Bulletin - July 22, 2001

The ordination of Armando Perez was a glorious event for our parish. After some months of preparation, the bilingual liturgy went beautifully. Archbishop Brunett gave a thoughtful homily telling the new deacon he would have to be like the Good Samaritan by reaching out to those who are hurting. At the reception a man approached me saying that he was there because he met Armando at a “soup kitchen.” The encounter helped motivate the man to turn his life around. May Deacon Armando have many years of ministry here in the Archdiocese of Seattle!

Archbishop Brunett shared a remarkable statistic from the Mexican consul: There are a half million Hispanics in Washington State, 250,000 in Western Washington. He thanked Holy Family Parish for providing a home for many of them, while encouraging us all to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are seeking a new life here.

At the end of the Mass I invited people to the reception. Archbishop Brunett, noting the huge crowd, asked me where would put them all. We did use both levels of the school, but once again this makes us aware of our long-range building needs. That work goes forward little by little. I am sure you noticed that we are beginning the work of removing the temporary porch canopy and replacing it with a permanent one. This is part of the ongoing renovation of our parish school. This weekend our two-bit collection will be for that project. Our dreams can only be realized by the support of each parishioner.

Archbishop Brunett’s presence also reminds us of the important teaching role of our bishops. You may be aware the U.S. bishops are deeply concerned about what is happening in our country regarding stem-cell research. That research may hold the key for curing for Parkinson’s, diabetes and other debilitating diseases. The cells can be obtained from sources such as the extra cord blood, the placenta, and adult bone marrow. There is no moral problem with extracting them from those sources. However, some are proposing the use of human embryos to obtain "totipotent" stem cells, that is, ones which can give rise to any and all human cells, such as brain, liver, blood or heart cells.

The Seattle Times had a series of letters last Sunday about this controversy. One writer accused the Catholic bishops of opposing such research because of “fear of loss of their status and control over people.” Another asserted, “The bottom line is that stem cells are retrieved from day- to week-old embryos that would otherwise be discarded.”

But is that really the “bottom line”? The following letter from Dr. Steven Felix may help in understanding what is at stake in this crucial issue:

The Times supports stem-cell research ("Stem-cell research must proceed," editorial, July 8). The reason is utilitarian, by the editor's own admission. The argument goes like this: Embryos can be used to harvest cells that can then be used to cure diseases like Parkinson's; these embryos will be discarded anyway, therefore they should be used for research. Such research is "science that helps us."

But there is a fundamental question that is left unasked. That question is whether the embryo is human life. If it is just a "clump of cells," as The Times and proponents of stem-cell research contend, then there is no problem with using embryos in this fashion. But if it is human life, then this research should be prohibited in favor of research using adult stem cells.

This question is essential because it underlies the very foundation of our society. Regardless of the motive, even a noble one such as relieving human suffering, we cannot use a fellow human as a means to accomplish an end in our life. The question then becomes, is the embryo human life?

At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman of the Department of Genetics at the Mayo Clinic, stated: "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception."

Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni of the University of Pennsylvania at the same hearing testified: "I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty is not a human being."

A genetically unique human life exists from the moment of conception. To state that the embryo is just a "clump of cells" is biologically equivalent to saying that the sun revolves around a flat Earth. And experimenting on this life reduces a human to a means for another person's end. It makes us all ultimately vulnerable to the desires of the powerful, who might one day decide for their own "noble" ends, that we too are not human. - Steven D. Felix, M.D., Kirkland

Researchers want to use embryonic stem cells precisely because of their potential to give rise to the full range of human tissue - that is, become babies, then school children, then adults. People, who otherwise urge us to look beyond externals, will overlook that central point. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Mary Tyler Moore stated, "an embryo bears about as much resemblance to a human as a goldfish."

However, Chris Currie, 37, who has had diabetes since age 11, said he views stem cell research quite differently: "I'd love for there to be a cure for diabetes," he said, but explained he opposes embryonic stem cell research because he believes embryos to be human beings from the earliest stages of conception. His opposition "isn't based on religious feelings," he said. "Please don't caricature me by lumping me in with the Religious Right. I oppose stem cell research on humanistic grounds. I don't want to be cured if curing me would mean killing another human being. Even if that would save my life."