How to Vote Catholic 2012
“[M]ethodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God” (CCC 159).
Bioethics has moved onto center stage in the arena of public policy and morality. The past few years have witnessed highly visible debates on human embryonic stem cell research and cloning. Since the future of such research has a direct impact on the life and death of human persons, it’s a life issue for all Catholics.
In recent years, the Church has been highly supportive of technological advances in medicine, pursued in conformity with basic moral principles and respectful of the inherent dignity of life:
“Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and the will of God” (CCC 2294).
Catholics take seriously what science reveals about human embryogenesis and intrauterine human development. Human life begins at conception, and the gift of a child is linked with the conjugal act. Therefore, the Church opposes abortion and embryo-destructive research and rejects reproductive procedures that attempt to substitute for the marital act, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and artificial insemination. In this way, the Church upholds the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the marriage union.
With the use of so-called “assisted reproduction,” we can see a link between these ideals and the practices that threaten to undermine them. The most disturbing is the use of cryopreservation (e.g., freezing) to store “spare” embryos. This practice, in effect, sentences an embryonic human being to a state of permanent suspension—literally frozen in time. For many, these embryos do not represent a human life but only biological material for scientific experimentation, such as stem cell research.
The Church strongly supports biomedical science, while firmly opposing the killing of human embryos in the name of research. To experiment on unused, unimplanted, or frozen embryos violates Church teaching and “reduces human life to the level of simple ‘biological material’” (Evangelium Vitae, 14). The fact that surplus embryos have been effectively orphaned does not reduce them to the non-human status of expendable research material, nor does it remove their rights to be protected by law.
Under the administration of President George W. Bush federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was restricted to stem cell lines that were created prior to August 9, 2001. In May 2009, President Obama listed the restrictions on federal funding for embryo-destructive research, although a few months later a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. temporarily blocked Obama’s executive order by finding it in violation of the ban on federal funding for such research.
What makes the practice of using embryonic cells especially abhorrent is the fact that scientists have made significant progress on adult stem cells, to the point that they now offer a promising alternative. Many people are alive today as a result of therapies using adult stem cells, while no one has ever been cured of any disease by embryonic stem cell therapies.
Some researchers seek to “harvest” tissues and organs by creating life through a cloning process known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT). The Church teaches that cloning is morally wrong: “These techniques, insofar as they involve the manipulation and destruction of human embryos, are not morally acceptable, even when their proposed goal is good in itself” (Pope John Paul II, Address to International Congress on Transplants).
Members of the U.S. Congress often deal with legislation introduced to fund the creation of human clones that can be killed for the sake of medical research. Presidents Bush and Obama have opposed any federal funding for cloning.
In all, fifteen states have laws prohibiting human cloning. In 1997 California was the first state to ban reproductive cloning. Since then Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted measures to prohibit reproductive cloning.
No Catholic can justify a policy allowing the creation of human clones for destruction—it’s not a judgment call, ever. No projection of benefit derived from the scientific research can make such a practice morally acceptable.
- Since science serves human ends, not its own, scientific research must always respect the moral law.
- Science must respect the inherent dignity of the human person.
- Unused and unwanted embryos must be treated with the respect afforded to other human beings.
- Killing of embryos or clones cannot be justified in the name of therapeutic (i.e., medical) benefits to other persons.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate