The Mind of James Donahue

Do Cells Have Souls?

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The Moral Debate Over Stem Cell Research
By James Donahue
When it comes to stem cell research, I think President George W. Bush has found himself wedged between a rock and a hard place.
A proclaimed Bible-thumping, born-again Christian, Mr. Bush finds himself saying publicly that he opposes the killing of life and he believes that a human exists at the moment of conception. Thus Bush stands morally and socially opposed to stem cell research.
Privately, however, Mr. Bush has an allegiance to the big business interests who put him in the White House. And there is a lot of money waiting to be made by the corporations financing stem cell work. Rather than let foreign interests catch all of these worms, our government has been silently financing the research anyway. But nobody is talking about it. And I suspect that the money is going into only favored pockets.
The government has been pouring federal dollars into a project using stem cells obtained from fetuses aborted up to eight weeks after conception since May, 2002. This funding began within a year after President Bush publicly banned spending for research in stem cells from human embryos.
Every rule is apparently designed to be broken. By definition, the Bush restriction does not apply to research on stem cells taken from aborted fetuses.
I personally can't find a significant difference between using human embryos and tissues from aborted fetuses. While the embryo may be produced in the lab and kept alive just long enough for research purposes (vitro propagation), the aborted fetus is taken from the mother following natural conception in the uterus (utero propagation). It is living tissue no matter how you slice it.
We are talking here about the zygote, the single celled point where life begins following a natural (or unnatural) union between an egg and sperm. The issue is whether that tiny one-celled particle of living matter is yet a human being with a soul. And since the soul is a very spiritual issue, impossible to prove and identify as a part of any individual, it is a question to be argued on theological levels, not in the laboratory.
Consequently, we have a debate on this matter that once more separates the Christian and the scientific communities. Ironically both sides are taking the moral road. The Christians say that the manufacture of life, even in a test tube, for experimentation, involves the murder of unborn children. The scientists say the experimentation may lead to wonderful new solutions to maladies that have plagued mankind almost forever.
In fact, stem cell research, coupled with genetic mapping of human DNA, may promise future humans with super bodies with the capability of living very long and healthy lives, the scientific community says.
And this, then, is the great human dilemma.
There is another, not as well known or argued side of stem cell research, however.  Some scientists are experimenting with other human cells and tissues, including bone marrow, and say the cell research they are doing also appears promising. They believe they may achieve the same results without destroying the early stages of a living human.
But when you think about it, a separated human cell, from any part of the body, is found to contain the complete DNA mapping of the individual. This is why cloning and DNA manipulation is possible. Each cell, by itself, is as much a living entity as all of the cells combined.
With this thought, it seems to me that every time we tamper with a human cell we are faced with the same moral question. Once the cell is separated from the body, it becomes a piece of living tissue and is just as much a living thing as that zygote created in the test tube.
I don't think anybody believes that tiny piece of bone marrow, or living tissue scraped from the mouth of a volunteer, possesses a soul. Nor does the hair or fingernails we cut. Why should they argue there is a soul in the fertilized egg? Are they really different?
While all life is sacred, I think we can carry this concept too far at times.
It is my personal belief that the entrance of the soul is a holy event that occurs in the midst of pregnancy. It is the moment in which the energy of the Mother Earth and the universe that creates us, chooses to make that quivering piece of living flesh a human being.
If we can do anything in our research to enhance the quality of the life each human can live, through genetic and stem cell research, then it should be done. The angelic Christian force that battles mankind, would do all that it can to stop such work. As soon as we understand this and act accordingly, the better off the human race will be.

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