Testimony on Amniocentesis by a Catholic Pro-Life Activist

Let me pose a difficult question: Who gets to determine who lives and who dies? Personally, I don’t think that any human has the right to do so. Human life is in the hands of God, and God only. But there are those who believe that people, specifically pregnant women, should be able to determine whether their unborn children deserve to live or not. As you all know, I am talking about genetic testing, specifically amniocentesis, and its link to a much greater problem, abortion. Ultimately, whenever a woman goes to a clinic for testing, she is considering aborting what she considers an unhealthy baby (even if the thought is just in the very back of her mind), and therefore, the administration of these tests must not be permitted, or at the very least, funded by the government.

Amniocentesis is a form of testing in which a large needle is stuck into the uterus of a woman fairly late into her pregnancy to test her amniotic fluid for chromosomal defects and genetic disorders. This test is dangerous for the baby, and could potentially cause a miscarriage. However, it is recommended for all women over the age of 35 in America (Rapp 33). When a pregnant woman is given a negative test result, she is relieved, and has nothing to worry about for the rest of her pregnancy, but when a woman is given a positive diagnosis, her life has changed forever. In this moment, she is given the impossible choice of whether to let her child be born and live with a disability, or die.

Amniocentesis creates the idea of tentative pregnancy, in which a pregnancy is not truly considered until the results of the test are given. This is not true, as the fetus is not a ‘temporary life’ until testing; it is a human being from the moment of conception. The idea of selective abortion, or late abortion that is due to a diagnosis, comes out of these tests. It forces women to avert their eyes to the fact that they are debating ending a life.

For one, this sounds quite a bit like eugenics. No individual person is more important or more powerful than another, so nobody has the right to control which types of people get to live and which do not. This could create a “slippery slope of a eugenic boutique,” because if we can choose to narrow down the disabled population, who is to say that we won’t decide to narrow down a race that people in power deem inferior? Or create a society in which the rich get to choose what their future children will be like before birth (Rapp 38)? This is simply morally wrong. Human beings do not have the agency to decide who gets to be born. This is God’s domain.

I believe that it is better not to bear the burden of knowledge of whether one’s unborn child does or doesn’t have a chromosomal disability. Firstly, these disabilities manifest in different ways, and many people with them lead perfectly normal lives. Secondly, the diagnosis causes more anxiety and possibly even resentment towards the child. Finally, and most obviously, this knowledge provides people with the idea that they can destroy the life of their child if they do not like the test result. Without amniocentesis, families will take life’s challenges as they come, and if the child is born with a disability and they do not want to keep him/her, they can consider adoption. It is unfair, however, for parents to choose to end the child’s life without his/her consent, which cannot be done in utero.

I will admit that many of my ideas do stem from my faith. However, Catholicism is not only a religion, but a moral code for which all people should follow, and it is my duty to help ensure that all people are not following the path of sin. When it comes to abortion, the Church’s natural moral law forbids the destruction of human life, as all people have a “right to life from the moment of conception until death,” and God is the only one who has the right to “destroy directly an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae 146). The Second Vatican Council ruled that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,” and that from the point of fertilization, a person has a soul (D.V. 147). With this in mind, I ask you all, would you kill a five year old child that cannot stand up for itself? I would assume that your answer to this question would be ‘no.’ There is no difference in the soul between a five year old and a fetus, or even a grown adult, for that matter. The Church said specifically that any genetic testing that could plant thoughts about abortion is a “gravely illicit act” (D.V. 148). The laws of the Church have been put in place to provide a moral and ethical path for all humans, and it would be wise to use it as a guideline to stop immoral acts from happening in this country.

I would like to bring up an example of a country that treats pregnancy and the creation of human life as a miracle: Japan. In Japan, there is a culture of treating pregnancy as a full time job in which the mother-to-be is constantly working to do her best to serve her child. Japanese pregnant women are careful not to harm their babies, and generally do not work or use public transportation in order to avoid danger. They even spend time performing Taikyo, or the practice of educating and bonding with the unborn baby. In Japan, amniocentesis is rarely used, since there is an understanding among the society that the test is both dangerous and useless, as the vast majority of women would not be having abortions if they received positive diagnoses anyway. There is a deep respect for the fetus and it’s soul, and it is displayed when Japanese families memorialize their miscarried children. Even without the guidelines of the Catholic Church, Japanese society understands the morality of the natural law that requires the respect of the fetus (Ivry, Ch 3). The United States should use this as an example of how we can improve our own societal flaws and guide people in the right direction.

