Ethical - Moral Issues #
EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF ETHIOPIAN TEWAHEDO & ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY #
The current debate over research on Embryonic Stem Cells raises in the starkest way a crucial Moral question concerning the ultimate meaning and value of human life. From the perspective of both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Christianity as well as the Roman Catholic Church, human life begins at conception (meaning fertilization with creation of the single-cell zygote). This conviction is grounded in the Biblical witness (e.g., Psalm 139:13-16; Isaiah 49:1ff; St. Luke 1:41, 44), as well as in the scientifically established fact that from conception there exists genetic uniqueness and cellular differentiation that, if the “conceptus” is allowed to develop normally, will produce a live human being. Human life is sacred from its very beginning, since from conception it is ensouled existence. As such, it is “personal” existence, created in the image of Almighty God and endowed with a sanctity that destines it for eternal life.
Conservative, Pro-Life voices throughout the country have enthusiastically praised President George W. Bush’s decision regarding scientific research using human embryonic stem cells (ESCR). That decision would allow research on some sixty lines of existing stem cells, developed from human embryos which were destroyed as the cells were harvested. It would prohibit creation of embryos for research purposes, and it urges further study into the feasibility of utilizing adult stem cells to achieve the same therapeutic ends envisioned for embryonic stem cells. These limitations, it is argued, would ensure that extra embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization techniques would not be subjected to manipulation by researchers, nor would embryos be created, by cloning or any other means, for the specific purpose of serving as research subjects.
We, applaud the President’s initiative in seeking a reasonable compromise between assuring protection of human life at every stage of its development, and exploring the potential therapeutic benefits to be derived from pluripotent stem cells. We are gratified that he has expressed unambiguous opposition to human cloning. We cannot, however, condone the manipulation of embryonic cells in any form for research purposes, including lines developed from destroyed embryos. Rather, we can only express dismay at the fact that the debate over this issue has avoided major considerations regarding the very meaning and value of human life.
President Bush’s proposal to use only the existing sixty lines of stem cells because the embryos had already been destroyed (i.e., killed) falters on the precept enunciated by the Holy Apostle St. Paul in Romans 3:8, “We may not do evil so that good may come.” The very act of destroying those embryos is evil, and we may not profit from evil even to achieve a good and noble end.
Although the President’s Solomonic decision appears to serve Pro-Life interests, in fact it unwittingly opens the floodgates to ever more utilitarian manipulation of human life. Research on existing stem cell lines should be prohibited for the simple reason that those embryos should never have been created in the first place. The moral line has been crossed, and Mr. Bush’s proposed limitations do little to prevent an inevitable descent down an increasingly slippery slope.
Our opposition to ESCR is based on the following considerations, which are Political as well as Medical and Theological.
In the first place, debate on this issue has too often overlooked the fact that among the most vocal proponents of embryo research are Pro-Abortion activists, supported by much of the media. If the Government refuses to fund such research, it would thereby tacitly acknowledge that human life begins at conception. This flies in the face of Abortion legislation such as Roe v. Wade and would inevitably undermine the view that an embryo is merely a clump of tissue and can therefore be aborted on demand with no moral consequences. The real issue underlying the debate, then, is less the development of potential therapies than the preservation of so-called “abortion rights.”
Secondly, enormous pressures to Legalize and Federally fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research is coming from the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries, because of the promise of nearly limitless profits. The “new medicine” based on stem cell therapies is largely driven by the marketplace. As with AIDS medications and other recently developed therapies, market forces will determine who has access to them, and at what cost.
Third, it should be noted that in the recent past (1992) scientists were touting the exceptional benefits of Fetal Tissue, particularly in the treatment of illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease. To date, such therapies have been a disappointment. Some Parkinson’s patients, in fact, have suffered irreversible damage due to the introduction of foreign cells into their brains. And no new medicines of significance have been produced using fetal cells. Claims that embryonic stem cells will produce a panacea are likely to be equally exaggerated.
