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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

"USA Today" reports that Senators Arlen Specter of Philadelphia and Rick Santorum of Pittsburgh, both Republicans, have taken leading rolls on opposite sides of the stem-cell debate.

Santorum believes such research entails destroying human life. Specter says the stem cells used would come from embryos that would otherwise be discarded.
That's it in a nutshell. One side believes it's destroying human life, the other recognizes that "the stem cells used would come from embryos that would otherwise be discarded." What is so difficult to understand about that?

In clinics and labs across the United States, almost 9,000 frozen embryos wait to be discarded. That's not counting the roughly 160,000 that will not survive the thawing process when their turns arrive for implantation. Again I ask, as I have before, where is the outrage over this?

The only embroyos sought by researchers are the ones that will be discarded anyway. How can I state this more clearly? Is it more moral to throw embryos away than to use them for research that might save the lives of 128 million living Americans now suffering from diseases targeted by that research? Sheesh.

I quoted from this article, a May 27th post titled hypocrisy of the far right, before. And I'm going to again because the author, who has a 6-year-old son adopted an embryo, makes so much sense:

Secondly, these frozen embryos are so incredibly valuable to the administration that they cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research… because they need to be… THROWN OUT! What they fail to understand is that the disposition of these embryos, like banked chord blood or donated blood or tissue donation, lies with the donor. When you participate in an IVF cycle you sing a form that determines what happens to any leftover fertilized eggs. The choices are cryogenic preservation for: adoption, stem cell research, later transfer to the originating parent, medical research or destruction. DeLay, Bush and his cohorts are saving nothing. It's not as though these embryos in cryogenic willed for research are know suddenly going to be adopted or implanted. They won't—our 'culture of life' perversely demands that they be thrown into the garbage—that's how precious they are, and that's how much we value them. We must destroy life, according to the administration, to AVOID preserving life! Go back and re-read that sentence.

I love my son, profoundly, deeply, more than I ever though possible, but my son became my son when he grew in that womb and survived the transfer. There were four embryos transferred that day—and nobody mourned those other three that simply flowed out naturally, no more my son than the other hoped for pregnancies that were unsuccessful as we hoped each month and waited and prayed that this month the test would be positive.

If people would only listen, rather than continue to say over and over again: "I don't believe in stem-cell research; human life begins at conception; stem-cell research kills babies; it's taking the life of human beings, etc., etc. My point is maybe it is taking very early human life, and maybe it isn't. But that "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. That "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. That "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. Are you listening?

Until opponents to stem-cell research move beyond their hypocrisy and address the total picture -- IVF is destroying more embryos than stem-cell research -- their opposition rings hollow, at least to my ears. If they won't act to outlaw IVF, how in the world can they continue to oppose using IVF's discards for life-saving research? I cannot find any sense of "morality" in that position.

But Catholics such as myself and Senator Santorum are also against IVF. We live in a world where IVF is illegal and where it is unlikely that it will be ended, but does that mean we shouldn't fight to prevent other evils from occurring? Of course not.

Also, a side point. You repeatedly refer to Republican "hypocrisy." I believe the more accurate word is "inconsistency." Though I dispute that there is any. Hypocrisy would be if Republicans were going around telling others that the people shouldn't destroy human embryos, but then the Republicans set a different standard for themselves.

Also, charges of hypocrisy and inconsistency are not a substitute for principle. Regardless of whether one thinks the Republicans are being hypocritical or inconsistent on this issue, such allegations are usually a distraction so one need not address the deeper question of when human life begins.
First, I want to thank you for your comments. It's always interesting to read your thoughts, which are so well written.

But Catholics such as myself and Senator Santorum are also against IVF. We live in a world where IVF is illegal and where it is unlikely that it will be ended, but does that mean we shouldn't fight to prevent other evils from occurring? Of course not.

Ah, but Will, if you agree that it is unlikely that IVF will be ended, do you really consider using the excess embryos for medical research more of an evil than throwing them away? This is the question even you have not answered.

And whether I believe the Republicans are hypocritical or inconsistent does have bearing on this argument. Inconsistencies weaken an argument, for one thing. They impair its credibility. And being hypocritical about one's own morality is shameful (I am not referring to you), especially if one plays that moral card in public debate.

When I make these allegations, I do so consciously, with no intention to distract. But I agree with you completely that the deeper question is, of course, when does human life begin?
Thank you for the compliment, I'm glad we can keep these debates civil.

You are right, I did not answer your question. I think I was distracted by the last paragraph of your post.

Regardless, I will answer your question now.

As you know, I believe an embryo is human life. I am against the intentional killing of all human life. You say, "but the embryos will just be discarded anyway." True. But there is a difference between actively destroying an embryo and leaving it perpetually frozen or letting it die naturally. Human life must never be treated as a means. It must be treated with respect and dignity. (Admittedly, the whole situation is bad because creating the embryos outside of the unitive act of marriage is beneath their dignity, as is keeping them perpetually frozen. Nevertheless, perpetually frozen is better than intentionally destroyed, and frozen embryos may always be adopted later.)

Under Catholic moral principles: the morality of an act is determined by looking to its object, intent, and circumstances. The circumstances of an act or a bad intent can make even a good act immoral (Such as giving alms in order to be seen by others). But acts that are intrinsically evil (such as intentional killing) are always wrong and can never be made good by the circumstances or by having a good intent (such as the intent to cure disease).

I don't expect you find this explanation satisfactory, but it is a very important moral/ethical concern to never let a good intent justify an evil act ("the ends do not justify the means"). Once you allow this principle to be violated, anything can be rendered morally permissible. I do not wish to go down this road.

In closing, let me refer you to a recent interview of Princeton Professor Robert P. George. George is a leading Catholic ethicist and understands the ramifications of stem cell research as well as anyone. He is also on the President's Council of Bioethics. In the interview, George explains of some ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, and discusses their amazing promise. You see, it is not that we are afraid of science or don't want to cure disease. We simply want the research to be conducted ethically.

I agree whole-heartedly with Mr. Bloomfield's esquisite and beautifully -written explaination on the Catholic perspective regarding ESCR and your question on the use of embryos frozen after IVF. Since he has done such an admirable job, I will not echo his thoughts with any insignificant and poorly written parroting.

Instead, I would like to invite your consideration on a related matter. Adult Stem Cell Research enjoys the support of a majority of private financers. It poses no moral violations. It also boasts more effective treatments for chronic illness right now!. In fact, new breakthroughs reveal that Adult stem-cells possess the same cellular abilities previously thought to exist only in embryonic stem cells.

Wouldn't it be better to support this ethical line of research, rather than the morally controversial and currently unproven ESCR?
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