Someone else's Religion or your health?
June 21, 2001 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Someone else's Religion or your health? How the Catholic church is manipulating medical research in the United States. Stem cell research offers some exciting opportunities for medicine but the Pope doesn't think so.
posted by keithl (48 comments total)

 
I've always been against abortion in most cases, but this is though. People argue that maybe the fetus you destroy could have grown up to cure cancer or aids or heart disease.

Well, maybe that unborn kid really will play a role in curing cancer or aids or heart disease, and this is it.

In the case where an abortion would save the life of the mother has tradionally been the only point where I'd condone abortion. Here, destroying a few embryo cells might well save the lives of millions.
posted by tomorama at 11:32 AM on June 21, 2001


The Pope also thinks he can communicate with God.
posted by Doug at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2001


I heard the same NPR report this morning that I think you did, keithl, and thankfully, it would seem sense is winning out with regards to stem cell research, with people who's heads usually know only the smell of their own colon seem to recognize the need for it's continuance.
posted by dong_resin at 11:44 AM on June 21, 2001


Heh. Doug.
The pope drives a mobile, wears a purple mumu and believes he drinks and eats a dead 2000 year old man every day. He's a total wacko.
posted by tiaka at 12:18 PM on June 21, 2001


It's gonna be a moot point anyway.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:23 PM on June 21, 2001


Apropos of nothing, I've always questioned the wisdom of taking reproductive advice from people who have sworn never to reproduce.

Do we really need MORE evidence that the Catholic Church (and most other churches) are so anti-science that they'd try to ban aspirin if it was manufactured in a 666 area code? They just got around to admitting that GALILEO was correct a couple years ago. We've, uh, been to the moon since then, a couple times. If they're willing to discount the entire fossil record (and the unnerving fact that I, a man, have nipples) to fight the theory of evolution, this little dab of hoohah about stem cells is just hair-pulling.

Religion is the sworn enemy of reason. We shouldn't be shocked when it does something to attack it.
posted by UncleFes at 12:26 PM on June 21, 2001


The pope... believes he drinks and eats a dead 2000 year old man every day. He's a total wacko.

I guess there are 1.5 billion total wackos on the planet, then.
posted by darukaru at 12:28 PM on June 21, 2001


I guess there are 1.5 billion total wackos on the planet, then.

Yes, there apparently are.
posted by UncleFes at 12:29 PM on June 21, 2001


I was aborted as a foetus but then resurrected .
posted by Postroad at 12:36 PM on June 21, 2001


*Sigh* Can we please, please not turn this thread into yet another pissing match over whether or not religion is stupid?

Here's a primer on stem cell research courtesy of the NIH. Read. Learn. Discuss dispassionately while being passionate in opinion.
posted by Skot at 12:39 PM on June 21, 2001


here's an idea:

fuck the pope.

i don't remember electing him, do you?
posted by will at 12:56 PM on June 21, 2001


*Sigh* Can we please, please not turn this thread into yet another pissing match over whether or not religion is stupid?

Isn't that what the original link was about?

I don't think the scientific promise of stem cell research is in doubt.
posted by UncleFes at 1:08 PM on June 21, 2001


fuck the pope.

I'm pretty sure that's against his religion.

You know what else the Pope doesn't like? Condoms. When was the last time you had a hard time buying any? His political influence is only so strong.

Besides, why go through the process of growing the start of a baby inside a poor machine like a human? Figure out how to clone the damn things.
posted by cCranium at 1:14 PM on June 21, 2001


"Religion is the sworn enemy of reason."

Religion isn't the sworn enemy of reason. Fundamentalism is. And the Catholic Church, while it may claim over one-sixth of its population as members, is still just a fraction (no pun intended) of all religious practitioners out there. Some religions are more liberal than others. And as freaky as Catholicism may seem to you, there are denominations/sects out there that are even more conservative than it.

