An Interesting Stem-Cell Debate

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jul 25, 2006 5:33 PM
Michael Rosen argues for embryonic stem-cell research from a traditional Jewish perspective:

As I argued in October, traditional Judaism takes what might be described as a pragmatic approach to issues involving pre-birth life. This entails a recognition that while embryos and fetuses are worthy of respect and mustn't be discarded at will, they are ontologically different from babies who have emerged from the womb.

Thus, abortion-on-demand and in other circumstances is strictly prohibited. But destroying an embryo for legitimate purposes -- including the potential for healing the terminally ill -- is permissible according to the vast majority of Jewish religio-legal authorities.
And, Stephen Bainbridge takes on Rosen's assessment of the Catholic doctrine of double-effect as it regards stem-cell research:

In applying the doctrine, the initial question thus is:

What is the "act" to be evaluated. Rosen uses the clinical and neutral phrase "creating stem-cell lines for research" to identify the morally relevant act. Yet, given the current state of technology, there is a clinically necessary prior to creating such lines; namely, the destruction of an embryo so that stem cells may be harvested.

My claim that Catholic theology would view the destruction of an embryo as the morally relevant act to be evaluated under the tenets of double effect is supported by the highly authoritative Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells by the Pontifical Academy for Life: "the ablation of the inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst, which critically and irremediably damages the human embryo, curtailing its development, is a gravely immoral act and consequently is gravely illicit." (Emphasis in the original.)

With the morally relevant act correctly identified, it is clear that embryonic stem cell research violates at least the first and third conditions of the principle of double effect. As to the first condition, the act itself is neither "morally good" nor even "indifferent," but rather a grave evil.
It's a heady discussion, if you're up for it, and much more interesting than the stem-cell talking points of both sides.