Bioethics advances create new challenges, speaker says

By Michele Chan Santos
Senior Correspondent

Touching on subjects ranging from Pope Francis to the Octomom to Dolly the cloned sheep, Arland K. Nichols discussed bioethics in his presentation “Medicine and the Gospel of Life” on April 8 at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin.
Addressing issues including contraception, infertility treatments and stem cell research, Nichols spoke with energy and conviction during the three-hour workshop, which drew people from parishes around the diocese.
“I want to equip people to engage the culture, to be able to answer the questions we inevitably face” about family size, infertility and other topics, Nichols said. “I want people to have tools to talk about this.”
Nichols is the founding president of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family in Houston. Formerly he served as the director of Education and Evangelization for Human Life International. Nichols graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and earned a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Theology.
His presentation in Austin was sponsored by the John Paul II Life Center in Austin (a separate organization from the John Paul II Foundation in Houston that Nichols runs).
Nichols discussed the church’s objection to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is in part because in every IVF treatment, many embryos are created and only a few are implanted, which leaves many embryos frozen indefinitely.
“This process does not manifest an interest in the right to life of each embryo,” Nichols said. He noted that in a divorce, frozen embryos fall under the “property” law, and are divided the same way other possessions of a couple are divided.
“The Catholic Church does not give a negative judgement of children created by IVF. Even if the means are not recommended by the church, the children created by IVF are a blessing of life and should be loved and treasured,” he emphasized.
Infertile couples have a right to legitimate and moral therapies, he said, which is particularly relevant since today, 1 in 7 couples often face infertility. 
There are many ways Catholic couples can seek to treat their infertility that are approved by the church, Nichols said. The responsible use of fertility drugs, surgery to correct fallopian tube blockage, diet and lifestyle changes are all permissible according to church teaching, he said.
Natural family planning in its various forms can be highly effective in increasing fertility, he said. Nichols highly recommended Dr. Thomas Hilgers’ “NaPro Technology” as it removes obstacles to natural fertility.
With surrogacy, egg donors and sperm donors, modern society has opened “a pandora’s box,” Nichols said. Combined with a lack of oversight of fertility clinics, these new technologies have created many unanticipated situations. He mentioned the “Octomom;” surrogate mothers in India and other developing countries taking care of babies when the parents who paid for the surrogacy decided they didn’t want the children; and the case of a mother who wanted her teenage son’s sperm extracted and frozen after he died in a car accident.
In the section on cloning, Nichols used an illustration on a slide to explain how Dolly the cloned sheep was created. The Catholic Church is opposed to human cloning, he said. 
“Human cloning is intrinsically illicit. It seeks to give rise to a new human being without any link to sexuality,” says the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 2008 document “Dignitas Personae.”
Judy and Dick Ames are members of the board of directors for the John Paul II Life Center (www.jpiilifecenter.org), which sponsored Nichols’ talk.
“Arland is articulate, thorough, passionate and interesting as a speaker … He challenges and inspires others to adhere to the teachings and example of St. John Paul II,” Judy Ames said.
For more information about Arland Nichols and his foundation, visit www.forlifeandfamily.org.