Get uncomfortable

By Leila Marie Lawler (articles ) | Feb 03, 2004

Our friend Claire, a senior at Harvard, reports some surprising discussions in her ethics class last semester.

Fellow students challenged her to clear up some perceived anomalies in the Catholic approach to bioethics. I found their interest completely contrary to what we might suppose, and our clergy might assume, about the marginalization of Catholic principles in our post-christian world.

For instance, they wanted to know why Catholics wouldn't save frozen embryos through "adoption-by-implantation" if we think they are human, and why we don't want to bury aborted fetuses if we think they are human. (Her responses: 1) We’re working on it and 2) We would if we could.)

People, even elites we expect to be indifferent or hostile to our faith, do want the Catholic Church to make sense when she approaches practical problems. In fact, they rely on us to do so -- who else would they look to? -- and they know, with an amazing finely-tuned sort of moral seismology, when we slip.

So there's something painfully clueless about Cardinal McCarrick and Rev. Kevin T. Fitzgerald "getting comfortable" with research on cell lines from aborted fetuses. For them, the issue is not only one of splitting philisophical hairs on proximity and intentionality. It goes far beyond that.

It seems that these men can't believe that an action could be required of them that would put a stop to something as remote from religion, from their point of view, as the scientific research that's being done on the cell lines. They are, in fact, afraid that they will be thought obsolete – laughable! – in, say, a Harvard ethics seminar. They think they are irrelevant because they have made themselves so. The only alternative is to get comfortable.

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  • Posted by: - Feb. 04, 2004 12:05 AM ET USA

    Isn't that the problem, bishops are all too "comfortable"? Maybe we should bring back hair shirts or require that bishops spend a year in the Gulag for defending the faith before they can be ordained. I wonder if Edmund Campion thought the rack was "comfortable". Would the bishops be more uncomfortable if the cell lines were from concentration camp inmates or slaves, or what about cell lines from homosexuals who were the victims of hate crimes? Would they consider those cell lines acceptable?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2004 2:33 PM ET USA

    Claire should know that aborted fetus burial has been done, when activists have been able to find remains in the abortuary trash.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2004 12:20 PM ET USA

    Help the Cardinal 'get uncomfortable' at: There, you can sign the petition of Debi Vinnedge, the original filer of the complaint against Georgetown's Stem Cell Research. The petition will be sent to Cardinal McCarrick to encourage him to stop research on cell lines from aborted tissues.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2004 10:52 AM ET USA

    That sounds about right; irrelevant ecclesial neo-apostates fumbling for their knitting needles in the chancery sewing room, while the laity are left to self-educate and defend the faith. I believe that the clerics stopped teaching the faith in the 4th century and it was left to a remnant of the lay faithful to keep the light burning in the world, until they again were blest with enough clerics who dared to teach the faith once delivered.