David B. Hart — The Anti-Theology of the Body: “‘The Pornography Culture’ (Summer 2004)

To ask what the legacy of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body might be for future debates in bioethics is implicitly to ask what relevance it has for current debates in bioethics. And this creates something of a problem, because there is a real sense in which it has none at all–at least, if by ‘relevance’ one means discrete logical propositions or policy recommendations that might be extracted from the larger context of John Paul’s teachings so as to ‘advance the conversation’ or ‘suggest a middle course’ or ‘clarify ethical ambiguities.’ Simply said, the book does not offer arguments, or propositions, or (thank God) ‘suggestions.’ Rather, it enunciates with extraordinary fullness a complete vision of the spiritual and corporeal life of the human being; that vision is a self-sufficient totality, which one is free to embrace or reject as a whole. To one who holds to John Paul’s Christian understanding of the body, and so believes that each human being, from the very first moment of existence, emerges from and is called towards eternity, there are no negotiable or even very perplexing issues regarding our moral obligations before the mystery of life. Not only is every abortion performed an act of murder, but so is the destruction of every ‘superfluous’ embryo created in fertility clinics or every embryo produced for the purposes of embryonic stem cell research. The fabrication of clones, the invention of ‘chimeras’ through the miscegenation of human and animal DNA, and of course the termination of supernumerary, dispensable, or defective specimens that such experimentation inevitably entails are in every case irredeemably evil. Even if, say, research on embryonic stem cells could produce therapies that would heal the lame, or reverse senility, or repair a damaged brain, or prolong life, this would in no measure alter the moral calculus of the situation: human life is an infinite good, never an instrumental resource; human life is possessed of an absolute sanctity, and no benefit (real or supposed) can justify its destruction. “