And no, for the record, I don't agree with the Pope. I'm just sick of people who think they're so much better 'cause they aren't religious. To me, that's no better than people who pity those who either aren't religious or are of a different religion/sect/denomination than them.
posted by lannie628 at 1:15 PM on June 21, 2001


To me, using stem cells is no different than organ donations. It seems like there are a lot of people suffering (People with paraylasis as one small example) that might be able to be cured. I'm not arguing religion is stupid. But isn't faith about relief for those that are suffering? The Catholic church makes no mention of these people, they're families or their imense pain.
posted by keithl at 1:24 PM on June 21, 2001


well, as a catholic, i know many don't blindly accept everything that the pope says. the church certainly is conservative, but that is because many of its leaders are old and from different times. i hold out hope that its future leaders will be somewhat more enlightened, but i know nonetheless that no one can change my opinion without my consent.
posted by moz at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2001


<pedantry>
and the unnerving fact that I, a man, have nipples

So men are, what, evolved from women? Male and female humans share genetic code. Why is it surprising that nipple genes are expressed in both men and women? C'mon, there's better evidence for Darwinian mechanisms than that.
</pedantry>
posted by iceberg273 at 1:29 PM on June 21, 2001


I'm just sick of people who think they're so much better 'cause they aren't religious.

I don't think I'm better, just less prone to reject science in favor of myth.

C'mon, there's better evidence for Darwinian mechanisms than that.

I know, that's just the one I like to use because it makes creationists sputter :)
posted by UncleFes at 1:35 PM on June 21, 2001


Isn't that what the original link was about?

Of course it isn't, and I think you know it. The link was about the Catholic Church finding stem cell research morally unacceptable and then trying to manipulate that research through protest. That's a bit more involved than comments about 1.5 billion wackos and "fuck the pope" would seem to indicate.
posted by Skot at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2001


I have to admit, I think the "Yay! Let's use aborted fetuses for Stem Cell Research!" attitude is fucking creepy. Of course, I also think humans are remarkably cavalier about all that we do. I'm not anti-abortion, mainly because I am not a woman and therefore will not become pregnant, so I think it's not my place to impose my will on another in this manner...but I was raised Catholic, and I understand the Pope's argument.

To him, a fetus is a person. It would be rather sick for him to think it was a good idea to kill a person to save another person. I'm not going to start into the whole "When does a fetus become a person" argument, because all it will do is create dissent for no real solution...but we are kind of ignoring the fact that yes, all of us were fetuses once, and we could just as easily have ended up aborted. It's a terrible thing, and one of the reasons I'm so depressed that the morning after pill isn't more easily available.

I'm glad to hear about the link sonofsamiam posted above. But if in the end we can only get stem cells from aborted fetuses, I know that it will happen. I don't really oppose it. But I do think we should be careful before we commit to harvesting this material: it is not all that far from harvesting fetuses which have already been aborted to the idea of baby banking, where people conceive and then harvest those fetuses directly for this purpose. It was once unthinkable that children would be born through surrogate means, or that people would be attacked and killed for their organs. These things now happen.

Science isn't some panacea for our ills, and religion isn't all thou shalt nots. The Pope isn't always right in my opinion, but he's consistent. He has a reasoned opinion based on his reading of what he believes to be God's will, and it is a moral and ethical decision he has made. It's his responsibility, as the duly chosen head of his faith, to advise those that share it as to the position of the church...an organization that has lasted for more that seven times as long as this nation, and which has many more adherents. You can hate him for that if you want, but so far most of the close mindedness being displayed here is not on his part.
posted by Ezrael at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2001


I know, that's just the one I like to use because it makes creationists sputter :)

If the creationist knows better, you will appear to be ignorant. Your worst fear should be a creationist who understand biology, evolutionary theory, and anatomy better than you. Wanna bet that that person exists on MetaFilter? I'd say it's definitely p<0.001. Ever been smacked down by a creationist who really knows his or her science? Now that'll make you sputter.
posted by iceberg273 at 1:42 PM on June 21, 2001


A creationist who knows his science? Yeah, that's pretty common.
"I've studied all the facts and figures, and I've come to the undeniable conclusion that all life was created by a man in a white beard 4 thoudand years ago. Furthermore, I believe I can prove that our current lifespans are due to a talking snake convincing the first woman to eat an apple."
Stem cells wha?
posted by Doug at 1:53 PM on June 21, 2001


(Side note: UncleFes didn't actually post either of those comments that I reference. The first was a comment that he simply responded snarkily--perhaps to inflame, which is what worries me now around MeFi--and the other one--"Fuck the pope"-- I simply wanted to use as a perfect example of the sort of anti-religion rhetoric I'd like to see avoided. That is all.)

