Mario Cuomo spoke on the stem cell debate in a NY Times editorial. He’s reaching for a rational reconsideration of the religious and ethical issues Dubya says motivated his decision to limit federal funding of certain lines of research. This is offered as a favor to Mr.Bush, as he’s backed himself into a moral corner.
Although Mr. Bush believes that destroying an embryo is murder, he refuses to demand legislation to stop commercial interests that are busily destroying embryos in order to obtain stem cells. If their conduct amounts to murder as the president contends, it is hardly satisfactory for him to say he will do nothing to stop the evil act other than to refuse to pay for it.
Mr. Cuomo suggests a panel of "respected scientists, humanists and religious leaders" be assembled to review the relevant material. This, of course, will fail miserably to resolve the issue. Each side…and sadly, this time there are sides rather than a spectrum of positions…would have to be open to reconsidering their current position. Those on the science side of the debate do so as a matter of course. Those on the faith side of this particular debate refuse to do so as a matter of course, and this is one of the rare times where I will say the religious side is wrong…as in incorrect, not evil..for doing so.
The belief that ensoulment happens at the moment of conception is more than challenged, it is denied by in-vitro fertilization technology. This thought first occurred to me when I found out fertilized eggs are examined for defects by removing a cell at a very early stage of development.
Fertility doctors have known for years that early embryos seem unfazed by the removal of any one of their eight virtually identical cells, called blastomeres. In fact, it is common today to remove a single, representative blastomere from a laboratory-conceived embryo and test that cell for disease genes before deciding whether to transfer that embryo into a woman’s womb.
My immediate, rather cynical, reaction was, "Wow, how do you get into heaven with one eighth of your soul gone?"
When I read how embryos are preserved by freezing it was pretty obvious that the frozen result could not be called alive. Not only is there no biological activity going on in there, the material necessary for biological activity isn’t even present…not enough water, too much (which is to say, any at all) antifreeze.
Yet they are restored, implanted, children have been brought to term. And I defy anyone, no matter how pious, to look at those children and declare they have no soul.
Unliving things have no soul, living humans do, right? So the child’s soul had to "arrive" after fertilization and division into at least eight cells…probably more, since removing one of the eight has no impact. There is no other possibility. Most likely ensoulment requires a physical vehicle capable of supporting life.
That’s the conclusion Mr. Cuomo expects from his suggested panel. Maybe life begins when the fertilized egg is properly implanted in the womb. The repercussions of such a conclusion would be subtle…for instance, the Catholic doctrine against contraception wouldn’t be weakened at all. It could still be a mortal sin to interfere with the process, religious beliefs on the proper actions to take need not change. It would undermine attempts to paint abortion as murder when the physical receptical for a soul isn’t ready to support said soul yet.
But the most interesting repercussion of all would be the forced recognition that dogma extrapolated by humans is limited by human knowledge…the Pope being human, that would include him. And that would put more than a couple Pharisees in serious risk of exposure.
So, People of the Word will be told to "have faith" that this physical reality is irrelevant and they will NOT be told to pursue those commercial entities that are happily dismembering souls as we speak. It will be interesting to see if the faithful will be barred from using anything that is derived from this research…wages of sin and all that.