Monday, August 2, 2010

An enduring commitment to the protection of all human life

I'm going to post this both here and on the Coalition for Clarity blog, because it involves an issue that, I think, is of interest to both sets of readers.

The FDA has approved a company's study of the medical cannibalization of children:

A Menlo Park biotech firm said Friday that federal regulators will let it proceed with the world's first human test of a treatment made from embryonic stem cells, a much-anticipated but controversial study of patients with spinal cord injuries that had been placed on hold for nearly a year because of safety concerns.

If the treatment from Geron works, it "would be revolutionary," said Dr. Richard Fessler, a neurological surgeon at Northwestern University, who will lead the study of a stem-cell treatment designed to be injected into patients with spinal injuries to restore their motor function. "The therapy would provide a viable treatment option for thousands of patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year."

Geron has spent 15 years and more than $150 million to develop the treatment, and "getting it into a clinical trial, just by itself, is a big deal," added Fessler, who has no financial ties to the company.

Many people hope that human embryonic stem cells, which can turn into any type of tissue in the body, could prove useful for everything from generating organs for transplants to helping test drugs on numerous diseases. But because the cells are derived from discarded 3- to-5-day-old embryos, their use by researchers has sparked ethical concerns and a highly contentious national debate.

The Food and Drug Administration had put the study on hold last year after a few animals the company was testing with its treatment developed small cysts. Although similar cysts had appeared in earlier animal studies, they appeared with "a higher frequency" in more recent animal tests, the company said at the time.

So eager is the culture of death to commence turning the surplus of manufactured children into a viable commercial product so they can make even more money off of the buying and selling of human beings that they are ignoring the potential side-effects, as well as the slightly inconvenient reality that adult stem cells, which carry no ethical baggage, are actually working quite well:
For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it's adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

"That's really one of the great success stories of stem cell biology that gives us all hope," says Dr. David Scadden of Harvard, who notes stem cells are also used to grow skin grafts.

"If we can recreate that success in other tissues, what can we possibly imagine for other people?"
Embryonic stem-cell research has yet to produce much of anything, and there are those pesky side-effects to consider. But, of course, researchers are sure that the only reason they've yet to perfect a magic cure for all known ailments of humankind except for reality television and news anchors is the fact that the Christianists out there are kind of squeamish about killing unborn children, mixing their cells with a jigger of gin and a dash of vermouth, and quaffing this new "Fountain of Life Cocktail" (price: dead innocents and the immortal souls of everybody involved in this hellish practice) and so won't allow oodles of free government money to entice women into selling off for cash those unwanted extra embryos they created in a rush of parental dreaming, back when they were still married to the father.

Here's the problem, for pro-life Catholic voters: Republicans are not as vehemently opposed to this barbarism as we'd like. In fact, quite a few of them aren't opposed at all (and apparently lack the awareness to see what is wrong with a phrase like "Find out how you can join the fight for personal freedoms and against Personhood today..." which can be seen on that homepage). In terms of our elected officials, it is sadly the case that in 2006, 17 Republican Senators voted in favor of expanding federally-funded ESCR, and a year later about 40 House Republicans did the same. And even those who oppose an expansion of federally-funded ESCR don't usually oppose the Bush "compromise" on the issue, which allowed such funding on research involving existing cell lines.

I've heard the objection: but compared to the Democrats, with their funding of abortion via the health care bill and their push to require Catholic hospitals to give out abortifacient contraceptives to rape victims and their support of partial birth abortion, etc., Republicans are shining examples of pro-life consistency and virtue, regardless of this little "hiccup" involving research on five-day-old unborn human beings (or on the cell lines already derived from such children, as if it's perfectly moral to participate in and profit from the murder of the unborn so long as one isn't actually doing the killing, or some such thing). There's no denying that when it comes to life issues, most Democrats are measurably worse than most Republicans--but if there are no consequences to Republicans for their support of things like ESCR, if people of faith give them a "pass" on this issue because they're better than the alternative, etc., then we do two things: we weaken our witness to the value of unborn human life, and we make it easier for the Republicans to run weaker and weaker candidates in the arena of life issues, and harder for us to insist that support of the killing of the unborn, whether via abortion or via medical research, is a deal-breaker for us when it comes to our votes.

In some senses, we've already done this. But should we continue? Or should we insist that the phrase "pro-life" means something real and substantial, and means, above all, an enduring commitment to the protection of all human life, born and unborn, regardless of age, health, or condition of dependency?


Chris-2-4 said...

