No Compromise on Stem Cells

With the debate about the morality of embryo stem-cell research intensifying, the word compromise“ is in the air. Many believe that opponents and supporters of such research may be able to negotiate a happy medium, thereby making President hush's life somewhat easier when it comes to deciding whether to allow federal funding for such research.

There has, for example, been speculation that the Roman Catholic Church. a perennial stalwart in the argument for the culture of life, might be open to compromises–such as limiting research to human embryos already harvested' Part of this speculation is driven by whether such compromises might he regarded by Catholics as a ‘lesser evil,' and therefore permissible or acceptable.

Unfortunately, such conjecture reflects deep misunderstanding of authoritative Catholic teaching on this subject, and the way in which serious Catholics morally reason their way through such issues. And this mode of reasoning isn't limited to Catholics. For example, the church doesn't base its argument against taking embryonic life on a theory of human ensoulment, despite a widespread misunderstanding in this regard. The church's argument is based on human identity.

The Catholic Church teaches that embryonic stem-cell research is immoral. Such research involves the intentional destruction of embryonic human beings, which reason and science tell us are just as human as l am. In short, the procedures involved in this research involve the intentional killing of another human being.

It follows that funding of such research entails what the Catholic Church calls format cooperation in evil' This occurs when a persons action reflects their intention to help another person to do precisely what is wrong. Anyone who facilitates, commands, subsidizes or actively defends such an act formally cooperates in its evil.

Formal cooperation is distinct from what Catholic moralists.' call material cooperation.“ The latter are cases where we cooperate in another's evil by doing something that we foresee will enable them to carry out their objective, while intending as our own end something separate from their immoral act,

Put another way, material cooperation means that we do not intend, but merely accept as a side-effect, the facilitating of another's evil act. In such a case, we bear some responsibility for the evil we unintentionally, but foreseeably, help enable and must consider whether we are justified in doing so.

The funding of research requiring the destruction of embryonic human beings is clearly a case of formal cooperation in wrongful killing, and is therefore morally unjustifiable. In the present political context, the funding of research using only pre-existing stem cell lines (which some suggest as a palatable compromise is an unjustified material cooperation with evil because such funding would create incentives for others to engage in or support the killing of embryonic humans,

What this means is that there is no possibility of any serious Catholic, or of the Catholic Church, endorsing any arrangement that involves funding embryonic stem-cell research.

The suggestion has been made that the view taken by Catholics on the status of the human embryo ultimately depends on how they view the role of authority within the Catholic Church. Another, more common, assertion is that Catholics are advancing an argument derived solely from sectarian premises.

Both claims are untrue.

Yes, the Catholic Church teaches authoritatively as a matter of faith and morals that embryonic stem-cell research is wrong. It is always careful, however, to argue its position in terms of public reason–that is, its arguments are open to all people, Catholic or otherwise. The church stresses, for example, that science tells us the human being doesn't begin as a “nonhuman” entity from which a human life is later “produced.”

At every stage of development, human beings (whether zygote. morula, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, infant or adult) retain their identity as an enduring being that develops through the stages of life. From conception, we possess the genetic blueprint necessary for development; we are beings organized for maturation as members of the human race.

In short, the self-directing human organism that each of us is today is the same human being that was created when we were conceived. None of us became“ a human being at some point after- conception. Each of us was a human being from the point at which we became a distinct organism–that is, conception.

The irony is that most pro-choice advocates now concede, or avoid, this point. Most of their arguments amount to affirming choice for its own sake. In doing so, they and those advocating embryonic stem-cell research effectively embrace the idea that there are, or can be, whole living members of the human race who are “human nonpersons–human beings who may he treated as mere means to others' ends, rather than ends in themselves.

It is ultimately for this reason that the world's strongest opponent of embryonic stem-cell research has adopted the position he holds. This despite the fact that he is reported to be suffering from Parkinson's Disease– one of those ailments that some believe may eventually be cured as a result of stem-cell research.

John Paul II, however, understands that the end never justifies the means.