HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
September 18, 2006, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Judging embryo research

Fr. Joseph Gallatin, St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, Franklin Township

People need to be able to judge whether the things they do are good or bad.

The gift of the free will that God has given to each one of us means that we are responsible for our acts. The goodness or badness of human acts is called morality, and this is a concept that seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years.

To many people, morality smacks of an attempt to declare who is bad, perhaps in order for people to feel better about themselves as a result of the comparison. But like it or not, the actions we carry out are good or bad.

For many centuries, Christian people have described the morality of an action based on three things: the nature of the action itself, the intention of the person acting, and the circumstances that are involved.

Today, a fierce debate is raging over the question of whether it is right for the federal government to use the taxpayers’ money to fund research conducted on stem cells obtained from human embryos.

As I have experienced it, this debate has very often been conducted at the level of the emotions rather than at the level of the mind.

Almost immediately, whether it’s in a one-on-one conversation, a press conference, or a series of letters published in the newspapers, somebody will point out that a refusal to allow federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells makes a person responsible for the suffering of people with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or some other genetic illness.

People are deceiving themselves if they refuse to acknowledge that no one has made it illegal to conduct research on embryos.

No one has made it illegal for an individual state to fund such research, or for a private foundation to do so. It is just that the federal government will not fund research that requires an embryo to die in order to experiment on it.

Such research is always immoral, in my judgment, and no one should conduct it. But what I am saying here is that it will still go on even if the federal government does not fund it.

People have objected that the embryos that are being killed for this research would be killed anyway, as they are usually surplus embryos from fertility treatments.

Once a clinic gets a human life conceived in a laboratory to implant in a woman’s uterus and develop into what the human eye can recognize as a baby, the rest of the embryos conceived in the lab are frozen and eventually thrown away. This entire procedure is beneath the dignity of human life, and should not take place at all.

The fact that it does happen does not make it right to conduct research on these very new human lives. Some claim that anyone who opposes embryonic stem-cell research should never receive the treatments that will be developed from it. Fine.

I will not.

That research is contaminated by evil, and so are any treatments that will be developed because of it. Perhaps that is why no effective treatment has come from it yet.

Embryonic stem-cell research has not led to any cures for disease, but has led to terrible side effects such as tumors, since embryonic stem cells divide so unpredictably.

Adult stem-cell research has led to effective treatments, and research done on cells taken from umbilical cord blood looks promising, too.

During the dark years of the Holocaust, people who are known as “the Nazi Doctors” (also the title of a book on the subject) did research on human beings that produced very valuable information.

The people died, of course, in quite gruesome ways. In fact, just now I became queasy as I was reading a little about their experiments on how long it would take for a person to freeze to death, and whether he could be revived if warmed.

I had to stop reading so I wouldn’t become sick.

Do you know that that valuable information has been considered contaminated by the Nazi horror and has never been put to use? Do you think that that is wasteful? The nature of the acts and the circumstances were abhorrent, although the intention to do medical research may have been good in some cases.

I really do not know. But the same is true in the case of embryonic stem-cell research. The nature and circumstances of the research is evil, in that a human life is destroyed.

Good intentions cannot change that, even if the life that is destroyed would not have looked like someone you would see pictured on a birth announcement.

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