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Friday, May 19, 2006

Santorum Buys Hard Bargain

Pennsylvania's two US Senators, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum announced last week a compromise where they both support investigating several methods of harvesting stem cells without destroying embryos. The Predictable pan this exercise, as you'd expect (they are predictable after all). But there also is plenty to make a pro-lifer be skeptical.

A year ago the President's Council on Bioethics issued a paper investigating possible alternate sources of pluripotent stem cells. Of the four options, I noted that Congress ought to consider supporting the only one with ethical promise, reprogramming somatic cells. Soon after came the idea of oocyte assisted reprogramming. Nevertheless, even though these methods do not involve the destruction of human embryos, there are still legitimate moral concerns, concerns that apply also to the methods of the compromise bill and are underpinned by the Cathechism Nos. 2292-2296,2300:
2292 Scientific, medical, or psychological experiments on human individuals or groups can contribute to healing the sick and the advancement of public health.

2293 Basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man's dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.

2294 It is an illusion to claim moral neutrality in scientific research and its applications. On the other hand, guiding principles cannot be inferred from simple technical efficiency, or from the usefulness accruing to some at the expense of others or, even worse, from prevailing ideologies. Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and the will of God.

2295 Research or experimentation on the human being cannot legitimate acts that are in themselves contrary to the dignity of persons and to the moral law. The subjects' potential consent does not justify such acts. Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject's life or physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate or avoidable risks. Experimentation on human beings does not conform to the dignity of the person if it takes place without the informed consent of the subject or those who legitimately speak for him.

2296 Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.

2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy;92 it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
In the end it seems Sen. Specter gave up nothing, while Sen. Santorum is stepping on (if not tip-toeing over) his long-held line of principle in the name of political expedience; that's a tough deal to swallow.

In contrast, consider the principled approach of Missouri State Rep. Jim Lembke. Like Sen. Santorum, he steadfastly seeks a total ban of ESCR, in the state in his case. As noted previously, he has also promoted adult stem cell research by offering a passing bill that directs grants from Missouri's tobacco settlement into ASCR, while specifically excluding ESCR. Finally, he is also employing a more subtle approach by having legislative restrictions placed on scientists who receive state money, or work in laboratories built with state money, from conducting research on stem cells taken from clusters left over from fertility treatments, or created through therapeutic cloning, into the state budget, into laws regarding government buying of private property, and into the spending of proceeds from the partial sale of the state's student loan agency. This is the kind of moral leadership we could use in Congress.

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