The following letter was sent to The United Methodist Church’s Bioethics Taskforce to offer suggestions on the draft of its statement "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research." You can find the draft statement in Christian Social Action (January/February 2003, pp. 24-26).

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, 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 strike through indicates proposed deletion from the original.

*Page 1, Preamble: "...We wish to state at the outset our conviction that 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 all children..."

These changes increase the inclusivity of the challenge at hand.

*Page 1, Infertility and its Its 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 Reproductive Technologies.

*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 embryos.

*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 time.

*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 needs clarification.

*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 reproduction, 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. 253-255.)

*Page 4, Recommendations to General Conference for fFunding 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 teaching consistent."

Many, many thanks to you and to the Taskforce for considering these proposals.

And continue faithful in all things.

In Christ,

(The Rev.) Paul T. Stallsworth
Pastor, and President of Lifewatch


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