Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

March 13, 2009

Discussing the President's Embryonic Stem Cell Order


This has been an historic week with President Barak Obama unceremoniously issuing an executive order that allows for stem cell research using embryonic stem cells. This disregard for an ethic that respects all human life is met with opposition from the Church. Help your students to understand this issue and the Church's position on the side of life. Summarize the issue, for example, from the about.com site:

In August 25, 2000, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a document entitled “Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells,” which summarizes the reasons why the Catholic Church opposes ESCR.

First, the preparation of embryonic stem cells from a living embryo requires the destruction of the embryo, which the Church teaches is a gravely immoral act.

Second, some scientists have used cloning to produce embryos in order to harvest stem cells. While these embryos are not created in the normal manner, the Church recognizes that they, too, are alive, and their destruction is gravely immoral.

Third, the Church opposes the use of embryonic stem-cell lines that already exist for the same reason that She opposes the creation of new lines: Those lines began with the destruction of innocent human life.
It doesn’t matter whether scientific advances may be made through ESCR; the Church teaches that we can never do evil, even if good may come of it, and there is no way to obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying innocent human life.


Cardinal Justin Rigali chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on pro-life activities, called Obama's decision "a sad victory of politics over science and ethics. This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested."

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend described the occasion of Obama's signing of the bill as a "moment of sadness." In an article in the diocesan paper Today's Catholic the Bishop is quoted:
President Obama has introduced a utilitarian ethic, an ethic of relativism into our national life, and has supported it. Is this not the great tragedy: that this dictatorship of relativism, with this executive act, is now in the driver’s seat of ethical questions in our national life.
Let us see what our scholar pope had to say of acts, to which our nation is now committed.

“History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity.

“I would like to repeat here what I already wrote some time ago. Here there is a problem that we cannot get around; no one can dispose of human life. An insurmountable limit to our possibilities of doing and experimenting must be established. The human being is not a disposable object, but every single individual represents God’s presence in the world.

“In the face of the actual suppression of the human being there can be no compromises or prevarications. One cannot think that a society can effectively combat crime when society itself legalizes crime in the area of conceived life.”
— Sept. 11, 2006.

So, let us be certain as to what has happened here. You can never use a human being as a means to a good end. The argument is made that it is not a human being. But, what is it? It is a stage of life, in which all of us once existed. It should also be made clear that our tax dollars will now be used to wipe out human life. This is a decision of historical significance. People will look back on it with sadness, and will be aware that this is the moment when the United States crossed the rubicon of life; and where as a nation, through our highest elected officials — we seemed to chose death, not life.


Consider having your students research and discuss this issue and more of Church teaching on the ethics that must always accompany a scientific decision.

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