Strike One for Obama

President Obama will sign an executive order today lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The decision is not a surprise and despite the demonization of Obama coming from the right, it is a decision that John McCain promised to make as well. Furthermore, I believe that never in my lifetime will the Catholic Church convince non-Catholics that embryonic stem cell research is the affront to human dignity that we believe it to be. An interview with a single patient suffering from Parkinson’s Disease is enough to move most voters away from concern for the dignity of a cluster of cells.

That said, the justifications for the decision coming from the administration are so obnoxious or pathetic or both that this decision can properly be labeled Strike One against Obama.

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"This is consistent with the president’s determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy," said Harold Varmus, the co-chair of Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Varmus has won a Nobel Prize, and I haven’t, but you would think his bachelor’s degree in English would have been sufficient to teach him to be more careful about his choice of words. Dogma, to many of us, is not a bad word and I certainly resent its use in such a way. The dogmatic belief in the fatherhood of God, for example, is sure ground for the ethical belief in the common brotherhood of man. Is that the kind of dogma to which Mr. Varmus objects?

In an article for The Tablet, I catalogued the danger that nothing in the intellectual training of the President (or of those most likely to advise him) would dispose him to question the increasingly shrill demands of scientism. This adoration of science apart from "dogma" is stunningly unscientific, leaping past a host of questions properly called philosophic, to reach a place where no human endeavor should lurk, the place beyond questioning. As my friend Leon Wieseltier once wrote, "There is not a chart in the world that can explain the role of charts in the world."

The news article in the Washington Post notes that Obama does not intend to call for the repeal of the Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibiting research on embryos directly, as opposed to research on cells derived from the embryos. The Director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes, noted that "Congress will have to make a determination about how they want to deal with that." This remark calls to mind Hannah Arendt’s writings about the banality of evil. Barnes, in consummate bureaucratic fashion, is content to punt the issue elsewhere. Newsflash to Ms. Barnes: Experimenting on embryos, which many American citizens believe are very young children, is horrific and you did not react with horror. Shame on you.

Those of us who have supported the President, who were non-plussed by the reversal of the Mexico City policy on the grounds that gag rules are difficult to defend in a liberal polity, and have been ambivalent about the nomination of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, must here draw a line. The President’s decision on stem cells, and the hubristic way it is being defended by his staff, is deeply disturbing. I do not expect to agree with anyone one hundred percent of the time, so I do not feel inclined to abandon my overall support for the administration. But, it is Strike One.

 

 

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8 years 9 months ago
More like a Home Run for Obama. Embryonic stem cell research is necessary not to use cells from currently frozen blastocysts for treatments, but to investigate therapeutic cloning, which can produce any type of cell for the donor without rejection. Scientists have already discovered how to regrow organs by cleaning the cells out of the cartilege form a cadaver and letting cells fashioned from stem cells grow of a donor replenish the organ tissue. There is no other reason for embryonic stem cell research. Using it to produce a twin will simply give you a true twin, since after maturity the twin will be identical in physical age to the donor. "Generic" stem cells used to grow organs that are not created from the donor carry the same chance of rejection as any other donated organ. As I have stated previously, and as the Growth and Development article in Encyclopedia Britannica implies (as well as Embryology texts by same author), there is no "moral issue" to be dealt with until gastrulation (after which time the cells differentiate and are not usable for stem cells at any rate). Until gastrulation, the blastocyst is ontologically a maternal cell - meaning that the paternal DNA does not effect development. (Strike One) Until gastrulation, the blastocyst develops regardless of whether it is viable or not - even if the parents are of two different species (Strike Two). Until Gastrulation, the morella and possibly even the blastocyst can become two people and cannot said to be a unique soul (Strike Three).
8 years 9 months ago
I don't think anyone was actually expecting Obama not to restart funds for Stem Cell Research, which is the only way to develop methodologies for therapeutic cloning. IVF is only a problem for those who have never actually read an embryology text. Embryologists do not talk about souls, however they consider Gastrulation a much more important even than Fertilization, so much so that they won't do research on an embryo after it Gastrulation occurs. Natural law reasoning should mean some amount of deference to practitioners of the natural sciences. Gastrulation is where the embryologists draw the line. FOCA is still a red herring, since the Fetal Protection Act already codified a right to abortion in law (by explicitly exempting it from prosecution). Also, according to Catholic Health Association, it would not have an effect on Catholic hospitals.
8 years 9 months ago
1. Where are all the embryonic stem cell research jobs going? Places like China. Says a lot about the morals of the society. 2. What does McCain have to do with this? To say that McCain promised to support embryonic stem cell research is like claiming that Obama and McCain had similar policies for Iraq. McCain didn't keep or remove our troops from Iraq because he didn't make it into office. Obama did, and he is continuing the war over there, and now making all of us pay for embryonic stem cell research. 3. Obama is lieing to us when he says that embryonic stem cell research is promising. No cures are currently in site, this is a waste of money when it could be spent on Adult and Cord stem cells which are yeilding cures TODAY. 4. "...so I do not feel inclined to abandon my overall support for the administration...." Huh? I understand that there is supposedly lots of positive things about this administration, but if killing innocent lives is not enough to withdraw support from an administration, what is? "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them." Mathew 7:15-20
8 years 9 months ago
Michael Binder, you lost me. Ensoulment is irrelevant and certainly NOT something that the embryologists could know. Just because twinning could occur says nothing about the possiblity of ensoulment. It is possible that ensoulment could occur at the moment that human life biologically occurs. Thus a fertilized egg could have a soul and at the moment of twinning the ''cloned'' twin could have a soul. The fertilized egg IS human and IS alive. That IS science. If you kill it then you kill human life, regardless of the utilitarian benefit obtained from the tissue. I will continue to fight for basic human rights for ALL humans no matter how small and defenseless. It seems that the Democrats are only for the big guys! Marie Rehbein, I disagree with your comments about the egg. This is not the ''beginning'' of each new person. The egg has only one set of chromosomes. Human life has two sets, as is found in the fertilized egg. I do agree that we should not experiment on human eggs and human sperm for other reasons.
8 years 9 months ago
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8 years 9 months ago
Do you mean to say you were perplexed by the reversal of the Mexico City policy, or you were perplexed by the administration's given reason (that gag rules can't be enforced in a liberal policy)? Since that particular rule was quite ably enforced, and it applied outside the US, I assume the former.
8 years 9 months ago
A fertilized egg, a morella and a blastocyst are living human tissue - but are not independent lives. Gastrulation serves as a genetic safety valve. At gastrulation, non-viable blastocysts and hybrids simply stop developing. Blastocysts are potential human life. If you remove the chorion, you have stem cells which are morally equivalent of any other cells. They are not organized or an organism. You cannot say that after gastrulation. If you put adult stem cells into a chorion, you would get a clone on the cheap if it was allowed to implant. The resulting life would be a twin of the stem cell doner - not the child of the Chorion donors. The difference between generative and regulative development is described in any high school biology book. Someone provide such a text to the Holy Office and the USCCB pro-life office, as it is evident they have not seen one.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael Bindner, You have acknowledged that the embryo is living human tissue. Now, to what human individual does that tissue belong? Don't say "the mother's"; that's impossible because it is genetically distinct from her. There really (really!) is no way around it: the embryo is a new human individual, and therefore killing him or her is equivalent to killing any other human being. [And, of course, every human being has a soul. It would be a non sequitur to speak of 'the beginning of a new human life' and 'ensoulment' separately. As the Catechism says, "it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body" (365).]
8 years 9 months ago
I give you a lot of credit for this post. You've rightly characterized as "hubristic" the manner in which this decision is being handled in the new administration. This should not be a Democratic or Repulican Party issue. For Catholics, opposition to the destruction of embryos for their stem cells is grounded in Catholic social teaching, which also provides a powerful template for addressing the issue in secular terms in the public square. My only disagreement is that I'm already at Strike Two, followed by a couple of foul balls that are staving off Strike Three for the meantime.
8 years 9 months ago
The beginning of each new person is the egg that contains all the instructions necessary to form that person. My non-Catholic opinion is that any egg that could be implanted and grow into a human being is off limits for experimentation and intentional destruction. I agree that this is strike 1. There are no competing rights to be taken into consideration. Indifference to the intentional destruction of human beings in embryonic form is appalling.
8 years 9 months ago
The sad thing on this issue is that embryologists don't make any claims about ensoulment, even though it is obvious from their studies on development that ensoulment cannot occur until gastrulation. Before Evangelicum Vitae, embryologists used to rely on natural law ethicists who said that ensoulment could not occur prior to implantation because until then, twinning could occur. The problem, therefore, is not Dogma, but uninformed Dogma coming out of Rome. This has foreclosed involvement by Catholic ethicists who know the truth but are prevented from stating it because to do so would be the kind of disobedience that invites censure. To the extent that an uninformed dogma is considered unreformable is the extent to which Dogma as a whole will be considered irrelevant to policy.
8 years 9 months ago
Those who are leaping to criticize this new executive order would do well to remember that it was President Bush who first authorized federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, albeit with some restrictions. The Obama executive order is a question of degree, not principle, and the technological landscape is completely different now than it was 8 years ago. The use of whole embryos will soon cease completely, as the less expensive and more flexible technologies (iPS cells, for instance) supercede the original technology. One cannot call for banning this research on principle without calling for a ban on in vitro fertilization, which results in the deaths of tens of thousands of embryos every year--many more than will ever be affected by stem cell research. But even the vast majority of Catholics support the use of IVF to help families that could not otherwise have children. The IVF example serves to remind us that this issue is not as straight-forward as some commentators would have us believe.
8 years 9 months ago
Nice to see you notice what the rest of us were yelling long before the election. FOCA will be next.
8 years 9 months ago
Whether or not the Catholic Church had anything to do with it, a non-Catholic President of the United States has already been convinced that ''embryonic stem cell research is the affront to human dignity that we believe it to be''. In fact, President Bush was so convinced that he issued an executive order which prevented the use of federal funds to pay for the destruction of embryos. Enough other politicians were also convinced enough to prevent the enactment of legislation that would have authorized embryo-destructive research. Millions of ordinary non-Catholic citizens (including many who are personally acquainted with Parkinson's patients) are already convinced. Perhaps Michael Sean meant to say that never in his lifetime will the Catholic Church convince his fellow liberal Democrats, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, that embryonic stem cell research is the affront to human dignity that we believe it to be. He is probably right about that.
8 years 9 months ago
Harold Varmus was actually rather restrained. If he had called the pro-life establishment opportunistic and a tool of the Republican Party, he would have been venting. He would have also been accurate, although it would have upset Catholic pro-life voters who went for Obama, even though most such voters would secretly agree.
8 years 9 months ago
Strike One! At the very least this is strike two after all US funding of abortion world wide is considered a ''strike'' by most real Roman Catholics. Question: will strike three be the manditory requirement of all hospitals to perform abortions? This will force Catholic Hospitals to close. Mr. Winters as a Catholic Liberal how do you justify the Liberal devaluation of life. By the way. Embronic embryonic stem cell research was available to the public sector to investigate this Obama decision just provides MY TAX payments to kill a child. Strike One! Gasp!
8 years 9 months ago
Mr. Bindner does need to do a bit of research [in the literature] about embryos. Ensoulment [except in non-embryologist Father McBrien's opinion] has nothing to do with gastrulation. We cannot know from the ground up when ensoulment occurs. We must rely on revelation from above. This is the Church's role. To which may be added the simply logical question: how does Mr. Bindner know when it does occur? Instead of using the Encyclopedia Britannica as a serious reference book on the subject, he should look into the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science. And especially in the article on "twinning". It is a specious argument to use the development of twins to say that there cannot be one soul in the embryo because a second person might develope [almost immediately] afterwards. And why can there not be a second soul? Is there something to prevent God from so acting? It is He after all Who creates the souls. We but procreate. As a matter of simple logic, might it not be better to act as though there is a human person [no matter how small, a person's a person] in the embryo. The attempts to proclaim [as yet unrealized] benefits are gambling that there is not. That money is to be made from such experiments, speaks for itself. [To my mind, the stem cell permission is, at least, strike two. Strike one was lifting the Mexico City ban. Now we have an example of the imperialism of the Yankee dollar at work].
8 years 9 months ago
Joe Kash, I wrote that it was the egg that contains all the instructions. That would be the fertilized egg. The unfertilized egg would only contain some potential instructions as would sperm. However, there has been some suggestion elsewhere that clones made by inserting the genetic instructions found in a skin cell into an unfertilized human egg would not be off limits though it would have the potential to develop into a person. I wished to include that as well by my choice of wording
8 years 9 months ago
From First Things Blog: http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2009/03/09/obama-also-rescinds-executive-order-for-alternatives-to-escr/ ''We all know that President Obama rescinded the Bush funding restrictions for ESCR. But that isn’t all he did today. He also rescinded Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007.''
8 years 9 months ago
If the debate about ESCR was really about curing diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes and the like, then the tremendous and overwhelming success that adult stem cells, especially skin cells have had in pursuing goals like these would be widely celebrated. Federal research money for the use of adult stem cells would be poured into research facilities with the kind of reckless abandon. Instead, Obama rescinded an executive order President Bush put into place funding adult stem cells and new research with iPS cells. The order was intended to ultimately fund research into alternatives" to destructive embryonic stem cell research such as altered nuclear transfer (ANT), "regression" (reverting differentiated cells into stem cells), and other methods. Bush could be said to have been ahead of his time since regression, also known as direct reprogramming, has taken off and the new induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are the talk of the scientific world. Last November saw that huge advance in stem cell research when scientists announced they had found a way to produce the biological equivalent of embryonic stem cells without creating, using, or destroying any human embryos. It is shocking to see ESCR pursued with such tenacity when it has not been shown to produce ANY cures even in countries whose ideas of ethics are far more obnoxious than our own and where this research has been conducted for years. In fact, embryonic stem-cells have been some time and time again to have major immune system problems, that is why adult stem-cell research actually has lead to cures since they are using their own stem-cells. So given we are able to completely sidestep all of the moral and ethical concerns about destroying human embryos and still have all that “scientific promise” of breakthrough cures, why do people chose to keep on destroying embryos and take away funding for promising and ethical research??
8 years 9 months ago
You can either use religious concepts, in which case ensoulment is important - or you can use natural reasoning - in which cases what the natural sciences say about development is important. In either case, you must go back to gastrulation and examine it closely. This has not been done by the Church in this case for one very important reason, which is entirely political. If the Church were to reexamine this issue, it would have to reexamine its stance on birth control. It does not like admitting it has been wrong, so the same sloppiness is carried forward into this issue as well.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael, Joe Kash's point is that the embryo is a human life at a certain stage of development. Just because it has become possible for scientists to involve themselves at a microscopic level in the process that was designed to allow human beings to come into earthly existence, does not mean that what they are doing is morally neutral. Specifically, you seem to assume that it is morally neutral for the fertility specialist to create embryos in the laboratory. However, some of us believe that this is the first immoral act that has laid the foundation for all the subsequent immoral acts pertaining to the fate of human embryos. Using natural law as a guide, the removal of eggs from their natural environment should have been the first moral hurdle. Given that removal could be followed by replacement such that the course of nature could continue, this hurdle could have been crossed. However, the second hurdle should have been how many embryos may be created from the eggs. It should have been morally compelling to create only as many embryos as nature would ever create for a couple of normal fertility, but no one ever considered it. Had we addressed the morality of IVF at its beginnings, we would not be addressing the situation in which there are human embryos available for research, and the question would now be whether it is ethical to remove eggs from women and fertilize them in order to do experiments on them or with them. I believe that the answer to that question would have been no, it is not ethical, not only because it is unethical to remove the eggs without the intent of putting them back, but because it is unethical to interfere with the normal course of development of a fertilized human egg.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael Bindner: Humans don't have little faces at that stage in their development. Having a face is not a criteria for being human (at least scientifically speaking). Scientifically this research kills little one cell, two cell, or a few cell individual humans. Call it what it is. You think it ok to kill these humans. I don't!
8 years 9 months ago
My very traditionally Catholic ethics professor at Loras College, a Catholic minor seminary, pointed out in 1983 (before Evangelicum Vitae) that the life of a blastocyst is not sacrosanct precisely because twinning could occur. There has never been "revealed truth" on this issue. It is not scriptural. The best we have is natural law ethics, which must take into account the natural sciences. The old "nine day rule" was because of twinning. More convincing is the medical FACT that hybrids and non-hybrids develop in exactly the same way until gastrulation. Unless you are willing to aver that hybrids have souls, natural law would dictate that ensoulment cannot occur until gastrulation (when non-viable hybrids are rejected).
8 years 9 months ago
Michael Bindner: Don't let big word confuse you... The fertilized egg IS human and IS alive. This ''potential life'' stuff is not science but a political phrase. Ensoulment is a religious concept. If you intentionally kill a fertilized egg then you intentionally kill human life (with or without a soul). If Michael Bindner and Barach Obama find it morally acceptable to kill little humans then so be it (with the power of executive order). I, however, will continue to defend all human life no matter how small and no matter how defenseless and no matter how dependent on us big people.
8 years 9 months ago
Joe, they are not little human beings, with cute little faces, et al. They could become human beings - although even if implanted the odds are not in their favor. When you do ESCR, you essentially remove the part that won't be part of the child. What remains are stem cells which are not little human being, but cells which may eventually become human beings in placed into a chorion. If the cells are before cleavage, they could be cut in half and become twins. You could even remove a third, use them for research and implant the remainder and the remainder might become a child. In other words, they do not have many of the aspects of what could be considered a whole person. One critereon for being a "whole person" is that cutting off a piece leaves permanent damage. This is not the case before gastrulation. Potential human life is not a poltical term, by the way, it is a term used in natural law reasoning.
8 years 9 months ago
David, Marie and Joe, Unlike others on this issue, I am not arguing that it is acceptable to sacrifice the lives of human beings for this research. That would be the crassest form of utilitarianism. What I am stating is that at five days of development, the products of conception at the morella and blastocyst stage are not "beings" but tissue which might develop into human beings - and most likely won't, even if implanted. At this stage, the stem cells no more have a soul than the stem cells found in the blood I had drawn last week to test my cortisol levels. Cathechism 365 is in agreement with Thomistic doctrine. It also cuts buth ways. When a soul is present, you can see its effect on the organism. This effect is not evident until after gastrulation, when the organism develops in a manner which shows the effect of the DNA of both parents. Prior to that point, only the maternal DNA effects development. The male DNA has not fully integrated, so the cells cannot be properly called an "organism" since they have no organization.
8 years 9 months ago
There is the question of here of vincible and invincible ignorance. If one accepts the reasoning offered by CDF and the Magisterium on this issue without knowing that there are contravening facts in embryology, then one is invincibly ignorant and therefore not responsible for that ignorance or the damage it causes (especially as the teachings on stem cell research and birth control have become a barrier to Christian unity both within the Catholic Church and Christendom as a whole). To know that this information exists and ignore it anyway is an act of vincible ignorance, which does not evade responsibility for the harm to the Church and to individual Christians that these incorrect doctrines have caused.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael, If it were not for the existence of leftover embryos from IVF, would we be having a debate over whether life begins at conception or gastrulation? The debate is whether it is moral to use these leftover embryos for other than their intended purpose. One side argues that we could make an exception to the concern that we are destroying a unique human individual at a very early stage of development, and that we use these embryos, which we know will not be given a chance at life as we experience it, so that we might make life better for those among us who suffer. The other side would argue that we can under no circumstances make an exception because doing so sends a message that we may use people for our own benefit if they are not in a position to object. You, on the other hand, are making an argument that would advocate extracting eggs from women, randomly fertilizing them with sperm, so that we may use them for medical purposes because there is no moral question until gastrulation. This is an extreme position to take on the issue.
8 years 9 months ago
Mr. Bindner says: ''Prior to that point, only the maternal DNA effects development. The male DNA has not fully integrated, so the cells cannot be properly called an ''organism'' since they have no organization.'' This is false! You are creating an arbitrary point in the development of a new individual. The ''male'' DNA is most certainly ''integrated'' prior to gastrulation. Single and multicell living human organisms exist prior to ''gastrulation''. Gastrulation is when those cells migrate. Also the twinning argument is irrelevant. If a scientist can take one of my cells and clone a twin from my 42 y/o body then did I ever have a soul??? Just because I have a ''clone'' does not mean that I do not have a soul nor does it mean that my cloned twin does not have a soul. Natural twinning occurs and yes it is possible that the life prior to twinning had a soul AND the natural cloned twin has a soul.
8 years 8 months ago
But the point is, the tissue used to develop the clone does not have its own soul prior to gastrulation. Until gastrulation, zygotes with bad DNA continue to grow, as do zygotes with non-human parents. Gastrulation is where the non-viability of the genetic coding is exposed, not before. A blastocyst is not an embryo. It is not developing, it is merely getting ready to develop. If you remove the chorion, the cells do not die (provided they are cultured). If you remove an embryo from the chorion after gastrulation, it will die. In other words, prior to gastrulation, it was not a "being".

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