Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Stem Cell Research

Chris at Lutheran Zephyr and Father Jake were among the 1000 or so people to blog about stem cell research today. With company like that, how can I not chime in?

I haven't done my homework on this. Everything I'm about to say could show my vast ignorance. But why have a blog if you're not going to spout off recklessly about whatever's on your mind?

This is a sticky subject, and I'm more than a little alarmed by the fact that it's a place where I find myself in agreement with President Bush. I think embryonic stem cell research is crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed.

It's a step toward the commoditization of human life. And I'm not just talking about a slippery slope here, I'm talking about deliberately descending a staircase. This sort of research, if successful, will create a market for human embryos.

What's being suggested right now involves a relatively small number of researchers taking embryos that, in theory, were going to be discarded anyway. I'm a little uncomfortable with that, but it's not horrific. But let's assume that their research discovers that any number of conditions can be helped using these stem cells. Now we have doctors all over the country wanting embryonic stem cells. What happens when the demand exceeds the number of embryos that were going to be discarded anyway? Isn't it clear? We start manufacturing embryos.

The other problem with these embryos that were going to be discarded anyway is that they are not a necessary condition for the good of helping couples with fertility problems to have children. They are a side-effect of the imprecision of the science involved in helping these couples. As that process improves, we have less and less of these "disposable" embryos. What then?

I have great compassion for the people who are suffering and hope for the help that stem cell research could provide. I really don't want to tell them that they have to suffer because of my ethics. Honestly, my preference would be to hide from them, because I think there have to be limits to what we will do, as painful as that is to tell someone.

The research involved may claim to stand above the "culture of death" rhetoric, because it seeks to preserve life, but there's something not quite right in the American hope of medical advance. I can't help but feel that our obsession with prolonging life at any cost is an expression of fear and a result of our collective loss of faith.

When we use scientific advances to create embryos to bring a child into the world it is an expression of hope. When we use scientific advances to fight back death, it can possibly be an expression of hope, but it can also be an expression of fear.

Didn't Chancellor Palpatine tell Anakin Skywalker he should support stem cell research?


Dwight P. said...

Brother Melanchthon, I' with you on this one. I think you raise valid concerns, and I think your image of the staircase (to oppose suggestion of a slippery slope) is so good that I may have to crib it in some context.

I am fundamentally uneasy about how science is proceeding with this research with absolutely no regard to the moral discourse that it obviates. Mustn't we as a society -- narrow that: a Church -- come to some consensus about the issues and their resolution before we begin tinkering with human life? This is science envisioned by Mary Shelley.

The issues here are more significant that those of transplanting human organs or treating illnesses with pharmaceuticals or the like. It is a matter of re-shaping life, of revising the meaning of "life-giving," of trying to get to that other tree in Eden.

I have never, to my knowledge, openly acknowledged agreeing with "W." And I'm not sure I trust his motives or sincerity on this issue. But, with you, I find myself on his side of the argument.

How, do you think, we get this on the agenda of the congregations? Isn't it incumbent on the Church to try to catechize the laity on the issue?

Thanks for the post.
Dwight P

*Christopher said...

Here! here!

I find myself horrified that we're going this way with so little discussion.

mindflame said...

I am totally in agreement with you one this one. Great post. I saw the Anakin and Palpatine connection to.

Andy said...


Good questions. How do we get this on the agenda of the congregations? I'm not really clear on how things like that happen. My gut feel is that those of us who have it on our personal agendas need to be vocal about it.

I'm leading a book discussion of "God's Politics" at my church this summer, and I intend to work this issue in there.

Is that enough, though?

Maybe we need to start a rumor that the ELCA general assembly is going to pass some extremely radical and unpopular resolution on the matter. :-)