Do We Destroy Life to Enhance Life?

Years before Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, German scholars were advocating the killing of "worthless" people under the protection of the state. On April 7, 1933 the Nazis eliminated "long established ethical and administrative public supervisory bodies" when they introduced the "law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring." Euthanasia and experimentation on human subjects became the Nazi norm. The purveyors of Nazism saw their system as "applied biology." 

Can one draw a parallel with the Nazi "applied biology" ideology and the recent revelations of Planned Parenthood's selling of baby parts?  Is it "erroneous thinking" to show sympathy for "lives [deemed] devoid of value" but from which parts of those lives medical benefit can be derived?  And are any such "errors of judgment, diagnosis, and execution to be of concern when compared to the social benefits that might eventually accrue?" 

In a New York Times article by Isabel Wilkerson titled "Nazi Scientists and Ethics of Today" scientists discuss the ethical questions concerning the use of Nazi data. Dr. Benno Muller-Hill, a molecular biologist and director of the Institute for Genetics at the University of Cologne in West Germany maintains that people "should remember those who died. We should not try to squeeze profit out of it." Others have "suggested that the use of the data would serve as a lesson to the world, that the victims did not die futilely, and that a post mortem use of the data would retroactively give 'purpose' to their otherwise meaningless deaths." Yet, "Doctor Howard Spiro, of the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale University, insists that no one honors the memory of the dead victims by learning from experiments carried out on them. Instead, we make the Nazis...  retroactive partners in the victims' torture and death."

In his 1990 article titled "The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments" Baruch C. Cohen writes that "[i]t is the grey areas between life-shattering and mundane benefits that continue to puzzle experts. Would the benefits of saving a life be the only acceptable scenario to justify the data's use? Would benefits to the legal profession justify its use? Would the Supreme Court be justified in using... findings on the development of the human fetus in determining the Roe v. Wade abortion decision? Would the court's opinion to use Nazi data benefit or harm the legal society?"

Since abortion is at the crux of the Planned Parenthood revelations, it is worth noting that "[t]he traditional Jewish view of abortion does not fit conveniently into any of the major 'camps' in the current American abortion debate. Jewish tradition neither bans abortion completely, nor does it allow indiscriminate abortion 'on demand.'" But "[a] fetus may not be aborted to save the life of any other person whose life is not directly threatened by the fetus, such as use of fetal organs for transplant" [emphasis mine].

This medical minefield is made more tortuous by the issue of pre-embryonic stem cells. In his 2001 article entitled "Stem Cell Research in Jewish Law" Dr. Daniel Eisenberg asks whether "a very early embryo can be sacrificed for stem cells? In Judaism, pre-embryos are not covered by the prohibition of abortion, because they have never been implanted. The rationale for such a decision is based on the concept that a pre-embryo left in its petri dish will die. It is not even potential life until it is implanted in an environment in which it can mature."

Thus, much hinges on the distinction between a pre-embryo and a fetus. Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, in testimony for the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, "argued strongly in favor of the use of pre-embryos for stem cell research." In a recent interview, Tendler explained that "abortion is prohibited under Jewish law unless it is carried out to save the life of the mother. However, if stem cells have already been harvested, he explained, the Orthodox Jewish position 'is that if it leads to the saving of life or research that is of benefit to society it is allowed.'" 

Thus, "Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashuv... has permitted pre-implantation diagnosis and destruction of affected zygotes to prevent cases of Fragile-X" [and/or Tay Sachs disease] [.]  Rabbi Dovid Feinstein has taken a similar view as to the permissibility of discarding 'extra' pre-embryos. Pre-implantation diagnosis… is likely to be acceptable to most Jewish legal experts when used to prevent serious diseases in offspring." Nevertheless, it is important to realize that this conclusion is not unanimous as evidenced by Rabbi J. David Bleich's "opposition to the destruction of pre-embryos and their use in stem cell research."

But it needs to be stated that "Jewish law certainly confers no right to kill a live baby whose head, or most of whose body, has already emerged. Indeed, once birth has already occurred, Jewish law makes clear, the newborn child has no less right to live than does the mother."

How then are fetal baby parts from Planned Parenthood centers obtained and then actually used?

The Wall Street Journal of July 31, 2015 highlights "two clinical trials in the 1990s assessing whether transplanting fetal brain cells into the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients could help repair production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which the disease damages. The trials found the transplants didn’t significantly benefit the overall group of patients."  Yet "[s]ome European researchers have reported more promising results."

In another instance, medical researchers are growing human organs in mice by implanting dead human baby organs into rodents. Duke University medical student Eugene Gu coauthored a study… in which he said, “[o]ur long-term goal is to grow human organs in animals, to end the human donor shortage.” Other researchers are transplanting fetal cells into adults in order to repair damaged tissue or organ function and "human fetal cells obtained in the 1960s are still grown in labs to replicate viruses for the production of vaccines against chickenpox, rubella and hepatitis A." But some embryonic cells are used in cosmetic products as well as flavor boosters, uses that Rabbi Tendler emphatically states are prohibited.

In another vein, Katie Geary explains that Planned Parenthood is circumventing federal law which "prohibits partial-birth abortion… a procedure in which an unborn baby is intentionally turned to the breech position to ensure that the delivery of the body happens before delivery of the head." This is so the abortionist can puncture the skull, and remove the contents. Geary asks if the women realize that their babies are actually alive before being dismembered in order to obtain the fetal parts? How "informed is their informed consent?" 

The Nuremberg Code established following World War II states that "the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have [the] legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved, as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision [.]"  Furthermore, "[t]he duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment [.]"

It is unclear whether pregnant women understand the full implications of partial birth abortions; furthermore, the subject upon which experimentation will be done is a fetus with no rights and no say whatsoever.

Quite unwittingly, Planned Parenthood has made Americans far more aware of the myriad of dilemmas when it comes to (a) ethical baselines of human research; (b) the question of true informed consent; (c) the role of financial gain and remuneration in research (selling organ parts is a felony in this country); (d) the protection of fetuses from wanton destruction; (e) the use of pre-embryonic stem cells; (f) the actual procedures related to abortion; and (g) justifying such actions in order to assist society in the long run, e.g., benefit those suffering from vital organ failure or finding cures for disease.

Eileen can be reached at

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