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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who
writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident
of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
Great Stem Cell Debate
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 6/1/05
no other issue better demonstrates polarization among Americans
the current debate on embryonic stem cell research
and therapeutic cloning. As in most issues where religions define
the beliefs of its members, there is little or no room for compromise.
One’s position on this matter largely depends upon one’s
beliefs regarding precisely when human life begins.
Religion and science
have been at odds throughout much of the history of man. Science
unceasingly tries to expand the frontiers
of human knowledge and discovery and religion, at least in the
view of many, often seeks to constrain it, warning about the
evils of meddling in God’s business. But as science regularly
discredited many comfortable religious teachings and superstitions,
religions were forced to make grudging concessions to scientific
progress but often only after fierce resistance.
In spite of prevailing religious beliefs, we eventually learned
that the earth was not flat after all and that there was
more to the universe than heaven, earth and hell. Science and
have managed to coexist and many brilliant scientists are indeed
devoutly religious. But he fact remains that if science had
not persevered in the face of religious opposition and even
we might still be living in an age when people with mental
illnesses were thought to be possessed of evil spirits.
Embryonic stem cell
research and therapeutic cloning offer immense potential for
treating and perhaps curing dread diseases
that cause agony and death not only in the elderly population
but also among children and young adults. The former involves
the use of discarded frozen embryos from fertility clinics. The
stem cells are extracted to hopefully develop into any cell type
in a stricken patient. The process results in the destruction
of the embryo, which would almost certainly have been disposed
of anyway as biological waste unless “adopted” and
implanted in a human uterus requiring the consent of the legal
owner(s) of the embryo(s). Therapeutic human cloning, which has
been successfully accomplished in South Korea but is banned in
the United States, involves fertilizing a human ovum from a donor
in a petri dish and growing it in a laboratory for several days
to permit extraction of the stem cells for the same purpose.
Opponents argue that a fertilized human ovum is, from the instant
of fertilization, a human person. Some religions, including the
Catholic Church, teach that it has a soul and even often refer
to it as a child. They, therefore, regard its destruction at
any stage and for any purpose as not just morally wrong but as
murder. For the same reason, they oppose abortion under any circumstances,
including rape, incest, to prevent an abnormal birth or to save
the life of the mother. There is no compromising on this position.
No middle ground. No exception for research on existing stem
Those who favor such
research see their position as the “pro-life” one,
the one that salvages discarded, unwanted embryos to work on
promising cures and treatments which may save or prolong human
life and ease human suffering and disease. “What could
be more pro-life?” they ask.
Who is right? Which argument is the more persuasive? Those
who would ban the research are clearly driven by religious beliefs.
But those who urge the research, including Nancy Reagan, believe
that they hold the moral high ground. You can argue until you
run out of breath or ink but you are probably not going to change
many minds. Logic versus faith arguments generally are a waste
In the heat of the debate, it is sometimes alleged that Mr.
Bush seeks to ban stem cell research. He, of course, is seeking
no such thing. He seeks only to ban the use of federal funds
for its support. He feels that it is wrong to require that people
be forced to support with their tax dollars activities that they
believe are morally wrong. He is absolutely right in taking this
stand. For the same reason, it was wrong for California to fund
this research with the tax dollars of those who believe on religious
grounds that the activities involved are morally wrong.
But with or without
the use of tax dollars, stem cell research in the United States
will continue, utilizing private funds and
in some states, public funds. Other countries will duplicate
or expand upon South Korea’s pioneering efforts in therapeutic
cloning. The continuing conflict between science and religion
will only slow, not stop, scientific progress. tOR
2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.