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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.

Interesting post.

I'm not a Catholic, so am just guessing, but one possible (niggling) objection to your analysis is that you've taken it to apply to all embryos, spontaneous abortions, and so on. In fact, though, priests would probably not try to impose Catholic baptism on "Protestant embryos" (let alone the embryos of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, etc., parents).

The CIA World Factbook says that in 2002 around 24% of the US population was Roman Catholic; assuming the statistic is still roughly accurate, this means your bottom-line estimate needs to be reduced to around 102 million "lost souls" -- even further if you screen out the non-practicing (or merely wishy-washy, or, uh, common-sensical) Catholics who would object to baptism of their embryos in whatever form.

But your general premise makes sense. And despite my philosophical reluctance to take lightly anyone's religious beliefs, I have to confess the image of a battalion of embryo-baptizing priests fanning out across the country did give me a case of the giggles.
You're right. I should have had someone check my numbers.

Still, I didn't specify that the births were to Catholic parents. Since the Church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation, I assume their concern includes all human life, not just the Catholic 24%. If that were the case, they could just say, "No research on Catholic embryos. Do what you will with the rest."
Splitting Hairs (or heirs). Mental gymnastics - the moment of life - as if it ever starts and ends. Life is not born but always circling.

I am here as a friend (although anonymous)- not to weigh in or say there is a right or wrong way of doing things. However it is laughable - the idea of numerically calculating lost souls.

were I in need of stem cells I certainly hope they would be of the right sort - and as enlightened (or saved) as the rest of my cells.
tls: "I assume their concern includes all human life, not just the Catholic 24%."

Yeah. They'd surely LIKE to baptize all 400+ million lost souls. The question is, would they be allowed to? All those unused embryos belong to somebody, after all -- and I was using the 24% figure as a guesstimate of how many they could even get to.

Again, though, this is nitpicky. The general approach proved your point quite nicely.
As being raised Catholic and now of a different faith, which I will not name because it is not about religion somewhere one has to have common sense. Baptism is an outward manifestation of my faith. Once I believed in my heart and confessed with my mouth I am saved until the day of redemption. Infants can not do that. But they should be given back to the LORD however their parents chose, dedication, christening, or whatever. And when that time comes they give their lives to CHRIST themselves by their own choice and faith. But cells, embryos, etc. will never be able to do that either as an outward symbolism or in their hearts because they don't have hearts!
I like the logic of the argument, but the Catholic Church does not need the "unsaved" line to oppose ESC research.

They can simply say:

A) life begins at conception so embryos are human


B) killing another human being is a sin.

If one believes both A and B to be true then destroying embryos is wrong. The Catholic Church doesn't oppose murder because the victim might not be baptized and thus unsaved. They oppose it because it is wrong.
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