What will Obama do Monday morning when he announces a lifting of the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research? He could add some conditions, which would perhaps mitigate some of the blow-back from the Christian (not Mormon–they hold that it’s not human until implantation) right, though I doubt it. Father Tom Reese, Jesuit and political scientist, has three specific and reasonable suggestions that he sets out at the WaPo “On Faith” site. The goal is to “limit–then end–embryonic stem cell study”:
1. Embryos for research cannot be bought and sold. Embryos should not be created for the sole purpose of research. They should only come from excess embryos produced at fertility clinics that are scheduled to be destroyed anyway.
2. Before using human embryonic stem cells, researchers should show that the research they are doing cannot be done with non-embryonic stem cells.
3. Research using embryonic stem cells should aim at advancing toward the goal of using only non-embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine. In other words, once the process of developing adult stem cells for treatments has been shown to be safe and reliable, any research in embryonic stem cells should be able to move seamlessly into the use of adult stem cells leaving the ethical problems behind.
These rules will not satisfy those who find any use of embryos ethically objectionable, but it will indicate that the Obama administration is trying to find some middle ground that gives some respect to the many Americans who find such research repugnant. In short, if science shows a way out of this ethical dilemma, we should follow it.
Also at “On Faith,” the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, sets out the argument for embryonic stem cell research that sees it as a moral imperative to relieve suffering.
She ably recommends the use of embryos that are already fertilized and frozen but will expire if not used.
These embryos could be donated to medical research by willing couples for the good purpose of developing medical treatments for some of the world’s most devastating diseases. These insights from organ donation meet some, though not all, of the religious objections to embryonic stem cell research.
The Vatican said in December you can’t use such embryos, nor is it really possible to “adopt” them–which seems like a waste to some, a deliberate death sentence to others.
My money is on Thistlethwaite’s view prevailing with Obama.