Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 13:01:59 EDT

Chuck -

I think RC ethics in reproductive matters is in a way too consistent internally & thereby damages not only their own credibility but that of pro-life people in general. This ethic is strongly (I do not say exclusively) informed by natural law arguments that in some cases are simply outdated - in particular, the Aristotelian natural/artificial distinction. Opposition to "artificial" contraception while allowing "natural" methods of birth control simply makes no sense. There is no logical connection between that position and opposition to abortion, e.g., but they're seen by many people as part of a total package so that they don't take either position very seriously, seeing them both as outdated ideas.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Austerberry, Charles
  Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:26 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

  Two open-access (I think) references re. when personhood begins:

  When Personhood Begins in the Embryo: Avoiding a Syllabus of Errors by Scott F. Gilbert (author of a widely used developmental biology textbook).

  Human embryo: a biological definition by a host of authors in Australia.

  My two cents worth:

  Gilbert and others make some interesting points about the biology, but then Gilbert argues that because in biblical times the most obvious milestone was birth, today only after birth should humans gain full status as persons. It's ironic that he would chide the Church for not incorporating the latest scientific knowledge about early human development, but then suggest that theological and ethical conclusions regarding personhood be based on pre-scientific understandings.

  Though I'm not Catholic, I think the Catholics' position is the most internally consistent, as shown by their opposition to IVF as well as hESC harvesting, abortion, etc. The problem with the Catholic position is its speculative theology of "creationism" (in the older sense of the word, having nothing to do with Genesis 1 or anti-evolution but rather with the doctrine that a human soul is infused at the moment of conception). Gilbert and others correctly point out that conception is a process rather than a moment, that the majority of humans die before or soon after uterine implantation, that in some cases two souls would have to fuse into one while in other cases one soul would have to split into two, etc.

  I think embryo(s) or fetus(es) in an established pregnancy deserve more protection than embryos that have not been (and often cannot and/or will never be) implanted and gestated. Nonetheless, I respect the Catholic position, even if I do not precisely agree in all its details.

  Here in Nebraska the public medical school is again the focus of debate over whether its researchers should use some of the many newer hESC lines that Obama made available on Monday to labs using federal funds.

  State law prohibits Nebraska researchers from destroying embryos to harvest hESCs, and Congress would have to act anyway before federal funds could be so used to establish new hESC lines, but hundreds of lines have been established by others, and I hear they are a lot easier to grow than the few early cell lines Bush allowed.

  My employer (Creighton University) has not, does not, and will not use hESCs obtained through a process that destroys human embryos. Furthermore, Creighton argues that human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) make the use of hESCs unnecessary, especially now that the few genes needed to convert adult cells to hiPSCs can be introduced without the use of viral vectors. Creighton spokespersons note even if hiPSCs fall short of hESCs' potential, for moral reasons Creighton still will not use hESCs. I'm not yet convinced that hiPSCs are completely equivalent to hESCs, but they appear close enough to substitute for most every application.

  Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
  Assistant Professor of Biology
  Hixson-Lied Room 438
  Creighton University
  2500 California Plaza
  Omaha, NE 68178
  Phone: 402-280-2154
  Fax: 402-280-5595

  Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

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Received on Wed Mar 11 13:02:44 2009

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