Author Archives: John C. Reneau

About John C. Reneau

After completing my undergraduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Dallas (no, not the University of Texas at Dallas), I decided that I would just love being in school for the rest of my life in order to avoid entering the real world. As a result, I ended up as an MD/PhD student at Texas A&M Health Science Center; I’m currently frantically trying to wrap up my PhD and continue on with my clinical training. I work in a lab that uses bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells to treat various diseases.

Ron Paul, Rape, and Abortion

***EDIT:  It seems I was slightly mistaken concerning the effect of estrogen on ovulation.  From reader Kevin and consultation with my trusty physiology book, the effect of estrogen would seemingly have opposing effects depending upon what part of the menstrual cycle the woman was in at the time it was administered.  There is a large estradiol surge preceding the leutenizing hormone surge responsible for ovulation. Presumably, a large estrogen dose could actually cause ovulation if she were at this point in her cycle. It turns out that estradiol has a negative feedback effect on LH during the follicular and luteal phases, but a positive feedback effect near the time of ovulation.  Given this, it seems that high dose estrogen would probably be a bad idea as it could aid in bringing about pregnancy.  Perhaps Dr. Paul was just trying to simplify the issue by naming a hormone everyone would recognize?  Perhaps I’m still missing something…  /EDIT

I posted the other day about Ron Paul and his views on law in relation to those of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the comments, RP’s views on abortion were brought up so I thought it might be good to address it here.  Luckily, we now have plenty of fodder after Dr. Paul’s interview on Piers Morgan Tonight.  Here’s the relevant clip:

What can be clearly stated from the above is that he believes that life begins at conception.  This is stated with little room for doubt.  Where I find his resolve, or at a minimum his coherency, lacking is when Piers delves deeper with the special case of rape.  As stated in the interview, rape resulting in pregnancy is an exceedingly rare phenomenon (about 5% of rape victims of child bearing age) and should not be used as the exception to justify the rule.  Having said that, let us take a look at rape and morally sound methods of dealing with its sequelae.

First, we must define what rape is so that we might know what means we are morally able to resort to in order to deal with its possible effects (namely pregnancy).  Quoting Germain Grisez:

Rape is the imposition of intimate, bodily union upon someone without her or his consent, and anyone who is raped rightly resists so far as possible.

The key, and obviously so, to understand is that rape is an act of violent imposition upon another who has not freely given consent to the sexual act.  In this case, the person being raped has every right to protect herself (we’ll just stick to the feminine from here on out…) from bodily harm.  This includes protecting her eggs from the “assault” or violation of the rapist’s sperm.  Perhaps at some later point we’ll have a conversation about the ethical implications of contraception, but suffice it to say that when a person contracepts the object is to impede the beginning of a new human life that one reasonably forsees may come from freely chosen acts.  In the case of rape, this is certainly not the case.  One may legitimately turn to the use of mechanical devices or high dose contraceptives (so long as they are not abortifacient) in order to prevent conception.  Note that the object is different from the case of someone freely choosing to contracept during consensual genital acts.  The object in this case is not to impede the beginning of a new life but rather to protect herself from further bodily and personal violation by a rapist!  The woman has absolutely no obligation to permit the rapist’s sperm to penetrate and fertilize her ovum since she has not consented to this act.  Again to quote Grisez:

It can scarcely be doubted that someone who cannot prevent the initiation of this intimacy is morally justified in resisting its continuation; for example, if a woman who awakes and finds herself being penetrated by a rapist need not premit her attacker to ejaculate in her vagina if she can make him withdraw.  On the same basis, if they cannot prevent the wrongful intimacy itself, women who are victims (or potential victims) of rape and those trying to help them are morally justified in trying to prevent conception insofar as it is the fullness of sexual union.

The measures taken in this case are a defense of the woman’s ovum (insofar as it is a part of her person) against the rapist’s sperms (insofar as they are parts of his person).  By contrast, if the intimate, bodily union of intercourse is not imposed on the woman but sought willingly or willingly permitted, neither she nor anyone who permits the union can intend at the same time that it not occur.  Hence, rape apart, contraceptive measures are chosen to prevent conception not insofar as it is the ultimate completion of intimate bodily union but insofar as it is the beginning of a new and unwanted person. (The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, Living a Christian Life, p. 512).

