The War on Reason and Evidence


(One of the things I am most proud of in my relatively pedestrian political career is a memo I wrote to clients and friends on Capitol Hill concerning stem cell research back in 2006. I was told by a friend in Congress that it got pretty wide informal circulation in both caucuses – and that it played a significant role in ending the left trying to use Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) Research as a cudgel against conservatives after 2006.

One woman who was on the board of directors at a research hospital – and leaned left – called me about it. She told me her Congressman showed it to her to get her take on it – and that she got my phone number from him. I thought she was going to argue with me, but she was ecstatic over what I had produced. She said that their hospital raised money by touting ESCs – it was the ‘sexy’ thing that drew out the donors…but that all the serious work was done with Adult Stem Cells (ASC) because that was the only avenue producing usable results. She described herself as pro-choice, but claimed to be horrified that the myths about ESCs were simply being used as a stalking horse for abortion – especially when so many people needed help and ASCs were the only real hope.

I carefully vetted this Memo. I had a prominent Canon Lawyer, a Constitutional Lawyer who heads a prominent national foundation, and a micro-biologist who had published extensively on the subject examine it for any errors in theology,  law, and the science involved. I was absurdly pleased when, after reviewing it, the microbiologist asked me where I taught. She would not believe I had no background in the field, but was just a pretty good and thorough researcher.

Now this issue is being raised again in races across the country. I thought you might like to know the facts behind the rhetoric. I contemplated editing it for this website, but decided it was best that you see it exactly as I wrote it then. Keep in mind this was an internal political memo, so it is written in a secular fashion. Also, I worked as a Republican operative – and this was directed to people in the Republican delegation, so it has a much blunter political dimension than I would use if I weren’t printing it exactly as I wrote it. Also, the Vatican did issue a much blunter condemnation of in vitro fertilization in December of 2008, two and a half years after this memo was issued. Given the political climate and that this is being raised again, I thought you might like to have the facts – so you can blow away anyone who claims you are anti-science when they let their own ideology cynically trump the facts. Here, then, the memo exactly as it appeared eight years ago – with a few parenthetical notes.)

Confidential Memo on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

(Final Version)


From: Charlie Johnston 

To: Clients and Friends 

Date: July 26, 2006 


The Democrats are convinced they have found a significant Achilles Heel on our approach to stem cell research. If we do not properly frame this issue, they may be right. More importantly, if we do not frame it properly now it is going to be a heavy-pressure issue for years to come and could become, particularly for pro-lifers, the same sort of setback that advocacy of partial-birth abortion was for pro-abortion activists.

The facts are on our side. In fact, devoting resources to embryonic stem-cell research (ESC) at this period of development would be a set-back rather than an advance in finding cures for debilitating diseases. The reason is that it directs resources away from adult stem-cell research (ASC) which is already responsible for over 70 promising human therapies. But explaining this certainly does not pack the power of “You cruel Republicans are denying me a cure.” The answer is in first framing the issue properly and then having sufficient background knowledge to stand examination. I am pro-life and opposed to embryonic stem-cell research, but I think we are making a serious mistake by framing this issue primarily around the moral issue first and the practical issue second. The practical issue is compelling – and that is where we should lead from. Though Americans are largely secularized, we are still fundamentally a compassionate people. If we continue to lead from the moral argument, it undermines our claim to morality among secularized Americans, as it makes us seem to condemn suffering people to death in defense of a principle involving an embryo. Pro-abortion advocates’ insistence that the principle of a “right-to-choose” trumped the agonizing execution of what was visibly a real baby in the partial-birth abortion debate changed the landscape a decade ago – to our advantage and their disadvantage. This time, as then, we have the better of the argument, but we have to be a lot more sophisticated and disciplined in making our case.

Following is a brief overview of the relevant issues involved, followed by (in italics) a suggested policy statement:

The song of the siren for ESC is what is called the cells’ pluripotency – that is, their potential to become any sort of human tissue. It is what has fired the imaginations of many health advocacy groups and some scientists. Certainly one can understand their enthusiasm in the abstract. But they are not letting a lot of very cold, hard facts get in the way of their hope and, in the process, are doing a lot of damage to people who really do need help.

