George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Stem-Cell Issues Need More Debate

It's Abortion Wearing A Pretty Face
By Dr. George A. Sprecace

(As published in The Day, Sunday, July 29, 2001)

    The American public has become used to the crisis of the week hyped by the media. As a result, the news has become another form of entertainment. But one piece of news today transcends those limitations: the controversy over embryonic stem cell research. The issue is the most recent of the challenges to society's sense of propriety of right and wrong, resulting from new developments in science.

    The basic view of this commentary is that embryonic cell research is abortion with a friendly face - the intentional taking of a human life to achieve some allegedly worthy goal. Even if a small percentage of the grandiose claims for its medical benefits come true, which I believe is probable, it will still be the intentional taking of human lives. At long last, that must be admitted by the people and the government. Then and only then can we deal honestly and ethically with possible justifications, as I outline below.

    Such matters involve issues of life and death: death and definitions of death; promoting life through infertility research and its byproducts; producing life, possibly even human beings, through cloning; defining life by its "quality" (disabled, elderly, mentally retarded, demented); or by legal definition regarding when life begins (does it begin at conception, or if not, in which trimester or is it maybe sometime after birth?)

    Science is not responsible for providing the answers, we are. These issues encompass nothing less than our view of ourselves as human beings, especially for the God-fearing, but even for the atheist. Science discovers. Society must govern the uses to which discoveries are put. Just as science cannot demand that all its discoveries be put to human uses, society cannot demand that because the science exists, it must be put to use regardless of the moral consequences.

    But that is exactly what some scientists and some elements of society have been arguing since their repudiation of morality and of the Natural Law in favor of a self-centered, self-serving moral positivism.

    This approach had a particularly horrible expression in Hitler's Third Reich. The result has been a cheapening of human life, with no end in sight.

    Onto this stage has come the prospect of great achievements regarding all sorts of infirmities afflicting human beings. If only scientists could use of the stem cells of embryos, our medical, and maybe even our psychological, troubles would be over.

    Stem cells are pluripotential. That is, they can develop in many ways, and the most pluripotential cell in existence is the fertilized ovum. This, in my view, is a living human being and this living human being is, from the instant of fertilization of human ovum by human sperm, totally programmed to produce an entire human organism. Its utility is far greater than producing body parts that may be useful in avoiding and treating some medical disorders. Thus, any discussion regarding embryonic stem cells most not be allowed to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room. What we must acknowledge we are talking about here is abortion, the intentional taking of life before birth.

    This truth is arrived at, not because of any religious tenet; but rather it is the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from the relevant science. In fact, it was only after the relevant science became known bat the Catholic Church changed its teaching regarding ensoulmen from the time of quickening. (at about 16 to 18 weeks of gestation) to the instant of fertilization.

    Having said that, there is room for compromise, in my opinion. In addition to the use of less effective adult stem cells, millions of discarded human embryos from infertility treatments are kept alive in frozen, suspended animation. They have no chance of fulfilling their destiny of becoming conscious, thinking human beings. They are ultimately being destroyed, with or without the consent of their parents. They could, and I believe they should, be made available, preferably with the consent of the parents, for embryonic stem cell research. But society must recognize and acknowledge that the lives of human beings are being sacrificed under a moral exemption to the general natural law and human law prohibition against the taking of human life.

    This would be analogous to performing an abortion to save the life (not just health, whatever that means) of the mother, or in the case of a clearly anencephalic fetus (no brain, therefore no possibility of life outside the womb).

    This eventually would require that Roe v. Wade be re-argued in the light of applicable scientific fact, legal precedent and ethical and moral constraints, none of which was followed in that decision.

    Acknowledging that this is abortion also would immediately begin healing a society of individuals who have been dishonest with themselves. That dishonesty has had a corrosive effect on our society just as slavery did before the Civil War. The dehumanizing of Jews in Europe had the same impact. It took two wars to correct those defects.

    This country has so far avoided a similar crucible because of the relative invisibility of the fetus, except to the parents who see the sonogram, or to the nurse who has to carry the aborted, formed products of conception away for disposal.

    This is what the federal government has to do in the immediate instance:


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