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When Verbal Deception is Used to Make the Morally Repugnant Acceptable

Contact: Mark Bradford, Director of Development, The National Catholic Bioethics Center, 215-877-2660


PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 14 /Christian Newswire/ -- On September 12, 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court struck a blow to the right to informed consent of pregnant women. [Rosa Acuna v. Sheldon C. Turkish, M.D., et als. (A-15-06), argued February 20, 2007, decided September 12, 2007.] In a 5-0 decision the Supreme Court held that there is "no legal duty" for a physician to inform a pregnant woman that her six-to-eight-week-old embryo was "a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being." The plaintiff in this case holds that the abortionist told her that what was in her womb before the abortion was only blood.


Every standard embryology text admits that from the moment an embryo is conceived, even before implantation, a complete new member of the human species has been engendered with his or her own unique genetic makeup and an independent organizing principle of life. Yet, Justice Barry T. Albin wrote for the New Jersey Supreme Court, "There is not even remotely a consensus among New Jersey's medical community or citizenry that the plaintiff's assertions are medical facts, as opposed to firmly held moral, philosophical and religious beliefs, to support the establishment of the duty she would impose on all physicians." In contrast to this position, Justice Anthony Kennedy in writing the majority opinion in upholding the Congressional ban on partial birth abortion (Gonzales v. Carhart, 127 S. Ct. [2007]) stated, "By common understanding and scientific terminology, a fetus is a living organism within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb" (1627). Justice Kennedy was speaking of a fetus (usually so termed at eight weeks of development). However, as stated above, science tells us that from the moment the human embryo is formed a member of the human species exists. Later, in the decision Justice Kennedy refers to the being in the womb as an "unborn child".


The fact that an embryo and fetus are members of the human species is a scientific fact, not a moral, philosophical, or religious "belief." Our legal system has made the unthinkable morally acceptable by redefining terms--and even rights. More than one human being's right has been violated in this decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court: both the right to life of the unborn child, and the right to informed consent of the mother. Should a pregnant woman not have the right to be fully informed regarding a procedure to which she is asked to consent? Apparently, only if the facts being presented are sanitized to secure her consent. Unlike the New Jersey Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart has affirmed the right to fully informed consent by stating that government has an interest in assuring informed consent for women who have abortions "ensuring so grave a choice is well informed." This is the law of the land, but it is being violated in New Jersey.