Saturday, July 01, 2006

Excommunication Is Sought for Stem Cell Researchers

Scientists who engage in stem cell research using human embryos should be subject to excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, according to a senior Vatican official.

"Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion," said the cardinal. Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos."

Mmhm. Didn't get the memo about Galileo, did you?

The Catholic Church punishes the most severe religious transgressions with latae senentiae, which is automatic excommunication of a church member. It applies to those who direct violence at the Pope, desecrate the Eucharist and have abortions.

Interesting that automatic excommunication applies predominantly to ecclesiastical offenses, for which excommunication seems a reasonable response. But it additionally applies to women who procure abortions, extending church authority to the bodies of female church-goers. The church may argue that protecting the sanctity of all human life is its responsibility. I wonder then if latae senentiae applies to all other instances in which a life is taken.

The Catholic Church is also vocal in its opposition to capital punishment. Are state executioners and involved officials excommmunicated as well? Perhaps the church is especially protective of "innocent", "defenseless" life. Then why doesn't it automatically excommunicate people who murder young children? And why not excommunicate priests who have molested children? They have injured children, betrayed their communities and damaged the integrity of the Church - an ecclesiastical offense by any stretch of the imagination.

The excommunication of women who have made a difficult decision in trying circumstances is arbitrary and cruel. Officials of the Church now wish to extend their controlling influence to scientists who are trying to save the lives of people with debillitating diseases. It seems clear that the Church is motivated by a desire not to protect life but to elevate an unsentient embryo above living people, especially the young and the ill.

In the process, the Church collides head-on yet again with Science, makes hand-wavy ecclesiastical arguments to justify bad policy, and threatens Catholic scientists with spiritual blackmail. I do not know how many practicing Catholics are working on embryonic stem-cell research, but I'm sure the number is not insignificant. Like all scientists with religious affiliations they find a way to reconcile their spiritual lives with their scientific work. I imagine that many feel called to their work out of a desire to end human suffering. For high-ranking Church officials to suggest they should be excommunicated is to circumvent the authority of God to call upon a believer to do His works. Is the Catholic Church within its rights to make such a decision? Can anyone tell me?


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