Does the end justify the means? No, it does not. As children, we learned the ancient moral principle that a good end never justifies an evil means to arrive there. No matter how noble your intended goal, you cannot achieve it ethically through an action that is evil in itself.
You cannot buy a home for your family – a good end – by robbing a bank – an evil means.
When we face a more delicate issue, the same bedrock principle applies. You cannot strive to obtain stem cells that may yield cures for terrible diseases afflicting millions of people – a good end – by destroying human life in its very beginning – an evil means.
Our church, true to the Word of God and using right reason to discern the purposeful design in nature, keeps a well-founded vigilance defending life in its most vulnerable stages, the awesome marvel that starts microscopically with the tiniest, most fragile of particles.
At one time you and I began as a zygote, a fertilized egg no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Your genetic code and mine – the color of our eyes, the features of our face and torso – were all there when a single male sperm fertilized a single female egg. Within a couple days, our first cells multiplied into a cluster, and we became an embryo.
Every human embryo needs only the right conditions to keep growing into the baby or babies we can hold in our arms, giving thanks for another miracle.
Every human embryo is a genuine good as such, deserving of respect, never a pawn on somebody else’s chessboard, never to be used by another as material for human engineering.
Be careful, though, to make a crucially important distinction. Our church has no problem with the public and private funding already in place for adult stem cell research or the collection of “your own” stem cells which you carry throughout your lifetime. These procedures never involve the willful killing of human life under way, as does embryonic stem cell research which is therefore immoral.
In his passionate advocacy, commentator Ron Reagan unhelpfully confuses these different kinds of stem cell research. Our hearts go out to him, his mother and his sister for the painful loss that wounds them deeply after watching their loved one and our former president waste away layer by layer. But embryonic stem cell research is not the ethical way to cure Alzheimer’s or any other dreadful disease like the Parkinson’s which debilitated Blessed John Paul II.
Advocates presume that it’s moral to create embryos in a petri dish and warehouse them outside the female womb. From this gravely erroneous premise, they argue that just as people donate their bodily organs to benefit those in need, so should embryos “left over” at a fertility clinic and perhaps discarded be given to science so that others may benefit from their harvest.
Organ donation that is morally permissible respects the life of donor and recipient. Harvesting embryonic stem cells requires killing verifiably human beings at their inception.
So which way will we go – we who are still allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to identify ourselves as one nation under God? Is religion just optional window dressing, or does it speak to the everyday? Do natural law reasoning and Catholic teaching on human dignity guide scientific experiments, or do we leave our core beliefs at the laboratory door?
How prophetic Pope Paul VI has proven to be. He reminded us in his controversial yet landmark encyclical: we are not the arbiters but always the stewards of human life (Humanae Vitae #14). We cannot do whatever we please but must instead care for the sources of life reverently in accord with the design established by their Author.
The light turned green April 29 to resume federal funding with “strict regulations” to control which embryos are destroyed under very precise circumstances. Do you honestly think those regulations will hold up against the tidal wave of secular pressure? If we slide further down the slippery slope of moral relativism, what comes next in a culture like ours where the useful and the profitable determine the bottom line?
Scientists opposed to this ominous direction claim that embryonic stem cell research is only a tactical step. Allegedly, the proponents know full well the huge medical risks involved in suppressing the resistance of a recipient’s immune system to foreign cells and controlling the probable growth of cancerous tumors.
The ultimate goal of embryonic research is to condition us citizens to accept cloning so that eventually each of us can extract cells and body parts from our own clone when we need them.
Could a Dr. Josef Mengele be far behind with new ghoulish experiments at tomorrow’s Auschwitz?
We promised “never again” after the atrocities confirmed by the Nuremburg trials. Never again, if we value all human life as inviolable from its wonder-full beginnings.