After having slammed the Obama administration for its environmental, financial, and military policies, it is only fair that I celebrate the President’s administration when it does something right. Or, to be more blunt, when it does something with which I agree. So it was with great joy that I read that Francis Collins, Obama’s director of the National Institutes of Health, has approved federal funded research on thirteen new lines of stem cells. And, as Director Collins noted, this is only the beginning.
In August of 2001, then President George Bush limited research to the 21 stem cell lines already being studied. President Obama vowed to change this, and he has. The number of new lines may well grow into the hundreds, and the potential to radically cure disease is huge.
Resistance to embryonic stem cell research comes from those who imagine embryonic cells to be persons, and hence experimenting on them is immoral. President Obama has dealt with this issue by getting informed consent from stem cell donors. This is tricky. If an embryonic stem cell is somehow a person, can another person determine its fate in this way?
This is the anti-abortion argument: If a zygote (and later a fetus) is a person, what right does even the mother have to kill it? The answer, with the possible exception of saving the mother’s life, is none. The only way to counter this argument is to argue that a zygote or fetus is not a person, and the mother has the right to determine its fate just as she does to determine the fate of her heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
The question is this, When does human life become a human person. When asked this question in a televised interview with Pastor Rick Warren, then candidate Obama avoided the question by saying the answer was “above his pay grade.” Of he was right. The emergence of personhood is a theological question, not a political one. Yet when religion (questing into the unknown) devolves into doctrine (adherence to the officially known), as it has in our day, religion becomes politicized.
Not surprisingly the U.S. Conference of Bishops opposes President Obama’s move to liberate science and medicine from the censorship of certain kinds of believers, but they are not opposed to all research, promoting the use of induced stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells. Under Obama and Dr. Collins both types of stem cells will be used, and the science will determine which is more valuable to humankind.
This is the kind of progressive action our country needs. And, in the not too long run, this is the kind of health care reform that will actually transform the wellness of human beings. Thank you Mr. President.