Almost all. Doug, are you seriously contending that being a creationist--believing in God--actually precludes scientific thought? That's just ridiculous.

Geez, I spend all this time and I'm a freaking atheist.
posted by Skot at 1:56 PM on June 21, 2001


It's his responsibility, as the duly chosen head of his faith, to advise those that share it as to the position of the church...an organization that has lasted for more that seven times as long as this nation, and which has many more adherents.

But one thing he is not is a doctor, or a scientist. Should scientists be the ones to determine where experimentation goes? Shouldn't doctors be the ones to evaluate what treatments are valid and what are not?

I defer to the Pope on matters pertaining to God; shouldn't we also defer to scientists on matters of science? Perhaps, under the rubric of giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is His? I'm no pro-abortion zealot, but if the difference is between incineration and perhaps finding a worthwhile use for the tissues, it doesn't seem to far afield to say, yes, let's put this to some good until we get better methods (like extracting stems from fat cells) up and running.
posted by UncleFes at 1:57 PM on June 21, 2001


Skot, being a creationist is not the same as believing in God.
posted by Doug at 2:01 PM on June 21, 2001


Do we really need MORE evidence that the Catholic Church are ... anti-science .....If they're willing to discount the entire fossil record to fight the theory of evolution...

I thought the Catholic Church accepted the idea of evolution. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that was one of the pieces of evidence of the evil inherent in the Catholic Church as presented to me by a Fundamental Baptist preacher one time.
posted by daveadams at 2:07 PM on June 21, 2001


I thought the Catholic Church accepted the idea of evolution.

You're right.
posted by bilco at 2:11 PM on June 21, 2001


cCranium: te he, of course we would use a condom. (jk)

just in case anyone takes me too seriously, this post and my last one were done in jest. let's not get all "metatalk" on me, ok?
posted by will at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2001


Skot, being a creationist is not the same as believing in God.

Eh. I need to use Preview a lot more efficaciously. You are correct. I would still argue that a belief in creationism does not by definition preclude rational scientific thought, and just saying so outright is just pat dismissal without any good reasoning behind it.
posted by Skot at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2001


Both creationists and evolutionists can (and do) contribute to science. Science is a process used to systematically examine the world around us and the body of results that this process produces. Science is the methodology and results sections, not the discussion and introduction. A whole lot of theory is in the discussion section. It can generate testable hypotheses, but it can also generate storytelling. Stories are a part of science - they can generate testable hypotheses, but they should be treated as fact.

That's an important thing to remember.

It doesn't matter where your hypotheses come from, as long as they are testable. Hypotheses can come from dreams. If creationists have testable hypotheses (and they do - we didn't get rid of the foolishness of gradualism in geology without a few creationists), they should test them. And report the results.

Of course, anything not testable is storytelling (and not science). There's a lot of creationist storytelling. There's a lot of evolutionist storytelling.

That's another important thing to remember.
posted by iceberg273 at 2:21 PM on June 21, 2001


moz, hold out hope that its future leaders will be somewhat more enlightened

But see, stuff like a feotus being a human being, that's at the very core of christianity, it's one of the most fundamental Truths in the religion. To change the church's official stance on that is much bigger then saying "Yeah, that sun circling the earth? You were right."

The thing about life (from a Catholic standpoint) is that it's a direct gift from God. It's a miracle, it's God stretching out and having direct influence on the earth, through us.

By fucking with that shit and having abortions, we're getting up in God's face and saying "Hmm, you, the omniscient being is wrong, and I the mere mortal am right." It's out-and-out defiance. It is highly unlikely that the church is going to encourage defiance.

Doug, believing that God created everything also isn't necessarily the same as believing that God created everything in six days.

And one thing to remember about people with faith: They'll find an answer that includes their deity in everything, even if it gets to the point of "God created the traces of evolution to give us something to do."

Ultimately, when you're dealing with an omniscient being, there is room for science and said being. It may not exactly be rational, but very little dealing with faith actually is.

