Frist frosts Dobson over expanded stem-cell research
Admitting our mistakes grinds against human nature. Blaming others for our blunders proves easier. We don’t like taking the rap for erring. This habit of covering up our mistakes gets magnified when we find ourselves under the glare of public media spotlights. Privately telling ourselves we have messed up is difficult enough. What’s rare is a politician publicly admitting that his previous belief is misguided.Bill Frist, GOP Senate chief, admits the vision of limited stem-cell research he shared with the Bush Administration and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson was too narrow. Frist, a devout Presbyterian trained at Harvard Medical School as a heart specialist, relies on his medical expertise as he embraces widening stem-cell research. As Republican leader, Frist has split with many religious groups who prohibit expanding stem cell experiments. They judge such work in the laboratory as infanticide, not unlike the Nazi’s genocidal “medical experiments” killing Jews. “While human embryonic stem-cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001, will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases,” Frist now admits. “Therefore, I believe the president’s policy should be modified.” He remembers a sage who warned us of strident moralists. “A person thinks everything he does is right, but the Lord weighs the heart,” Proverbs 21:2.Whether we agree or refute Frist and his #1 advocate for further research, Nancy Reagan, he deserves a compliment for candor. Rarely do presidential hopefuls express in such clear, concise and cogent language how they differ from Party policy. Even if Frist is ethically off base, his precise way of speaking is refreshingly straight on. He’s the Harry Truman of the Senate. Perhaps he took lessons on candor from Gerald R. Ford.Leaders like James Dobson accuse Frist of endorsing a murderous practice, even if this doctor thinks such research will help rid our world of debilitating diseases. Dobson shows no patience for Frist’s argument that medicine benefits from expanding stem-cell research. The large bloc of Christians Dobson represents believes its murder because, to harvest stem cells, embryos are destroyed.Frist holds deep reservations about cavalierly destroying embryos for laboratory use. “An embryo is nascent human life,” Frist believes. “It’s genetically distinct. And it’s biologically human. It’s living. This position is consistent with my faith. But, to me, it isn’t just a matter of faith. It’s a fact of science.”I agree with Frist and Dobson that an embryo is more than a glob of cells full of potential life. Certainly an embryo ranks much higher than other cell packages we lop off without moral reservation, like warts or a sixth toe of a newborn infant.Still, physician Frist breaks ranks with Dobson, the Roman Catholic Church and some conservative Jewish groups, because he sees a qualitative difference between an unfeeling embryo and a child ravaged by a terrible disease. He’d rather try to save the child through discoveries made in stem-cell research, even if this means using destroyed embryos.”In all forms of stem-cell research, I see today – just as in 2001 – great, great promise to heal,” Frist maintains. “Whether it is diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease, or in my own field of heart disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease or spinal cord injuries, stem cells offer hope for treatment that other lines of research simply cannot offer.”On Aug. 3 Dobson blasted what he deems morally shoddy thinking. Dobson lumped expanded stem-cell research with hideous experiments Nazis conducted on Jews.” … people talk about the potential good that can come from destroying these little embryos and how we might be able to solve the problem of juvenile diabetes,” Dobson said in his weekly radio show. ” … But I have to ask this question: In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind. You know, if you take the utilitarian approach, that if something results in good, then it is good. But that’s obviously not true.”I don’t see how using an embryo for stem-cell research to combat lethal diseases compares with Nazis throwing a Jewish person into icy water to learn how long he survived before hypothermia led to death. An embryo does not remember. An embryo does not love. An embryo does not howl in pain. A Jewish person used for gruesome “experiments” did. Where’s the moral congruence between the two?Danger lurks when Christians take hard-line moral positions from which they allow no alternatives. Then moral searching stops. Certainty commandeers minds. Those disagreeing with a rigid moral posture are judged as not only wrong but ethically evil.Thomas Jefferson, like Bill Frist, disassociated from such narrow thinking that thrives on absolutism. Opening the University of Virginia, Jefferson battled Presbyterians. They demanded a faculty composed only of orthodox Christians. They assumed a Christian chapel would grace the campus. Jefferson said he would hire the best faculty, even if some did not walk a strict Presbyterian doctrinal line. He invited denominations to build their chapels around the campus, not in it, lest they be given preferential treatment. Jefferson showed eternal wariness for Presbyterian clergy who had all the right answers. “We have given them stated and privileged days to collect and catechize us, opportunities of delivering their oracles to people en masse, and of molding their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands,” warned Jefferson. He sounds like Bill Frist.The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available for $7.95 in local bookstores.Vail, Colorado
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