Column: Why God Favors Stem Cell Research





Voltaire is the nom de plume of Philip Nobile, author of Catholic Nonsense and Intellectual Skywriting: Literary Politics and the New York Review of Books, and editor of Judgement at the Smithsonian.

John Paul II’s position on stem cell research is a blast from the past when Catholic theologians gnashed their teeth over the size of angels, the torture of heretics, and the foreskin of Christ (i.e., where did it go after circumcision?).

Why George Bush would seek bio-moral guidance from a religious leader who believes that all sex outside marriage (a lot within, too) is--without exaggeration--satanic, that is, worthy of eternal damnation, defies reason.

But not politics, which is why my friend Diderot was fond of saying,"the world will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

All ridicule aside, the Pope has no special expertise in the department of reproduction. Christian revelation is absolutely mum on the topic except for the Immaculate Conception. A propos in vitro fertilization and its embryonic product, Catholic theology is holy guesswork as well as a quagmire of confusion and contradiction.

In the first place, the Church says that test-tube embryos have no right to exist because their conception is the result of unnatural sex, that is, non-vaginal coitus.

Second, the Church says that these embryos may never be implanted and brought to term because, once again, the means would be unnatural. Nor can they be destroyed by defrosting because they are still human.

Third, the Church has no clue where these microscopic MIA’s go for eternity because they are not baptized, which is the sine qua non of Christian salvation. Limbo used to provide a safety net for unbaptized babies, but the Vatican officially discarded this escape clause in 1990.

Summing up, the Church has backed itself into a corner defending the life of ill conceived souls who have no right to birth or death or maybe even heaven.

So when the Pope lectured President Bush on embryonic cells, he was not holding high cards. As for discerning divine wisdom, the President might just as well have consulted a psychic, a medicine man or Bob Jones IV.

The funny thing about these allegedly blessed blastocysts is their cheapness. It is a biological fact that most human conceptions are washed away within days post fertilization. The purpose of this mass embryonic destruction remains unknown. One theory is that genetic flaws prevent attachment to the womb.

Darwinists see the hidden hand of natural selection in play."A struggle for existence inevitably flows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase," Darwin observed in The Origin of the Species."There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increased at so a high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair ... heavy destruction inevitably falls either on the young or the old, in every generation or at recurrent intervals."

In other words, if every blastocyst were born, Greenland would have the population density of Bangladesh.

Andrew Sullivan, a British missionary stationed in Washington D. C. and posing as a casuist, wrote a column in New Republic condemning experimentation with abandoned embryos with nowhere to go. Arguing by analogy in the best scholastic tradition, Sullivan cited fingernail clips, bald eagle eggs, coma victims, Alzheimer’s patients and the insane in his effort to save the blastocysts.

To his credit, Sullivan addressed the toughest objection."Some may say that nature itself allows many blastocysts to die," he wrote."What else are miscarriages? It is true that such tragedies happen all the time. But just because earthquakes happen doesn't mean massacres are justified. And our intuitive moral response to a woman who has had a miscarriage is not the same as our response to a woman who has had a haircut or even to a woman who has lost a limb. One might conceivably justify allowing extra blastocysts to be created and lost as collateral damage in an artificial insemination (although, the more I think about this, the less defensible it seems). But to turn around and use those extra blastocysts for experimentation is a completely separate step. It is to treat human life purely instrumentally. I know of no better description of evil."

As devil's advocate, I respond: Earthquakes happen in unihabited areas, too, but nature targets the majority of blastocysts with unbreakable appointments in Samarra. Occult miscarriages, the most frequent kind, occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy without the mother’s knowledge. Human life is treated instrumentally and cavalierly by the Designer of the universe who is responsible, in Sullivan’s scheme, for fixing things so that that the majority of his children die before birth.

Regarding the dilemma of embryonic cell research, I say why be holier than the God of the Pope and his deputy Andrew Sullivan?


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