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Stem cell research: a moral endeavor?

Lt. Mike Koprowski, USAF | Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I am strongly pro-life. I am against abortion, in most cases, and I believe that our laws should reflect what is morally right. But I’m having a problem with the issue of stem cell research. Conventional wisdom says that it’s inconsistent to be both pro-life and pro-stem cell research. I used to agree with that wholeheartedly, but it doesn’t seem so clear-cut anymore.

Two months ago, I finished chemotherapy for testicular cancer. Thankfully, I can call myself a survivor; however, many people aren’t as lucky. Each day I spent in the oncology ward of the hospital, receiving that venomous chemo, I met people who had it much worse than I. The brutal reality: they were going to die. Old, young, black, white, male, female – it didn’t matter. I gazed into their vacant, pale and numb faces, as they coped with insurmountable pain and the fear of death. I saw their families huddled around their bedside, holding trembling hands, holding back the tears, trying to “be strong” for their sick loved one.

These types of diseases destroy lives. And it made me sick, deep in my soul. It made me angry, too. “We have got to fix this,” I said to myself. The greatest country in the world – we have got to work on this! Many scientists and researchers believe that embryonic stem cells present the possibility of curing several debilitating diseases, such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Only time will tell if they are right. But should we give scientists the opportunity to, at the very least, see what they can do? I’m not talking about cloning or other wild, science-fiction possibilities. I’m talking about sound, reasonable stem-cell research legislation. So here’s my dilemma: Is it possible to be a pro-life Catholic and pro-embryonic stem cell research?

Several leading conservatives claim to be both pro-life and pro-stem cell research. Supporters estimate that 100 million people could be aided by stem cell developments. “Stem-cell research facilitates life,” Senator Orrin Hatch says. “Abortion destroys lives; this is about saving lives.” Also, supporters claim that there is a moral difference between a fertilized egg in a petri dish or test tube and a fertilized egg in a uterus. If the embryos are about to be discarded at a fertility clinic anyway, why should we abandon them when we could be curing deadly diseases? But on the other hand, is there really a moral difference between a fertilized egg in the uterus and one in a test tube? Richard Doerflinger, an official with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “Destroying an embryo in the lab is morally the same as abortion in Catholic teaching.” Is it? I honestly don’t know for sure.

My ultimate conclusion is inconclusive. But I do think there is a compelling reason to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that stem-cell research is a moral and worthwhile endeavor. At a place like Notre Dame, a leader in Catholic intellectual thought, we should begin paying more attention to the possibility.

Lt. Mike Koprowski, USAF


Class of 2006

Nov. 17