there is a moral component to most things. On another thread I've even said that I think there can be a sort of biological narcissism involved in "fertility treatments." What I reject is the (forgive me) ludicrous arguments that you've advanced against it, and the apparent obsession you have with their use by gay couples.

On the other hand, in one aspect they obviously are "a jolly good thing," or ought to be by someone who belongs to a Church that prides itself on its theology of life, because they result in the birth of human beings.

I think that obsessing on the details of how people are conceived isn't so much a discussion about angels on the heads of a pin, as it is straining at gnats. There are more important moral concerns, at least for me, than worrying about the mechanics of other people's conception.

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 12:50pm GMT

"please give me a REASON why we should regard these techniques as natural, neutral, or a jolly good thing. Give me a reason for regarding it as ridiculous to worry about such trivial matters." - Posted by Spirit of Vatican II

As long as you don't exert POWER-OVER by banning these (hardly novel, in the main, or at least in principle) "techniques"---as you said you wouldn't, above---I really don't care whether you "worry about" them, SV2. I mean, I think that excessive worry about other people's lives is your loss---but it's also your choice (just as the techniques are their choice!)

Have you ever met (for example) a lesbian couple w/ children? If you get to KNOW them, then they may tell you about their children's father(s), whether known by name or simply by donor info. It's in and through GETTING TO KNOW this family, that you can discover how "jolly good" they really are! :-)

Posted by JCF at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 5:15am GMT


I see that the US Bishops are in no doubt that sperm donation and surrogate mothers are profoundly wrong ("straining at gnats" is too facile a response). They use the slippery slope argument in the reverse direction from me, tending to see artificial contraception and insemination as just as bad as sperm donation (whereas I tend to agree with Anglicans that these procedures are aiding Nature rather than tampering with it; the bishops do raise a troubling point about IVF, the extra embryos produced).

That something is "obviously a jolly good thing" because it results in the birth of human beings is not a good argument: rape and incest also result in the births of human beings.

"If a couple is suffering greatly because he cannot produce viable sperm, why should not we help them to have a child to love and bring up? It will be their child because they care for it." Adoption would meet this problem. Of course I don't deny that parents will and must love a child independent of the mode of conception (and if cloning becomes common, cloned children will be loved too). Raising the issue of children born out of wedlock, Olivia rightly says that we now are careful not to deprive the children of the love that is their due. But this would not be a good argument for saying that having children out of wedlock is a jolly good thing.

"Once you have uncoupled biological parenthood from the real thing that develops through lovingly bringing up a child, there is no reason why sperm donation, for example, should automatically be morally wrong." This is less an argument than a demand that I produce an argument. Note that biological parenthood has ALWAYS been uncoupled from rearing children -- adoption is as old as humanity. It is argued that sperm donation or surrogate motherhood are also as old as humanity, in that couples arranged for the husband to impregnate another woman, or for the wife to be impregnated by another man, and then adopted the child as their own. I suggest that such practices were far rarer than adoption and that they received little ratification from the moral reflections of humanity.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 7:07am GMT

Spirit: One Question at this juncture: How does one determine who has the right to life when at least some children are born without any real preparation - they just happen along? Such children - especially when born to parents who did not really want them - are not nurtured as befits their dependent status. We are talking here about a class of children who are actually wanted - by their prospective parents (whether straight, gay single or married). Now. My real question is: Are those children accredited by you with a 'Right to Life' or not?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 8:09am GMT

"It is argued that sperm donation or surrogate motherhood are also as old as humanity, in that couples arranged for the husband to impregnate another woman, or for the wife to be impregnated by another man, and then adopted the child as their own. I suggest that such practices were far rarer than adoption and that they received little ratification from the moral reflections of humanity."

Ever read the story of Abraham? . ... sorry. I think it was probably more common than you think.

