Written by Keith Strohm
You might remember news reports last Summer indicating that scientists at a biotech firm had developed a new method of creating stem cells without destroying human embryos. I'm by no means an expert in bio-science, but as a concerned Catholic, I have tried to "think with the Church," educating myself on the realities (economic, political, scientific, and theological) and examining them through the lens of Tradition and Scripture. While this new technique seems interesting, critics on both sides of the stem cell debate have raised some concerns. You can check out the report here.
Reading the MSNBC report closely, I was a little peeved by this quote from one of the scientists at the biotech firm who created the new technique: "This will make it far more difficult to oppose this research." I object because it characterizes those who are opposed to stem cell research as reactionary luddites who are opposed to the research on superstitous grounds. In fact, I don't think you'll find any Catholic who wouldn't want science to advance cures to illnesses that threaten the lives of our brothers and sisters--we just want these advances to respect and protect the dignity of those who are ill and the human life of the embryo. That's why you'll see many Catholics wholeheartedly supporting Adult Stem Cell Research, which has already yielded far more clinical results than embryonic stem cell research--and hasn't destroyed human life in the process.
Recently, scientists have discovered a method of extracting and utilizing stem cells from amniotic fluid--certainly a far less morally objectional approach. In fact, it could very well be that amniotic stem cells provide the "solution" to the stem cell debate.
However, I'm not really sure what these new techniques will yield in the future of the Stem Cell Battles, but as science and technology continues to advance faster than the moral, ethical, and theological frameworks we construct, you can bet that the ground will continue to shift on a yearly basis. Amidst the roiling and churning of the 21st century, it is comforting to have the Foundation and Cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the loving bulwark of His Church to hold on to--not in a way that runs from science and "reason" in fear, but in a way that embraces scientific and technological research, placing them within the proper relationship to Natural Law and Revealed Truth.
This is part of the work of the lay apostolate, not to just evaluate the morality and ethics of scientific research, but to enter the field of science itself and work from within. Utilizing reason and research to provide ethical and moral solutions to the problems and issues we face in our mortal existence--making life better for men and women across the globe.
Such thoughts remind me of John Paull the Great's wonderful 1998 Encyclical entitled, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). His opening paragraph states:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).
For the Christian, faith and reason are not opposed, but are two gifts that we are called to utilize in the course of fulfilling our apostolic mission.