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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.

The following explanation on the necessity of baptism in the Catholic Church may be found at New Advent.
Theologians distinguish a twofold necessity, which they call a necessity of means (medii) and a necessity of precept (præcepti), The first (medii) indicates a thing to be so necessary that, if lacking (though inculpably), salvation can not be attained, The second (præcepti) is had when a thing is indeed so necessary that it may not be omitted voluntarily without sin; yet, ignorance of the precept or inability to fulfill it, excuses one from its observance. Baptism is held to be necessary both necessitate medii and præcepti. This doctrine is rounded on the words of Christ. In John, iii, He declares: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." Christ makes no exception to this law and it is therefore general in its application, embracing both adults and infants. It is consequently not merely a necessity of precept but also a necessity of means.
The Catholic Church also teaches that human life begins at conception. This from the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania:
At the heart of the moral issue involving embryonic stem cell research is the fact that the embryo is killed so that the stem cells can be used for research - for the potential benefit of someone else. Embryos are human and at the very beginning of the process of life-long human development.
We already know that spontaneous abortions occur on a staggering scale. From "It is estimated today that more pregnancies are lost spontaneously than are actually carried to term." In fact, "Up to 78% of all conceptions may fail, in most cases before the woman even knows she is pregnant." (from Roberts CJ, Lowe CR. Where have all the conceptions gone? Lancet 1975;1:498-9)

Let's recap:
  1. The Catholic Church says baptism is necessary for infants' salvation.
  2. The Catholic Church says human life begins at conception.
  3. More embryos are lost to spontaneous abortion than are carried to term.
  4. There are currently 136 million births per year, including 3.3 million stillbirths.
Following the Church's logic, embryos lost to spontaneous abortion are infants who need baptism to be saved. Using the numbers cited above, if there are 136 million births per year, it follows that there must be approximately 545 million pregnancies (most unrecognized as such). Of these 545 million pregnancies, if we estimate that 75% are lost spontaneously, then we can say that 409 million human lives die without being baptized every single year. No salvation. 409 million lost souls.

Of course for the Church to actually baptize these souls, they'd have to baptize the menstrual flow of every woman in the world who'd had sexual relations the previous month. The logistics are daunting, but the logic holds. If the Church is so concerned with the relatively few embryos whose stem cells would be used for lifesaving research, then where's the equal concern for the souls of the millions who perish each year?

And this does not take into account the 400,000 frozen embryos stored around the country. If the Church is sincere in its teaching that human life begins at conception, then why aren't there priests in every clinic and lab baptizing these embryos before they're destroyed? If they are not important enough to receive the sacrament of baptism to ensure their salvation, then why are they important enough to prevent their use in stem-cell research?

It appears the Church is taking only a partial stand, picking and choosing which embryos deserve its protection. Ironically, it just happens to be those whose stem cells have the potential to save countless lives. I sure hope there's a Catholic or two out there who can explain this for me.

We are pleased to annouce the new Library Feature for all topics pertaining to the Beginning of Human Life. We are doing are best to ensure all sides are presented evenly. This Library contains news clips with links to original sources. We anticipate having the largest and most up-to-date resource of this type on the internet. It can be found here.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of its latest poll. Some of the results:
Should we overturn Roe v. Wade?
Yes 29%
No 65%
Don't Know 6%
On stem-cell research, more people support it to find medical cures than oppose it because it destroys human life:

Yes, find medical cures 57%
No, don't destroy potential human life 30%
Don't know 13%
White evangelical Protestants still strongly denounce embryonic stem-cell research, while support is growing among other major religious groups. The percentages supporting the research are:

Seculars 77%
Mainline Protestants 70%
White Catholics 61%
White Evangelicals 32%
And finally, we remain fairly unconcerned about taking human life when it involves the death penalty for murder:

Favor 68%
Oppose 24%
Don't know 8%
You can find more information and a link to the complete survey here.

I just found an interesting article by Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health. Dr. Whelan points out something that many of us involved in the stem-cell debate might not be aware of:
The primary problem here is that American consumers have been led to believe that if only President Bush -- or a Congress overruling him -- would allow federal funding for research on fertilized eggs from fertility clinics (ones which would otherwise be discarded), then we would be well on our way to cures for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and a whole host of other maladies.

If you believe that making available the 400,000 fertilized eggs now in the freezers of medical facilities around the country will give researchers what they need to forge ahead with new breakthrough technologies, then of course you would applaud Senator Frist's announcement. And you would ask for no more.
I have to admit that I was one of those who believed that the 400,000 frozen fertilized eggs would solve the problem. But according to Dr. Whelan:
But the well-guarded secret is that access to these few hundred thousand embryos, while it may assist researchers temporarily, is only part of what is needed to keep America in competition with other nations seeking stem-cell based therapies.
Whelan posits that the greatest help to scientists will come from federal funding for "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT), also known as "therapeutic cloning."

