MONDAY-WEDNESDAY
August 13-15, 2001
volume 12, no. 142

The end does not justify the means

by Gary L. Morella

Dear President Bush,
    The dignity of a human being from conception to natural death as a creation of God is missing in the debate regarding stem cells and cloning.

    In the traditional Christian view, the state derives its authority from God (although the people may from time to time decide who exercises that authority) and the state is subject to the law of God to include the natural law since God is the author of nature. In the Enlightenment view, the state derives its authority horizontally, from the people. It is the people, rather than the law of God, which defines in what way, if any, the power of the state will be limited. And, if the people give rights, the people can take them away.

    The Christian moral vision sees the human person as indebted from the moment of conception and throughout his lifetime. He owes God and his parents, who cooperated with God in his creation, for his coming into existence and for his continued existence. He owes countless others for making his life and his enjoyment of life possible.

    When we are obeying the laws of God, we are not just doing this to please a Lawgiver for His benefit, but for our benefits in both a physical and most especially a spiritual sense. What does it mean to say that a human being is a person? Dogs and cats are not persons. The human person is an end unto himself. Certain things have instrumental value for our benefit. Trees have temporal worth; they will not last for eternity. Other things have intrinsic worth; they are valuable in and of themselves. If you had to choose between your most beloved pet and your child, say in a burning home, there would be no question regarding your choice, which would be made instantly. If you had to chop down the most beautiful, longest living tree in the world to save your child, similarly the choice is very easy because a man has intrinsic worth, infinite value. The human soul will last for eternity whereas a tree's life is measured in centuries at most, i.e., is finite. Man will sacrifice what is temporal for what is eternal. There is an obvious hierarchy of goods here.

    What it means to be a person is to be free; we are not simply programmed. We decide what choices that we want to make to determine our character as opposed to the instinctive reaction of animals. Human beings are also capable of grasping truth. We know something is eternal, lasting, and true, i.e., we can differentiate between the temporal and the eternal. This puts us on a transcendental level. This is what makes us persons. We cannot be treated as instruments in that we are for the sake of something else, to be used like a tree might be cut down for furniture. We do not fall into that category; rather, we are for ourselves, ends into ourselves.

    The Church recognizes that the commandment formulated in the New Testament, demanding love towards persons, is implicitly opposed to the principle of utilitarianism, which is unable to guarantee the love of one human being, one person for another. Christ's commandment and the utilitarian principle seem to be on different levels, to be norms of a different order. They do not deal directly with the same thing: the commandment speaks of love for others, while the utilitarian principle points to pleasure not only as the basis on which we act but as the basis for rules of human behavior. If we start from what utilitarians accept as the basis for the regulation of human behavior we shall never arrive at love. The principle of “utility” itself, of treating a person as a means to an end, will always stand in the way of love.

    We must recognize that children are a gift from God Who chose to have new life brought forth through the loving embrace of spouses. He wanted life to be the result of an act of love by those committed to loving each other and the life that may be conceived as the result of their loving acts.

    The natural law is not just biological; it is spiritual or metaphysical. We are not reproducing to save the species; we are procreating to populate Heaven. Animals do the former; human beings created in the image and likeness of God do the latter. There is an inherent dignity when speaking of human reproduction that realizes the intrinsic dignity of a human being, in particular, the actions of a human being toward another human being within the holy sacrament of Marriage. These actions in and of themselves must, of necessity, be self-giving not selfish toward the spouse, and similarly toward the children, in particular, at their earliest stages of development when they are most vulnerable. Because of this dignity spouses and children are not instruments to be manipulated; they are creatures of God to be loved in the most caring fashion possible, as God loved us.

    The key thing that must be remembered is that since the creation of life on the part of God is a loving and free act, the creation of life on the part of the spouses in cooperating with God should also be the result of a loving and free act.

    Your decision to allow taxpayer-funded research to proceed on 60 existing stem cell lines is disturbing. It is a basic moral principle that one cannot benefit by the wrongdoing of others. Courts have long held that to allow government to benefit from a wrongful act provides an unhealthy incentive to persist in such acts.

    You cannot distance yourself from previous immoral acts that have resulted in the killing of embryonic human beings, doing a “Pontius Pilate” by saying that “nothing is wrong, they were already dead, and therefore I’m blameless.” The end does not justify the means. You do not kill people to save people.

    You, by agreeing to underwrite such research, embraced the logic of those who advocate such research. The issue will no longer be whether such research ought to be permitted, but rather how many cell lines are enough, giving comfort and encouragement to those who will seek to expand embryonic research beyond that envisioned by him.

    Where does it end? If 60 stem cell lines are morally acceptable, then why not more? Moreover, you did not even address the issue of unrestrained private sector research. If killing embryos is unacceptable in publicly funded institutions, how can it be moral when carried out in private laboratories?

    As pointed out by David Stevens, MD, Executive Director of the Christian Medical Association, “Such a view of human embryos flouts ethical principles contained in the Nuremberg Code and in the National Institutes of Health's ‘Guidelines for the Conduct of Research Involving Human Subjects’. Both clearly express the fundamental principle governing human experimentation that ‘no experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason tobelieve that death or disabling injury will occur.” A longstanding medical principle, “do no harm”, has been breached. We’re no longer talking about a slippery slope; we’ve completely stumbled and are falling headfirst into a disastrous pit where the next expendable utility, as determined by the state, could very well be the reflection in our mirrors.

    Mankind must realize that we are dealing with the violations of the sacred when we speak of human beings in a utilitarian fashion, the most serious of violations with eternal consequences in that we are not allowing God to be God.

Sincerely,

Gary L. Morella




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August 13-15, 2001
volume 12, no. 142
GUEST COLUMN commentary
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