National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 18, 2004

Bioscience deserves hard thinking

Stem cell research is a devilishly complex area of thought and endeavor that throws a tangled thicket of questions across the path to ethical clarity.

So what do we do?

Archbishop Raymond Burke is one of what might be called the new breed of “hot acting” episcopal leaders. His saber is always at the ready, and he and others like him seem to relish chasing down the dragons of the secular culture.

All of us at one point or other would love to find the switch that would at least slow things down if not turn off the hypercharged machinery of science and technology. For decades, the religious community has regularly bemoaned the lack of discussion around scientific and technological developments. From weapons of mass destruction to the edges of bioscience, we are constantly confronted with the question of whether what we can do is what we ought to do. The tragedy is that the discussion of that question and a host of others is too often as compartmentalized as the science itself.

Unfortunately, no convenient switch exists. If efforts like those of Burke succeed, the only certainty is that the research will simply move to another location and yet another chance for discussion will be lost.

Of course, to engage in a discussion would require allowing at least some doubt to shade the archbishop’s conclusion that somatic cell transfer technology results in the kind of life that is as fully deserving of protection as the union of sperm and egg in a woman’s uterus.

Without arriving at conclusions, we think the two scenarios are qualitatively different enough to suggest that somatic cell transfer is deserving of further exploration, particularly given the potential benefits.

Missouri State Sen. Anita Yeckel, who has impeccable credentials as a Catholic, has even more impressive credentials as a thinking Catholic who allowed her point of view and her conscience to be informed, even if it meant permitting her assumptions to be challenged. And even if it meant withstanding considerable episcopal pressure.

Seizing on the opportunity to make a bold stand and to shut down the bioscience industry in a state is certainly one kind of leadership. Quite another would be to admit that some of the current research efforts do not fit neatly into categories easy to condemn out of hand and to convene meetings of the best minds in the church and the scientific community to engage the questions. Such discussion might place one’s conclusions in jeopardy, but it is difficult to imagine how the truth would not be greatly served.

We need to resist easy resort to anathemas and spend more time in the difficult consideration of complex matters with our theologians, ethicists and policymakers.

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 2004

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