First, the cold hard facts:

  • Typically, scientific protocols require positive evidence of promise from animal studies before beginning human experimentation. We have engaged in unrestricted research on animal embryos for a quarter of a century now – with no progress in treating animal or human disease. Advocates of human ESC are not demanding that we follow the science, but that we make an exception to standard scientific protocols to pursue what is almost certainly a chimerical hope.
  • The first major problem with ESC is immunology. The body rejects what it identifies as foreign. Unless that problem can be overcome ESCs offer no hope. At best, they could buy time, not a cure. And in the case of cells that are seamlessly integrated into the body’s structure, when rejection comes, how do you separate the tissues that are foreign from those that are not? In this case, rejection would not be a problem to be managed – as in certain organ transplants; it would be a death sentence. ESC research advocates suggest that problem can be surmounted by either using nuclear transfer (NT) technology (cloning) or by having large banks of stem cells typed similar to blood stocks. Cloned animals, using perfectly normal, naturally produced genetic materials, almost invariably produce sickly, abnormal copies. Not terribly reassuring. Typing stem cells would not solve the immunology problem, but simply delay the onset of rejection. But both arguments are irrelevant until the second problem is resolved.
  • The second problem – probably the insurmountable one – is embryology. You can’t just put an embryo into a test-tube and watch it turn into a baby. Tumors have stem cells that can turn into almost any type of tissue, but they have no blueprint. Perhaps surprisingly, an embryo in an artificial environment loses its blueprint. It turns out that complex environmental factors are required to properly cue the development of a baby from an embryo. That is, the positioning of the embryonic cells in relation to their embryonic neighbors, electrical fields generated by the mother’s body, mechanical tensions in the womb, and even the positioning and electrical fields associated with the mother’s organs. There are a host of non-molecular or complex structural factors that must be perfectly choreographed for embryos to develop normally with normal tissues. Remember, scientists have been working for 25 years with animal embryos and have made NO significant progress with these non-molecular and structural hurdles.
  • The aggressive pluripotency of ESCs is both the source of their promise and, perhaps, the characteristic that must make them ever a siren – luring good men to them only to dash their hopes and careers. While ESCs can become anything, they can’t become anything in particular until they have gone through the complex choreography discussed in item three. But they can be very aggressive about becoming a little bit of everything. If you went to the hospital for a kidney transplant and instead got a mélange of bone, heart, and eye cells that could not function as a kidney but would grow explosively, you would know that was not good medicine. ESCs are far more likely to produce monstrously aggressive undifferentiated tumors than they are to produce normal tissue outside of their natural environment.
  • ASCs completely bypass the immunology problem. Further, they bypass the most difficult early hurdles of the embryological problem. They are differentiated by this time. They usually don’t multiply as quickly as ESCs (though some recently isolated ASCs come very close), but they also are much less likely to become tumerous. They might not be able to become just anything, but they can become a normal tissue of the specific thing a patient needs. Some publications have said that ASCs have accounted for 78 promising findings for the treatment of human disease thus far and others have said only 72. (This was as of 2006. For updates on what is current, go here – CJ)  What is undeniable is that at least 70 promising therapeutic approaches have been developed through ASCs with only about 10 years of research, whereas 0 – ZERO – effective therapies have been developed through ESCs. And zero effective animal therapies have been developed through animal ESCs despite 25 years of research.
  • Finally, one more note to help understand how huge the hurdles are to ESCs…if the incredible hurdles were surmounted, one still has the problem that at early and even intermediate stages, normal tissue is almost indistinguishable from abnormal tissue. The transplant of ESC-developed tissue would be like a perverse fixed lottery. In state lotteries, there are millions of tickets and only one winner. In this lottery, one would be injected with millions of cells – and if any one of them is abnormal, it would taint all the rest of the normal cells. I would love a lottery in which, if anyone won a million dollars, everyone who held a ticket would also win a million. That is the sort of lottery that ESCs offer even IF they solved the first hurdles, but instead of winning a million dollars, you would win a murderously aggressive tumor.

