Stem Cells, Bishops And Sloppy Language

May 5, 2008 09:00 AM
There have been many occasions when I have realized that the use of one or two innocent words entirely transformed the meaning of a sentence. For example, if we use the words "pregnant woman" when referring to an "expectant mother" we play into the hands of abortionists by dehumanizing the woman’s preborn child and ignoring her motherhood. We all know how much abortion advocates hate words like "mother" and "baby," don't we? But we still slip up now and then and fail to use these words.

Last Thursday I first heard of the Wisconsin bishops’ pastoral letter on ethical stem cell research, Serving All and Sacrificing None, which was reported by LifeSite News, I was elated. I did not read it, however, and that was my first mistake.

This morning I was privileged to read a critique of the letter by Professor Dianne Irving. Irving is a scientist and expert on the deceptive scientific language that is frequently used to mask what is truly being planned for the youngest of our brothers and sisters, the zygote and early human embryo. In her critique, which I encourage you read carefully, she demonstrates to anyone with the desire to understand how the Wisconsin bishops’ statement is full of erroneous language.

For example, the Wisconsin bishops write:
We know many struggle with official Catholic teaching that a small group of cells invisible to the naked eye deserves the same protection as the life of a baby in the womb. . .

Professor Irving points out that by using the phrase “small group of cells” the bishops, whether intending to or not, relegate the early human being to the mis-defined terms used by scientists who want the public to think of the young preborn child as nothing more than a “bunch of cells.” It would have been so easy for the authors of the Wisconsin bishops’ text to have written “We know many struggle with official Catholic teaching that a early human being who is invisible to the naked eye ….”
The statement also tells the reader:
The Church applauds the recent breakthrough in reprogramming adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells.

The reference is to the extremely controversial induced pluripotent stem cell research, which has been discussed in this blog before. You may recall Dr. Theresa Deisher’s article, "Why Are We Celebrating the Reprogramming of Adult Cells?" that explains in no uncertain terms:
The ability to transform adult cells into embryonic stem cells could be moral, however, a close inspection of the two published papers revealed that cells from an electively aborted fetus were used in the work, and therefore it cannot be considered moral.

One has to wonder why the Wisconsin bishops did not take these matters into consideration when drafting the statement. And I wonder why they did not invite critique from experts like Professor Irving and Dr. Deisher. At this point, I suppose, it may be too late but that depends on how seriously the bishops want to review their writing on this subject. I will be sending this message along with all of the supporting documents to each of the four bishops who signed the document, asking them to weigh the analyses and examine their statement with an eye toward possibly revising it so that the words mean what the bishops intended them to mean.

As I read Professor Irving’s analysis of the statement I realized that it is provocative. It should, however, invite introspection and careful examination on the part of the bishops who signed the statement. As I have said, a single word can change the entire meaning of a sentence and a pastoral letter that is not scientifically accurate in every way can contribute to the very confusion that has some sincere people supporting scientific efforts that are, at the very least, diabolical to the core.
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