Again, the moral object of the act is not the prevention of the formation of new life, but rather the protection of her body-person from further violation by the rapist’s body-person.  Thus, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1994 stated succinctly in directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities:

Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

So was Dr. Paul on morally sound ground stating that he would give high dose estrogen to a woman who presents herself at the ED after a sexual assault?  Well, now we must delve a bit into the science!  Firstly, I must say that I’ve not seen much in the literature about high dose estrogen alone as a post-rape treatment.  The most popular medical drug used is levonorgestrel, colloquially known as Plan B, and it is a progesterone agonist.  In the past, combined estrogen-progestin pills like Ovral were used for the same purposes.

First, we’ll tackle Dr. Paul’s proposal – high dose estrogen.  It has been a while since I’ve studied this physiology, so if I make a mistake, please correct me.  Estrogen only (as advocated by Ron Paul, although he may have just been trying to simplify the answer for the audience) would likely prevent ovulation (release of an egg) if it had not occurred, and would, in fact, likely increase the chances of implantation if an embryo had already formed as an estrogen spike during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle is necessary to increase the vascularity and secretory activity of the endometrium to prepare for the receipt of the fertilized egg.  If this is the actual mechanism of action of high dose estrogen (prevention of ovulation) and it does not interfere with the implantation of the embryo, then it is morally licit.  Thus, Piers Morgan’s follow up question, “So you would allow them to abort the baby?” assumes something which is not necessarily true, namely that a baby exists!  Unfortunately, Dr. Paul did not address this but rather dodged saying, “It is absolutely in limbo… you don’t know if you’re taking a life.”  What concerns me about this answer is that he basically states that we don’t know whether there is a human life there or not, yet we can take actions which would (under the parameters assumed, which are unlikely to correlate with reality), in effect, cause its death.  This is the most concerning part of this interview for me and I would like to see some follow up concerning this view – was it a simple case of misspeaking?  This is the exact reasoning the Supreme Court resorted to when formulating the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision – a lack of certitude means we can act as if there were no human life present.  A terrible mistake indeed.

Getting back to the science, I’ll also touch on two other methods commonly employed – levonorgestrel and mifepristone.  The first is, as mentioned above, known as Plan B and is the most often used drug today for cases of  “emergency contraception.”  This is a progesterone agonist (mimics the effects of progesterone) which would primarily inhibit ovulation.  There is controversy in the literature over whether or not Plan B has any effects on post-fertilization events despite the package insert stating that it can prevent implantation.  For a brief overview of the scientific literature see Fr. Nicanor Austriaco’s article in the winter 2007 edition of the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly (Is Plan B an Abortifacient? A Critical Look at the Scientific Evidence, pp. 703-707).  My own reading of the literature leaves little doubt in my mind that levonorgestrel has little or no effect on post-fertilization events.  Physiologically, it doesn’t make sense for progestin to prevent implantation, as it, like estrogen, is required to maintain a pregnancy.  Quoting Fr. Austriaco:

The evidence also addresses what until now has been a nagging, unanswerable question for pharmacologists: Why would levonorgestrel, a progesterone agonist that mimics the effect of progesterone, prevent implantation, when progesterone produced from the corpus luteum immediately after ovulation actually promotes implantation by converting the endometrium to decidua? Answer: It does not.

It would seem that, much like estrogen, the use of this hormone would actually aid in the implantation of an embryo rather than hinder it.  Besides these effects, there are also reports that state that Plan B has effects on sperm which hinder their mobility and ability to penetrate the ovum – these would be morally licit means to prevent pregnancy in the case of rape.

Finally, there is a third drug commonly used known as mifepristone or RU-486.  This is a progesterone antagonist, which is to say that it inhibits the action of progesterone.  There is no doubt whatsoever that this drug prevents implantation and can even cause termination of well established pregnancies – it is commonly used in first trimester pregnacies to induce a “medical abortion.”  Because this drug is clearly an abortafacient, it is not morally permissible to use even in the case of rape.  The fact that this drug and levonorgestrel have opposite mechanisms of action further strengthens the hypothesis that levonorgestrel does not prevent implantation.  It wouldn’t make sense for a progesterone agonist and a progesterone antagonist to both prevent implantation!

So there you have it!  It would seem that Ron Paul was on the right track and not duplicitous in any way when stating that life certainly begins at conception, yet allowing for the use of contraceptives for the prevention of pregnancy in the case of rape.  Concerning was his assertion that a lack of clarity about whether an embryo was present or not made no difference, morally speaking.

