Philosopher Nigel Biggar, who backs legal abortion, is among the 45 new appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life, according to a statement on the Vatican website.
Biggar, the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, has said that he supports legal abortion up to 18 weeks.
In a 2011 dialogue with Peter Singer, a philosopher who supports infanticide, Biggar said: “I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness. In terms of maintaining a strong social commitment to preserving human life in hindered forms, and in terms of not becoming too casual about killing human life, we need to draw the line much more conservatively.”
He added: “It’s not clear that a human foetus is the same kind of thing as an adult or a mature human being, and therefore deserves quite the same treatment. It then becomes a question of where we draw the line, and there is no absolutely cogent reason for drawing it in one place over another.”
Biggar has also opposed the legalization of assisted suicide, and written in defense of just war.
Other appointments to the Academy include Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Dr. John M. Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney.
The pontifical academy was founded by Pope St. John Paul II and professor Jerome Lejeune in 1994 and is dedicated to promoting the Church’s consistent life ethic.
The appointments come at a time when the Pontifical Academy for Life is under sharp scrutiny and criticism from former members, who are concerned by the actions of current president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who has been head of the Academy for nine months.
In November, Archbishop Paglia implemented new statutes for the academy that ended the terms of the 172 members of the academy (with some subject to possible renewal), and removed a requirement for new members to sign a statement promising to defend life in conformity with the Church’s magisterium.
Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the academy and president of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, told the National Catholic Register that Archbishop Paglia’s actions amount to the “elimination” of the institution which St. John Paul II founded.
Mercedes Wilson, president of Family of the Americas and also a founding member of the academy, told the Register that Archbishop Paglia’s appointment is “very tragic” and said that he seemingly wishes to “destroy” both the academy and the Pope St. John Paul II Pontifical Institute on Studies on Marriage and Family, to which he was appointed grand chancellor last year.
Archbishop Paglia defended his actions in comments to the Register, and urged anyone with concerns to read what he has said and written in defense of life.
He added that new members will be “not only talented and accomplished,” but also “truly representative of all who value life at all its stages,” and said his vision for the academy is one that must “express clearly what it means to be human and must present an attractive vision of human love and solidarity,” drawing on the Church’s “great treasury of human and Gospel wisdom” to inspire all cultures “to a new and fruitful humanism.”