Please, Mr. Kinsley, present the church’s teaching accurately

January 25, 2011


In his op-ed commentary in last Sunday’s StarTribune, Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page and opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times, sadly resorts to mocking the Catholic Church and the late Pope John Paul II while making an ultimately unpersuasive argument in support of embryonic stem-cell research.

Kinsley’s premise in “Please, John Paul, make me your miracle” is that, while the church recently approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope John Paul in the case of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the church remains one of the main obstacles to finding a cure for the illness because of its stance on stem-cell research.

Kinsley, who suffers from Parkinson’s, as did Pope John Paul, says he and millions of others would like their own miracle cure — not necessarily the “old fashioned, abracadabra type” that Kinsley mockingly characterizes as part of the church’s beatification process, but a miracle cure of a different sort.

Kinsley writes: “The most likely source of miracle cures for all sorts of diseases, with Parkinson’s foremost among them, is stem-cell research. The church opposes stem-cell research on the grounds that it uses, and in the process destroys, human embryos. These are surplus embryos from fertilization clinics that will be destroyed, or permanently frozen, anyway. They are not fetuses; they are clumps of a few dozen cells.”

He continues: “But of course none of this matters if you believe they are full human beings like you and me.”

Several of Kinsley’s points require correction and clarification.

First, the church doesn’t oppose stem-cell research. It opposes stem-cell research that destroys human embryos. But it supports, and even promotes, research that uses adult stem cells — those found in adult human tissue and blood, not embryos. Adult stem cells are being used today for a variety of therapies and in research that has the potential to save lives, including research that could result in treatments for those with Parkinson’s.

The argument that surplus embryos from fertilization clinics would be destroyed anyway and that they only amount to “clumps of a few dozen cells” doesn’t make destroying them for utilitarian purposes any more moral.

This is nascent human life after all (check your Biology 101 textbook) and society has a duty to nurture and protect it — no matter its age, abilities or perceived usefulness to others. The end doesn’t justify the means: You can’t intentionally destroy human life in order to benefit others without embarking down a very slippery moral slope.

A question we should be asking is why all those “surplus” embryos are being created and stored in the first place. They shouldn’t be. But when they are, they shouldn’t be destroyed for research, as Kinsley would allow, because they will die anyway. One could argue that terminally ill patients will die anyway, too, but that certainly doesn’t give anyone the right to kill them in the name of research.

The fact that Kinsley and millions of others have to struggle with Parkinson’s is sad. No one likes to see anyone suffer through an illness. The Catholic Church, which Kinsley targets for criticism, devotes huge amounts of resources every day to treat millions of ill people in this country and around the world, especially the poorest and most vulnerable who could not afford care at many other hospitals or clinics.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II spoke out in support of health care as a human right. At the end of his life, he was one of the vulnerable who needed special care. He certainly suffered in his final years as the world watched, but he would never compromise good moral principles, even for his own personal benefit.

The church will continue to promote stem-cell research that has the potential to help people without destroying innocent human life. It’s not an issue of science vs. morality — it’s an issue of ensuring science is grounded on a solid foundation of morality and ethics for the benefit of all.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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