This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Last Week's Stem Cell Veto

In The Washington Post, David Broder examines the prospects of winning one for the Gipper on stem cell research (Stem Cells in the Senate Spotlight). All the impassioned debate didn't help. President Bush vetoed the legislation based on his moral principles. It is no suprise. The proponents of stem cell research were attacking on the wrong front. Rather than balancing embryonic rights v. the rights of potential patients, it would have been better to challenge the assumption that blastocysts are in fact the same morally as a child, or even a fetus.

When I was an undergraduate at Loras College, we asked our ethics professor about when life began. From a purely natural law ethics perspective, because of twinning, human life cannot begin until gastrulation. Gastrulation is also the point at which cross species fertilizations fail (if you took a human egg and dog sperm, it would grow until that point - I challenge anyone who says such an abomination has a human soul) and it is also the point where the genes of the father fully participate in the development of the child. I was not who I am until my father's genes were as strong as my mother's in my growth. Until then, I was an egg with my father's code "tagging along" getting set up for the begining of life.For more information on Gastrulation, see the Encyclopedia Britannica's entry (the Macropedia) on sexual reproduction and then follow the footnotes to real embryology texts.

Now, the Catholic Church has an opportunity to return to the genesis of Catholic reproductive theology by abandoning the cult of the blastocyst and focus on our traditional opposition to Eugenics. Eugenics was an attempt to improve the white race and the church fought it, especially mandatory sterilization of the "feeble minded." If stem cell research is part of a program to weed out or alter the "defective" then its roots in eugenics are obvious. However, if it is about relieving pain, then the objections melt away, provided one knows his or her embryology.

The fate of the soul and the body are intertwined. Put another way, the actions of the body demonstrate the existence of the soul. We know that when death occurs the soul has moved on. Using the same logic, we know that when development occurs, the soul is present. We know that development starts at gastrulation. As moralists, we must take what science has to say very seriously. I would dispute what you say about not knowing when ensoulment occurs. Prior to Humanae Vitae, which I view as an attempt at branding Catholic identity, Catholic theologians were pretty clear that the soul was not present at fertilization. Theologians and bioethicists should reject papal encroachment and go with the facts.

I am not arguing for a wholesale disregard for inconvenient life. I am arguing for speaking the truth about when life begins. If we do that, maybe, just maybe, they will listen to us when we tell them about a Gospel of Life. BTW, the extremity to which some self-promoted around the living death of Terri Schaivo does nothing for the movement, especially since we now know that her neurologist was correct in his assessment of her condition. Arguing that moral consistency is necessary in opposition to the facts damages the Church's credibility with both Catholics in the pews and the outside world. I am not talking about capitulating to the world, I am talking about not lying in the face of the facts in order to bolster ones argument. Traditional teaching on death and dying said giving nutrition was not necessary. If that position had been respected the Church would not have had egg on its face over this affair. If we want to know why the pews are empty we need only look at ourselves. The people in the pews know when they are being lied to.


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