By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Doug Kmiec and Robby George, two of the country's top legal scholars and Catholic conservatives, recently debated President Obama's executive order on embryonic stem cell research on this blog. George said the order pledged federal dollars for human cloning; Kmiec argued that it did not. Now Kmiec and George are in discussions to continue the argument in public, with a face-to-face debate. To help shape the debate, Kmiec has sent me a list of questions that he wants God & Country readers to answer. (Kmiec has asked George to respond to the same questions ahead of their debate.) Put on your thinking caps and prepare to do some soul searching. These questions are tough.
Kmiec also invites readers to submit their own questions for him and for George. "It occurs to me that your readers may have much to contribute on these matters," Kmiec said in an E-mail to me yesterday.
I've also asked George for questions and will post any that he sends along.
Here are Kmiec's questions for you:
Q. Assume we need a relatively clear answer to the question "When does life begin?" in order to avoid ethical arbitrariness and to show proper respect for the dignity of the human person. The Supreme Court, of course, has selected viability, but this is objectionable to many since it does not seem to be anything but an arbitrary point designed as a jurisprudential compromise. Since either fertilization or implantation is a bright line, is there a basis to decide between the two that is not dependent upon faith?
Q. As Professor George apparently conceded in our recent email exchange concerning the President's stem cell directive, different faith traditions answer the question of when life begins differently. Should respect for these religious differences and the human right of freedom of conscience affect how public laws treat abortion or embryonic stem cell research? If so, how should different religious perspectives be accommodated?
Q. To what degree does the Church teach that human dignity is traceable to man's "soul" or spiritual destination and does the Church have a view on when the soul enters the body? Is the Church's present view spiritual or scientific?
Q. Is it correct to posit that since the very existence of an immortal soul is not a subject for scientific inquiry, the question is a philosophical one?
Q. If you believe that the Church has consistently taught that human dignity attaches without reference to the soul or spiritual nature of the human person (i.e., ensoulment or its proof), but instead on the basis of objective scientific fact, where has the Church presented its scientific argument in detail in writing accessible to the lay body of the Church? [N.B., the recent admonishment of now Vice-President Biden during the 2008 campaign and the Catechism, I assume you would agree, do not present scientific argument, even as both announce scientific claim].
Q. If the question of when life begins depends on objective science, where has the scientific community confirmed that it overwhelmingly and definitively favors fertilization over implantation [or nidation]?
Q. If the scientific view in favor of fertilization is not unanimous or nearly so, why not?
Q. Do you believe the president's stem cell directive to have any justifiable biomedical research goals? If so, what are they, and how have you distinguished these goals from other goals that are without justification?
Q. As a matter of objective scientific fact, is there unanimous or near unanimous agreement that there is no difference between the destruction of a human embryo for the purpose of seeking a medical breakthrough in behalf of patients suffering from potentially curable, but presently fatal, illness and the taking of an adult life for the same purpose?
Q. If the President implements his announced prohibition against human cloning for the purpose of human reproduction by punishing those who purposively create human embryos by means of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer with the objective of human reproduction, would that not amount to a prohibition on cloning for the purpose of human reproduction?
Q. Would you also think there would be a need—borne out of the desire not to directly or indirectly cooperate with evil—for the Catholic Church to advise the faithful against utilizing any pharmaceutical product or medical treatment regimen that has been advanced by SCNT involving a human embryo? If so, is there a need now for Church leaders to advocate strict disclosure requirements that will permit faithful Catholics to discern which aspects of medicine or medical treatment may or may not be pursued? Is such a limitation workable? To avoid material cooperation, would it be enough for a faithful Catholic suffering from cancer or Parkinson's disease to attempt to identify the pharmaceutical firms or research universities that the faithful should avoid patronizing or supporting?
Q. Does the difficulty of any of the above, or the lack of agreement in the scientific community on any of the above, or the general unavailability of the Church's scientific exposition on any of the above commend a disposition of discussion and inquiry among Catholics that is ill-served by the use of ethical condemnations premised upon propositions like "material cooperation"? If so, should greater latitude of debate and discussion be extended toward non-Catholic citizens?