Saturday, May 01, 2004

Catholics refocus on life, death issues

Some of this article is bothersome. Yet, it encouraging to read that the Holy See is forcefully speaking to these issues.

But some non-Catholics in medicine, along with a few Catholic theologians, are warning that the church's positions — which can influence legislation, medical regulations and research — risk curtailing medical progress and are not always in the best interests of patients.

The assumption here is that the "best interest" of a patient argument only takes into account their physical well-being rather than physical and spiritual well-being.

As a result, they warn that countries that limit such treatments risk being left behind as stem-cell research progresses — a fate that is increasingly evident in Europe, said Dr. Arne Sunde, chairman of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology.

If researchers in one country discovered an embryonic stem-call cure for paralysis, for example, "wouldn't it be tough to say this isn't for Catholics," Dr. Sunde said in a phone interview.

There has not been one successful instance of embryonic stem cell use in alleviating a medical condition. On the other hand there have been numerous successes in adult stem cell use.

The Rev. Kevin O'Rourke, founder of the Center for Health Care Ethics at St. Louis University, argued in a 2001 article that remaining in a vegetative state is of no real benefit to patients because they cannot strive for the purpose of life, which the church has defined as pursuing a "friendship with God."

If a patient doesn't have the cognitive function to know and love, he or she can't pursue that friendship, and therefore treatment has no benefit, Father O'Rourke said.

How does Fr O'Rourke know that we cannot pursue a "friendship with God" while in a vegetative state? Is it not possible that by God's grace we can? And the trouble with this statement is where is the line drawn between those of us who have cognitive functions and those who do not or have only limited cognitive functions? The bottom line is we all have souls, regardless of our cognitive functioning.


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