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From trading baseball cards to trading babies

As a child, my understanding of the concept of trade was limited. Trade was something you did with baseball cards. If you were a knucklehead like me, you traded the baseball cards of your favorite athlete, Nolan Ryan, to your “girlfriend” for a handful of dimes.

I can still hear echoes of my mom’s disappointment the moment I told her about this “brilliant” trade. Apparently, love is blind even at age 8. 

As an adult, this concept of trade still predominates. Instead of baseball cards, I now trade ineffective football players for better football players to maximize fantasy points, so I can beat my father-in-law, Dan, in our next head-to-head fantasy football bout.

As a lobbyist of the legislature, my concept of trade has broadened. In some instances, senators might trade votes on an issue to gain support for another issue. The concept of trade has also been present in discussions about human trafficking legislation. Trafficking involves the trade of a human being for a certain service, sometimes labor and sometimes sex – a practice universally condemned by anyone with the slightest sense of conscience.

Most recently, my concept of trade has once again been expanded – and as with human trafficking, not in a positive manner.

The New York Post recently published the following: “Last Wednesday, Lisa took drastic action, sitting down at her computer and writing a message: ‘Hello, we have been trying to give my child a sibling for three years … we want to complete our family with a son. We have a great quality female embryo. Would you like to consider a trade?’” Lisa posted these words to a Facebook group for couples using in vitro fertilization to obtain a child.

Though her desire for another child is honorable, and her struggle with infertility is heartbreaking, Lisa’s understanding of the dignity of the human person is misguided. Unfortunately, Lisa’s attitude toward the human person – in this instance, her own daughter at the human developmental stage of an embryo – is all too commonplace in our modern culture, which views the human person as a commodity to manufacture and dispose of according to the desires of whoever holds the power.

Even with her good intentions, Lisa’s view, to put it bluntly, is antithetical to the truth of creation. As the Second Vatican Council so beautifully taught in its Pastoral Constitution, “Gaudium et Spes”: “Man is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself.” In other words, the human person was not created to be used as an object – like a tool – by some other person for their desire or enjoyment. We were created in the imago Dei (the image and likeness of God). We are endowed with a supreme dignity and worth, invaluable and irreplaceable. As a couple of theologians have stated in their reflections of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body: “In Eve, Adam saw a being created for her own sake, a child of God, a partner of the Absolute and therefore a true companion. And she saw him in the same way.”

But we – humanity – have fallen far from the vision God intends for us. Rather than living in a state of original justice – where we rightly understand our relationship with ourselves, each other, and all of creation – we fall prey to the evils of utilitarianism, consumerism and nihilism. Commenting on the New York Post article, Carol Szczepaniak of the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research recognizes this loss of right relationship: “The fact that their embryo is made from (Lisa and her husband’s) combined DNA is not compelling enough to overcome their disappointment in its gender. This is how the new reproductive technologies turn embryos into economic products instead of human beings.”

As science continues to speed past ethics and the law, society will be faced with more stories like Lisa’s, creating incomprehensible damage to the human person that cannot be undone. Like playing cards and fantasy football players, lives will have been traded away, all for the wants and demands of their fellow man. This is a tragedy. But Christ came to redeem tragedy. 

May Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, transform every human heart to desire goodness and truth, thereby transforming this culture of death into a culture of life.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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