Letter to Fr. Burtchaell Re NIH Human Embryo Research Panel (April 1994)

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright April 8, 1994
Reproduced with Permission

James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C.
Our Lady of Princeton
Great Road at Drakes Corner
Princeton, NJ 08540-1298

Dear Fr. Burtchaell:

Thank you so much for your response to my FAX concerning the NIH panel. It was quite a relief to know that there are still living, breathing persons out there - I was so amazed that no one seemed to know about these hearings that I FAXed the NIH information sheet to whomever I thought would be interested. I received only three responses: yours, one from New Zealand, and one from Australia. I guess most people probably don't really care or understand the issue (or the consequences). It's a good thing that I was trained to be philosophical about these things. It keeps my sense of humor intact!

The panel's reaction was such as you can imagine - rolling of the eyes, etc.; yet no challenges on anything which I stated. Even Grobstein himself has remarked that his embryology is incorrect -but then asked, "So what?"! It should be of considerable concern when they are corrected on their science - which is the major premise for their conclusion on "moral status" - and say and do absolutely nothing about it. They don't care if their science is wrong - truly amazing. It is like NIH proclaiming that there are only 12 elements in the periodic chart. Any one who disagrees is dismissed; and then everybody begins to mimic that "there are really only 12 elements in the periodic chart"!

I was not concerned by their reaction, however; it comes as no surprise - especially after witnessing their Fetal Tissue Research Panel! And I have not kept this "secret" at all. Very early on in writing my dissertation (before I put my snow-shoes on) it was perfectly clear to me what I had to write. The agony was analyzing all of those ridiculous articles, and trying to get through Georgetown in one piece. I knew I had to reference every third word, and that my dissertation would render me persona non gratis not only at Georgetown but within the field of bioethics itself. What bioethicist in his/her right mind would listen to, read, or be seen or associated with an Aristotelean Thomist???? Clearly my "dreams" of going back to NIH to do bioethics was out. In hindsight, that was Divine Providence in action!

So I knew perfectly well what would happen. Everyone at Georgetown knew where I stood, and why. It was no secret. Once they knew they couldn't win an argument, they just wanted to get me out of there (as they so politely put it to me when denying the continuation of my teaching position for the next semester). When I finally defended and graduated, I immediately started writing, speaking, and publishing. I started (as best I could) by addressing the science, then the metaphysics and epistemology, then the anthropology and ethics, and now I am moving into the bioethics (in fact, my testimony was one of the first in that category).

So the paper trail is there - it is long and it is public. Luckily I am married to my husband who is still (if tenuously) willing to support me (otherwise I would be a bag-lady). I can not get a job - all calls are referred back to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics or their clones (end of job). Luckily De Sales was willing to have me teach a two-semester course covering the history of philosophy (it is a dedicated priest's salary of $6,000 per year for full time teaching) - but it helps to pay for my zeroxing, and I really do love the students. And teaching in Romania was a real "trip"! But this was to have been my second career - meaning that I am now over 50 (I will not tell you by how much!) - and so my comment to you. I don't have time for a third career! I am seriously considering running pizzas for Take-Out Taxi. At least they call a pizza a pizza!

I have enclosed a copy of my resume which will spell out what I have been doing for the last two years, and some of my papers (which you can read when you have absolutely nothing else to do -or pass them on to anyone who might be interested in the information). The Linacre Quarterly is going to reprint my testimony - tantrum that it admittedly is - but I may try editing it as you suggested and submitting it elsewhere. Kischer and I are almost finished working on a paper about all of this, and perhaps we might submit it to First Things, if they think it would be appropriate.

I wonder how you have been doing, and hope all is well. I see giant piles of "projects" piled up all over your office and room! I'm certain it is simply brilliant! Let me know sometime what you are up to. I'll pray for you - and you pray for me! Thanks for being there, and God bless --


Dianne N. Irving, Ph.D.
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816-1917

[Edited for format and clarity July 18, 2004]