January 27, 2005
In 1932, Aldous Huxley shocked his readers. He wrote of about a brave new world. Babies would be created in test tubes. The laboratories would be called hatcheries. 2005. The shock is gone. When it comes to science and technology, we live in a new world that can be more fearless than brave, more pragmatic than principled. New discoveries raise hopes of cures and long life. Too often the moral issues are summarily brushed aside. We need to be in the lead in research and development of new medicines, some would argue, to improve the standard of living not only for ourselves but also for others who cannot afford to do the research we can. The real question still lingers beneath such an argument. And it is this: “Can we truly afford to engage in every kind of research and not pay attention to moral imperatives?” Do we want to live in such a way that our choices ignore the steadfast ethical imperative that the end does not justify the means?
Most recently the State of New Jersey has entered with greater zeal into the heart of this moral maelstrom. Just last May, New Jersey announced plans for a building in New Brunswick. It will house the nation’s first stem cell institute supported by a state. Researchers will now wear the mantle of civil approval as they work in their hatchery to create new human life and experiment with embryonic stem cell research. In fact, a new proposal has been freshly put forth to use $380 million to fund stem cell research. Objections can be voiced on the amount of money to be used in this area of research when many families cannot pay their rent, property taxes are eating away incomes and social security is in trouble.
Arguments can be calmly made that allocating money for cures of diseases through adult stem cell research is a wiser investment. In fact, the Church supports such research with stem cells of post-natal origin. Research with stem cells derived from umbilical cords after the child’s birth, from the human placenta, from adult cells is already making good its promise, and it does not violate any fundamental human right.
Embryonic stem cell research is another matter. Repeatedly, the fundamental question guiding the entire debate has been more than adequately answered by scientists themselves. “On the basis of a complete biological analysis, the living human embryo is—from the moment of the union of the gametes—
a human subject with a well defined identity, which from that point begins its own
coordinated, continuous and gradual development, such that a no later stage can it be considered as simple mass of cells” Prof. Juan de Dios Vial Correa at the 57th General Assembly of the Unity Nations on Human Embryonic Cloning, September 23, 2002). From the first moment of conception, natural or artificial, in the womb or in vitro, human life is present. Each one of us starts our human life precisely as this tiny mass of cells. And from the very beginning, we are unique. It is a callous rationalization that closes the mind to this truth. And from this truth, there follows two urgent consequences.
First, no matter what the stage human life is at, the person has God given rights as a person. Among those rights“…in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life” (
Evangelium Vitae, 60). Certainly we do all we can to nourish and support our young. We provide our children with the best environment so they mature into well formed, well integrated persons. We protect them from harm. The younger they are, the greater our care and protection. Great outrage is rightly voiced against any abuse of children who are so vulnerable. Greater anger still should be felt and voiced at any attempt to destroy innocent human life when the person is the weakest. A society that barbarically murders children in the womb through abortion has lost its sensitivity to life. A society that manufactures human life and then destroys human life has gone further. It chooses to undermine the very basis on which a civilization can exist—the respect for every person’s right to live.
Second, it is a violation of the truth of human life to create human life in its very beginning with the intention of destroying that human life for the possibility of discovering some cure or therapy for those afflicted with disease. When a new human life comes into existence, either through love or science, even in its embryonic stage, the natural end of that human life is freedom and self-determination. We are now facing the “risk of a new form of racism, for the development of these techniques could lead to the creation of a ‘sub-category of human beings’, destined basically for the convenience of certain others. This would be a new and terrible form of slavery. Regrettably, it cannot be denied that the temptation of eugenics is still latent, especially if powerful commercial interests exploit it. Governments and the scientific community must be very vigilant in this domain" (Holy See's Contribution Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance - Durban, South Africa, 31 August to 7 September 2001, No. 21).
Behind all the scientific, medical and political discussion, there lurks a haunting question. Are we willing to face the reality of human life once begun as truly human and deserving our respect and care? The U.S. Supreme Court gave a resounding negative response to that question in the infamous
Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the court obliterated the child’s fundamental right to life in favor of the mother’s right to choose life or death for her child. Ever since, as many as 10,000 lives are lost each day. Each year thousands remember the date and march for life. Not without effect. Today there are fewer abortions. Today more Americans say they are pro-life. But today, with modern advances in science, the culture of death made legal in
Roe v Wade is widening its arms to embrace in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research and cloning—all of which destroy human life.
The Tempest, Miranda says, “O brave new world, that has such people in't!" Do we simply acquiesce in a brave new world that degrades human life and reduces the person at the weakest moment to servile status to others? Or do we have the courage to defend and safeguard the most sacred earthly reality there is, the life of another person?
Through the intercession of Mary, the New Eve, may we learn to love and respect all God’s children.