Turning now, briefly, to Dr. Paul’s legislative record concerning abortion, I would like you to watch this clip from the recent debate in South Carolina:

Ron Paul sees abortion primarily as a moral problem, not a legislative problem.  In his eyes, the law reflects the fundamental moral failure of the people under the law!  The true solution to the abortion problem is to change the hearts of the people and have that reflected in the law.  I agree that this is absolutely the case, but as the Angelic Doctor says, “…since some are found to be depraved, and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force and fear, in order that, at least, they might desist from evil-doing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves, by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and thus become virtuous.”  Law does have a corrective component, as discussed in my previous post.

There is little doubt that Ron Paul is pro-life based upon what he has said, for example, concerning ob/gyn being a “two patient specialty” and his statements in this evening’s interview with Piers Morgan. I think where he differs from someone like Rick Santorum is in the legislative practicalities. Murder, theft, and other similar crimes are not handled at the level of the federal government, and it seems Ron Paul doesn’t think abortion should be either. I tend to disagree with him in this matter as it is in the interest of the federal government to protect the life of human beings – in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, if states fail to protect human life, then the federal government should. Having said that, I think his approach is actually more practical than waiting for all three branches of the federal government to align their views on abortion in order to have Roe v. Wade overturned (which would then just send the matter to the states anyway) and a personhood amendment ratified in its place. Ron Paul simply wants the federal government taken out of the picture all together to allow states to decide. In this case probably 3/4 of the states would outlaw abortion and we’d have limited this evil to a great extent. Many states already have pro-life laws enacted which would become enforceable upon the removal of federal jurisdiction. Practically, it would seem to me that we would have far fewer abortions far more quickly under the plan Ron Paul proposes. Is it perfect? No. Is it practical? Probably more so than the other politicians who wish to protect life. Even having said all that, the president really has little say in the matter unless the legislators in Congress manage to pass any pro-life laws, in which case the president has the power to veto. I doubt Ron Paul would ever veto a pro-life bill if it were to land on his desk in the Oval Office.

Furthermore, some fact checking reveals Rick Santorum was incorrect about the 50% agreement with NRLC – over his entire voting career it is 75% and from 2009-2011 it is 100%. Looking through some of the votes, it seems he gets points taken off for disagreeing with the NRLC on things like the “Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act” and the “Medicare Modernization Act.” Very few of the disagreements with NRLC actually stem from disagreements over abortion and even those that do are more about the practicalities and limits of the federal government. For example, he disagreed with NRLC about the Unborn Victims of Violence Act because he felt the federal government was overstepping its constitutional bounds by enacting it even though he recognized it as “laudable goal of protecting unborn children from assault and murder.”

The concluding quote from his commentary sums up his position pretty well it seems: “Protection of life (born or unborn) against initiations of violence is of vital importance. So vitally important, in fact, it must be left to the States’ criminal justice systems. We have seen what a legal, constitutional, and philosophical mess results from attempts to federalize such an issue. Numerous States have adequately protected the unborn against assault and murder and done so prior to the Federal Government’s unconstitutional sanctioning of violence in the Roe v. Wade decision.”

After all this, I have little doubt in my mind that Ron Paul is resolved to undo the disorder brought about by the Roe vs. Wade decision and to protect the life of the unborn in the United States.  You can certainly bet that he would not be supplying any funding to agencies that provide abortions as that’s clearly not a constitutional function of the federal government.  How about you?  Do you still doubt Ron Paul’s pro-life resolve?


St. Thomas, Laws, & Ron Paul

With elections around the corner, the Republican candidates for the presidency have been furiously campaigning for the party nomination leading to a run off with incumbent Democrat Barack Obama.  Of the four contenders left in the race, one of them consistently and fundamentally stands apart from the rest – Ron Paul.  While the others generally agree upon everything except the details, Dr. Paul delves deeper into more fundamental issues and leaves these arguments over details of general principles on the sidelines.  Example: the other three candidates all support, to one degree or another, another war… this time with Iran.  They differ on the details as to how to go about this, ranging from immediately bombing them to imposing sanctions, but all generally agree.  Ron Paul stands alone in saying that war with Iran is not necessary.  Again, the other three essentially agree upon our fractional reserve monetary system controlled by the Federal Reserve.  Dr. Paul desires to see fundamental reform of this system with a return to the gold standard and the abolition of the Fed.  The other candidates quibble about at what rate the federal government should tax income, Ron Paul wants to see the repeal of the 16th amendment and have the federal income tax abolished. Finally, the other three desire to see the government used to coerce citizens into virtuous behaviors about which Dr. Paul believes the government should have no say – a frequently cited example is government’s role in the “war” on drugs.