Now, if you're like me, the word cloning conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images, mostly gleaned from science fiction movies like the recent release, The Island. In this film, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, living in a sterile, futuristic environment, discover they and all their friends are clones manufactured to supply body parts and organs to their wealthy "owners" when needed. Well, it's time to rein in your horror, because as Dr. Whelan explains:
The difference between therapeutic cloning and what is known as "reproductive cloning" lies not in methodology but in intent. Reproductive cloning is performed with the intention of creating a fully-formed organism, a clone like the sheep Dolly. But blastocysts created for therapeutic cloning, as in the example above, are not intended to be implanted in a uterus. In fact, they are never allowed to develop for more than five days. Instead, these blastocysts are seen as sources of cells with the unique potential to form any cell type in the human body. It is these cells that scientists hope to understand well enough to guide their formation into neurons that could treat Parkinson disease, insulin cells that could cure diabetes, and more.
Read the entire article. It's worth it.
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Ok, it might not be the Washington Post but still, the Gulf News Daily (Bahrain) put it out this article which says:
"Now increasing numbers of parents around the world are banking their own babies' stem cells at birth, as the ultimate 'insurance policy' in case of future illness."

Whoa! Is this not the simple answer for those with the funds to do it? Squirrel away your kids stem cells. Then go in for a quick withdrawl when, God forbid, they need it.

The only problem, of course, is from where the cells Science needs to experiment upon are going come.

On May 20th, Bush vowed to veto any bill that lessened the restrictions he imposed on stem-cell research a few years ago.
I'm a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, of course. But I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is -- I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.
Of course the House mustered the necessary votes and passed H.R. 810 a few days later. The bill would allow federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research on embryos destined to be destroyed by fertility clinics. Now the senate is considering a handful of bills on stem cells, including the original one. We'll still have to wait and see which of those bills makes it out of the Senate.

But let's go back to Bush's statement: " promote science which destroys life in order to save life is -- I'm against that." Interesting. This reasoning from the man who signed more death warrants in Texas than any other governor of any other state -- 152 executions in five years. That's more than 30 per year!

Why did Bush sign those death warrants? Why does he, along with many others opposed to embryonic stem-cell research, support capitol punishment? If he believes capital punishment is a deterrent, then he supports destroying human life to save human life. How hypocritical we can be.

The United States has an ugly history of executing juvenile offenders and the mentally ill. In 2004, 59 people were executed in the United States which placed the U.S. in fourth place in the world behind China, Iran (159 people executed) and Vietnam (64). We remain one of the few Western nations with a death penalty. Yet, we engage in a divisive, nationwide argument over the morality of using microscopic clusters of cells, the size of a single dot, for research that may ultimately save millions of lives.

Here's one more view on our "morality." It's from Albert Camus:
Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months.

Earlier this week I was playing some poker. A couple of our usuals couldn't make it so we invited a couple subs. One was a marine biologist. He was a terrificially smart guy and had a boatload of great stories. Once the game was over (I lost) and we were just sitting around having some beers the topic turned a little less focused.

Jimmy (the guy in question) is a liberal. A big liberal. Being the token Conservative I had take issue with one of his main points. Our chat went something like this:
Jimmy: And that's why there can't be intelligent design.
Mike: Oh really.
Jimmy: Yeah, look it up.
Mike: Fine.

What was Jimmy's main point? Intelligent design will never, EVER hold water in scientific circles until a case is made in a peer-reviewed journal. I spend a good part of my day online so I figured that he was just ignorant to the many journals out there. Turns out he's right. No article on intelligent design has ever been accepted via a peer-reviewed science journal. Ouch.

Good thing I have the old stand-by: That's why they call it faith. Whew.

In yesterday's Washington Post we find that "...the House passed legislation that would allow federal funds to be used in research on stem cells derived from human embryos slated to be destroyed by fertility clinics". Of course the argument can (and has) be made that since these cells are going to be destroyed anyway we might as well get some mileage out of them and churn out some research. But if destroyed them is wrong does it really matter how it's done? I would assume that this a victory in the case for a dialog being made in this issue since of course the liberals are happy and some Republicans are happy that the fetus wasn't ripped out in the third trimester for its cells.

I would like to thank the 50 life-slaying Republican members who voted for this. So, thank you.

Apparently we can now also "reprogram" certain cells--somatic cells that will do the same developing as stem cells. Interesting!

Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, sees cell reprogramming as the "most exciting new development" in stem cell research.

"I think that's where the gold is buried," he told

When I first start learning about stem cells I wondered about this same topic: When a tree grows do the orders to grow new branches come from the natural "wanting to live" or from a mandate from stem cells.

It's stem cells.

Is anyone against placenta stem cell harvesting?

I don't think I've read anyone rallying against this "new" (for those not up on stem cell research) means of gathering cells.

"We think it would be easier to get these to the clinic than [embryonic stem] cells," said Stephen Strom, an associate professor of pathology at the Pitt medical school.

While those might be easier "to get" they're not nearly as abundant as embryonics. Is this the the answer to the debate?

We might need a new blog subject then...

Before you get upset let me just say "I get it". Now we've got a cloned dog...Snuppy. First of all, that's a terrible name. How about Cluppy (cloned puppy) if you're going to give him a name that other dogs are going to tease him for having. Anyway.

There are millions of dogs that need good homes but why adopt when you can have a brand new Fido? There are millions of kids that need good homes but why adopt when you can fill out a scan tron form and get a custom kid?

I know a case can be made, and frequently a great case, for all of these new sciences but when is enough enough? There's a natural life cycle for all living things so why do we have to tamper with it? Don't get me wrong, I tamper daily when I take my aspirin to stave off those heart attacks or when I go get a vaccine to stave off that pesky polio but those aren't altering my DNA. Not only are those not altering my DNA but it doen't cost any lives for that vaccination. Stop tampering!

Brain Pills
Roe v. Wade
Stem Cells
Stem Cell Fight!
Bearing Right
Moral Monkey?
Dave's site
Stem Stall
Bush the hypocrite

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