Volumne 5 No. 2
The most important thing about the stem cell debate is the further glaring proof it provides that the United States is a functioning theocracy. The debate and now government policy - is dominated not by science,nor by reasonable ethics, but by conservative theology.
The framers of the First Amendment were not trying to banish religion from life. Many of them were pious believers. Their goal was to make sure that claims of divine inspiration did not supplant reasoned discourse in the making of public policy.
The ruling dogma of Bush's stem cell policy - which happens to run counter to the mainstream wisdom of the world's major religions - is based on a religious belief that small clusters of embryonic cells, small enough to fit on the head of a pin where angels dance, are "people," "unborn children," "human beings," "eligible for adoption," endowed with human rights such as you and I enjoy. A cluster of embryonic stem cells with huge therapeutic promise has been granted the status and rights of an untouchable citizen of the United States.
This is the stuff of fanciful faith, not of science or of reason. It sides with one narrow religiously inspired viewpoint espoused by authorities such as Pope John Paul II. But it effectively excommunicates all other religious and scientific views and makes this peculiar conservative view the one-and-only American orthodoxy. President Bush threatens to veto any legislative effort to honor other religious and scientific views. This is theocracy at work, not democracy.
The great irony
Forty years ago, a Catholic senator and presidential candidate had to go to Houston to assure Protestant Americans that he would not allow the Pope to set public policy. Now a President from Texas has followed papal teaching in his stem-cell ruling.
The embryonic cell cluster in question here is so biologically primitive that it could, in the first 14 days, split in two, producing twinsor it could recombine into a single embryo. Persons cannot do that.
A religious historical perspective
In Christian tradition, only after three or four months, could a fetus be considered a person. At that time, the fetus could be eligible for baptism - or, if miscarried - for Christian burial. St. Augustine actually compared early embryonic tissue to vegetation, saying it had the moral status of a plant. St. Thomas Aquinas agreed, saying life in the womb started out at a vegetative level of reality. As this vegetative life became more complex, it acquired an "animal soul." But only after some three months, was it developed enough to receive a "spiritual soul. "Only then could it be called a child.
Small clusters of embryonic cells are "people,"