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Monday, July 04, 2005

Rebutting Mario Cuomo on Defining the Beginning of Life

[Original posted 1:45 AM, Sunday, July 3]

The ethical problems of embryonic stem cell research arise from the fact that the process requires the destruction and/or corruption of nascent human life. Some who support such research insist that this is not the case because, as they claim, life begins after conception,namely at implantation. The absurdity of this is obvious, of course, if one considers the thought experiment of a child grown in an environment that simulates the key functions of a mother's womb, which necessarily may not require a comparable step of implantation. Mario Cuomo believes the solution to the question of when life begins is to defer it to a panel of experts. Moreover, the burden of proof ought to be on the side that life begins at conception. Maggie Gallagher responds directly to the heterodox Catholic, Mr.Cuomo:

There's something dismayingly Catholic, in a decadent way, and political, in an obvious way, about Cuomo's suggestion. Replace the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church with the infallible magisterium of a group of people with Ph.D.s? Mario, Mario, a panel of scientists couldn't prove that you have a right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness either. The question of why human rights exist, and who therefore has them, is not a scientific question. Fobbing off core questions like this onto a panel of scientists is merely an attempt to evade moral and intellectual responsibility for one of life's most basic questions: Where does our shared American belief in equality and human rights come from?
Amen. Not only that, but Ms. Gallagher notes that even if the as yet unrealized benefits of ESRC do come, we may not need to go down the path of destroying life to achieve them.

Professor Markus Grompe, a geneticist, and Professor Robert George, a Princeton political scientist who is on President Bush's council on bioethics, announced in this week's Wall Street Journal that scientists have discovered several new ways to get embryonic stem cells that do not require the creation or destruction of human life. For example, Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (OAR) can take the nucleus from your skin cell, insert it into an egg cell, and with a flick of a genetic switch, make a factory for producing embryonic stem cells. Not only would this protect us from becoming consumers of unborn children, but "their genetic constitution would be virtually identical to that of the donor, thus helping to overcome the problem of immune rejection."
She then drives it home:

Scientists didn't stumble upon this method by accident, but by conscientiously seeking a method of obtaining needed stem cells that would not require the killing of any human life....

I believe that truth, goodness and scientific progress all lie in the same direction. I believe that human beings, made in the image of God, have the creativity to find better solutions to human problems than those that require killing human life. I believe that, if we seek it, science can unlock human wonders that draw us together rather than divide and conquer our humanity.
Update:

Here's more on Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming and its licit nature.

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