Now to pop a few myths:

  • No one is banning ESC research. What President Bush’s veto did was limit the federal funding that can go to it. If Donald Trump or Bill Gates or Ted Turner want to devote their fortunes to ESC research, there is no U.S. law that would stop them. There are substantial private dollars going to ASC research because it has provided useful results. There are almost no private dollars going to ESC research because, after a quarter century of unregulated animal research we have not been able to even cure a single disease in a mouse with them. We have given some mice some monstrously aggressive and fatal tumors, though.
  • The President has not even banned all federal research on ESCs. It is simply limited to 600 existing lines of embryonic cultures. Far fewer are actually in use, though experts dispute how many precisely are actually being used.
  • Embryos are not simply going to be thrown away. In the case of extra embryos created for the purpose of in vitro fertilization, the male and female donors have, at least, property rights to them. They decide whether their embryos will be frozen to be used later, donated to other couples, discarded, or donated for research purposes. The period in which embryos must be preserved varies throughout the world from between perpetuity down to five or 10 years. There is currently no federal statute defining the status of embryos, but a patchwork of state laws. Some research hospitals complain that, in the case of in vitro embryos, even though they can technically discard them after five years, if they don’t get instructions from both donors allowing them to do so, there is nothing to prevent those donors from coming back and suing them. So the problem seems not to be discarded embryos, but an excess in storage even after they have become degraded.
  • Advocates of unrestrained federal funding of ESC research claim opponents aren’t following the science. It is exactly the opposite. After 25 years of fruitless animal trials, advocates are arguing we should completely bypass that protocol and begin human experimentation.

Now a few long-term thoughts:

  • The hope of advocates for ESC is understandable, even if overblown. Though many abortion advocates cynically use it as a stalking horse for their issue, one should not dismiss the sincere hope of many scientists and the desperation of many patients. But don’t forget, either, that a few decades ago certain unscrupulous people were peddling extracts from apricot pits as a miracle cure for cancer – and preying on terminally ill peoples’ desperation to strip them of everything they had. In the course of the very fruitful research into ASCs, some breakthrough may come which clears some of the hurdles to the usefulness of ESCs. I don’t consider it likely. The problems inherent here are probably a million times more complex than the problems were in sending a man to the moon. But human ingenuity has often surmounted seemingly insurmountable problems. (On the other hand, the scientific community is pretty much silent when one of its much-touted promises turns out to be a bust; witness gene therapy). If the research with ASCs produces a breakthrough that makes ESCs viable, the issue will certainly be revisited.
  • The moral issue for those who, like me, believe life begins at conception, is more complicated than it first appears. In the first place, does conception occur at fertilization or at implantation of the fertilized egg? I know many evangelical Protestant Churches tacitly assume it is at the moment of fertilization. The Catholic Church opposes in vitro fertilization, but has not established defined (mandatory) doctrine condemning it (as mentioned in my introduction, the Catholic Church did issue a much more forceful condemnation of the procedure in December of 2008 – CJ) – or establishing when conception has occurred. This is an important long-term question, because if the answer is at fertilization, pro-lifers open themselves up to several trick bags. The first is that no fertilized egg has yet developed into a baby outside the womb. Such an embryo, to this point, can only develop into the muddled clump of tissue that pro-abortion advocates claimed 30 years ago that every fetus was. The second is that many fertilized eggs never implant and are naturally expelled from a woman’s body. This is the more ominous theological problem. If conception were defined as the moment of fertilization, opponents of pro-lifers could argue (with some merit) that if that is the case, even God treats human life cheaply. I don’t know what the answer is here, but I want us to know all the potential consequences of what we are dealing with. (Do not think you know my position on this from this paragraph. It was always my habit to give the best analysis of potential future problems regardless of what my personal belief was – CJ)

This summarizes what an official must know before making a defensible case on the issue. Following, then, is what I recommend as a sample positions statement on Stem Cell Research.

Proposed Statement 

          I strongly support scientific research that can cure disease and alleviate human suffering. That is why I am a vigorous advocate of federal funding of stem cell research – adult stem cell research. In the decade that serious research has been done on adult stem cells, over 70 promising approaches to human disease have been developed and used. Real people with real illnesses are being helped right now by the noble work our doctors and scientists have been doing with adult stem cells.

          Yet for many of the same reasons, I am opposed to additional federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Let me explain…not a single useful human therapy has been developed through embryonic stem cell research, not one. Standard scientific protocols call for successful animal research before beginning human experimentation. Did you know that scientists have been engaged in unrestricted animal embryonic stem cell research for a quarter of a century now? And not a single breakthrough; not a bit of hope. So now advocates of embryonic stem cell research want us to ignore the science and, having failed at the animal trials, move directly into human experimentation? That’s not good science, it’s not good public policy, and it moves dollars that could be devoted to finding cures into research that has been nothing but a dead end for a quarter of a century.