(note: saying that faith is not rational is not a bad thing, it's one of faith's strengths.)
posted by cCranium at 2:21 PM on June 21, 2001


they should be treated as fact.

no. they should not be treated as fact.

It's good to check things over carefully before posting.

That's another important thing to remember.
posted by iceberg273 at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2001


Skot: I think you missed me being sarcastic on the '1.5bil wackos' comment. I'm certainly not writing off all the world's Catholics as wackos, even if others wish to.
If anything, it was just my own comment on Catholic-bashing being the official sport of Internet intellectuals.
posted by darukaru at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2001


I defer to the Pope on matters pertaining to God; shouldn't we also defer to scientists on matters of science?

This division isn't that clear. There's a strong case to be made that not all scientists have moral compasses that work.

Come on, look at the last century. The byproducts of atomic research come first to mind. Look at the current progress being made every day in genomic research. Doesn't it worry you a bit, how our far wrong our Brave New World could possibly go?

I'm not against scientific progress, mind you. But to suggest that science should move forward separate from the sorts of moral concerns that have traditionally been associated with religion, well, that's just shortsighted.
posted by bilco at 2:31 PM on June 21, 2001


Ugh. I think my previous post may unintentionally imply that I think creationists and other religious folk are weasely types who will go to extreme lengths to fit their deity of choice into a scientific world view.

This is not something I believe.

I was trying to say (and choose the longwinded version, which was a poor idea): As long as an unknown exists, there is room for a deity.
posted by cCranium at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2001


ccranium: i didn't say anything about abortions. i hope that the church will one day condone the use of condoms, if nothing else. the church's stance on abortion is understandable, but the reach to which they have extended their argument -- against condoms, against most if not all forms of birth control -- i find unrealistic.
posted by moz at 2:34 PM on June 21, 2001


Darukaru: I caught the sarcasm; it was the snarky call-and-response that started to happen as a result that I was worried about. But I've already made that point (and UncleFes and I exchanged a couple amicable emails), so I don't want to belabor it.
posted by Skot at 2:35 PM on June 21, 2001


their argument -- against condoms, against most if not all forms of birth control -- i find unrealistic.

Actually, the Church endorses two forms of birth control -- the rhythm method (which works not all that well) and abstinence (which works 100% of the time).
posted by bilco at 2:38 PM on June 21, 2001


I defer to the Pope on matters pertaining to God; shouldn't we also defer to scientists on matters of science?

I don't think the Pope wants you to defer to him automatically. From what I've read about the Pope, and from my experience dealing with various clergy members, most of them really encourage thinking about God and coming to terms with God in your own way.

As a mammoth organization, the Church has certain rules and has made a large number of decrees and stated many many Truths, but in my education (disclosure: I was educated in the catholic school system for 13 years) the vast majority of catholic educators (clergy, sunday school teachers, regular school teachers) really did encourage us to think about the things we're told.

That, for example, is the whole point of the homily. (Oh man I hope I'm using the right word) The part of the mass after the Gospel is read. The priest (and in most other christian religions, the clergy-in-charge) will tell a nice little anecdote to present the same lesson in natural language, and in ways that the churchgoers can relate to.

The whole thing about teaching in parables was about making the Word of God easy for us regular folk to understand, to get us thinking about how God affects our lives. To get us thinking about God.

Catholicism isn't just about blind faith, most religions aren't. It's a different means of explaining the universe.
posted by cCranium at 2:43 PM on June 21, 2001


Has the church commented yet on Mountain Dew?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:43 PM on June 21, 2001


moz, I'm sorry if I was inaccurate, I was applying my argument to many points raised, and mostly just pulled the quote from you as a starting point.

Thing is though, in the eyes of the church, there's very little difference between prophylactics and abortion. It's just a matter of when you're defying God.

I mean, abortion's probably a significantly worse sin, and penance would be significantly more, but it's the same core belief - life is Sacred.

You've seen heard the Monty Python tune, I'm sure.
posted by cCranium at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2001


But one thing he is not is a doctor, or a scientist. Should scientists be the ones to determine where experimentation goes? Shouldn't doctors be the ones to evaluate what treatments are valid and what are not?