The idea that knowledge is power is extremely important. However, the knowledge acquired through amniocentesis creates a major burden on all parties involved. Doctors and genetic counselors are in the position of having to decide what to advise parents. Genetic testing does provide them with their entire businesses, but money and business have no place in this type of moral debate. Without amniocentesis, these people could find jobs elsewhere. The government has to deal with the burden of protecting or allowing people to selectively destroy their own babies. Government officials are first and foremost concerned with the wellbeing of their constituents, so they should count these fetuses as part of the community and work to serve them as well. The pregnant mother and her husband have much at stake, as they are forced to “act as a moral philosopher of the limits, adjudicating the standards guarding entry into human community for which she serves as a normalizing gatekeeper” (Rapp 131). Amniocentesis, along with abortion, causes the woman to consider questions such as ‘am I making a statement against people with disabilities,’ ‘at what point am I committing to my child,’ ‘what if the test was wrong and I aborted a healthy baby,’ and ‘does a person with disabilities not deserve to live?’ We talk about the positive impact of diversity, so what kind of moral society would we be if we eliminated people with differences? We need to appreciate these differences and embrace them. Finally, I believe that the fetus itself has the most at stake. If a woman decides to abort her baby, she has eliminated the life of a person who could not speak up for him/herself. Every human, including those with disabilities, has the potential to change the world. Aborting a fetus would destroy this soul’s opportunity to live and serve God and his/her community.

These problems could all be avoided in two ways. One way would be to ban abortion, which would make the need for amniocentesis disappear. Another way would be to ban the test itself, which would not allow women to even consider abortion due to disability. Without testing, this kind of selective abortion would not be possible. However, since we are not debating this, I would suggest, at the very least, defunding clinics that perform amniocentesis. This would help prevent women from considering selective abortion.

I would like to conclude by thanking you all for listening to my advice. Of course my beliefs do stem from my Catholic faith, however, even while stepping out of this position I cannot accept the idea of a genetic test that directly leads to women considering abortion. Instead of focusing funding on these tests, we should put the money into helping families with disabled children. This would promote the moral ideal of treating others kindly and with respect. Thank you, and I appreciate your support.



Ivry, Tsipy. “The Path of Bonding.” Embodying Culture. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge, 2000. ProQuest Ebrary. ProQuest. Web.

Shannon, Thomas A., and Lisa Sowle Cahill. “Appendix.” Afterword. Religion and Artificial Reproduction: An Inquiry into the Vatican “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Human Reproduction”. New York: Crossroad, 1988. N. pag. Print.



Module 1: Classifying Kinship and Familial Relationships – Sylvie Moscovitz

Kinship, or relatedness, is understood by evolutionary psychologists to be directly linked to genetics, and therefore, people who share more genes are generally closer to each other, whether in location, emotion, or interest. Susan McKinnon refutes this claim, saying that kinship and human relationships are much more complex than just genetics, and that scientists must broaden their views to include more than just biology. In her studies, she discusses the roles of gender and family in different cultures.

For example, McKinnon discusses evolutionary psychology’s idea of gendered asymmetry, in which men are concerned with the reproductive resources of women, while women are concerned with the productive resources of men. This links gender roles to biological sex. However, men are understood to also look for productiveness in finding their potential mates as well, since in many societies, women are tasked with certain jobs such as gathering food. There is no perfect division between all of the roles of the male from those of the female, as gender roles vary from culture to culture. One question may be raised: if not from biology, where do these gender roles stem from?

Many societies consider a family to be a mother, father, and their children. However, this is not always the case. In some cases, there are multiple mothers, including an egg donor, a child carrier, and the person who adopts the child. In addition, some cultures link kinship of children with their birth parents, those who raise the children, and those who feed and educate them. Warren Shapiro argues that all other relationships always stem from the biological ones, and proposes that in Western culture, although people have many “mothers,” such as godmothers and grandmothers, they all derive from the biological mother. However, if this were true, it would discount the idea that any person who cares enough could take on the role of adoptive mother in a manner just as loving as a biological mother. This is, seemingly, untrue, and one of the issues in choosing to look at kinship through either a genetic or a cultural lens is that it is easy to follow the guidelines of your means of analysis and forget to think outside the box.

One of the main issues concerning kinship and culture is the way in which raising non-biological children is viewed. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson explain that raising non-biological children is different from raising biological children, because the parent does not have a genetic reason to love them. They even cite the high rates of violence in stepparent-stepchild relationships, compared to their biological counterparts. However, is clear that this cannot be understood as a general rule, and that love is not defined by genetics. In house societies, children are allocated to families, and are loved in by their adoptive parents just as they would be by biological parents. In the United States, many older adopted children try to find their “real” parents and are disappointed in the lack of commonalities found. This is because it seems that the environment that a child is brought up in is what shapes him/her for the future. Some argue that “being” is what makes kinship legitimate, but it seems that “creating/doing,” or the work that is put into a relationship, is what makes a “real” family. It should be recognized that it takes more than giving birth or providing sperm for people to form bonds. One of the main forms of kinship is the spousal relationship, which is not (typically) formed through a genetic bond. It is formed through any sort of cultural traditions, such as a religion that allows a man to take multiple wives, or a society that forbids certain genetic relatives from being sexual partners. The spousal relationship is not defined solely by genetics, but rather on the spouses’ preferences and cultures.

Every culture and society has different views on what is considered a family. In some societies, adoption and gamete donation are seen as legitimate forms of parenting, but in other cultures, the act of raising a non-biological child is frowned upon. This is especially common in the Muslim Middle East, since mainstream Islam prohibits adoption and gamete donation. The religion stresses the importance of the purity of a biological lineage, and links inheritance to biological children. Adoption and bringing up orphans are seen as haram, or illicit, due to the strict moral codes set by the Quran. Many Muslims do not want to partake in these acts, since the child would be seen as either a bastard, or an illegitimate orphan. In the case of adoption or egg donation, the mother must cover herself in front of a non-biological son. Many Muslim men would feel uncomfortable if a daughter of different sperm lived among them, as they have unofficial daughter status, but are legally able to marry him. In the Muslim Middle East, ideas of kinship are fairly set in stone. However, there are always people who challenge the norms and set their own moral codes.

It is easy for Western onlookers to say that the Islamic views on adoption are immoral, yet this is when compared to their own cultures, from their own biases. Things that are considered moral in one culture, such as adoption and gamete donation, are considered immoral in another. This shows that there is truly a broad spectrum of thought, and that although humans are made up of the same materials, people adapt to their surroundings and cultures to create their own opinions and morals. In her article, Marcia Inhorn explains the way in which Muslims in Lebanon interpret their religion to accept the idea of IVF. Although it is forbidden, many of the men whose wives had received/were considering IVF justified their actions by love for their wives, and desires to make them happy. Even within Islam, religious laws differ, like in the way that the Shiite ruler Shaikh Fadallah issued a fatwa (ruling) that permitted egg through a loophole of a temporary marriage, in which a man would temporarily marry an unmarried woman, in order to provide a child that would be his.

Susan McKinnon’s main argument is that of soft cultural relativism. There may be genetics and values that are universal, but there is much more diversity in humanity well above the genetic level. Much of the criticism of her work is that she tries to delegitimize biology as the building blocks for kinship and the family. However, although there are certain factors that seem fairly universal after many studies, such as distaste towards incest, the idea of kin and family is extraordinarily different from culture to culture. But who is it that gets to decide what is legitimate and what is not? Is it the people in the society? Or their leaders? Is it ultimately a higher power? Or based on science?

One of the biggest issues in many scientific fields that contain classification is when people rank things in a hierarchical manner. In the 19th century, the field of anthropology consisted of scientists comparing races and collecting data about technology from different societies, and ranking them based on “primitiveness.” This is a fallacy, as a society with less advanced technology does not indicate lack of knowledge, it simply reflects the needs of the group in the area. One cannot compare kin structures in a judgmental manner, and scientists cannot simply call a group that considers adoption a sin immoral or backwards.

All humans tend to look down upon the “other,” and criticize those who are different from them. However, in a field like anthropology, in which the goal is to understand truths, people should put aside their superiority complexes and accept that different cultures work differently, despite the fact that all people are made of the same genetic material.