          Understand, I’m not opposing private research, which is allowed by current law. If either Ted Turner or Bill Gates want to devote their substantial private fortunes to embryonic stem cell research, there is no law preventing them – and I will not propose any such law. But I will not vote to devote scarce tax dollars to what has shown no promise when real people need real cures. We are at the very early stages of serious research with adult stem cells – and are making real progress and developing real therapies every month. If we stay the course, we have real hope of curing chronic diseases and repairing neurological injuries.

          I don’t fault the advocates of embryonic stem cell research for their hope. They are sincere. But there are some serious problems that their yearning leads them to avoid. People’s immune systems attack foreign tissue, including tissues developed by stem cells taken from someone else’s body. Thus far, embryonic stem cells have not been able to develop into normal tissue outside the womb – all they can develop into are monstrous tumors of various types of tissue. It is not a matter of getting the right recipe – it must also be in the right physical environment with the right physical cues. So far the only such environment, in man or animals, is the mother’s womb and the body of the developing embryo itself.

          So no, I will not vote to devote more federal funds to research that, in 25 years, has not even been able to cure a mouse (though it has succeeded in implanting fatally monstrous tumors in quite a few mice). But I will continue to advocate for funding for adult stem cell research. I believe we are on the verge of finding real relief for many who suffer – and I won’t be distracted from my commitment to that cause by the siren song of a therapy that has been born aloft by nothing but high hopes while producing no results.



With the background information I have provided here, you should be able to respond to any questions quickly and intelligently if you make this, or some version, of this statement.

About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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20 Responses to The War on Reason and Evidence

  1. aj says:

    Hey Charlie…anything as extensive on gay marriage? There is a gender policy up for debate soon in my country.


    • charliej373 says:

      Sorry, AJ, but no. That was one of the two best, most concise pieces I have ever written at the professional political level. It had a profound impact. Though I have written privately on the gay agenda and gay “marriage.” Interestingly, I wrote in 2000 in a letter to one of my priests that “gay rights” was not what it seemed – that it was the spear point that would eventually be used to attack Christianity and that abortion was the shaft of the spear. I actually am working on something on the larger consequences of gay marriage, but it will probably be a while before I am ready to release that. This particular piece was relatively easy because I had been researching it for three years already. The bait-and-switch aspect of the issue infuriated me. By the mid-90s, stem cells had almost been given up on as a dry hole – because until then all the research had been done on embryonic stem cells…and there was utterly no progress. Then with the discovery of usable adult stem cells, a bunch of breakthroughs started to come pretty quickly. This revived interest in stem cell technology – but the abortion forces successfully directed attention away from ASCs which were getting results back to ESCs which never had. The whole thing was a prop for abortion advocacy – and the left cynically was perfectly happy to consign the suffering to suffer more by directing money away from what was actually helping them to what was not – while maliciously recruiting them to be show endorsers of the very research that was useless to them. It was such a cynical assault on basic decency it enraged me. So I was already up to snuff when the issue became politically prominent in ’06.


  2. BB says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is a great piece, and so clearly explains the science in a lay person’s language, and provides an argument away from the purely moral motive that many of us reading here use to make our decisions. I have often thought that to appeal to the secular culture, it’s important to use secular arguments if you can. They often don’t win the day, but it’s harder for them to deny the truth of them. (For instance, pointing out sexual complementarity to argue marriage is only valid between a man and a woman.)
    Regarding the issue of stem cell research, I recall how Michael J. Fox, sadly affected by Parkinson’s disease at such a young age, was making the rounds of the late night talk shows to vehemently advocate for ESC research, even though it already was pretty well known it was a dead end. But I also remember Dr. Oz shortly thereafter, on his own show, debunked statements made by Michael J. Fox and explained what you have explained here. It seemed to pretty much settle the issue in the secular press.
    I had not heard it was rising it’s head again, but I think the scientific community may feel a bit more courageous debunking the cry for its use now, than they did before. Isn’t it sad every little thing becomes politicized, and the truth gets buried under mounds of rhetoric?


    • charliej373 says:

      Yeah, BB, some of the Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve stuff of the time helped drive me on this. I felt sad for them – and enraged at the worthless SOBs who had recruited them to help advocate for shifting money away from what would help them to what would not. Those poor guys only wanted relief – and so they bought into the apricot pit farm, as it were.


    • pelianito2014 says:

      BB and Charlie I agree that for the purposes of reaching a mostly secular culture we need to use arguments that will reach them. For many, the minute you say “God” the doors shut tight. Yes we would love them to convert, but it seems more prudent at times to speak their language in an attempt to halt the evils at the secular level. It’s important to assess the situation and know who you’re talking to. Some will be more open to the God argument than others.


