The Catholic University of America


Final Examination
Kimberly M. Henkel
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Friday, March 27, 2015
10:30a.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125
the moral status of the oocyte
Director: Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

              Artificial reproductive technologies have revolutionized the way society views women’s bodies. No longer is an embodied woman essential to child-bearing. As conception and gestation have been divided into discrete tasks, and even commercialized ventures, this integral view has been replaced by an atomistic and mechanized notion of the body. As conception has shifted from the body to the petri dish, the oocyte is increasingly perceived as a tool in the generation of a child. Cloning technologies have further reinforced this view by “disassembling” the “parts” of the ovum (removing its nucleus) in order to insert genetic material to produce a clone. This remarkable potential of the oocyte to reprogram a somatic cell nucleus into an embryo through cloning has drawn the attraction of genetic engineers intent on harnessing this power. One such technology, Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT), aims to create pluripotent cells through the manipulation of an oocyte.

            This study maintains that there is an intrinsic value to the oocyte in its natural ultimate end of embodied procreation that implies a responsibility to refrain from manipulation that would intentionally divert it from this teleology. Through an engagement with the ANT debate, it demonstrates the danger of importing mechanistic assumptions of the body through an indiscriminate acceptance of a modern scientific view of the organism devoid of interiority. While dealing specifically with the oocyte manipulation proposed by ANT, it provides a framework for evaluating other biotechnologies involving the oocyte, contending that in order to discern what Veritatis splendor 49 describes as “the moral meaning of the body,” contemporary Catholic bioethics requires the integration of an Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of nature with the insights of the gifted meaning of the body in light of creation ex nihilo. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body contributes to a development of the personal and relational implications of the oocyte within the filial, spousal, and generative meanings of the body. The irreducible personal character of the gametes reveals that they are not interchangeable, manipulable parts, but an expression of the person whose origin and mission are intimately tied to the gift of self.