Stem Cell Questions
The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, 2006
cannot understand religion if you exclude the valorization of life and
passion for healing. Think about * the many hospitals were founded by churches,
* the ministry of Jesus with the sick, * the medicine Buddha, * the Navajo
medicine man, or * the cure which is the Qur’an itself in Islam.
One way or another, the central concern of faith is salvation, and
the very term in English is derived from the Latin roots related to “health.”
Here are three religious questions in the discussion about the sanctity of life and early stem cell research for therapies and cures.
1. When does life begin?
2. What is the promise of such research for pastoral care?
3. How can Americans can respect every faith’s opinions on this issue?
first question arises from concern over killing helpless human beings.
Every faith proscribes murder. It is true that this research works with
human cells — a skin cell or an ovum. Are these human cells human persons?
To use theological language, when does a fertilized egg become a human
No scientist can tell you, and theologians disagree. No biological test is possible to resolve this issue of faith.
* One view is that “ensoulment” occurs at the moment of fertilization with the fusion of sperm and egg.
The Missouri Catholic Conference believes that the research involves “cloned human beings” and says that “no human life, at any stage of its development, may ever be taken for the sake of someone else’s gain. Some evangelical and other Christians share this view.
* Others say ensoulment could not happen until after the possibility of twinning has passed, about 14 days after conception; otherwise, the soul could be split in two or one of the twins would get the soul and other would have no soul.
* Others say it is when implantation in the womb occurs because this is the trigger to differentiate early stem cells into various distinct tissues.
* St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, said hominization occurred at quickening — thought to be about 40 days after conception. This was the common Catholic view until 1869 when Pope Pius IX decreed that life begins at “conception.”
* Dante thought it was when the brain structures are developed.
* Common law and most traditions afford rights and recognize personhood at birth.
In Roe v Wade,
the Supreme Court did not answer the theological question, but took a practical
approach. It said that the state’s interest in pregnancy increases after
the first trimester. It established viability as the point at which the
state may restrict or proscribe abortion. English and US common law recognizes
personhood at birth, and most parents name and register their children
The issue before
the voters is much simpler than these and other theological issues. We
are not voting on when life begins. We are voting whether responsible researchers
will be protected from those who would make them criminals, along with
doctors who would prescribe resulting cures to their patients, and even
jail the patients accepting such cures. We are voting on whether research
and cures legal and available in other states will remain available to
second question is, “What is the promise of such research? -- and what
religious leaders support it?
This is an urgent religious question because, as I mentioned, healing is a central concern for people of faith. The possible cures for Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, sickle cell, ALS. multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, spinal chord injuries, diabetes, and many other conditions inspire religious attention and support.
It is not surprising that this Missouri issue is being discussed widely and intensely in religious circles. Episcopal priest and former Senator Jack Danforth, an opponent of abortion, enthusiastically endorses stem cell research because of its potential for healing actual human beings. Joining him are Methodist minister, former mayor and now Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and clergy of many other Christian traditions. The Jewish leadership, the rabbinical association of Kansas City, unanimously supports the proposal. Local Buddhists and Muslim leaders feel pursuing such cures is not only moral but obligatory.
The Bible commands, "Heal the sick."
A pastor put it to me this way, as could many of the hospital chaplains
I know, concerned with the suffering they see: “Would Jesus condemn an
accident victim to a wheelchair forever if a cure were available?”
"The unborn" are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don't resent your condescension or complain that you are not politicaliy correct; unlike widows, they don't ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don't need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don't bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn.
It's almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without reimagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love it you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.
Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.
--Dave Barnhart, United Methodist pastor==========================
in Birmingham, Alabama.
Legal expert Linda Greenhouse writes today 2019 May 23 that
the United States is reconfiguring itself into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers. (Abortion, by the way, was legal at the nation’s founding, and for much of a century afterward.) . . .
The Establishment Clause says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But we don’t hear much about it these days. It has shrunk noticeably at the hands of the current Supreme Court, in contrast to the First Amendment’s other religion clause, the Free Exercise clause, much in favor with today’s majority. The only Supreme Court justice who ever linked abortion and the Establishment Clause was John Paul Stevens, now nine years into retirement and, at age 99, author of a new memoir.
Thirty years ago, in a case called Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the court considered a Missouri law that placed several restrictions on access to abortion. The law contained a preamble declaring it to be a “finding” of the state legislature that “the life of each human being begins at conception.” Was such language constitutional? That was one question in the case, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s opinion for the court ducked it. The preamble stated an “abstract proposition” that “does not by its terms regulate abortion,” the chief justice wrote. “We therefore need not pass on the constitutionality of the Act’s preamble.”
Justice Stevens, alone, disagreed. The preamble was “an unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet of some but by no means all Christian faiths,” he wrote in his separate opinion. It “serves no identifiable secular purpose,” he continued, adding, “That fact alone compels a conclusion that the statute violates the Establishment Clause.”
Each side attracted supporting briefs from religious organizations, a total of 67 friend-of-the-court briefs in all. In words that are perhaps even more relevant today than they were 30 years ago, Justice Stevens explained: “Bolstering my conclusion that the preamble violates the First Amendment is the fact that the intensely divisive character of much of the national debate over the abortion issue reflects the deeply held religious convictions of many participants in the debate.” He concluded, “the Missouri legislature may not inject its endorsement of a particular religious tradition into this debate.”
third question is, “How can people of diverse faiths resolve their differences
in a religiously pluralistic society?” How do we resolve the claims of
those who believe it is a religious obligation to pursue cures through
this research with the religious conviction that such research is immoral?
An answer arises from the respect we offer each religion to set standards for its own members but not use the force of law to impose them on the rest of us. For example, the Catholic Church prohibits contraception, but others are free to follow our conscience. We do not allow Orthodox Jews to keep others from eating pork, or Muslims to make others abstain from a glass of wine with dinner, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses to prevent others from having blood transfusions. We distinguish sectarian views about morality from legal requirements that bind us all.
Honoring the faith of every American is critical to our practice of freedom of religion. Both those who object to this research for cures and those who embrace it deserve praise for thoughtful and honest debate. I have consulted with sincere folks on both sides in preparing this essay.
Each person should be at liberty to practice one’s faith without governmental interference. Those whose faith compels them to fulfill the healing models of their traditions should not be restrained by others whose faith rightly governs their own lives but should not be imposed on others. No person should be forced to accept a cure obtained through techniques objectionable by one’s faith, but no person should be deprived of them because someone else’s faith cannot accept them.
A YES vote protects the free exercise of religion for everyone. A NO vote prohibits those whose faith obliges them to work for cures through scientific advances. The proposed amendment assures Missourians that no sectarian theology may be imposed to prohibit research for cures available in other states.*
While those of various faiths may differ in how to achieve medical advances, the message of healing found within the sundry traditions charge us as spiritual beings to care for one another as a sacred duty.
*Before detailing the argument logically, it is useful to note that the public debate is more emotional than rational. Emotional arguments -- in the opponents words -- about killing innocent babies -- are minimized here, and rational arguments instead employed.
To those who say that passage of Amendment 2 imposes a a particular theological perspective on everyone, I reply:
question also involves whether the theological position is not simply
I think the solution offered works for (a) but not for (b) which is unstated in the argument as I hear it (so much is unstated which is why there is so much talking past each other). The reason that (a) and (c) are compatible is because each religion is free to decide its case for its own members without imposing on others; and each person is free to accept or refrain from cures developed from the disputed research.
Obviously (b) does not work for a pluralistic society because one theology is imposed on those who disagree.
The logical problem is related to the argument in the abortion issue. If you begin the argument with the assumption that the state must protect persons from murder, and that the fertilized egg is a person, you have no place to go in argument except to shout. The reasoning becomes circular, or begs the question of when personhood begins.
If someone defends the right of a woman in an extreme situation to choose abortion, your response is that she is committing murder because she is killing a person because a fertilized egg is a person.
This is really no argument but rather the circular restatement of a position and begs the question of when a cell becomes a person.
Not a capital offense
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
Abortion procedure required -- fetus not yet a person -- The Test for an Unfaithful Wife Numbers 5
11 Then the Lord said to Moses,
For live links embedded in this article, visit The Times
By The Editorial Board
May 25, 2019
On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder drove to Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan. He had attended services there before, but he was not a worshiper. He had visited Reformation Lutheran to track the movements of a particular church member, Dr. George Tiller, who provided abortions at a nearby clinic.
On that day in 2009, Mr. Roeder carried out the mission he’d been planning: He walked up to Dr. Tiller as he was handing out programs and greeting fellow parishioners in the church foyer. Knowing that Dr. Tiller customarily wore body armor, Mr. Roeder put a .22-caliber handgun to the doctor’s head and pulled the trigger.
In the decade since Dr. Tiller’s assassination, the violence and harassment inflicted on those who work in abortion clinics have become only more routine. A Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of a Planned Parenthood building, a clinic escort hit by an anti-abortion activist’s car — both episodes that happened in the past several months — barely garner headlines. While most people who protest abortion reject violence, among their ranks are zealots who believe that the perceived killing of embryos and fetuses justifies murder. And abortion providers worry about even one of those zealots being emboldened by a political environment that’s spawned extreme anti-abortion legislation around the country this year.
George Tiller did not set out to become an abortion provider, let alone
one of the most targeted figures in the American abortion debate. A longtime
Republican and former Navy flight surgeon, Dr. Tiller took over his late
father’s family medical practice in 1970, thinking it would be a sleepy
job. He soon learned that his father had quietly provided safe abortions
at the office in the decades before the procedure was legal in Kansas —
a history detailed in Stephen Singular’s 2012 book “A Death in Wichita.”
As legally risky as his father’s clandestine efforts had been, Dr. Tiller’s career coincided with political and cultural shifts that made it physically dangerous for doctors and staff members at abortion clinics.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president thanks largely to a new evangelical voting bloc that was rallied by his anti-abortion, pro-family values platform. Over the following decades, as abortion became further entrenched in the American culture wars, a handful of anti-abortion lawmakers, like former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, called for abortion providers to receive the death penalty.
And abortion providers indeed started to die — not in the death chamber, but at the hands of anti-abortion extremists. Dr. David Gunn in 1993. Dr. John Britton in 1994. Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998. Two receptionists, a clinic escort, an off-duty police officer and others were also killed during acts of anti-abortion violence during that time, and there were many hundreds of nonlethal violent incidents, including bombings and attempted assassinations. One such assassination attempt was carried out in 1985 at the home of Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion in the Roe v. Wade decision. (Though the justice and his wife were at home at the time, they were unharmed.)
By the late 1970s, word had spread of Dr. Tiller’s work, and his clinic was attracting protesters who would chant, “Tiller, Tiller, the baby killer.” Some of them followed Dr. Tiller and his staff members to their homes and put graphic images of fetal remains in their neighbors’ mailboxes. Others phoned in death threats to the clinic. Someone set up a website listing the personal contact information for the staff.
Dr. Tiller sought advice from security experts, who gave him tips, such as to drive in the right lane to limit the angles available to potential shooters, and he started giving his employees “combat pay” bonuses to keep them from quitting. He eventually bought an armored S.U.V. to drive to and from the clinic, and for two and a half years federal marshals were by his side for much of each day. He also varied his route between the clinic and his home, where he lived with his wife and four children.
He took these precautions because the threats that his clinic received were not all idle. The facility was pipe-bombed in 1986, causing $100,000 in damage. And in 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion extremist named Rachelle Shannon. (Ms. Shannon, who also committed a series of clinic bombings and acid attacks, was released from prison last year.) Neither the bomb nor the shooting deterred him; he was back at work the day after the shooting. Nor was he cowed when thousands of protesters, some of them aggressive, descended on his clinic and tried to block access to it during the so-called Summer of Mercy in 1991.
Dr. Tiller also stayed strong while Bill O’Reilly, the erstwhile Fox News personality, went on a nationally broadcast campaign against him in the years before his murder. Mr. O’Reilly compared Dr. Tiller to Hitler, said he was “executing babies” and noted in 2006: “If I could get my hands on Tiller … Can’t be vigilantes. Can’t do that. It’s just a figure of speech.”
A few years later, of course, someone did get his hands on the doctor.
(After Dr. Tiller’s death, Mr. O’Reilly said that “Americans should condemn” his murder and that “anarchy and vigilantism will destroy a society.”)
Today, abortion providers face an even more volatile political backdrop than Dr. Tiller did during his lifetime. In the years after Dr. Tiller’s murder, state legislatures passed hundreds of anti-abortion regulations intended to shut down abortion clinics and make it harder for women to access the procedure. Then came Donald Trump, who became president thanks in large part to the support of evangelical voters counting on him to deliver anti-abortion Supreme Court justices and other judges — a promise that he has fulfilled, leading anti-abortion lawmakers in states around the country to pass a rash of near-total abortion bans this year.
Since the 2016 election, abortion providers have reported a spike in
incidents of vandalism, trespassing, harassment and picketing. According
to the National Abortion Federation, which tracks such data, in 2018 abortion
providers were subject to at least 1,135 trespassing incidents in the United
States and Canada — up from 823 incidents in 2017 and 264 in 2013, when
there were more abortion clinics in America than there are today. And last
year they experienced nearly 122,600 disruptive events, including internet
harassment, bomb threats and picketing. In 2017, that number was fewer
than 97,000, and in 2013 it was fewer than 6,500.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and chief executive of the Whole Woman’s Health network of abortion clinics, has had reason to call on law enforcement recently: In April, she said, someone set fire to the fence outside the Whole Woman’s clinic in McAllen, Tex. The clinic, which is the only abortion facility for nearly 250 miles, has become a hotbed of anti-abortion activity, sometimes attracting hundreds of protesters at a time. It is less than 10 miles from the Mexican border and serves mostly women of color, and Ms. Hagstrom Miller said that it has started to attract protesters with white nationalist tattoos.
Ms. Hagstrom Miller also worries about President Trump saying at his rallies, wrongly, that women and doctors routinely “execute” babies. “This kind of language and rhetoric,” she said, “doesn’t just fall on the ears of well-balanced people.”
The text of the proposed amendment is available at www.cres.org/2.pdf