March 13th 2009


Saving single-celled persons

By Marie Alena CastleĀ 

Michael Gerson’s March 12 column is a fine example of human imagination running amok. His opposition to Pres. Obama’s reversal of the Bush administrations abortion-related restrictions on funding for family planning and stem cell research is based on the bizarre premise that there are such things as single-celled persons and that to destroy a microscopic cluster of 150 undifferentiated cells (blastocysts) containing human DNA is tantamount to murder.

This sudden concern for single-celled life is a bit odd, given that, for 25 years, fertility clinics have been disposing of about 600,000 blastocysts annually as medical waste, with no noticeable outcry from the “all life is sacred” contingent of the religious community. What appears to be operating now is a drive to use stem cell research to elevate a religious belief to a position of authority and control in matters of public policy.

And it is entirely a religious belief that moves Gerson to assign personhood to stem cells and blastocysts. His Catholic religion has taught him that their god implants an immortal soul into each fertilized egg at the moment of conception, and that ensoulment is what creates a person. People are entirely free to believe this but, unless they can prove this actually happens, they should not expect that belief to be implanted in the laws of our land.

Gerson is dismayed that a Catholic (Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius) will be in charge of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which oversees these matters. He should be pleased when public officials put the Constitution and its First Amendment ahead of this nation’s numerous, conflicting, and-as the stem cell controversy shows-sometimes absurd religious doctrines. It’s what they took an oath to do.

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