Fourth, the slippery slope of ESCR is dangerous and potentially irreversible. Already an Australian Company, in November 2000, received a patent to create chimeras: animals with body tissue and organs produced using human stem cells. And in February 2001, a team of San Francisco researchers announced that they had created a strain of mice, one quarter of whose brains were composed of human cells. In just thirty years the utilitarian slope has taken us from legalized abortion to partial-birth abortion, to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, in addition to acceptance of fetal tissue therapy and destruction of embryos to harvest stem cells. Unless moral persuasion can reverse the trend, the slope will lead to a tragic devaluation of human life.
Fifth, ever since the Nazi Holocaust the principle has been universally accepted by the scientific community that no experimentation should be undertaken on human subjects without the subject’s informed consent. Obviously, such consent cannot be granted by an embryo (nor, by the way, by a two-year old). Neither the Mother nor anyone else has “proxy” rights in this regard over the life and well-being of a Child in utero or in vitro.
Sixth, ESCR relies on cloning to produce multiple copies of the cells under investigation. Cloning in animal experiments has a failure rate on the order of 95%, and mice and other animals produced through cloning have been born with serious genetic defects. The cloning of human embryos for research purposes presents similar dangers, and for this reason alone it should be permanently banned.
Finally, it has been proved recently that adult stem cells, together with those harvested from placentas and umbilical cords, hold as much if not more promise than embryonic stem cells. In May, 2001, the prestigious scientific journal Cell published a report showing that adult bone marrow cells have an extraordinary capacity to differentiate into epithelial cells of the liver, lung, GI tract and skin. The report noted that “This finding may contribute to clinical treatment of genetic disease or tissue repair.” In August, 2001, researchers reported finding adult stem cells in mouse brains that were used to produce muscle cells; and a Canadian team isolated “versatile” (pluripotent) cells in mice that produced neural, muscle and fat cells. This means that in the relatively near future it should be possible to harvest stem cells from a patient’s skin, multiply them by cloning, and use them for therapeutic purposes, including the growing of new organs.
In conclusion, we firmly reject any and all manipulation of human embryos for research purposes as inherently immoral and a fundamental violation of human life. We call upon the President and the Congress of the United States to restore and maintain a total ban on ESCR. Furthermore, we encourage the scientific community to reject pressures for ESCR exerted by the Pro-Abortionist lobby, the Biotech and Pharmaceutical industries, and to devote their energies and resources to discovering, harvesting and utilizing non-embryonic stem cells, including those derived from adults, placentas and umbilical cords.
Above all, we urge all Orthodox Tewahedo Faithful, together with all Orthodox and all Christians, the Medical Community and Political leaders, to return to the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath: “Primum non nocere, -First of all, do no harm.” Embryonic stem cell research results in unmitigated harm. It should be unequivocally rejected in the interests of preserving both the sacredness and the dignity of the human person.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Churches thoughts on Astrology & Horoscopes #
“When our soul departs from life, we shall not be accused because we have not worked miracles, or have not been theologians, or have not seen visions, but we shall all certainly have to give account before God, because we have not wept unceasingly for our sins.” St. John Climacus, Author of the Divine Ladder
The Orthodox Tewahedo Christian believer does not have to be a miracle-worker, brilliant theologian or heavenly vision soothsayer or maker, but he/she does have to account for not being aware of their sins. A sin in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church is understood in the spirit of the Greek word “amartia.” In Ancient Greece when a person aimed to hit the bull’s eye and failed, they called it “amartia” they missed. Falling short of the mark; not reaching your goal; not attaining your purpose is sin. When a Christian does things that keeps them away from Christ thy sin, because they do not live up to his/her purpose and that is, to live in Christ. When we do not live up to our goal-being the image and becoming the likeness of Almighty God, then we sin. When we allow the stars of heaven to guide our actions and not Almighty God, Who created the stars, then we are sinning. When we run to the newspapers to look up our horoscopes and our futures, and do not seek wisdom and learning from the Sacred Scriptures, then we are sinning. When we do, or don’t do, this and that, because astrologers say so, and close our ears to Almighty God’s Commandments through the teachings of His Church, then we are sinning. We are sinning, when we pray to the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and simultaneously, take somewhat seriously the zodiac. We are not Aquarians, Pisceans or Librans, sons and daughters of stars; we are men and women, sons and daughters of Almighty God, the Most Holy Trinity - The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit!
