Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for March, 2015


Is Premeditated Targeting of an Unborn Child Murder?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

637px-Placenta.svg(courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

by guest blogger, Erica Graham

Should personhood be ascribed based upon whether or not the person is wanted?  If this seems like a strange question, consider the following case.  This past week in Longmont, Colorado a 26 year old woman who was 7 months pregnant went to an apartment to pick up baby clothes she’d seen advertised on Craigslist. The woman was stabbed and beaten upon entering the apartment.  The assailant then cut the unborn child from the victim’s womb and fled the scene. The mother-to-be survived but the child did not. The suspect brought the deceased child to the hospital where the victim was being treated, claiming the baby was her own miscarriage. The suspect was apprehended and is now facing charges. Prosecutors, however, are uncertain if murder charges can be filed. In the State of Colorado, a murder charge cannot be pressed unless the child was alive outside the womb.

Our hearts break when we hear this story. A mother is bereft of her child, and the justice system may not allow the suspect to be charged for murder. The prosecutors are working around the question of how long a baby has to live outside the womb to be considered “alive” and thus considered “murdered”.  So, where do we draw the line?  Is one breath outside the womb sufficient? One minute of breathing? When is an unborn child a human person? When do they deserve human rights of their own? Are they just a part of the mother’s body?  Is this grisly attack murder, or merely assault?

Most people would say there was an obvious loss of life here. The expectant mother’s child was violently killed. That fact seems obvious. But what makes a 7 month old fetus different than an 8 week old fetus? And why are we ok with killing one but angered when the other is killed? The only difference is whether or not the mother desires the child.

This horrific Colorado crime shines light on the ugly reality that we let other people decide whether or not someone is valuable enough to live.


We let children be killed only when the pregnant woman decides it is permissible. How can we offer justice to a woman who had her baby literally stolen from her womb when we cannot acknowledge her child was even alive?  Should we follow an ethic that allows such injustice?

I believe this potential failure of justice should make us rethink how we legally define life. For the sake of justice we should declare the child alive at conception. This allows expectant mothers to defend their babies’ lives before they are born. Our gut tells us this baby was murdered and I think we should listen to our instincts here. Unborn children can be murdered just any other child can, and they deserve the same rights to justice.

CNN Article describing the case above

The Coming of Medical Martyrdom

Monday, March 16th, 2015 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan


Do you remember a time when folks talked about a doctor’s oath, something that dictated his or her ethics? Most don’t realize that this originally came from Hippocrates in about 400 B.C., but they assumed that healthcare was guided by professionalism and compassionate care.

Today, the New Medicine is no longer concerned with the Hippocratic Oath, and we no longer hear much about doctors as healers. Now it is all about individual choice, about radical autonomy run amok. In this modern world of consumer health care, the customer is always right.

So what about those who refuse to play along? What about those doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who refuse to cooperate with patient demands for abortion or for drugs to help them kill themselves? In more and more cases, they are censured by their professional societies, and may even be subject to lawsuits. In Belgium, in the Netherlands, in Australia, in Canada, and now increasingly in the U.S., the highest priority is placed on an individual patient’s choice, and these strictures are increasingly finding their way into our laws.

Wesley J. Smith, a moral philosopher and commentator for the Discovery Institute, puts it this way:

If these trends continue, twenty years from now, those who feel called to a career in health care will face an agonizing dilemma: either participate in acts of killing or stay out of medicine. Those who stay true to their consciences will be forced into the painful sacrifice of embracing martyrdom for their faith.


With such assaults on health care rights of conscience, the newest martyrs may be those who wear a white coat.

Wesley J. Smith Commentary

Remembering Spring in the Midst of Winter

Monday, March 9th, 2015 by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

1280px-Colorful_spring_gardenPhoto Courtesy  of Wikimedia Commons

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

Just days ago, much of the nation was facing wind chill advisories and subzero temperatures.  But walking around my neighborhood yesterday, I heard the sounds of rushing water as the snow melted, the song of birds, and the honking of geese.  The sun was shining, and the smell of spring was in the air.  We knew it was coming.  For weeks now, folks I’ve encountered, whether in line at the post office or ringing up my groceries at Wal-Mart, have been encouraging each other with the hope that “spring is on its way”.

Even on the coldest day, no one doubted that spring was coming.  We’ve seen the seasons change again and again. The pattern of resurrection is woven throughout the fabric of nature.  For every winter, there is a spring.

The fact that we’re still talking about Brittany Maynard proves that the “winter” of our lives is often difficult.  Brittany  Maynard, diagnosed with terminal cancer, chose to end her life last November rather than face the certain pain that lay ahead of her.  I think any of us who has seen the ravages of cancer can empathize with what must have been an agonizing decision.

Her decision illustrates our very basic, human need for hope; the hope that winter will give way to spring.

As Christians, we hold to the hope of resurrection, knowing that the darkness of Good Friday gave way to the triumph of Easter Sunday.  Christ, then, is our ultimate hope.


But a terminal patient needs “short-term” hope, too.  What are some ways we can help suffering persons to embrace hope?  According to Cancer Research UK:

Everyone needs to have some sense of hope for their future. When you are dying, this hope may be that you can visit a place that you love. Or you may hope that you can enjoy being with your family and friends for a time. Some people believe that there is life after death and find that this gives them hope…many people hope for comfort, dignity, friendship and love to surround them in their final days.


That means every one of us has the potential to be a hope-giver.  For more information on helping the terminally ill, check out these resources:

Hospice Foundation of America

Get Palliative Care


Your 3-person Embryo Questions Answered

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

8-cell_stage_embryoPhoto Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

Since Britain legalized the creation of 3-person embryos on February 24th, I’ve been asked a number of questions about this procedure. Below are a few commonly asked questions as well as some resources that I hope will be helpful.

Why is this procedure sometimes called making a “3-person embryo”?  Gametes from three individuals are being used to create one embryo.  The biological mother and father contribute eggs and sperm respectively.  However, in this case, the nuclei of the biological mother’s egg and the father’s sperm will be injected into an enucleated donor egg that has healthy mitochondria.

Whom would this procedure help? The procedure would enable women with mitochondrial disease to bear healthy children who are biologically related to them.  Mitochondria are cellular organelles that are passed down from mother to child.  Therefore, a woman with mitochondrial disease would normally pass diseased mitochondria to her offspring.

Will embryos be destroyed in order to carry out this procedure?  It depends upon how the procedure is carried out.  There are several methods by which 3-person embryos can be made, and not all are embryo destructive.  I’ve linked an article from the Center for Genetics and Society below.  Using their definitions, pronuclear transfer would involve the destruction of embryos, but maternal spindle transfer and nuclear genome transfer would not.  Polar body transfer would not directly result in the destruction of an embryo, but if the polar body were produced by fertilizing an egg so that the polar body could be produced, the resulting embryo would likely be destroyed since it would contain damaged mitochondria.

Is this procedure risky to humans?  The short answer to this question is that we don’t know.  It is a relatively untested procedure, which raises safety concerns.  In addition, the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) mention other concerns, such as violating an EU ban on modifying the human germline, risks to the women from whom eggs were extracted, and potential identity struggles that a person might face once he/she learns of the unusual circumstances surrounding his/her conception.  CGS suggests preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as an alternative to the three-person embryo technology.  However, since PGD generally results in the destruction of genetically imperfect embryos, this alternative cannot be supported by those who believe that embryos are human persons worthy of protection.

For more information: I’ve put links to several helpful articles below.

BBC Article on 3-person embryo

Center for Genetics and Society Article