This always was in the back of my mind as I researched the candidates, and it often made me feel quite unsettled about supporting Ron Paul.  After all, it does seem to be in the interest of the government to ensure that its citizens are free of chemical dependencies and other vices!  As I began researching, I naturally turned to St. Thomas Aquinas for guidance as to the nature of human laws and to what extent it should regulate the activity of individuals with free will.  After having read a little of the trusty Summa Theologiae, I feel more compelled to throw my support behind Ron Paul given that this was one of the few issues that we seemingly disagreed upon.  So what does St. Thomas say?  Should the State coerce virtuous behavior by outlawing all vices?

Turning to the Prima Secundae, q. 95, a. 1, we see a general premise outlined, namely that the wicked must be restrained by force of law:

…And as to those young people who are inclined to acts of virtue, by their good natural disposition, or by custom, or rather by the gift of God, paternal training suffices, which is by admonitions. But since some are found to be depraved, and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force and fear, in order that, at least, they might desist from evil-doing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves, by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and thus become virtuous. Now this kind of training, which compels through fearof punishment, is the discipline of laws.

This seemingly contradicts what Dr. Paul advocates, yet there is an important distinction made here – “… and leave others in peace.”  This discipline of laws regulates that which concerns the relation of one man to another and not necessarily what that man does individually which does not harm fellow men.  St. Thomas goes on to make this distinction even more clear in q. 96, a. 2 when answering the question, “Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?”  I will quote here the first objection and answer in order to clarify the previous answer:

Objection 1. It would seem that it belongs to human law to repress all vices. For Isidore says (Etym. v, 20) that “laws were made in order that, in fear thereof, man’s audacity might be held in check.” But it would not be held in check sufficiently, unless all evils were repressed by law. Therefore human laws should repress all evils.

Reply to Objection 1. Audacity seems to refer to the assailing of others. Consequently it belongs to those sins chiefly whereby one’s neighbor is injured: and these sins are forbidden by human law, as stated.

As we can see, the general principle of human law regulating vices chiefly applies to those vices whose commission injures one’s neighbor.  The respondeo explains further:

As stated above (90, A1,2), law is framed as a rule or measure of human acts. Now a measure should be homogeneous with that which it measures, as stated in Metaph. x, text. 3,4, since different things are measured by different measures. Wherefore laws imposed on men should also be in keeping with their condition, for, as Isidore says (Etym. v, 21), lawshould be “possible both according to nature, and according to the customs of the country.” Now possibility or faculty of actionis due to an interior habit or disposition: since the same thing is not possible to one who has not a virtuoushabit, as is possible to one who has. Thus the same is not possible to a child as to a full-grown man: for which reason the law for children is not the same as for adults, since many things are permitted to children, which in an adult are punished by law or at any rate are open to blame. In like manner many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man.

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

So as we can see, human law does not need to regulate all vice, but only those vices “that are to the hurt of others.”  In the example above concerning outlawing drug use, it would seem that Dr. Paul is in agreement with the Angelic Doctor.  So long as this use does not hurt others, for example by operating heavy machinery while impaired, it seems the human laws should not regulate it.  Taking the common sense approach, as Dr. Paul often does, ask yourself this question – if the government were to cease enforcing drug laws today, would I go out and use heroin tomorrow?  The answer to this question is likely to lead you to the conclusion that the government, in fact, does not need these laws.  And this goes beyond drug use into other questions concerning behaviors of a personal matter.

This approach to the laws governing our nation combined with Ron Paul’s constitutional views on subsidiarity, sound  economic policies, just war, and the personal liberty of free and virtuous citizens, I believe, makes him the only viable candidate for people of good will among the field of contenders for the US presidency.  What say you?

Ron Paul – the only viable candidate for the Christian vote

Listen to this talk… Ron Paul has the best grasp of the Christian (and Catholic in particular) intellectual tradition of any candidate in modern history.  This man knows what he’s talking about and ain’t afraid to get booed when necessity requires advocating the unpopular position.

Reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent

As the days become shorter (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) and darkness draws in more quickly each day, the Church has us turn in this Advent season toward reflecting on the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  With eager anticipation, we approach the great Holy Day of Christmas in which Christ is born to us – the first “advent,” if you will.  He comes to us as a helpless infant, in secrecy with only a few shepherds knowing of His birth, born of the womb of His most Blessed Mother.  He comes to us as a savior and a brother.  But we are reminded today of that fearful day when Christ will come again in glory as our Judge – a second “advent” – which will be in sharp contrast to His first coming.  Contrary to what some may believe, the next coming of Christ will not be with lollipops and hugs for all.  Rather, as the second reading reminds us, he will come as a just judge in a very public way to “repay every man for what he has done.”

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire… (2 Pet 3:10)

As is chanted in the Dies Irae, that chant which formerly held the honor of being the sequence for requiem masses, Our Lord will come as “Righteous Judge” and “King of Majesty.”  If that weren’t fearful enough, consider what follows:

…and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.  (2 Pet 3:10)

Everything we have done will be “found out” – revealed publicly at the general judgment.  Our actions and corresponding judgment will be revealed to every other person (angels and demons included) in order to manifest the justice and mercy of God to every person.  There are many things that happen to us that we do not understand that will be made clear to all at the general judgment.  Why is evil allowed to flourish?  Why do I have to suffer through some particular difficulty?  The reasons for these things, the graces that each person has been given, and how each has used them will be made manifest to all.  Every person will be forced to recognize that God is good, just, and merciful – it will be the ultimate glorification of God, the desire of every true Christian.

Yes, there will be judgment, but you will have nothing to fear; on the contrary this will be a great moment of rejoicing if you are

…eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace (2 Pet 3:14).

This brings us to the imperative in the first reading and the gospel:

Prepare the way of the LORD!

My friends, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our own souls.  Besides the two advents that have already been discussed, there is a third one – Christ’s daily coming to us.  Each day the Lord comes to us, for some in more obvious ways than others like in daily communion.  How do we prepare for this?  Most importantly, stay in the state of grace!  Avoid the occasions of  sin!  If you do fall into mortal sin, then go to confession!  If you have not been to confession in a while (more than a month), then go even if your conscience does not accuse you of mortal sin – the sacraments are a means of receiving grace that we might grow closer to Our Lord and be strengthened against the snares the devil lays for us.

But to ensure more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, We will that the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy spirit, should be earnestly advocated. By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself.  (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 88)

Always keep your soul “without spot or blemish”  for you do not know when the second coming will be (or when your own particular judgment at death will be if you die before the second coming).  Therefore, you must always be like the wise virgins who had their lamps filled with oil (Mt 25:1-13) – “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast.”  Always be ready then, and whenever the time comes, you will be prepared to enter into glory.  Our Blessed Mother, who most faithfully preserved her soul without any spot or blemish, is our guide in this task – stay close to her and she will teach you how to be prepared at all times for the coming of Christ, both daily and at the end of time.

Dominican Bishop Speaks about Euthanasia

Dominican Bishop of Parramatta, Austrialia Anthony Fisher was recently interviewed on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation concerning the movement in the country to legalize voluntary euthanasia.  The first thing I noted was the assumption of the interviewer that euthanasia is a “right.”  It seems to have been a “right” that has suddenly appeared out of thin air over the past 30 years, seemingly contrary to the very nature of true rights. In any case, the good bishop did a great job responding to the questions.  I must admit, however, that it would have been pretty awesome to have him lay the smack down concerning the last question about excommunications!

Vatican Stem Cell Conference – Follow-up news story

Here’s a news story from CBS New York that’s a follow up to the Vatican’s stem cell conference hosted November 9-11 at the Vatican.  Max Gomez (the reporter in the story) was the moderator for the conference so he was there the whole time.  Unfortunately, the MSM is still touting this as some surprising reversal on the part of the Church that now they suddenly allow stem cell research.  This is nothing new!  The church has always stated that stem cell research should be pursued, but in an ethically acceptable manner – this specifically excludes embryo destructive research.

[It turns out you can’t embed javascript in wordpress – just hit the link above]

Vatican Stem Cell Conference – Beginning at the End

Well, I’ve been heckled enough already to post something and I’m tired of editing and writing my proposal which should have been written about a year ago, so what better time than now to start posting about some of the information presented at the recent stem cell conference held at the Vatican?  I think a good starting point is, paradoxically, the ending point of the conference itself – the address delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at the private audience granted the Saturday following the close of the conference.  I’ll be quoting parts, but go here if you wish to read the whole address.  As a conference bonus, I got my picture taken with the Pope at the private audience:

You can't tell, but I'm actually high-fiving the pope here. The hand that I'm high-fiving just obscures the view...