I don't disagree with you about adoption, and like Billy, I think there can be a real element of biological narcissism in some fertility treatment. However, in the UK, the history of taking children away from mothers on spurious grounds (unmarried status, colour of skin, poverty ...) has meant that it is now very, very difficult for social services to take children into care. This has changed a little since the horrific case of Baby Peter in 2007, but it is still true that only the very saddest cases get taken into care and subsequently put up for adoption. The presumption that a family should be kept together for as long as possible also means that those children that are up for adoption are generally older and quite badly damaged in one way or another. This means that social services look for very specific skills, resilience and dedication in prospective adoptors. I've been told that I couldn't adopt, for instance, because I have a history of depression.

I have nothing but admiration for those people and couples who adopt children, but it really is a different experience from having a baby, and I can see why plenty of people do not feel able to navigate that system.

Posted by Olivia at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 8:28am GMT

Spirit
That US Bishops don't like sperm donation is neither here nor there. Rome doesn't like gays either, or condoms even for HIV prevention (which I consider to be positively immoral).
Morals have to be argued not simply stated or demanded.

You didn't like me saying "Once you have uncoupled biological parenthood from the real thing that develops through lovingly bringing up a child, there is no reason why sperm donation, for example, should automatically be morally wrong."
But I cannot do more than that.

If something is not intrinsically morally wrong, then the morals have to be weighed individually on a case by case basis.

I might have a personal view about an individual couple I know, but unless I know in each case who I am judging I have no right to judge, far less to make moral decisions on their behalf.

Society as a whole has decided that sperm donation is, shall we say at least morally neutral, and as I agree with that, this is where my involvement with the debate ends.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 9:13am GMT

"Morals have to be argued not simply stated or demanded."

In fairness, the RCC has accumulated the vastest repository of such rational argument on morality over the centuries. Vatican peremptoriness has cast the labors of the moral theologians in the shade; but they do have an arsenal of persuasive arguments for altering some of the moral stances you object to.

"I might have a personal view about an individual couple I know, but unless I know in each case who I am judging I have no right to judge, far less to make moral decisions on their behalf."

The RCC outlook is that one can determine a lot about objective morality on the basis of reason and natural law; but as Paul VI wrote to Cardinal O'Boyle of Washington: what is objectively immoral can sometimes be "diminished in guilt, inculpable, or subjectively defensible". Conservatives in the RCC consider this too liberal and "counter-productive".

I don't think our respect for individual consciences forbids us to reflect on objective morality. For instance, is suicide objectively wrong? It is a perfectly rational and also an important question.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 10:04am GMT

Spirit
I know that the RCC has amazing moral theologians; my argument was simply that the published opinions of Bishops are not automatically morally superior to those of other people.

And I agree that we all have to reflect on objective morality.
The problem comes when we try to be absolutist without acknowledging the ever present shades of grey in every moral decision.
And just as the homosexuality issues isn't a simple right or wrong - it's always the actions of the individuals that are either right or wrong, so sperm donation is, for me at least, on the same level.

Having come to the conclusion that it is not intrinsically immoral, I don't think I have to make a watertight case for it being moral at all times.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 11:10am GMT

Spirit
“what is objectively immoral can sometimes be "diminished in guilt, inculpable, or subjectively defensible". “

The issue, then, is one of categories.
Very few things are objectively either right or wrong. Even our beloved hot button issue of sex is, in itself, morally neutral and becomes right or wrong only in a particular context.
So the question is whether sperm donation is something about which an objective moral statement can be made, or whether it is in itself morally neutral, becoming right or wrong in context.

I happen to believe that it belongs in the latter category.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 12:28pm GMT

"I see that the US Bishops..."

Not my bishops, SV. Why do you think that anything that the USCCB says would be persuasive in this instance?

You have a point about the rape and incest argument, though.

I suppose that my problem with the discussion is that it sounds (to me) dangerously close to telling people, "You should never have been conceived, much less born." That, and your fixation on infertility treatments being used by lesbians, which is what sparked the whole thing.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 12:49pm GMT

"I don't think our respect for individual consciences forbids us to reflect on objective morality. For instance, is suicide objectively wrong? It is a perfectly rational and also an important question."

