Time to talk about embryos


A chara, – Patsy McGarry (Opinion, August 10th) opens with “It is time we talked about the embryo. Calmly, seriously, rationally.” But he seriously misrepresents the historical position of the Catholic Church on the status of a child before birth.

In 1588 Pope Sixtus V, in the Apostolic Constitution “Effraenatam” declared penalties against abortion at any stage of pregnancy. In 1591 Pope Gregory XIV, in the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Apostolica, retained the penalties for abortion only after “quickening” of the foetus (“de animato foetu”), not because he considered abortion before that not sinful, but because the law of Pope Sixtus did not bear the fruit hoped for: “non eam, quae sperabatur, utilitatem, et fructum provenisse.”

Mr McGarry is seriously mistaken in asserting that “removal of the foetus before [quickening] was not considered homicide in church teaching because you were not dealing with a human being but with a foetus without a soul.”

Mr McGarry is also seriously mistaken when he writes that belief that a human embryo has the dignity of a person “has been the belief of the Catholic Church only since 1869.” What happened in 1869 is that the church took into account the developing understanding of the process of human fertilisation.

Not long after, in 1876, Oscar Hertwig and Herman Fol demonstrated sperm entry into the egg and the union of the two cells’ nuclei. From that union on, the life of the human embryo is scientifically a continuum, right through birth and on to death. The fertilised ovum is most certainly human. It is indeed time we talked about the embryo. Calmly, seriously, rationally. – Is mise,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry has got it wrong (Opinion, August 10th) when he writes that the fertilised ovum is no different from his leg or any of his organs. At the moment of fertilisation a new life comes into being with its own unique set of the DNA of a new human being. This new life is human. It is not rodent or bovine. It is science that tells this, not the church. – Yours, etc,



Co Down.

Sir, – “It is simply wrong to call a fertilised ovum a human” (Patsy McGarry, Opinion, August 10th).

How true. Far too early for such criticism. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.