Stem Cell Research and Michael J. Fox

Stem Cell Research is Good - Except When It Involves Killing a Human Being
By William B. May

It is that simple. Stem cell research is a good and it is moral according to Catholic social teachings. Many cures have been discovered through research on stem cells taken from umbilical cords or from fully developed persons. What makes stem cell research immoral is the fact that it sometimes requires killing a living human being.

Listening to commentators on radio and TV argue about whether Michael J. Fox exaggerated his Parkinson's disease symptoms to gain sympathy for embryonic stem cell research is very frustrating. Whether or not he did, the real problem is that he is confusing the issue, and misleading the public, and it is important to understand how.

Quotes from
Pope John Paul II

"The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name"
Christmas message

"Every individual man is an end in himself and can never be used as a mere means for reaching other goals not even in the name of the well-being and progress of the community as a whole."
Address to health care workers

"The State is no longer the 'common home' where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members . . ."
Gospel of Life

In Mr. Fox's ad, he drops the adjective and just refers to "stem cells" not to"embryonic stem cells," which is what the debate is all about. Many commentators and debaters from both sides contribute to the problem by doing the same thing. This confuses the public and leads some to believe that all stem cell research is bad, others to think that all opposition to the use of stem cells is bad. These oversimplified positions (or sloppiness) only polarize opinion on the matter and make it even harder to argue about what is true and what is false.

What is immoral about Michael J. Fox's attacks against opponents of embryonic stem cell research is that he is actually advocating the destruction of living human beings on the outside chance that a cure might be found for his illness. What he is advocating amounts to the domination by the strong and powerful over the weak and vulnerable. This is nothing new; it has been going on throughout history. It is just a little more difficult to understand the inhumanity of this when the debate gets wrapped up in all of the scientific jargon, and sloppy terminology.

So, the next time a discussion on embryonic stem cell research comes up, you can say, "I'm for stem cell research, except if it requires killing a human being."

They are going to die anyway

Some argue that embryonic stem cell research will only be done on embryos that are going to be destroyed. "They are going to die anyway so it would be a shame to waste them when they can advance science." Let's think about the logic. How many other human beings in our society are "going to die anyway". How about condemned prisoners? Shall we experiment on them without their consent so their potential to advance science is not wasted? What about the terminally ill? "They are going to die any way." Somehow it is easier to understand these ethical questions regarding killing or maiming another human being when it is someone we can see or someone we know and love.

At the moment of conception the continuum of human life begins, going through a series of stages that entail changes in size, shape and ability.

At the moment of conception a human being is created that is a unique and unrepeatable manifestation of God's love.

At that moment, his or her unrepeatable genetic make-up is determined from sex to eye and hair color. In the embryonic stage, the individual is unquestionably living, growing, changing and human.

William B. May is Chairman of Catholics for the Common Good.


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