I've heard the objection: but compared to the Democrats, with their funding of abortion via the health care bill and their push to require Catholic hospitals to give out abortifacient contraceptives to rape victims and their support of partial birth abortion, etc., Republicans are shining examples of pro-life consistency and virtue, regardless of this little "hiccup" involving research on five-day-old unborn human beings

Seriously? You've heard that?

c matt said...

I've heard the better by comparison argument (maybe not the "shining examples" hyperbole).

Regardless, it's like saying driving off a 100 ft cliff at 50 mph is better than driving off at 100 mph. You still drive off the cliff.

And yes, we should hold them to it.

Red Cardigan said...

Well, Chris, there was a little humorous exaggeration. But on the Coalition for Clarity blog, whenever I mention Republican deficiencies in regard to life issues as well as to torture and other things of concern to Catholics, I can be sure of at least a few commenters insisting that failing to vote for the Republicans anyway is simply allowing the *truly* evil Democrats to have power. There's this sense that even criticizing Republicans for their obvious failings is the same as assisting in abortions, or something.

Chris-2-4 said...

Hyperbole and humorous exageration can be appreciated when part of one's own argument. When put in the mouths of others who you are about to rebut, it takes on the cloak of dishonesty and provides no clarity.

Red Cardigan said...

Sorry, Chris, but as a former lit. major I have to disagree. I could have written a paragraph showing in exhaustive detail how some so-called "pro-life" organizations on the national level will send out bulletins urging voters to vote for a pro-choice Republican on the grounds that the Republican doesn't support partial-birth abortion--and, after all, the *party* is pro-life. I find that deplorable and dishonest in the extreme, and my use of humor was an attempt to keep the whole thing from turning into an angry rant, which it very easily could have been.

Chris-2-4 said...

Well, I would prefer an honest substantive rant to a funny straw men that mischaracterizes the oppositions opinion but that's just me.

I guess others might appreciate the humor so I wouldn't deprive you and them of it so long as it's understood that nobody is actually saying what you, in jest, say they are saying...

" a former lit. major I have to disagree..."
Are you aware that this sounds like the literary equivalent of saying:
"I was an Altar Boy, so don't question my Catholic bonafides"?

Red Cardigan said...

To each his own, Chris! :)

And yes, I know the "lit major" thing sounds--well, about like you said. But humor in writing is used in so many ways. Ever read any Robert Benchley? He was really good at humorously mischaracterizing all sorts of things.

Sadly, though, I have heard people say, "Well, but we can't elect Democrats," as a way of excusing Republicans' attitudes on ESCR or similar matters. It's a kind of trump card. Maybe I've overstepped the humor boundaries, but even that statement really isn't worth laughing about.

You're giving me an idea for a future post--we're always complaining that Catholic Democrats don't hold the Dems. accountable for things that violate the Catholic worldview. Maybe we should examine our duty to do the same in regard to Republicans? But how do we do so effectively?

Just thinking out loud, here...

Siarlys Jenkins said...

As far as Democrats and Republicans are concerned, I recall reading on another pro-life web site that the difference is, Democrats say abortion is OK, while Republicans say that abortion is OK, but have found that if you talk about it like its wrong, it gets you many votes.

Neither characterization is entirely fair, but it is a fair comment on the value of voting a party line if you are either pro-choice or pro-life.

As to the specific medical experiment at issue here, if one year old babies were dismembered to provide promising treatment for spinal injuries, I would absolutely be opposed. I know that for Erin, and many others, embryonic stem cell harvesting and research is morally exactly the same.

I can support this line of research, because I don't see it as being the same. Cells with a unique chemical DNA signature, which have never grown eyes, brains, hearts, never suckled at their mother's breast or tasted their first applesauce, cells which (I use the word "which" rather than "who" consciously), have no conscious awareness of their own existence, or what is happening to them, are not, in my mind, human beings.

As I've said before, there is no more difficult conversation to keep civil than between two people who can't agree on what a human being is. Fortunately, with rare exceptions like Eric Rudolph and Scott Roeder, most of us agree that the people on both sides of the debate are human beings, so we must find a way to be civil with each other about our profound differences.

In all fairness to the pro-life movement, I suspect that Rudolph and Roeder were acting out of narcissism rather than out of pure, selfless, concern for unborn life, although I don't doubt they sincerely believed they were acting based on moral outrage. They are not representative of what "pro-life" means.

I could vote for a pro-life Democrat, or a pro-choice Republican, depending on what else they stood for and who they were running against. I got my pro-choice sympathies at my mother's knee, and she was a loyal, life-long Republican, who volunteered on every election when she was physically able to, no matter who the candidates were.