People are now being to introduce themselves as Arians and Leos no longer as Christians. Isn’t it strange that people would rather be named after stars and their constellations, than after Almighty God, the Creator and Source of Life? It is rare today to hear people say, no I’m not of Zodiac I am of God, a Christian; a small Christ. The Church has always preached against astrology.
The Prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 10, Verse 2 writes: “Learn not the way of the unbelievers, nor be dismayed at the signs of the stars because the nations are dismayed at them, for the beliefs of these people are false.”
When the Prophet Daniel was confronted by the astrologers of the Assyrians, or Babylonians, from which we have inherited astrology, Daniel answered: “no wise men, enchanters, magicians or astrologers can show to the King Nebuchadnezzar the mystery which he has asked, but only God in Heaven, · Who reveals all mysteries . . .”
Orthodox Canon Law prohibits people from believing in astrology. In fact, Canon Law tells us to cast out of the Church people who make, sell, buy or wear the zodiac signs. The Church Fathers, like the Ancient Greeks, felt that there were “many wonders in the universe, but none more wonderful than man.” Mankind is Almighty God’s personal image according to Psalm 8: “man was made a little less than God and crowned with glory” in order to have complete dominion over the whole world-stars included. Gregory the Great wrote in the sixth century: “Man was not made for the stars, but rather the stars for man; and if a star can be called the ruler of man, then man must be considered the slave of his own servants.”
Almighty God did not create the planets and stars with the intention that they would dominate humanity, but that they, like other creatures, should obey and serve Him.
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo considers astrology a religion of fate which is vehemently condemned by the Church. He felt that anyone who believes that our loving God would give power to stars in order to direct and govern our lives offends Almighty Gods justice and love.
St. John Chrysostom sees this belief in stars as a foolish disbelief against Almighty God’s Omnipotence and creativity; Almighty God is not subjected to the stars, He is the Creator of them. St. John Chrysostom also points out, that if we are directed by star power, and then there is no such thing as good or evil, because we do what we do under the stars direction. “This means that God’s commandments, that man shall not sin or that man shall do good, comes down to nothing but foolishness.”
The Church Fathers bring up the idea of twins, especially Jacob and Esau. They ask “why is there such a diversity in the life of twins, in their actions, fortunes, deeds, callings, honors, and all such things pertaining to human life; is this a result of a tiny interval of time, even though they were conceived in the same moment?” Again Gregory the Great understands Astrology as superstition and foolishness - astrologers told him that a person born under the Aquarius sign was a fisherman, yet in the desert he has met Aquarians but never fishermen. In Persia where a child is born to a king and becomes a prince they say his star caused it so; but then he asks who can estimate how many slaves were born at the same time and moment as the king’s? “And yet the sons of kings, born in the same hour as the slaves, go on to a kingdom, while slaves born together with them dies in slavery.”
Astrology came from Babylonia over 4,000 year ago. It was based on the astronomical system that the sun revolves around the earth, not the earth revolves around the sun. The year was divided into 12 months, 6 having 30 days, 6 twenty nine thus making 354 days. So once in a while they would add a 13th month. What I’m leading to is this: a person born in April called Aries in our Gregorian calendar, in their calendar, should be a Pisces, and an Aquarian you see we are a month ahead. So all of that which you have been reading, should you have ever read Astrological things about yourself is wrong; wrong because you were in the wrong month. The Babylonian Astrological Calendar is a month behind ours.
Will Durant in his History of Civilization calls Astrology one of the many superstitions of ancient days which still flourish in our own day. But the stupidity of it all is best summed up by the immortal William Shakespeare: “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune we make guilty of our disaster the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves and teachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence.” St. Gregory of Nyssa, summing up the essential aspect of human dignity, rightly says if we are but instruments of heavenly rotation then we do not have free will. “And if man loses freedom, he loses everything.” If man is not free, man is not man!