Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Stem Cell Research and Frankenstein

Father John J. Lombardi

Do you know the animal rights activist group-PETA-People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? Well, just as they help animals, we Catholics and Christians need a group to help humans-PETA--People for the Ethical Treatment of Aspirants. Where is such a group today? Aspirants?-you know, those small creatures aspiring to be human beings-embryos, babies and fetuses. We need to help them today.

Perhaps from the novel or thrill-chilling movies, you thought Frankenstein was done away with--dead. No, "it"-he-- is continuing. Recently Korean doctors succeeded in cloning embryos-"genetically Xeroxing" human beings. And a few weeks ago the United States Congress voted to allow Federal funds for research on embryonic stem cell research. Last year California voted for billions to finance stem cell research.

With scientists attempting to clone human beings, while others try to make babies outside the womb and inside laboratories, and still others are attempting to harvest from small baby's body-parts and healing cells, we need rights-groups to protect mammal-animal humans just as much as primates. But, just where are they?

Recently, President Bush said: "There is no such thing as a 'spare embryo.'" Amen. Think: there are spare tires---just sitting around, waiting to be harvested from the basement or garage, and used to fix another problem. Is that the way we now treat human life, no matter how disguised? I recently asked a drug addict what President Bush's statement meant, and he replied, immediately: "Every life is sacred." Obvious, right-or oblivious? People loved Mother Teresa who spoke an "awful truth"-Jesus comes in disguises-and, Will you help Him? Embryos are perhaps His most distressing disguise.

You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure it out: Frankenstein Revisited. Orwell, too. George Orwell was the famous British journalist and critic of communism who said, basically: People who control language can manipulate others. In his Novel "1984" black is white and white is black---in other words, very blatant truths which should be obvious have now been denied and, in fact, the very opposite of such truths are thrown upon us to accept. Today, that translates as abortion - the killing of life is a "private right"; stem cell research = the harvesting of body parts of another human being as compassion.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would react-perhaps with violence-if orangutans were created by veterinarian scientists, then dissected and harvested for body parts, and then discarded as trash. Just recently I went fishing with Father Jim Farmer and President Powell of Mount Saint Mary's. We were talking about how strict the fishing laws were out in the western US and how you could do almost anything out there to a human being but, if you don't have a fishing license or disobey a certain wildlife law, you would be prosecuted.

Cloning another human being-which is the cold, scientific extraction of genetic material from one innocent embryo (really a nascent baby), and fusing it into another baby--an "awaiting egg," and then "growing" this being so as to harvest it of stem cells to heal sick persons is tragic and, really, evil. It's a kind of "genetic slavery"-exploiting humans in an inhuman fashion. Simply put-we need to remember St Paul's truth (Rm. 3:8), Catholicism 101 and Pope John Paul II's needed reminder in Veritas Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth"): one should never do an evil to bring about a good. No matter how tempting-never! We should never allow scientists to commit an evil-i.e., harvest stem cells from a baby, a cloned human being, an embryo-so as to allegedly and theoretically, at this point, help someone with Parkinson's disease or other sickness. We are all tempted-and sometimes have fallen into the temptation-to do something wrong (a white lie, for instance) to supposedly bring about a good. However, our Faith says "never"-even though the world, culture and even some Catholics are now trying to change this two-thousand year old Tradition. Pope John Paul famously and consistently said, essentially: Just because you can do something (esp. in bioethical matters) doesn't mean you should do it. Etch that in your metaphysical forehead.

Before you get lost in all the muddle, memorize The Two Most Important Facts to Know about Stem Cell Research-- #1-Experimenting on human embryos is a kind of killing of a human living being. Each human embryo (there are hundreds of thousands stored and frozen away for research and other purposes) is how each of us as an adult person began-the combination of mom's egg and dad's fertilization. Today, unfortunately, this natural process which God designed- part of sexuality and physical-intimate union between husband and wife-has become scientized, sterilized, plasticized-a genetic manipulation which borders on eugenics. Basically, human life now can go from test-tube womb to scientific tomb. But amidst this Frankensteinian project, remember: embryos are babies.

