Monday, July 31, 2006

Stem Cell Stewardship

While I was gone on vacation, the “Methodist” in the White House did something that he’s not done since taking the oath of office in 2001. He exercised his appropriate presidential power of the veto, and on my birthday, no less.

Now, we can debate the presidential powers that have been abused, created, and are unconstitutional (like the unbelievable abuse of presidential “signing statements” being among them that says, basically, “Congress, I’ll sign your little law, but I reserve the right not to keep it’). But the veto is among the fundamental tools that a healthy system of checks and balance in government must honor.

That he has only used that power once, and only recently, and over the issue of stem cell research makes it clear, at least to me, that our system of government is currently at least unhealthy, and most likely diseased. John Dean, White House counsel during the Nixon years, states in his latest book that the Imperial Presidency is upon us, and it when it moves that far from centrism, we find ourselves in danger of losing our character as a democracy.

But I don’t want to criticize President Bush from a political framework. I want to approach the decision of his veto theologically. He, being a layman in the same denomination in which I’m an elder, seems like I ought to be able to do that. So, with all due deference to the NSA and all other agencies who may flag this post – fear not – I’m proud to be an American (but not in a Lee Greenwood sorta way, because I hate that damn song), no, I see myself as one who thinks John Dean is right, and we are at our best in the center.

And we’ll never get back to center as long as we continue to politicize issues such as this one. You know, like photo ops with children who were once embryos and were given life through in-vetro fertilization.

But he’s sincere, you say…principled.

I really think you’re right, he is. But when your principles are wrong-headed, who cares? Sincerity? Hardly enough of a condition to stand on.

Plenty of folks are sincere – Hezbollah is sincere, Hitler was sincere, the Christian right and left are sincere (that they are right and the other is wrong), but so what?

Any one and everyone who is certain to a fault, threatened - be it real, imagined, or exaggerated (something I'm sure the President knows a little something about), or guided by power laced with fear - is sincere.

Sincerity ain’t enough. It's especially not enough when one's sincerity is in the abstract. I can "moralize" till the cows come home from my lofty perch about "you." When it deals with me and mine, when issues have names, names of people I know, I love - when my choices are framed from a position of relationship - that principled moral boundary gets a bit shaky.

So I'm left to wonder, as our sons and daughters honorably serve in a cause with questionable moral underpinnings - where the Bush girls are. Just a question.

Sincerity and principle must be joined with what frames us. For Christians, as Methodists, is that not that we are God’s children and are obliged one to the other through Jesus Christ?

Now, on the issue of stem cells.

I’m no scientist, and I don’t know what of stem cell research is overblown and what is legit. As I understand the bill that was vetoed, it dealt solely with embryos that were literally going to be discarded. Thrown away, like so much trash.

So, what the President is saying, if I hear him right, is that he’d rather embryos been tossed in the trash than be contributed to research with the prospect of significant gains in confronting diseases that afflict millions.

Fundamentally, it’s a matter of stewardship. And on this point I believe the President, a Methodist layman, is not utilizing the faith he says matters so much to him. I wonder if he thinks of organ donation in the same way?

Does not our faith, our Methodist heritage, our fundamental understanding of the God of Creation push us to steward well all our gifts? Is it more faithful for that liver, heart, kidney, corneas to be buried than to be shared with the opportunity to benefit another of God’s creation?

To be sure, such decisions to donate are the choice of the individual or family – but it’s there, nonetheless.

I really think the corollary holds.

So, W., what has your denomination said on this matter? Aren’t you even curious?

I was.

So, I looked it up.

Some Judgments Regarding the Use of Existing Embryos for Stem Cell Research
Given the reality that most, if not all, of these excess embryos will be discarded—we believe that it is morally tolerable to use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes. This position is a matter of weighing the danger of further eroding the respect due to potential life against the possible, therapeutic benefits that are hoped for from such research. The same judgment of moral tolerability would apply to the use of embryos left from future reproductive efforts if a decision has been made not to introduce them into the womb. We articulate this position with an attitude of caution, not license. We reiterate our opposition to the creation of embryos for the sake of research. (See Book of Resolutions 2000, p. 254)

Knowing my church as I do, I was not surprised by what I found.

Are you, Mr. President?

1 comment:

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