The Holy Father begins with a fundamental and necessary observation – human beings have dignity which is derived from our creation by our common Father in His image and likeness.  It is precisely because of this dignity that the Vatican supports adult stem cell research, but not embryonic stem cell research which involves the destruction of a human being.

But since human beings are endowed with immortal souls and are created in the image and likeness of God, there are dimensions of human existence that lie beyond the limits of what the natural sciences are competent to determine. If these limits are transgressed, there is a serious risk that the unique dignity and inviolability of human life could be subordinated to purely utilitarian considerations. But if instead these limits are duly respected, science can make a truly remarkable contribution to promoting and safeguarding the dignity of man: indeed herein lies its true utility. Man, the agent of scientific research, will sometimes, in his biological nature, form the object of that research. Nevertheless, his transcendent dignity entitles him always to remain the ultimate beneficiary of scientific research and never to be reduced to its instrument.

The Pope then goes on to offer his support for adult stem cell research (not news by any means, but it seems from the media reporting that this is some sort of drastic change in church teaching).

In this sense, the potential benefits of adult stem cell research are very considerable, since it opens up possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissue and restoring its capacity for regeneration. The improvement that such therapies promise would constitute a significant step forward in medical science, bringing fresh hope to sufferers and their families alike. For this reason, the Church naturally offers her encouragement to those who are engaged in conducting and supporting research of this kind, always with the proviso that it be carried out with due regard for the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.

Note the two conditions necessary for ethical stem cell research: that it have due regard for the integral good of the human person AND the common good of society.  If either requirement is not met, then it should not be pursued.  He then goes on to focus on the first requirement, due regard for the human person:

This proviso is most important. The pragmatic mentality that so often influences decision-making in the world today is all too ready to sanction whatever means are available in order to attain the desired end, despite ample evidence of the disastrous consequences of such thinking. When the end in view is one so eminently desirable as the discovery of a cure for degenerative illnesses, it is tempting for scientists and policy-makers to brush aside ethical objections and to press ahead with whatever research seems to offer the prospect of a breakthrough. Those who advocate research on embryonic stem cells in the hope of achieving such a result make the grave mistake of denying the inalienable right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception to natural death.

The utilitarian approach to ethics so prevalent today is entirely incompatible with the dignity of the human person, especially with regards to stem cell research.  And here comes the hinge of the whole talk…

The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another. Yet, in general, no such ethical problems arise when stem cells are taken from the tissues of an adult organism, from the blood of the umbilical cord at the moment of birth, or from fetuses who have died of natural causes.

…It follows that dialogue between science and ethics is of the greatest importance in order to ensure that medical advances are never made at unacceptable human cost. The Church contributes to this dialogue by helping to form consciences in accordance with right reason and in the light of revealed truth. In so doing she seeks, not to impede scientific progress, but on the contrary to guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity.

The Pope then addresses a grave ethical consideration that must be addressed even in adult stem cell research – the just allocation of expensive treatments.  At this point, stem cell treatments would be outrageously expensive and access to these treatments must be made available to all, not only the rich who can afford it.  The pope points to the Catholic health care system as a possible mechanism to distribute these treatments to those who would otherwise be unable to afford them.  This is an ethical consideration which was brought up by one of the invited speakers, Dr. Caplan, that should definitely be kept in mind as this type of research continues and moves into the market.

In drawing attention to the needs of the defenceless, the Church thinks not only of the unborn but also of those without easy access to expensive medical treatment. Illness is no respecter of persons, and justice demands that every effort be made to place the fruits of scientific research at the disposal of all who stand to benefit from them, irrespective of their means. In addition to purely ethical considerations, then, there are issues of a social, economic and political nature that need to be addressed in order to ensure that advances in medical science go hand in hand with just and equitable provision of health-care services. Here the Church is able to offer concrete assistance through her extensive health-care apostolate, active in so many countries across the globe and directed with particular solicitude to the needs of the world’s poor.

So there you have it, the meat of the address.  It’s a good starting point for the rest of the conference as it gives some justification as to why the Church has decided to enter into the fray and actively support adult stem cell research.  Rejecting utilitarian thinking, we must move forward seeking cures for debilitating diseases while respecting the dignity of all human beings.