Most Important Fact #2: There has been no success of healing from any kind of usage of stem cells. That's a Simple Fact, though it is hidden and underreported. Actually, as with President Bush a few weeks ago at the White House, "Snowflake babies" are previously frozen embryos who have been rescued from being "discarded"-i.e., let's face it, "trashed"-- and have been "brought to term" and given birth by couples. Though controversial and currently debated amongst pro-lifers and Catholics, this shows the "embryos" are babies capable of life! Now, for more Important Facts:

# 3: Catholic Church teaching is clearly against embryonic stem cell research upon human embryos, just as it is against the killing of babies by abortion, and opposes the manipulation of any person which strips away human dignity-slavery, pornography, child abuse, etc. The Catholic Church is the oldest human rights group in the world, backed up and informed by the wisest philosophers on human nature and biology. Oh, and #4: Some scientists, ethicists and others will do all they can to make you forget, disbelieve-it's a human being-by emphasizing exclusive terminology like embryo, blastocyst, etc. and thereby make you think it's okay to harvest body parts. Just as some people in the past degradingly said or treated other certain people as in-human beings-black persons as slaves in Africa and America, gypsy-persons in Nazi Germany, etc, Jews in ancient Egypt, etc. -so now we have a new class of people without rights or dignity who are "fair game" for (genetic) manipulation-enslaved to allegedly help others. In essence, this philosophy and ungodly guises steamrollingly says: its okay to alter and kill one life to supposedly save another.

False Hope: Proponents of embryonic stem cell research say we should be able to harvest body parts of other humans-stem cells from embryos-because these stem cells can therapeutically reproduce once transferred into other persons in need of healing, far more efficiently than any other cells, forming cures to ALS (Lou Gherig's disease) Parkinson's, etc.

Realistic Choice: But, to harvest these stem cells, an embryo must be destroyed -a life must be taken to give to another, life-hopefully. However disguised- human dignity is being tainted. Communism was probably one of the worst sins of the last century-the denial of the individual. Now, we have another form of the denigration of the individual, the tiny, helpless embryo-baby. As in Mary Shelley's' foreboding novel, "Frankenstein," it was not only a monster created that was the trouble, but also Dr Frankenstein himself, who lost his dignity and moral compass. It seems now that some forms of science, ethics and medicine will do anything just because it is do-able. Rep. Tom Delay of the House said (according to the Baltimore Sun-May 25), "Research would force taxpayers to finance the 'dismemberment of living distinct human beings,' and lead to cloning, genetically engineered children and a black market for human body parts." That sounds Frankenstinian to me. Read again and repeat, for this should be a prediction for prevention-"black market for human body parts", "genetically engineered children", "cloning".

Alternative Solutions?: Rep Christopher H Smith, a Catholic politician from NJ has proposed legislation that stem cells should be used from living persons' umbilical cords, extracted ethically and safely, to help treat like illnesses mentioned above. Other possible treatments and medical solutions may be available involving stem cells which are helpful which do not necessitate the "dismemberment of living distinct beings And then, we must, if need be, simply accept we may not find solutions to medical mysteries, and that we cannot, shall not--ever--cerate life to destroy it, or manipulate human beings at any level of life to heal others.

Cardinal William Keeeler, Archbishop of Baltimore has recently written on this matter in the newspaper, USA Today, with the upfront title: Killing embryos is not progress… "The 'promise' of embryonic stem cell research has been exaggerated. The journal Science last week published a warning by Stanford University experts that "it is nearly certain that the clinical benefits of the research are years or maybe decades away." They added: "This is a message that desperate families and patients will not want to hear." But they need to hear it. They were led to support this unethical research by hyped promises of miracle cures. Stem cells from umbilical-cord blood and adult tissues, posing no moral problem, have advanced quickly toward treating juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, cardiac damage and other conditions. The fixation on destroying embryos has diverted resources away from more promising therapies, and therefore ill serves suffering patients as well as embryonic human beings. Congress should reject this bill and support promising medical research that all Americans can live with."

In Human Manipulation-The Frankensteinian project of a black market for human body parts didn't just arise out of thin air. It was paved for by such phenomenon as test tube babies, in vitro fertilization, and the prevalence of vasectomies and contraception-all are immoral practices. Why?-because they are unnatural and dramatically change the course of God's Plan for the human body. This is unlike using another kind of medicine-an aspirin, say, for a headache-whereby we become healthier and clearer thinking: that's God's design. The aspirin helps and heals, but does not dramatically alter our basic human processes, whereas all the biological-reproductive practices mentioned above are direct threats and alterations to God's design-the Natural Law within human beings. However, Catholic moral principals are not so much as being-against things but, actually preservative of, and being-for natural life as God intended. Just as some defend and preserve an ecosystem threatened by excessive pollution or invasive human manipulation, like "gorillas in the mist" or spotted owls on the fringe of extinction-these are all Nature's and God's gifts, natural life-we want to do the same-especially--for human life, and how we arrive at it. Genetic manipulation, harvesting baby-body parts and test tubes should not figure in creating life, aka Frankenstein revisited.

How to Respond…Be informed-read, critically: Study your Faith and teachings and also familiarize yourself and others with the "opponent's views" and the promises and mystification…

Write to your congressman-be truthful and charitable-these are perilous times--Read Cardinal Keeler's letter, and write similar one…

Pray, fast, sacrifice-for human life

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi