Stem Cells and Not-So-Immaculate Conceptions

Note to readers: Find my reaction to “Dignitas Personae,” the Vatican’s statement on matters related to reproductive science issued Friday, … Continued

Note to readers: Find my reaction to “Dignitas Personae,” the Vatican’s statement on matters related to reproductive science issued Friday, at the end of this post.

For 35 years, the U.S. bishops have attempted to influence the political system so as to end abortion in the U.S. But the strategy of urging Catholics to vote for anti-choice Republicans has failed. The next “hot” reproductive issue is the use of embryos for stem cell research, and I hope that Catholic America will do a better job of framing its arguments.

This is an issue worth winning, since the use of non-embryonic stem cells is a position the public is likely to accept as preferable to present practice destroying fertilized human eggs However, to get research to the point of using non-embryonic cells, experimentation is likely required on already available stem cells. That means to go where we want to go, we have to trespass through the very practice we want to avoid. Moreover, polls show that the U.S. public favors use of beneficial research upon embryonic stem cells that would otherwise be discarded. People reason: “Why waste stem cells about to be destroyed when instead you could use them to save lives?” It is hard to counter that issue without reframing the question.

Catholic concern is focused by belief that a soul is infused into a material body, thus creating a human person made into the image and likeness of God. Unfortunately, public law in the United States does not encourage theocracy. As the bishops have discovered, removing conception from theology and placing it in the realm of biology opens the door to competing scientific theories. Thus, the opinion that an embryo is already a human person is only that – an opinion. Many fertility doctors maintain that conception requires implantation in a womb. Moreover, the chances for an embryo becoming a fetus are something less than 70%, which is why the in vitro procedure generally implants many embryos in pursuit of conceiving at least one child.

Although it is the present problem, biological-theological conflict about the moment of conception is not new to Catholic theology. The debate goes back to Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages who argued that human conception did not occur until the months when the fetus has developed essential organs. His logic delayed for six centuries the dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s was an Immaculate Conception. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited this historical fact, much to the chagrin of some U.S. bishops. Rather than condemn her for speaking the truth, Catholic leaders should enlist her in an effort to better frame the question. After all, in politics she has a demonstrably better record than the bishops. Moreover, public law determines personhood without including the theology of a soul.

The starting point for a new effort, I would say, is by legislating legal protection for embryonic stem cells that will be taken or stored in the future. They ought to be regarded not as property, but rather as human life. Call it the Dred Scott issue of the 21st Century. If persons in a coma are protected by the next-of-kin and children by their parents, why not embryos? We wouldn’t even have to argue that an embryo is actually a person to achieve personal rights legally. After all, U.S. law confers personal rights on fictitious beings like corporations.

Yes, such new legislation leaves in legal limbo the now abandoned embryos stored these many years. They would likely continue to be used in stem cell research. But I would argue that half a loaf is better than no loaf at all, and some restrictions are better than none at all. Of course, there will be those who prefer to boast of theological purity in a political situation and refuse to countenance pragmatism. But the strategy of 100% theological victory over politics has failed. This approach succeeds only to perpetuate the status quo while emanating the noxious smell of Pharisaic arrogance. In my opinion, most issues of conception are not immaculate – that is reserved for Mary. Just as Catholicism found a way to coexist with legal divorce, it can do the same now for stem cell research in order to find a better solution with non-embryonic cells. We should take Jesus’ advice (Lk. 16:8) and learn to be crafty about worldly politics.

Note to readers: Find my reaction to “Dignitas Personae,” the Vatican’s statement on matters related to reproductive science issued Friday, at the end of this post.


As for “Dignitas Personae,” the Catholic Church has forbidden in vitro fertilization, yet it is both a legal and common practice today. The Church is also against embryonic stem-cell research, yet it continues and is welcomed by the public and the medical community alike as a source for healing some of humankind’s worst afflictions. The ethical concerns voiced by the Pontiff are unequivocally valid, but it seems farfetched to believe that a papal document will stop these practices in the United States. Nor is it helpful to give encouragement to the heated rhetoric that makes non-Catholics into “baby killers” and stem cell research on orphaned embryos into homicide. Rather than cast the Church as a foe of in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research, I wonder if it might not be more useful to support scientific alternatives more clearly. Our faith does not limit us to be Nay-sayers: Catholics can also be visionaries.


Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • sla1001

    ” ‘Why waste stem cells about to be destroyed when instead you could use them to save lives?’ It is hard to counter that issue without reframing the question.” Wrong, it is still a valid point. If you really think embryos should have all the same rights as poeple, then you should be again in vitro fertilization as well, since many embryos are destroyed in the process.

  • MikeL4

    Yet again, Stephens-Arroyo you attempt to mislead Catholics. You even dredge up Speaker Pelosi’s deliberately deceitful use of St. Thomas Aquinas argument about human life’s beginnings to buttress your misleading arguments. You say she spoke truthfully. What you don’t say though, is that the Church has condemned abortion since its earliest foundations by Christ as evil. The ponderings of St. Thomas Aquinas did not change the Church’s position. He was not attempting to either. You know that.Now you attempt to mislead Catholics on the ethical nature of killing human beings for their stem cells. What a strange “Catholic” you are indeed. You reject the teachings of the Church when it conflicts with your political beliefs, but embrace the teachings when they coincide. You need to think less of your political beliefs and more of your spiritual beliefs.

  • marcedward1

    If the church regards all the frozen embryos as ‘real people’ deserving of legal protection, the RCC would buy a couple of large freezers and get their hands on the unwanted embryos. Than they could keep them alive ‘forever’.Of course the RCC will do no such thing, because the leaders of the RCC don’t really believe an embryo is as ‘alive’ as a post-born person. Actions speak louder than words.

  • rightPOV

    You never cease to amaze and disappoint. First off: “the strategy of urging Catholics to vote for anti-choice Republicans”.Anti-choice? You mean… PRO ABORTION? Have you given in to use their terminology? Anti-choice? Anti-CHOICE??? That alone shows that you are a democrat before you are a Catholic. Want proof of that? In the same line: you talk of anti-choice Republicans. As if the USCCB has just glossed over pro-abortion democrats. It’s only the Republicans they care about. Pelosi, Biden, Kennedy- no problems. Just the Republicans. And the best part: you actually begin a moral argument (because let’s face it- this is not a political argument, this is a MORAL argument that left and right is using- but it is moral) with the phrase “Moreover, polls show…” as if public opinion really should sway moral theology. Polls showed that the majority of Germans favored killing Jews in WW2. OK- sure, it’s a tough situation… but when the polls show such strong opinions….You really are quite a moron, Sir. Your love of the left is so much greater than your love of the Church. No one forces you to be Catholic. So why do you claim it? Just call yourself an orthodox Christian and be done with it. You end with a quote from our Lord: let me end with one too: better to hang a millstone around your neck than to lead these astray. And when you claim to speak in the name of the Church and lead people astray you are entering dangerous areas.

  • delusional1

    What a shoddy, inaccurate column.No catholic should believe what this man writes. He is ignorant of the Catholic faith and inaccurate in his ‘reporting’.

  • Athena4

    Does a clump of cells have the same rights as a person with Parkinson’s Disease, juvenile diabetes, or other potentially-curable diseases? If it was you, your spouse, parent, or child that could be saved by embryonic stem cells, would you be so quick to condemn them?

  • Paganplace

    That’s right, artificially-fertilized zygotes deemed non-viable for implantation in a living womb so that people could personally breed in a world full of neglected unwanted children should be revered as human lives until they completely deteriorate from freezer-burn, as nature intended, rather than be used for any purpose so unsavory as alleviating human suffering.

  • Farnaz2

    Anthony,”The starting point for a new effort, I would say, is by legislating legal protection for embryonic stem cells that will be taken or stored in the future. They ought to be regarded not as property, but rather as human life. Call it the Dred Scott issue of the 21st Century.”I wonder what Carla, my twenty-six-year-old doctoral student with MS, would call it.

  • sparrow4

    this is one of those times when your jaw just drops to the floor in disbelief. Not the church should not only tell a women what to do with her body, but also stop medical progress to alleviate the suffering of millions by protecting discarded embryos? You wrote:”If persons in a coma are protected by the next-of-kin and children by their parents, why not embryos? We wouldn’t even have to argue that an embryo is actually a person to achieve personal rights legally. After all, U.S. law confers personal rights on fictitious beings like corporations.”People in comas have been born, fully developed and have lives that being in a coma does not negate- as their families can well tell you. Corporations have corporate rights, which may echo personal rights but I do think most lawyers and judges can tell the difference between a legal entity and a biological one. embryos are not people. they are biological potential- they do not think, they do not learn, they do not love, they do not hold jobs, they pay no taxes,they do not function as people. It is an insult to claim that they have the same rights as “real people.”I find it truly appalling that the church, and you would rather concentrate on embryos and strangling stem cell research, rather than offer hope to millions of people who live with terrible diseases. You’d rather force a victim of rape or incest to carry a fetus to term rather than comfort her and let her terminate an abhorrent pregnancy. You have more regard for the unborn, for fertilized eggs than you have for living, breathing human beings. How totally pathetic. And now you want your church to force this on the rest of us. No ownder people are turning from the RCC- it’s more concerned with the unborn and the dead.

  • furtdw

    Agree with Delusional1, RightPOV and Mikel4 below.For MARCEDWARD: Your post is one of the silliest I’ve read in sometime.

  • arosscpa

    Stevens-Arroyo:Ok, that’s it. We need to compile the entire body of you heterodox ramblings, and present them to your Ordinary. Should he decline to take the appropriate penal steps, the matter of you continuing to represent yourself as a Catholic in good standing should referred to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.To readers of this man’s rantings: Nothing that Mr. Arroyo-Stevens has ever written in this column has constituted an accurate presentation of the Catholic Faith, as can be proved by consulting any authorized precis of the Church’s doctrine of the Faith. The most widely available and accessible of these is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.Finally, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo, ANATHEMA SIT!

  • CCNL

    Since there was no biblical Adam and Eve, there is/was no original sin and therefore no Immaculate Conception. The Immoral Majority is now in control of our federal taxes and therefore embryonic stem cell research will proceed whereas the promising research on mature stem cells will cease. How very disturbing and sad!!!

  • medgrrl12

    I agree with SLA1001 and Sparrow4.Unless the Catholic Church is against in-vitro fertilization (I didn’t gather that it was from the article), it just needs to butt out of the stem cell “debate.” If they really cared about the sanctity of an embryo, they would not advocate the unnatural creation of dozens of “souls” knowing that 99% will be destroyed or unused. Not using an embryo is the equivalent of killing it, if you are being perfectly honest with yourself. That seems more disrespectful to human life than anything. How arrogant! To create so many embryos and just leave them to die? It seems to me, then, that a fight against in-vitro fertilization should trump the fight against abortion. At least aborted embryos were accidents.While I’m at it, if they think it’s OK to bypass the laws of nature for this purpose, maybe they should also be pro- contraception and pro-gay marriage, two other positions they claim are an affront to God because they are “unnatural.”How can anyone actually think throwing away an embryo is a better option than saving MILLIONS of SUFFERING people. Is an unborn life worth more than a person with an identity? Does anyone’s life change at all if an embryo dies somewhere? No. But many lives change when people suffer from debilitating disease. Many people suffer with them. Yet all these people care about is an embryo that no one knows, and no one has ever met. Is there anything about this whole debate with the RCC that ISN’T hypocritical?

  • JaneDoe4

    Oh please, not more dictates from the Catholic Church. I guess you haven’t figured out yet that you are not the only persons living in the country.Why don’t you people just refuse embryonic stem cells for yourselves and leave the rest of us alone?Don’t try to push your agenda down the throats of Americans again. Enough is enough and stop trying to legislate your beliefs on the rest of America.Ugh

  • rightPOV

    I’m often confused by the comments people write as they allow emotion to rule and not logic. The phrase someone wrote “no wonder people are turning from the RCC” is just emotion, anger but not based in fact. facts, numbers, show that the numbers of Catholics in america has increased proportionally to society and worldwide exponentially. To another- whoe rambles about why the Church should be against in-vitro, i tell you your logic is correct but do some research: the Church IS against in-vitro. But the Church doesn’t battle and campaign. it doesn’t protest and picket. It speaks with the wisdom of 2000 years and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So catch phrases like “tell a women what do do with her body” really don’t fly. The Church is an open book of how we should live our lives. You may chose not to read it. But then don’t offer your critique. Catholic moral theology is amazingly simple in its complexity but it needs to be read, studied and understood. You can’t flip through the Catechism and go straight to the “good stuff” of sex and drugs. You need to start at the very beginning. Hence Aquinas who began with An Deus Sit? He didn’t start with “is gay marriage ok?” He began at the beginning. If you do not truly KNOW Catholicism (as the author does not) then your comments are more emotive, political and personal than educated and substantive.

  • JaneDoe4

    I swear, these Catholics think the whole world revolves around them and their beliefs.Please just follow your own consciences, RCC’ers, and leave the rest of Americans ALONE will you?Don’t try to force your beliefs down the throats of all Americans. We’re tired of you and your pompous, delusional and misguided nonsense

  • sparrow4

    “But the Church doesn’t battle and campaign. it doesn’t protest and picket. It speaks with the wisdom of 2000 years and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So catch phrases like “tell a women what do do with her body” really don’t fly. The Church is an open book of how we should live our lives. You may chose not to read it. But then don’t offer your critique.”

  • DoTheRightThing

    What terribly sloppy and illogical thinking Stevens-Arroyo demonstrates. He plays fast and loose with terms like “conception”, “theocracy”, and “human”. He says an embryo’s humanity hinges on who its human parents were. Since he states, “People reason: “Why waste stem cells about to be destroyed when instead you could use them to save lives?”, he seems to be one who would have favored using the medical results and leftovers of the Nazi’s experiments on concentration camp prisoners, too. I have a definition of this and most other Stevens-Arroyo articles: a complete waste of newsprint, electrons, bandwidth, CPU cycles, and reading time.

  • Impudicus

    The author ignores the fact that the Church condemns in vitro pertilization itself as immoral The teaching is that fertilization must take place only through the act of physical intercourse in which the semen is ejaculated into the vagina and unites with the ovum. This is a position from which the Church wlll never retreat. The Church oppposes in vitro fertilization as being both against the law of God and of nature. The embryo produced by this process is a person and can never be regarded as property, fictitious,or a legal person.This raises the question of whether a frozen embryo must remain in that state until it dies a natural death in that state or whether it can be destroyed for research. It is illogical to grant If an emrbyo is property then why isn’t a baby or child property also. Can parents freeze a baby or child? Can they sell a child? Can they trade a child for other property? Sell a child on Ebay?The Supreme Court said slaves were property and we know that decison didn’t fly. Neither will a law or decision that makes an embryo a legal person. An embryo is either a person or just a mass of living cells developing into a person. There is no middle ground or room for compromise on this issue.

  • jimfilyaw

    the catholics who really claim to believe and accept the teachings of the unnatural men who run the roman church ought to take an eternal oath, here and now. regardless of what progress and knowledge is obtained from the medical use of otherwise discarded embryos, they will never make use of it. be it a cure for cancer, altheimers, parkinsons, whatever, they and theirs will never sully themselves. and they damned sure ought to abide by that oath.

  • GloomBoomDotcom

    It is sad when religion tries to get involved with politics. They just don’t mix. People should vote out of conviction not some lecture from the priest. Check out

  • lufrank1

    The real problem here is ignorance of Biology.

  • jescowa

    You lost me at:”Unfortunately, public law in the United States does not encourage theocracy.”Is this how far we’ve come from the founding principles of our secular (yes, like it or not) and pluralist democracy? Believers no longer merely bemoan their lack of access to public funds or their inability to have their personal beliefs codified into law. They now openly profess that the absence of a theocracy is “unfortunate”? I can imagine this argument in Franco’s Spain, but even in Bush’s America it’s (fortunately) hard to believe.

  • Rob322

    You said … “Unfortunately, public law in the United States does not encourage theocracy.”First, are you trying to be funny? If so, then may I suggest that’s a joke that works better in public where we can cue into your tone and inflections. If not and you’re serious then I hope you don’t wonder why the extremist elements in the Religious Right have had a hard time communicating it’s message to the rest of the US. It’s not that you need to re-frame or re-package the message, it’s the the message itself. This sort of foolishness is rejected by a majority of Americans, including those of a religious bent. Many of us want to live in an open and pluralistic society which allows a free exchange of ideas (even those, such as stem cells where we disagree) and not live under a dictator (whether they claim to be deity inspired or not) who brooks no dissent.

  • delusional1

    medgrrl12 Unless the Catholic Church is against in-vitro fertilization (I didn’t gather that it was from the article), it just needs to butt out of the stem cell “debate.” If they really cared about the sanctity of an embryo, they would not advocate the unnatural creation of dozens of “souls” knowing that 99% will be destroyed or unused. **************************************You have made a very good argument for the RCC. The RCC is against in-vitro fertilization because every child should be conceived through the marital act. Now Stevens-Arroyo probably doesn’t know that, since his knowledge of Catholicism is limited. So, with that info, your argument is precisely how the RCC thinks about all those “embryos”

  • edgydc

    “But the strategy of urging Catholics to vote for anti-choice Republicans has failed.”The strategy of calling anti-abortion persons “anti-choice” has succeeded. It’s tired and it’s intellectually dishonest, but it’s succeeded.

  • Alyosha1

    I’m actually a pretty liberal Catholic, but I am also one who is well educated in theology. I am stunned week after week how Mr. Stevens-Arroyo consistently gets the teachings and traditions of the Church wrong. I am embarassed by his misrepresentations and I cringe as I read the reactionary comments he elicits with his uninformed ramblings. Washington Post, please do us all a favor and find someone who is more knowledgeable about Catholicism to write this column. You wouldn’t tolerate this level of factual error in your news reporting; why do you tolerate it on your website? Is there no ombudsman for the website?

  • marcedward1

    rightPOV writesWhich makes no sense, unless the church is against children being born. If the church is against technology improving humans, than they need to stop wearing glasses (and perhaps clothes).’But the Church doesn’t battle and campaign. it doesn’t protest and picket.’Because for most of the last 1500 years the RCC has been a major power. Of course the RCC does insite wars (Crusades, 30 Years War, etc.) and the church interferes in politics and government without regard to the issue of ‘life’. The church’s teachings on ‘just war’ are about as un-Christian as you can get (and by far inferior to the Quran’s teachings on war, as far as I understand it).’It speaks with the wisdom of 2000 years and guidance of the Holy Spirit’If by ‘holy spirit’ you mean ‘man’s ambition for power’. Here’s a clue for you – Jesus knew his church would be next to useless and hardly a guide to salvation. That’s why Jesus picked a nitwit (Peter) to be “the rock upon his church would be built” – it was a warning to us all not to trust in manmade institutions, even ones that claim to be based on Jesus’s teachings.’So catch phrases like “tell a women what do do with her body” really don’t fly.’Unless you are a woman or related to one.’The Church is an open book of how we should live our lives.’More like the RCC wants people to obey blindly while the leaders in Rome do whatever they want. While the RCC lost all moral leadership centuries ago, it helps to reflect upon how they handled their own child molesting priests. They did NOT protect the innocent, the RCC protected itself against the innocents that were violated.

  • marcedward1

    Mr Arroyo writesLegal protection for medical waste? I don’t think so. What’s next – legal protection for individual spermazoa?’They ought to be regarded not as property, but rather as human life.’Wow – so if a medical clinic has 600,000 frozen embryos, it’d qualify as it’s own congretional disctrict! Maybe you need to read more about government and law when you’re not catching up on Catholic fun-facts.’We wouldn’t even have to argue that an embryo is actually a person to achieve personal rights legally. ‘Unworkable and needless.

  • sparrow4

    edgydc :”The strategy of calling anti-abortion persons “anti-choice” has succeeded. It’s tired and it’s intellectually dishonest, but it’s succeeded.”It is most certainly honest- you just don’t like it because “anti-choice” tells you exactly what the issue is. Denying women the right to choose how to take care of their bodies. It’s aggressive, and expresses intent. Yep- describes it to a tee.

  • edgydc

    I know I’m not against choice. I’m against abortion. That no more makes me against choice than being against war makes me against choice or being against bribery makes me against choice.It’s certainly aggressive. A lot of spin is. And it’s spin about me.Framing the issue as such controls the issue, but it doesn’t change how dishonest it is.

  • edgydc

    By the way, why are we arguing about his at all? Have we not discovered how to generate stem cells in a lab without harvesting them from embryos?

  • sparrow4

    edgydc- being anti-abortion means advocating for an embryo or fertilized egg over a woman’s right to make decisions for her own body. Basically your theology is invading a domain each of us is born with and has full rights over. If my religion advocated forcing men to be castrated in a national lottery to prevent overpopulation, you would be screaming. what’s next? telling someone they have to give up a liver or a lung because someone higher up on the food chain needs one?Based on theology, you want to give a developing mass of cells the legal rights and protections of a living, breathing human being long before it is even capable of taking a breath- not for any biological reason. But because your religion says a fetus has a soul at the moment of conception.A lot of posters have argued, that they believe life begins at the moment of conception- supposedly different and biologically sound. technically they’re right- but since every cell in the human body is alive, an embryo is a new dna combination. Considering the billions of humans living today, this new combination is no rarity. Some people say every abortion could be killing an Einstein or a Lincoln or a Michelangelo or a Martin Luther King. Of course we could be aborting the next Hitler or Stalin or Jeffrey Dahmer too, so it cuts both ways.More importantly, we may be stopping the development of new Einsteins because we are worrying more of what could be instead of what is. How many brilliant children will die of hunger? How many great leaders will never get a chance for an education because the country can provide enough schools or teachers? How many visionary thinkers will be beaten by abusive parents into submission?this planet has limited resources. Human overpopulation is far more of a problem than abortion. If we want to truly take responsibility as human beings for who we are, to make the world a better place to live and to respect what believers say the Lord has created, this must be brought under control. We are already ruining the planet, we are causing the mass extinction of thousands of species- we are going to be forced to make very painful choices in the near future, and dealing with overpopulation is going to be one of them. The alternative could be as frightening as that depicted in the movie, Logan’s Run.

  • CivicRepublican

    Let’s be clear!(1) There is no religious test of USA citizenship, the nugatory “under god” of the Pledge notwithstanding.(2) The USA is a pluralistic nation-state; not just ethnically, but philosophically, esp. metaphysically! This means, at least, that some are theists, some are physicalists, some are even immaterialists.(3) The USA is a liberal nation-state. This means that each of us is autonomous, free to believe whatever and act on those beliefs that do not violate common sense morality.(4) There is no common sense consensus, let alone a self-evidence, as to the metaphysical status of a blastocyst. Accordingly, it is not deserving of either dignity or respect. It is just a mass of cells that we may do with as we please, short of creating monsters.(5) The Vatican & the USCCB lost the last election.Got that!

  • CCNL

    And note, BO collected $790 million for his campaign ($79 million went to his not-so-ethical campaign managers/money collectors at ASK). Actually he did not need any money, as the comment that he was pro-choice and that he would approve FOCA would have been sufficient

  • ebleas

    One has to realize just how bizarre the concept of “personhood” status for a frozen embryo really is. If an embryo truly does has “personhood” status, then the local Power Company would be guilty of genocide for turning off the power to freezers storing thousands of embryos because the owner did not pay their power bill.

  • ebleas

    SPARROW4 wrote:The concept of a “soul” will always be a religious concept, and hence will always be a purely religious argument. Until someone can develop a test that shows or demonstrates the presence of a soul, I fail to see how any policy or law can be based upon it’s presumed presence or absence.Use logic, use facts, use science, and use law to make your case one way or another. But the use of a soul will doom your argument from the get-go.

  • ebleas

    edgydc asked: “Human embryonic and adult stem cells each have advantages and disadvantages regarding potential use for cell-based regenerative therapies. Of course, adult and embryonic stem cells differ in the number and type of differentiated cells types they can become. Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are pluripotent. Adult stem cells are generally limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin. However, some evidence suggests that adult stem cell plasticity may exist, increasing the number of cell types a given adult stem cell can become.”

  • ebleas

    edgydc wrote: I think both sides are guilty of this type of straw man argument. To say one is “pro-choice” simply means that one puts more emphasis or weight on the choice aspects than on the potential rights of the developing fetus. To say one is “pro-life” means one puts more emphasis on the rights of the developing fetus. I think both sides agree that both the right to choose and the right to life for the fetus come into play; it’s just a matter of their relative importance as they personally see it.But the straw man argument above generally produces more damage when coming from the pro-life side. If the pro-life side accuses someone of being pro-abortion, they are insinuating one supports murder and death, which is indeed a heinous position to take. If the pro-choice side accuses someone of being anti-choice, well, it just does not carry the same moral weight and potential damage to the opposing side. As they see it, I’m just asking someone to be inconvenienced for a while, what’s the big deal? So, I think you see the tactic used more by the pro-life side as it tends to be more effective, but that’s just my unscientific analysis from reading these blogs and threads.I think both sides need to tone down the rhetoric and realize that the issue should be correctly framed around the competing rights of the mother and the developing fetus. No one I know supports either murder or limiting one’s choices in life. They just take different sides in who should have more rights.

  • sparrow4

    ebleas- you’re very right about the semantics. Being labeled a murderer for believing in Women’s rights is a different order of accusation than being labeled against a woman’s right to choose. It also indicates a different level of willingness to come to an agreement on the issue. Most pro-choice people dislike the idea of abortion, and most would put a limit on the amount of time a woman should have to choose abortion.But by forcing it to the extreme- the moment of conception (or even more so, birth control)- the anti-choice people have left no wiggle room for themselves. As pro-choice, I can say look, we’ll work to lessen the need for abortion,give better education on this we’ll set a time frame within which it can happen, we’ll improve post partum services and support. Anti-choice people can agree to the support and services, better sex education, etc. But the basic issue- a woman’s right to decide for herself the fate of her own body- they won’t compromise on. Not even for victims of rape and incest. That’s a very hard line to take. They confuse (consciously or not) “life” and “soul” to further cloud the issue. So without having any room to maneuver, they have nothing to lose either. ergo- they go for broke. I don’t see anti-choice folk even wanting to compromise.

  • sparrow4

    eblas- one of my posts seemed to have gone off into the ether. I also agreed about the use of the word “soul” but you realize that when religious people say “life” in the abortion issue, they really do mean “soul.” they are just looking for a way to frame their theology in a more generic way to win the argument.

  • owing2

    The Roman Church has long retained its close association with 14th Century thinking. It seems they are determined to continue it. But, we in the Episcopal church pay little attention to what the bishops say.

  • Arminius

    Owing2,Right you are, we Episcopalians pay little attention to the RCC bishops. That goes double for the bishop of Rome. The most recent news from Rome is a blanket condemnation of stem cell research, along with trying to limit some techniques used in fertility clinics.

  • politicallyincorrectworldcitizen1

    Here some science for added spice:Many frozen embryos have grown into healthy babies. Many more were destroyed in the process of freezing and failed to develop into babies. So even frozen embryos are not just any ordinary cell.IVF generally comes with a risk of multiple births, and all the complications of multiple births. Many IVF zygotes don’t develop after implantation. Imagine a world full of cranky, sickly, useless 200 year olds, and not a single young child in sight as they have all been aborted. OK, some “wanted” babies in rich neighborhoods would keep the world population going.Assisted suicide when it becomes legal, will make it politically incorrect for any “inconvenient” person who costs money or labor to anyone, to stay alive.

  • politicallyincorrectworldcitizen1

    Since to err is human, let us err on the side of life.

  • sparrow4

    “Imagine a world full of cranky, sickly, useless 200 year olds, and not a single young child in sight as they have all been aborted. OK, some “wanted” babies in rich neighborhoods would keep the world population going.”The human race hasn’t seen the sun in over 100 years- just a gray pollution cloud overhead. Eggs and sperm are harvested, there is no natural childbirth, and babies are produced in factories the same way food is grown. They are released into society in bio-bubble cities and their lives are completely regulated until they hit the big 20. At which time they are taken to a clinic and put to sleep.Because every egg is “precious” and “sacred” and “life”- therefore all of society is geared to making sure every single egg is fertilized and brought to full term. But it’s ok to kill you when you hit 20, because after all,the numbers have to be kept under control.

  • dgblues

    “They [embryonic stem cells] ought to be regarded not as property, but rather as human life.”But they aren’t human life. They are human cells.There’s a difference.We should run science science’s way, and churches in the manner of churches, not install pews in the laboratory. No one, especially your Pope, is in a position to make a judgment that would deny living, suffering people the therapies that might result from research unfettered with superstition.Believe what you will. Just don’t be the fool who elects to stand in the way of people who don’t share your beliefs. That will result in an escalation of the war on childish theistic fantasy and fairy tale allegory interpreted at the whim of those who turn that interpretation to their own selfish purposes.Just keep trying to legislate your medieval dogma and you’ll see what happens.

  • Athena4

    Too much science fiction will rot your brain, Sparrow. I’m living proof of that. The dystopian futures in either “Logan’s Run” or “Children of Men” are extremes. While I think that there are too many people on this plane to be sustained, I think that we will continue to reproduce at a normal rate. The explosion in population growth in the past century is because we’ve cured or eradicated diseases that killed a significant portion of the population. It makes no sense to ban birth control (or abortion, for that matter) in that respect.

  • sparrow4

    Athena4- I think its too late for me too :-).

  • Farnaz2

    Soylent Green is people, Persiflage, now more than ever.

  • clonedlamb

    If the RCC really believed its own crapology, it would insist priests baptize, give last rites to and hold funeral masses for all tampons of sexually active women because of miscarried zygote “babies”. Of course, this yucky reality would remind priests why they swore off marriage in the first place. Also, the anti-RU-486 RCC would also ban women from consuming abortifacient coffee, alcohol, tobacco, spices and 450 other God-given plants. But consistency is not the RCC’s forte. Neither is real world science–the RCC used to blame all birth defects on “sacrilegious” Sunday sex.

  • CCNL

    Nature or Nature’s God is the #1 taker of everyone’s life. That gives some rational for killing the unborn or those suffering from dementia, mental disease or Alzheimer’s or anyone who might inconvenience your life??? We constantly battle the forces of nature. We do not succumb to these forces by eliminating defenseless children!!!!!

  • politicallyincorrectworldcitizen1


  • theScientist

    AnthonyNice articulation of the religious position on stem cell research. This is one of the best I’ve read so far.Personally, I find the arguements pre-scientific and weak with no sound footing in reality. Magic and mythology is fun to read in books and watch in movies, but it shouldn’t influence basic research.Question: If the soul exists, why do severe strokes and Alzheimer’s Disease destroy the person?

  • cornbread_r21

    Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo wrote: “They [embryonic stem cells] ought to be regarded not as property, but rather as human life.”It would seem the RCC would also, therefore, have to legally redefine human death as something other than the cessation of human brain activity since, of course, embryonic stem cells don’t have brains.(I find it curious that some orthodox Catholics brag about the numbers of Catholics worldwide while unofficially excommunicating many of them for not being orthodox.)

  • usapdx


  • CalKen

    AnthonyYou said “Unfortunately, public law in the United States does not encourage theocracy.”I think you made a typo. Didn’t you mean to sayVERY FORTUNATELY, public law in the United States

  • infrederick

    Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that embryonic stem cells to be created from now on were to be considered live humans. The proposal is that they would be protected just as are persons in a coma by next of kin or children by their parents. Every egg fertilized by in vitro fertilization would then be considered a live human being protected by law. Where does this lead? The nature of the in vitro fertilization process necessarily produces more fertilized eggs than can be implanted. Following your proposal each one would be a live legal person, thawing one and discarding it without implantation would be murder. Failure to avoid a foreseeable freezer malfunction would be manslaughter. It is obvious that under your proposal in vitro fertilization would cease because any clinic doing the procedure would soon have its doctors in prison.This is nothing more than a poorly disguised plan to impose the Vatican’s latest religious pronouncement and outlaw in vitro fertilization for religious reasons.

  • WashingtonPostMoma

    This is a conscience issue for all Believers in God-many condemn other Faiths for not taking blood transfusions. It is said that the blood is life-saving-if that is true-then the stem cells of Little American Babies can be said to have been donated in sacrifice to save “the life” of the Moma or Family in one way or another-but for what-to just be thrown away? If that isn’t an argument for stem-cell usage, I don’t know what is. This argument is not for Myself-I would look for stem cells within the placental cord where the blood changes completely to the Baby’s. But that is Me. This post is for You all that are having a hard time seeing that stem-cells are Blood. Merry Christmas.////

  • WashingtonPostMoma

    I have never heard of a big stand being taken on theh issue of blood transfusions being “life” and hence, unusable as a help to others in need of building their blood up-from the great majority of religions-I would say, only 1% of religions believe against taking blood–

  • Frank57

    When should we, as an enlightened society, isolate and condemn those who completely ignore common human sense, to the detriment of our life and health as a species, in order to further the arcane causes of an ancient, profoundly inhuman cult? As it reveals in its doctrines, the vatican’s purpose is to ensure the spread of catholicism until it is both the only lawfully recognized religion and it is in complete control of all secular government.Equally as idiotic, yet profoundly similar to the catholic church in both form and execution, are the Marxists. But at least they have one thing going for them — the condemnation and banishment of all religions.If ever comes the day when some gaggle of thoughtless, immoral, religious cultists gets in the way of my loved ones receiving life-giving cancer treatments, I believe I will take up arms. It’s been centuries of darkness — enough is enough.

  • ramellae

    The God I believe in is powerful enough to handle the reassignment of a soul associated with an unborn fetus. Let us use the gift of intelligence God gave us to reduce human misery and put some faith in the fact that an all powerful God can handle the details.

  • EricRGregerson

    “Unfortunately, public law in the United States does not encourage theocracy” I guess this pretty much says it. So can i conclude that, after you get your way on the stem cells, the gay marriage and Roe v Wade, you will work to bring down the republic, and establish a theocracy? Will it be the Pope running things? or the Dalai Lama? Maybe Jim Jones.

  • gilligan12131

    The “non-embryonic stem cell alternative” is a non-starter. Scientists all agree they have limited utility and telling the public otherwise is dishonest.Really, the rigidity of the catholic church in matters of reproduction is astonishing in it’s depth of ignorance and backwardness. But, as we all know, Rome has *always* fought modernity, reason and progress, since these things have always led to a diminution of it’s power.My advice to the Catholic Church. if it wished to remain relevant to American lifre, is to look inward, to ask itself what it is doiing wrong, and to clean up the corruption within it’s own ranks. they can start by addressing the problems of pedophilia within the clergy. Once they do that, they can begin to gain back the credibility they once had but lost through negligence and arrogance.

  • CCNL

    Hmmm, all that gay sperm and those gay eggs going to waste. Might as well collect it, fertilize it and use it for embryonic stem cell research to find the cure for homosexuality which is apparently a DNA variant that causes a hormone imbalance.

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