      • charliej373 says:

        WE need always speak the truth, but we must try to speak in a way that pulls down barriers rather than reinforces them. If you can get someone to hear truth, you have begun an effective evangelization.

        Years ago, I was chief spokesman for a U.S. Senate candidate. I had a political commentator from an NBC affiliate calling me every day trying to trip us up on the abortion issue. He was a leftie and wanted something he could blast us with. After about two weeks of him calling once, sometimes twice a day, I finally said in frustration, “Dick, you’re not going to trip us up. I’m not going to give you something you can savage my guy with. Why don’t you give it a rest.” He replied, “Oh, I’ve figured that out. I’ve just got to where I enjoy listening to how cleverly you explain things.” I told him it wasn’t clever, it was just true. He laughed and said he would talk to me tomorrow.

        There was another reporter that was part of a contingent following us at the end. He was berating “partial-birth abortion” as a phony issue and a Republican smear for a perfectly benign medical procedure. We were on a small plane a lot at that point and I used the time to embarrass him into looking at some technical matter on just how the procedure was performed. He was stunned. He didn’t become pro-life, but he ceased to think that partial-birth abortion was a tendentious name for the procedure…and later got notably soft on his own support for it.

        You make what gains you can. As St. Paul says, I will be all things to all men that by all means some might be saved.


  3. vparisi says:

    Thank you for posting this- as a rehabilitation nurse who works with individuals with disability there is so much more hope in the use of adult stem cells. I really hate when politics gets in the way of the facts as it has for years with the embryonic stem cell issue.




  4. donna269 says:

    this is the most powerful statement I have read on ESC…..thank you. This is clear to laypeople and also for people in the sciences. The truth must be told…..thank God I have this to show my friends in the future the reality of ESC vs ASC….you are a Godsend Charlie.


    • charliej373 says:

      Yeah, Donna, that was why I was told by several Congressmen that it had a big impact then – because it was so boiled down and clear. That is the really hard thing about writing really well – to boil things down to their essence. It is a lot easier to write a long, rambling piece than a short, powerful one. I never had anything but several Congressmen tell me it had a powerful impact – but I believe them because it was big in 2006, then didn’t really raise its ugly head again until this year.


  5. Very interesting article Charlie. Kind of states the reality of the much more difficult to defend In vitro fertilization debate of creating multiple embryos and destroying many in the process of helping infertile couples to conceive. You can almost see one issue used as stepping stone to reach the verdict of the other. I am constantly amazed when hearing issues defended by liberals as truth (examples: global warming, ESC research, universal health care, abortion, contraception, etc) the overwhelming misinformation and ,later, the evidence in contradiction to the science or data to support their agenda. The evidence and truth should sell itself but they seem to be able to double and triple down on the facts to continue manipulating the masses. There seems to be no intellectual honesty anymore. Only agendas. Thanks for arming us with truth once again!


  6. aj says:

    Hi BB, I’ve found that sometimes when we try to fight the issues like gay marriage from a secular point of view we get lost in the whirlwind. It’s like going to a baseball game and using a soccer ball to pitch. The problem with some secular positions is that they are moving targets. For example we say by having same sex marriage they are redefining marriage…and they say “ok” well redefine, what’s the big deal? Many laws have been redefined. Additionally, Catholics opposed to gay marriage also sometimes present incorrect positions of the lgbt lobbyist and this undermines our credibility.

    The reason I asked Charlie about the gay marriage issue is that my archdiocese is in the process of forming a Catholic Voices group to publicly respond to hot button issues from a Catholic position and our first discussion is on the gay marriage issue. I am yet to read or hear one convincing anti-gay marriage argument from a secular, purely natural law perspective, either locally or internationally.

    From a theological perspective it is clear to us but other than that I’m open to some convincing arguments…I would also say as Charlie does, that if you’re citing statistics or arguments please provide sources.

    Have a blessed night my friends, prayed for all at Mass tonight…remember a simple “I’m sorry” can be a phenomenal next right step!😉


    • charliej373 says:

      Hey AJ…I know what you mean. If we get caught up in relativist arguments, we can get caught in the net of modern secularism. There are a couple of profound secular reasons…and I will make it a point to put a piece together on it. I actually have written on it from the old secular publications I wrote for, but most of it is one to two decades old and I have lost some of my originals.

