Commentary by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on Obama Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Diocese of Phoenix, AZ
Printed in the
Catholic Sun, Phoenix
March 11, 2009
On Monday, March 9, President Obama signed an executive order that provides
federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This means that American
taxpayers will now be paying for the killing of human beings at a very early
stage in their lives (as embryos), so that scientific research can make use of
them for experiments that may or may not yield positive results.
We U.S. taxpayers will now be forced to pay, whether we wish to or not, for the
killing of our youngest brothers and sisters on the dubious hypothesis that
their murders might, in the future, benefit others. Why did President Obama make
Should science trump ideology?
Our president's rationale is that science should trump ideology. In other words,
that ideology should not have the upper hand in making decisions about who pays
for research; science should. We Americans, he says, should trust scientists
more than we trust ideologues. But who is our president calling ideologues?
Those whom he is calling "ideologues" include the following:
- Pope Benedict XVI and all faithful Catholics around the world;
- People of faith from all major religions who believe that human life,
especially at its most innocent and vulnerable stage, needs to be protected, not
killed for the sake of older human beings; and
- All people of good will who oppose the killing of one group of human beings in
order to benefit another group.
"Science should trump ideology" is a code phrase that means science should trump
the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." It is contending that science
should trump the right to life of a certain class of human beings, those who are
at the embryonic stage of life. Science, according to our president, does not
need to be at the service of the human person or subject to morality. How is
this position not influenced by an ideology, which is the very thing our
president claims he is seeking to avoid? Is this good for America? Is this what
we Americans want our taxes to be used for?
Politics over science and ethics
Let's be clear about what this presidential decree is about. It is not about
overcoming a prohibition against embryonic stem cell research. Tragically, such
research is already legal in many places in our country. Already billions of
dollars of California taxpayers are funding such heinous research. So our
president is not overturning laws that prohibit such research. It is already
What President Obama is doing is forcing all American taxpayers to pay for this
homicidal research. He is forcing us who pay taxes to be complicit, in an
involuntary yet real way, in this unethical enterprise. All of this is done so
that "science can trump ideology."
Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities,
said this: "President Obama's new executive order on embryonic stem cell
research is 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. It also
disregards the values of millions of American taxpayers who oppose research that
requires taking human life. Finally, it ignores the fact that ethically sound
means for advancing stem cell science and medical treatments are readily
available and in need of increased support."
What should be the response of Catholics to this action?
First, we must beg forgiveness for this horrendous sin of our nation. Like the
Prophet Daniel, we need to say in all humility and shame (9:4fc), "Lord, great
and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you
and observe your commandments! We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we
have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws… Justice, O
Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day."
Second, we Catholics must join with others of good will and make our voices
heard across our land, at the White House, on Capitol Hill, in our state
Legislatures and in the media. We must not stand by idly while our neighbor's
life is at stake. The dignity of a human person does not depend upon his or her
age, developmental stage, or ability to function. Every human being has inherent
dignity because God has created us with an eternal soul. No one has the right to
extinguish this gift of life but God alone.
Third, we need to point out why such destructive research is especially
pointless at this time when ethical means are available, such as the following:
Great advances are being made in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like
stem cells (the journal Science hailed this as the scientific breakthrough of
Adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells are increasingly being used to reverse
serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs.
Fourth, we must pray and fast for an end to this horrendous decision and an end
to all attacks on innocent human life. Jesus told us that some evils can only be
driven out by prayer and fasting. In this season of Lent, this gives us added
reason to do penance in union with our prayers for the protection of all human
Fifth, we must not lose hope. False rhetoric such as "science must triumph over
ideology" will not stand the test of time. Such counterfeit reasoning and slick
cover-up of the truth will not have the last word. Jesus came that we might have
life and have it abundantly (Cf. Jn 10:10). In Him, who died to take away sin
and rose to restore our life, we place our hope. This hope will never
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