Obama Punts on Difficult Questions

The President left a host of issues unresolved yesterday when he lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. And, the fact that he did so illustrates the point we made yesterday, that the President has bought into "scientism," a belief that one can champion "pure" science, by-passing nettlesome philosophical and ethical questions and keeping ideological or dogmatic concerns at bay. This belief is false. Science can do many things but discern the difference between right and wrong is not one of them.

President Obama was re-assuring on the most worrisome outstanding issue: cloning. He said, "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society." These words would have been powerful coming from any president, but they are even more so coming from a liberal president. If Bush had uttered them, scientism’s followers would have dismissed them as mere conservative dogma. Coming from Obama, hopefully they will see that there are, in fact, ethical complications in pursuing this type of research.


The key question left unanswered yesterday was whether research will be confined to stem cells derived from embryos left-over from fertility clinics or will federal funds be used for research on cells derived in other ways. The president’s comments on cloning would seem to preclude research on cells derived from cloned embryos: That would indeed encourage cloning. But, should embryos be created specifically for research? And, if so, can those embryos be genetically modified? Obama has given the National Institutes of Health 120 days to determine such issues, but I wonder why he turned to them? These are not scientific questions but ethical questions.

The President’s Council on Bioethics would have seemed a more natural place to start. The Chairman of that Council, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino is as distinguished a bioethicist as you can get, a former President of Catholic University and professor at Georgetown. One of my favorite thinkers in the whole country, Jean Bethke Elshtain, is also on the Council. The body was set up specifically to undertake answers to these difficult questions that require fluency in both philosophic and biological languages.

"We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse," said the President. But, of course, for many Americans, lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research is already an act of misuse. These are contentless words, and the President must fill in that content. Punting the questions to a group of scientists is not the answer and he is inviting an even deeper level of battle in the culture wars if the NIH comes back with ridiculously broad rules.


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9 years 10 months ago
This is a terrible abuse. I know they have no clue that what they are doing is just about as evil as you can get, but we do. We need to get angry, very angry. We, as the body of Christ, must defend life and truth fervently. This anger ought not be fury. It should be expressed rationally, calmly, but passionately.
9 years 10 months ago
I don't consider authorizing federal funding for murdering the innocent punting. We also know that he hasn't really punted on cloning either. So-called therapeutic cloning (clone and kill) will be totally allowed and it is only reproductive cloning that he calls dangerous. We will not see any guidelines that restrict the killing of embryos for research, though would love to be wrong. Though I am not sure how anybody would expect the President to have acted in any way different than he has. His culture of death attitude was no surprise despite was Obama Catholics tried to make out.
9 years 10 months ago
I would hope that they allow therapeutic cloning. If they do not, there is no point in embryonic stem cell research at all, as I stated yesterday.
9 years 10 months ago
With regard to the statement "The key question left unanswered yesterday was whether research will be confined to stem cells derived from embryos left-over from fertility clinics or will federal funds be used for research on cells derived in other ways." at the website whitehouse.gov under the agenda heading "women" is found the following: Supporting Stem Cell Research: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that we owe it to the American public to explore the potential of stem cells to treat the millions of people suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Obama is a co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which will allow research of human embryonic stem cells derived from embryos donated (with consent) from in vitro fertilization clinics. These embryos must be deemed in excess and created based solely for the purpose of fertility treatment.
9 years 10 months ago
Generally, it is considered courtesous to join an argument only if one is convincible. That is impossible if one wishes to argue in defense of a doctrinal position. You certainly have a right to say your piece - however for those who have the express purpose of defending doctrine - please don't expect the return courtesy of having your argument be taken seriously. This is especially the case for those who fear reprisal if they are convinced - as is all to evident in the intellectual life of the Church (if it can be called that). Can the shoe fit on the other foot? I am proof it has. I was once rabidly pro-life, abortion is sociopathic and defending of doctrine. This is how I know one can change their mind. I still do believe that abortion for convenience is sociopathic - however most women who face this choice do not do so for convenience, but from perceived necessity. Such a motivation is hardly sociopathic - it is tragic - especially for what it says about the Church who should be trying to avoid such tragedies. Of course, this is not an argument about abortion, but about ESCR. For the Church to yield on this position by recognizing ensoulment occurs at Gastrulation forces the other side to acknowledge the same thing - which makes it awfully hard to support abortion on the grounds that the fetus does not merit protection.
9 years 10 months ago
ESCR is only murder if stem cells derived by removing the Chorion from a Blastocyst are somehow different than removing them from bone marrow. They may be human cells, but they are not a human being. They are simply dividing and have not yet begun that purposeful growth which comes after gastrulation which can only be the sign of ensoulment. Mysticism is not required to determine whether ensoulment has occurred - one need only look at an embryology textbook and read between the lines.
9 years 10 months ago
It is actually incorrect to say that ESCR "kills" an embryo. To harvest the cells from the blastocyst, the chorion is removed - but this is not integral to the person - it becomes the afterbirth. It would be intergral to the growth of the zygote into an embryo - as is a uterus. The stem cells, however, remain very much alive. These are what would have become a human being. The fact that they do not die when removed from the Chorion means that the organism was not an organism at all. Organism die when dismembered. After gastrulation, if the embryo is removed from the chorion, it does die. The fact that stem cells do not die mean that they are not part of an organism and are, in essence, not part of a being. Of course, if you are committed to defending the Church's argument, no matter what, this argument won't appeal to you. Nothing will.
9 years 10 months ago
Two last bits on reproductive cloning. It could actually occur without destroying a human blastocyst. Instead, create a simian blastocyst, remove the stem cells and implant human adult stem cells. Place in a simian or human uterus. You know what you get? A twin of the donor. (if you do gene surgery and remove the Y and replace it with an X from another stem cell you can even make a girl baby from boy stem cells). You can also likely use human sperm and an ape egg to make the blastocyst if rejection is an issue. Nightmare scenario? No, just unnecessary research for a dubious purpose, since the cloned child will quickly advance in age once it reaches maturity. It would not have a long life - only as long as the donor. I see three objections to reproductive cloning (apart from the destruction of embryo objections which are based mostly on ignorance, not morals): designer children for grieving parents, people for spare parts and cloned armies. The designer child is a problem because it is being created as a replacement rather than as a unique person. In these cases, the parents need grief counseling. The spare parts objection is irrelevant because you can make spare parts in the lab eventually. Again, this would be creating a person as donor. It is already a problem now and will be overcome by stem cell technology. The cloned army concern (mass manufactured humans) is not a problem due to reproduction but the desire to create some sort of slave. It exists only in Star Wars. Anyone who seriously thinks it is a concern should move out of their mother's basement.


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