      The two most compelling things are that marriage in America was not, until the mid-1800s considered the province of the state much at all. It was the province of the Church. The state merely recorded the acts of the Church on marriage because it played into inheritance law. But the state had no say over it, simply recorded what was done. The state did not really get serious about regulating marriage rather than just acknowledging it until the rise of the Mormons – and to forbid polygamy. But early citizens of the nation would have reacted to a lot of the current nonsense by telling the government to mind its own business.

      The single most compelling social reason though is something that we have got entirely backwards. In world history, nations that do not have strong family formation are headed for serious turmoil a generation or two down the road. The privileged status given to traditional families and marriage is not done primarily as a benefit to the married, but for the benefit of the state, to protect itself against the massive dysfunctions that typically follow a significant decline in family formation.

      You will have to forgive me…I plan to write specific things, then events pull me in a different direction. But I have added this to the list.


      • BB says:

        I haven’t actually formulated any structured response to the gay marriage issue, but some secular sorts of things I occasionally cite in com boxes when responding to advocates of gay marriage are:
        -the natural intended function and purpose of the sexual organs themselves (their obvious intended use);
        -nature’s (God’s) making of intercourse remarkably pleasurable to encourage the coming together of a man and woman, who may otherwise never come near each other, and obviously to procreate;
        -the biological complementarity of the male and female that is obviously geared toward sexual union;
        -mankind’s rational nature, that allows him to act rationally, not on impulse or against what he knows is good: (I usually respond with this to arguments that homosexual sex is occasionally observed among some animals). I will say man is not an animal but has a rational mind that can discern good from evil;
        -the strength of the emotional and psychological bond produced by the sexual act within a committed relationship (marriage) between two very different psychological beings (man and woman) who would not normally want to be around each other, that provides a the greater chance the offspring will be supported until they grow enough to live independently;
        -the ties of genetics and commitment to a spouse because of their shared offspring. The offspring share genetics of both parents, and cause the parents to recognize their common interest in the survival of that offspring.
        -the different roles of men and women within a marriage and family really cannot be interchanged, although society has attempted to do so. To deny the hormonal basis of behavior of men and women within a relationship or marriage is to deny basic biology.

        These are just a few quasi scientific and secular arguments against two men or two women believing they can form the same relationship or family structure as a man and a woman.


        • BB says:

          I wish I could edit a little:🙂
          Just to clarify, on point # 3:, that “man is not an animal”…what I usually say is that although man has an animal nature, he also is the only rational creature on the earth, an can use his rational mind to control his behavior, not act on impulse, but to discern what is good from what is not.


  7. Matthew says:

    FYI my thesis for my STL is looking at the question at what may be done, morally, to deal with the frozen “excess” embryos. Basically is “embryo adoption” acceptable? Can we legitimately place an embryo in a volunteer mother’s womb?
    Why do we create situations for ourselves that are nigh on unresolvable??

    Liked by 2 people

    • charliej373 says:

      A very tough moral question, Matthew. The Canon Lawyer I discussed this piece with before sending it out tended to think conception probably was at fertilization, but there has been no deep and serious examination of the question yet – and that it is a legitimate question. If it is at fertilization, then we would have the obligation to “rescue” as many as possible. Yet, embryos generally degrade within a few years, so you have some ethical questions about trying to bring to term children that you have intentionally damaged in the embryonic stage. If conception does not begin until implantation, than existing frozen embryos could be respectfully discarded. BUT, unless you ban embryonic stem cell research, you still have an incentive for people to harvest embryos for that purpose – and so, even if conception begins later, the disposition of the embryos has a huge effect on a related sin. When you do your thesis, I would be interested in reading it. Obviously, this has been a subject of intense concern for me for years – and navigating through these near unresolvable issues we have painted ourselves in a corner on is of critical importance, I think.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yong Duk says:

        Charlie, I would be interested too, if Matthew ever shares this with you and he would be interested in sharing at least his conclusions.

        There indeed is much debate on when conception begins. The medical community says that upwards of 25-30% of embryos are miscarried even before a woman knows she is pregnant, but after implantation. That number might be much higher even before implantation. That has raised the question amongst moral theologians whether God provides a soul to those embryos destined to be miscarried early on.

        Nevertheless, twins, as I have mentioned elsewhere, provide the moral answer about cloning and soul…

        Liked by 2 people

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