Because we can do something, it does not follow that we should do something. During WWII, scientists and doctors cut off people's heads and sewed them to other people's bodies. They put people into ice tanks and left them there, studying the damage it did to them. They tore people's skin off and regrafted it. I could mention how doctors took part in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, allowing men to die of syphilis without even telling them they had it in order to study its effects...or the Chicago Malaria study...or the decision by the US Governenment Scientists to allow US Troops and nearby towns to be exposed to fallout...but you understand my point.

The fact is, morality is more important than ever. We have great power, and it is growing, but along with that power we have responsibilities to learn how to use it wisely. So far, we have done anything we could do. And it is not always working out for us. For years, the chemical industry swelled, unrestrained by any thought of the consequences to us. Now our bodies are host to chemicals never before seen in biological tissue, and we have little idea of the cost.

Doctors and Scientists need to think, always, of the costs of their researches, not just in terms of the financial cost of performing their work but also in terms of the cost to us all if they perfect it.
posted by Ezrael at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2001


Sorry. Misspelled government up there.
posted by Ezrael at 2:49 PM on June 21, 2001


... the Church has certain rules and has made a large number of decrees and stated many many Truths, but in my education ... the vast majority of catholic educators ... really did encourage us to think about the things we're told.


True. The Church teaches that the decision to do good -- any good -- has to result from a choice, a choice made possible via free will. One must choose between good and evil for the choice to have any meaning. To blindly follow orders -- even if they result in a moral result -- doesn't necessarily win you any kewpie dolls.

Basically, you have the power to determine your own choices. You also have the responsibility that goes along with your choices.
posted by bilco at 2:59 PM on June 21, 2001


There's a strong case to be made that not all scientists have moral compasses that work.

I'm certain you're right. And the same can also be said for religious leaders. But, I have difficulties with the idea that there is truly a moral aspect to science - or that there must be. I believe that science and knowledge is inherently neutral - how it is applied, otoh, has a definite moral aspect. But do we want, as rational beings, the directions of scientific inquiry governed by moral laws? I would answer no, because morality is inherently individual, and inherently obstructionist - it would tell where not to go, but not where to go.

Come on, look at the last century. The byproducts of atomic research come first to mind.

The atomic age was not all bad. Despite having the bomb for 60 years, we've yet to have a nuclear war (despite several fairly energetic international conflicts) and only twice was the bomb dropped on an enemy target, and that very early on in the nuclear age. Atomic energy has some problems (mostly with pollutants and our inability to effectively deal with loose radiation), but I think the potential is more than good. And atomic bombs eventually led to a greater undestanding of atomic theory, and that has literally changed the way we understand the universe.

Look at the current progress being made every day in genomic research. Doesn't it worry you a bit, how our far wrong our Brave New World could possibly go

It doesn't worry me - not because bad things couldn't happen, but because I think that the good things that will come from genomic research will far outweigh the bad things, because historically new technologies have generally affected society this way.

There will be problems with genomics; there will be accidents. But the promise of genomics - like many technological breakthroughs before it - is such that it will almost certainly far exceed any detractions.

During WWII, scientists and doctors cut off

Horribly true. But the arc of science shows these as aberrations, not the rule. And scientists have these lessons to draw on today - the line has been drawn. My contention is that science should be allowed to inquire according to its whim, and applied according to the what is needed and what is beneficial.

Which, in the end, I think is exactly what the vast, vast majority of scientists want to do.
posted by UncleFes at 3:06 PM on June 21, 2001


science and knowledge is inherently neutral - how it is applied, otoh, has a definite moral aspect.

I don't think any human endeavor is ever value-free. Science as a practice and a profession is more than just a collection of facts (which I agree are neutral). We'll have to agree to disagree on this, I guess.

morality is inherently individual, and inherently obstructionist - it would tell where not to go, but not where to go.

I think this would be a surprise to many scientists and mathematicians, from Pascal to Einstein. A lot of those folks felt that their moral sense -- and even their religious beliefs -- compelled and guided their scientific progress.

The atomic age was not all bad.

