Orlando SentinelJune 13, 2008
Op-Ed: Stem-Cell Research can Promote Life, Dignity and Discovery
Catholic hierarchy's long and public battle with science and scientists
continued this week in Orlando as the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops released a statement condemning embryonic stem-cell research.
However, while the bishops are clearly in a minority in opposing
stem-cell research, they are also going against a long Catholic
tradition of supporting scientific endeavor.
From the earliest days of the church, Catholic theologians have been at
the forefront of scientific progress. Tertullian (circa 160-225) and
Saints Augustine (354-430) and Aquinas (circa 1225-1274) were followed
by many other Catholic scientists in developing new and exciting
discoveries that enrich our lives today. While it is true that some,
such as Galileo (exiled), Copernicus (censored) and Bruno (burned at
the stake), were punished by the Vatican, it is telling that it was
Catholics who were at the forefront of the scientific developments that
attracted the wrath of the hierarchy.
Despite these cases, church teachings not only allow but encourage
adherents to the Catholic faith to support and promote scientific
discovery. While debates over whether the Earth is at the center of the
universe or not are hopefully finished, contemporary discussions over
stem-cell research and other new technologies continue to cause immense
Reading the Catechism, one of the central documents in Catholic
teaching, it seems clear that the Catholic hierarchy should not oppose
science or scientific discovery. It notes, "Methodical research in all
branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific
manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the
faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith
derive from the same God."
However, as governments and scientists around the world aver that
stem-cell research is ethical and consistent with contemporary
morality, the hierarchy places religious dogma at the center of its
public-policy pronouncements, rather than sound scientific reasoning.
The vast majority of Americans -- including the majority of Catholics
-- oppose the Catholic hierarchy's view. Independent polling by the
Gallup organization indicates that over 60 percent of Americans find
stem-cell research to be "morally acceptable." A poll conducted in 2005
by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University
indicated that 69 percent of Roman Catholics, 74 percent of Protestants
and 50 percent of Evangelicals supported stem-cell research. Catholics
clearly reject the bishops' extreme position and support continuing
research into what may prove to be one of the most scientifically
significant discoveries in modern medicine. While we may not know for
sure, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find out.
Support for the use and research of stem cells crosses not only
religious but also political lines, garnering the support of both
presumptive presidential candidates and many self-proclaimed pro-life
Catholics, including former Florida Republican Sen. Connie Mack.
Perhaps the last word should be left to another famous Catholic scientist, John Rock,
co-inventor of the Pill. "You should be afraid to meet your Maker," an
angry conservative wrote to him, soon after the Pill was approved. "My
dear madam," Rock replied, "in my faith, we are taught that the Lord is
with us always. When my time comes, there will be no need for
introductions." Rock was also a pioneer in in-vitro fertilization and
the freezing of sperm cells, and was the first to extract an intact
fertilized egg. Here was a faithful Catholic who used his expertise to
promote life and the dignity of the individual. Now that is something
that all good Catholics can support.
Perhaps the U.S. bishops should consider following in his footsteps.