ST. LOUIS (CNS) — People in the pews really need to understand the issue of stem-cell research, especially in light of the upcoming presidential election, said a nationally respected neuroscientist and theologian.
Stem-cell expert Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk spoke to Catholic pro-life officials gathered in St. Louis Aug. 6.
He said the debate on such research and the closely related issue of cloning is not just national in scope but international as the United Nations now faces again the question of whether to ban all types of human cloning.
"To have an informed debate," the priest said, "people need to be aware of what the real parameters of the discussion are: What is a human embryo? What is cloning? What are stem cells, and where do you get them from? And what’s the price that’s going to be paid if we take stem cells from certain sources like living, growing human embryos?"
Father Pacholczyk said later in an interview the claim that embryonic stem-cell research shows the greatest promise for curing disease "is vastly oversold." The number of those cured by use of such cells is "exactly zero," the priest said. He noted that "the true cures are coming from adult and umbilical cord stem cells." [Full Story]
We can never forget the importance of education in this debate. Too much of the public debate has bee framed as ideology against science where any opposition to stem-cell research is just knee-jerk fundamentalism. The distinctions between embryonic and other sources of stem-cells is rarely made and all stem-cell researched is lumped together as being opposed by Christians and others.
Justin Katz links to and comments on a story from Ramesh Ponnuru about a family going to Washington, D.C. to meet with their congressman, Republican Mark Souder.
Souder was "very, very gracious," says Kallsen. But he said that he supported adult-stem-cell research, not research that killed human embryos. The fact that embryonic-stem-cell research involved destroying human embryos came as news to Kallsen and his family. "Basically, it was a learning experience for us. We were not well informed about all of the issues. We’re all pro-life and…we had not done enough research on our own to understand that if we were promoting embryonic stem-cell research that’s the opposite of pro-life. We were so interested in finding a cure that we weren’t looking at how it’s done." Kallsen also now believes that adult-stem-cell research is more promising than he had thought at the time of the meeting
Justin then comments:
I’m not faulting the Kallsens, but really: think about that. Think about the extent of misunderstanding, or only partial understanding, that must surround this issue if it is possible for those actively pushing for one side, in the year 2004, don’t know the alternatives that the other side supports. More than that, imagine the perplexing gap of silence that people must perceive when they don’t even know the opposition’s reason for opposition!
So on the pro- embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) side we seem to have a mixture of ignorance and ideology. Many have been sold on the miraculous cures promised by ESCR and those who this promised cures effect are angry at those who would get in the way .I can also see why some consider this debate to be extremely important ideologically. This debate really brings us back to the fact that life begins at conception and for them to loose on embryonic stem-cells would be for them to ultimately lose in the pro-abortion debate. On this issues and on therapeutic cloning (clone and kill), I think that abortion is the very reason the debate on embryonic stem-cells has been so lopsided in its reporting as evidenced by all of the distortions. Yesterday in an article, Michael Kinsley ironically called Laura Bush speech on stem-cells disingenuous and then goes on to say.
The purpose of Bush’s stem cell policy is to discourage medical research using embryos. Bush is supposed to think that these clumps of a few dozen cells are every bit as human as the people who will suffer or die from diseases that stem cells could cure. He had better believe that, because stem-cell research uses embryos being discarded by fertility clinics and doesn’t actually add to the embryonic death toll at all. Only a deep conviction about the humanity of these microscopic dots — which have fewer human characteristics than a potato — could justify sacrificing real human lives to make the purely symbolic point that these dots are human too.
Peter Kreeft in his must-read essay on Human Personhood answers these objections.
The fourth argument is right, of course, to say that development is gradual-after conception. Conception is the break, the clear dividing line, and the only one. I am the same being from conception on. Otherwise we would not speak of the growth and development and unfolding of that being, of me. I was once an infant. I was born. I was once in my mother’s womb. My functioning develops only gradually, but my me has a sudden beginning. Once again, the pro-choice objection confuses being a person with functioning as a person.
Furthermore, if personhood is only a developing, gradual thing, then we are never fully persons, because we continue to grow, at least intellectually and emotionally and spiritually. Albert Schweitzer said, at 70, “I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.” But if we are only partial persons, then murder is only partially wrong, and it is less wrong to kill younger, lesser persons than older ones. If it is more permissible to kill a fetus than to kill an infant because the fetus is less of a person, then it is for exactly the same reason more permissible to kill a seven-year-old, who has not yet developed his reproductive system or many of his educational and communications skills, than to kill a 27-year-old. The absurd conclusion follows from defining a person functionally.
No other line than conception can be drawn between pre-personhood and personhood. Birth and viability are the two most frequently suggested. But birth is only a change of place and relationship to the mother and to the surrounding world (air and food); how could these things create personhood? As for viability, it varies with accidental and external factors like available technology (incubators). What I am in the womb-a person or a non-person cannot be determined by what machines exist outside the womb! But viability is determined by such things. Therefore personhood cannot be determined by viability.
Fifth, if the fetus is only a potential person, it must be an actual something in order to be a potential person. What is it? An ape?
There are no “potential persons” any more than there are potential apes. All persons are actual, as all apes are actual. Actual apes are potential swimmers, and actual persons are potential philosophers. The being is actual, the functioning is potential. The objection confuses “a potential person” with “a potentially functioning person”-Functionalism again.
Hopefully this debate will also make some in the pro-life movement in the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations to reevaluate some of the positions they have taken in the past. Too many people stood on the sidelines as IVF became more and more widespread. The empathy for childless couples has outweighed the reality of frozen children and multiple implantation of embryos hoping at least one survives. Without these unused embryos that this procedure entails, scientist could not have been doing the ESCR that is currently happening.