True. My writing let me down here. I didn't mean to imply that all atomic research has lead to ill ends. But the fact that you and I agree that some of the ends were good while others bad sort of underlines the point I was making -- that there are good and bad aspects to research.

the promise of genomics ... is such that it will almost certainly far exceed any detractions.

I'm not as optimistic, but I could be wrong. I'd be happy to be wrong in this case, believe me.

My contention is that science should be allowed to inquire according to its whim, and applied according to the what is needed and what is beneficial.

I just don't see science as really progressing without a goal. Scientists don't work in a moral vacuum -- they have personal reasons to pursue certain results just as anyone does. And I'm not convinced that everyone would agree as to what is "beneficial."

(The word "beneficial" leads us back to notions of goodness, as that is what the word's root means. Not everyone agrees as to what is good and what is not, and that's always the rub; hence we need to be a bit vigilant in our reasoning here. That's all I'm saying.)
posted by bilco at 3:36 PM on June 21, 2001


Before I get going again, let me just say that I do not think that the Vatican has the greatest record with the idea of applying rational thought to scientific inquiry.

Anyway, here I go.

Horribly true. But the arc of science shows these as aberrations, not the rule. And scientists have these lessons to draw on today - the line has been drawn. My contention is that science should be allowed to inquire according to its whim, and applied according to the what is needed and what is beneficial.

Which, in the end, I think is exactly what the vast, vast majority of scientists want to do.


I would argue that scientists often do not care how their work will be applied. There is no thought towards what effect will be produced by, say, the development of PVC pipe. The chemicals involved are carcinogens, and they killed many of those who worked in the refineries that produced them.

The idea that scientific inquiry should be whimsical bothers me. Should it be free to pursue what it deems interesting or valuable? Sure. But how it pursues lines of inquiry can be as dangerous as the application of the information gathered. The Tuskegee Syphilis study is one example of a means of inquiry that should not have been allowed to happen, and the nuclear testing in Utah that dumped fallout on school and residental neighborhoods (See American Ground Zero by Carole Gallagher) is another example of boundless inquisitiveness overriding human concerns. Both happened in America.

During 1953, one of the dirtiest and most dangerous years of the tests in Nevada, many flocks of sheep in Utah were decimated from grazing on the fallout-dusted range. Since the sheep ranchers most affected had been in this business for generations, no one was really fooled by the Atomic Energy Commission's assertions that the sheep loss was due to "mismanagement, malnutrition, and perhaps poisonous plants on the range." They had first been told by their county agricultural agents and public health officials that the beta burns their animals had on their muzzles that extended right down their alimentary canals and through their intestines were caused by radiation. Ewes aborted. Lambs not stillborn lived for a short while, some born with their hearts beating outside their chests. The animals' wool fell off, in much the same way that the Japanese lost hair after being poisoned by radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the fact that the public health bureaucracy and AEC scientists camouflaged the consequences when they realized that a public uproar over the potential health effects from the fallout might force them to close the Test Site, there wasn't a person alive in southern Utah, then or now, who didn't fear that the deaths of those lambs and sheep were a precursor of a shared destiny. from the prologue of American Ground Zero.

I would support requiring all scientists to take at least a year of philosophy courses, just as I would support requiring all philosophy majors to take a year of hard science courses. It would be helpful, I would even argue, for all college students to be exposed to as many different subjects as possible rather than simply focusing on what will provide them with the best shot at a job. Of course, this only applies if we actually want them to be educated, rather than merely employed. We would have to make college longer, which of course would make it cost more, which would put it out of reach for more people.

Perhaps that is a problem, too. (I would certainly think so.) At any rate, I think we are in a place now where scientists themselves are the only ones who can realize that with intellectual freedom comes responsibility, and that while any subject should be open for inquiry, some inquiries should not be undertaken. (In other words, studying syphilis is fine...letting a hundred people die in order to study it is not.)
posted by Ezrael at 4:11 PM on June 21, 2001


Isn't it a moot point anyway? Seems I recently read an article suggesting that fetuses weren't the only -- or even a particularly good source for stem cells. We all have them in greater numbers in our fat or marrow or something. I don't remember exactly, and I'd try to link it if I wasn't so lazy.
posted by willnot at 4:40 PM on June 21, 2001


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