|Mr. Jaydee Hanson
Assistant General Secretary for Public Witness and Advocacy
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
16 December 2002
Dear Mr. Hanson:
You are experiencing, I trust, a truly blessed and repentance-filled
Season of Advent.
As one who has been active on matters related to human life in The
United Methodist Church for too long to mention, I wish to commend the
members of the Bioethics Taskforce, their draft statement (found at
www.umc-gbcs.org), and your staff
support for the venture. A solid draft statement is in hand. That is, a
good start has been made.
In what follows, I propose several suggestions for the consideration of
the Taskforce. These suggestions are offered from a theological
perspective that is ecumenical in nature and that strives to be profoundly
and consistently respectful of human life. Furthermore, these suggestions
are offered out of strong support for your project and commitment to a
public witness of The United Methodist Church that is faithful to the
Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the paragraphs that follow, underlining indicates proposed
language added to the original draft statement, and a
through indicates proposed deletion from the original.
*Page 1, Preamble: "...We wish to state at the outset our conviction
rich all Christians, especially
those who are middle class and those who are among society’s wealthiest,
are called to use their resources to meet the basic health care
needs, including health care and education, of poor
These changes increase the inclusivity of the challenge at hand.
*Page 1, Infertility and
Remedies: "...Although Christians place their ultimate hope in the birth
of the Christ child (who passed through the all stages of human
development, including the embryonic stage), in his present reign, and in
his coming again in power and glory, Christian couples..."
This change introduces the Lordship of Jesus Christ, including
Christian eschatology, into the statement.
The critique of "some of the reproductive technologies" found here is
excellent. Absolutely excellent!
*Page 2, Moral Concerns Prompted by New Reproductive Technologies:
Given the central importance of respecting and protecting embryonic human
life, it would make sense to move Concerns Regarding the Status of Human
Embryos to the first section under Moral Concerns Prompted by New
*Page 2, Concerns Regarding the Status of Human Embryos: "A human
embryo, even at its earliest stages, is a
form of human
life. Obviously, this human life It does
not yet possess all the human attributes of the human being
into which it may develop, if there is no
interruption... Therefore, a human embryo commands our reverence and
makes a serious moral claim on us , although not a claim identical
to that of a more developed human life. For this reason..."
The human embryo is a human being at the embryonic stage of
development. For example, Jesus, during his earliest days in the womb of
Mary, was embryonic -- as was each one of us. To try to assign value to
human beings, based on their attributes, is ethically arbitrary (as Peter
Singer’s proposed utilitarianism makes clear) and societally dangerous (as
Nazi Germany’s imposed eugenics program proved). To give one human being
less value, because he/she possesses fewer attributes, suggests that
he/she can be respected and protected less rigorously than one assigned
greater value for having more attributes.
*Page 3, top paragraph: "...Given the human dignity of the human
embryo and that we Taskforce members do not foresee a
medically and financially responsible way to avoid the overproduction of
human embryos through the process of IVF, we Taskforce members urge
couples to forgo this means of pursuing parenthood.
If a couple
makes, nevertheless, a conscientious decision to use IVF, we
recommend the following guidelines to minimize the overproduction of
*We urge clinicians and couples to make the determination of how many
eggs to fertilize and implant on a case-by-case basis.
*Only enough embryos should be produced to achieve one pregnancy at a
*We insist that rigorous standards of informed consent regarding the
procedures, the physical and emotional risks, and the associated ethical
issues be applied to all reproductive technologies. This is especially
important regarding the disposition of ‘excess’ embryos, and should be the
norm of practice around the world."
After stating a strong and persuasive moral and theological argument
against reproductive technologies, the draft statement then permits their
limited use. Would it not be more intellectually honest, and more
consistent and compelling, simply to urge couples away from their use (as
the change above attempts)? This United Methodist, along with the official
teaching of most of Christendom, thinks so.
*Page 3, Paragraph 2 under Some Judgments Regarding the Use of Existing
Embryos for Stem Cell Research: "*In our pursuit of ‘children of our own,’
we United Methodists have acceded to and remained silent..."
This "we" -- and every "we" in the draft statement -- needs to be
specified. Here the draft statement is referring to United Methodists, not
to Taskforce members and not to American citizens, I am guessing. But this
*Page 3, Paragraph 2 under Some Judgments Regarding the Use of Existing
Embryos for Stem Cell Research: "...We have thus failed to show due
reverence and regard for embryonic life. As human life, these embryos
have God-given dignity and warrant respect and protection.
However, given the tragic reality that most, if not all, of these embryos
will be discarded or destroyed, we believe that it is morally tolerable to
use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes...We articulate this
position with an attitude of caution, not license. Therefore,
with renewed determination, we reiterate our opposition to the
creation of embryonic life for the sake of research. (See Book of
Resolutions, 2000, p. 254.)"
This change in the original text is based on moral consistency.
Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilaender helps to make the case: "We need to
think again about the spare-embryo argument. Initially appealing as it may
be, offering it seems a chance to move forward with research while still
drawing a significant moral line, it begins to lose its force the longer
we ponder it and the harder we press on it. The very form of the argument
-- ‘he’ll die anyway; we might as well get some good from his dying’ --
seduces us into supposing that all moral evils must be forms of ‘harm.’
‘No harm, no foul’ may work well for officiating basketball, but it does
not work well for sorting through our moral obligations. Reducing all
moral evils to harm, we blind ourselves to issues of dignity and justice
-- as if, for example, we would not wrong a permanently unconscious person
by selling tickets for others to observe him. We need to slow down, think
again, and draw back, lest we train ourselves to think in ways that
diminish us as a people. Perhaps this means -- though it’s hard to say for
sure -- that the pace of medical progress must be slower than it could be.
If so, that only means that here, as in so many other areas of research,
we accept and honor necessary moral limits. For, as Paul Ramsey also put
it, ‘the moral history of mankind is more important than its medical
history.’" (Weekly Standard, August 26, 2002 and September 2, 2002
; and First Things, December 2002, p. 83)
*Page 4, Top Paragraph: "For this reason we firmly oppose any creation
or cloning of human embryos for the sake of research or
, including their deliberate creation via cloning
as a source for stem cells."
The draft statement needs to have a decisive word against reproductive
cloning added. This is in line with present United Methodist teaching.
(See The Book of Resolutions, 2000, 91. Human Cloning, pp.
*Page 4, Recommendations to General Conference for
2005-2008: "...(3) To to commission an
analysis of the interests which have funded lobbying efforts and public
relations efforts regarding funding of embryonic stem cell research,
human cloning, and other embryonic research. (4) to consider if The
United Methodist Church’s teaching on bioethical issues is consistent with
the church’s teaching on abortion. If inconsistency is discovered, a
resolution for General Conference will be proposed to make the church’s
Many, many thanks to you and to the Taskforce for considering these
And continue faithful in all things.
(The Rev.) Paul T. Stallsworth
Pastor, and President of Lifewatch