Forgive me, but I think that is actually a meaningless question. Of course, we would all want to stop someone committing suicide. But suicide is surely a tragedy based on pain (physical or mental) which seems unbearable to the person. We can try to decrease suicide rates by putting in place better mental health care, palliative care and social support, but in the end it surely won't matter to the desperate individual involved whether s/he is committing an 'objective moral wrong' or not. All stigmatising suicide did was to shame those who'd attempted it and survived, and the relatives and friends of those who died.

Posted by Olivia at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 12:52pm GMT

Olivia, yes, and also it is counter-productive to tell suicidal people that suicide is objectively wrong. Indeed, a case can be made for saying that it their own free choice and that this is to be respected: even as counselling that can have an empowering and liberating effect.

But all of this is on the "subjective" side of the equation. I think there is a very "objective" issue as well. In my moral thinking about the future, would I be morally entitled to factor in such possibilities as committing suicide to avoid pain or old age or to make a political gesture or to remove myself from a situation where I had become a burden to others? There are many societies ancient and modern that would see no ethical problem with entertaining such thoughts, and would even make it a virtue to act on them (Japan, ancient Rome). Does the West any longer believe that the Almighty has set his canon 'gainst self-slaughter?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 2:10pm GMT

"That, and your fixation on infertility treatments being used by lesbians, which is what sparked the whole thing."

Or someone's fantasy about my alleged fixation?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 2:14pm GMT

Spirit
Thinking on…
We can morally object to something if it has the power to do harm.
Something is intrinsically immoral if it only ever has harmful consequences, for example theft.
Other things may have harmful consequences and yet be the lesser of two evils at times, for example abortion when either the child or the mother or even both would lose their lives, or killing people in war.
Some things are intrinsically good – loving people and looking after them.

So the question has to be what potential harm sperm donation causes and whether this is an absolute harm that is always caused by it.
At its best, sperm donation involves an altruistic donor who helps a loving couple to bear their much wanted child.
I therefore have to conclude that it is not intrinsically morally wrong, but that its morality has to be assessed on a case by case basis.

To say this couple could just as easily adopt as have its own child is only valid if we believe that all living children should have parents first before new children should be born, a dictum that would then also apply to fertile married couples.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 2:41pm GMT

"Or someone's fantasy about my alleged fixation?"

Well, no, in fact. This started because of your stated concerns *about the children of lesbians* on another thread. I don't recall you asking probing questions about anybody else's children's conception.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 5:47pm GMT

"That US Bishops don't like sperm donation is neither here nor there. Rome doesn't like gays either, or condoms even for HIV prevention (which I consider to be positively immoral)."

You forgot masturbation being a mortal sin. Or any form of birth control.

Really, why anyone would think that the morality of the RCC was persuasive on matters of sex and reproduction is beyond me.

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 5:50pm GMT

"You forgot masturbation being a mortal sin. Or any form of birth control." - BillyD, on Friday -

Perhaps 'Spirit of VaticanII' can clarify this point for us all. Does Rome still insist on these two sexual matters being objectively sinful and, indeed, occasions o 'mortal sin'? Because, if so, then the majorithy of males, on the first issue alone, have no hope of salvation at all.

Gosh, I'm glad I'm an Anglican Catholic. God does seem to be a lot kinder to us - and much more understanding of our common humanity.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 20 November 2009 at 10:19pm GMT

I was reminded of another bit of superior morality on reproductive issues by the US Catholic Bishops. They insist that health care reform bills not make allowance for abortion under a public option. Of course, they have no similar problem with US insurance companies paying for abortions - all major ones do, paid for out of the contributions of all their customers, with no action against them by the RCC. But the Bishops would rather see American poor people without health coverage than let them have coverage that covers abortion. Health insurance that pays for abortion is only morally acceptable for the well-heeled.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/11/20/bishops-unacceptable-health-care-bill/

Posted by BillyD at Saturday, 21 November 2009 at 12:07am GMT
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