A brave new world, indeed
What a week for bioethics. Not only has Bush's indecision on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research led to a pundit frenzy, but word that scientists had created embryonic stem cells purely for research purposes from donated human sperm and eggs set off another flurry of commentary. And then there was news that yet another biotechnology company is also creating embryos explicitly for research—only instead of using volunteers, they're using cloning technology. And it wasn't all stem-cell issues, either. The Bush administration drafted a policy allowing states to include unborn children in medical coverage. And a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision barring a man from procreating until he can prove that he can support his children sets a precedent that damages several prochoice arguments. Add to that recent polls suggesting that support for legal abortion is at its lowest point in six years, reports that clinics can now choose the sex of a child with a 92 percent accuracy (if you want a girl; for boys, the accuracy rate is 72 percent), news that Australian researchers fertilized mice eggs without sperm, and continued discoveries regarding the human genome. Is anyone else's head spinning?

The big debate, of course, is still embryonic stem-cell research. (Voted in our poll yet?) And despite all the breakthroughs in biotechnology, the fundamental question is still the same: when does human life begin? As noted in just about every major news publication, several key prolife politicians are saying it's possible to be antiabortion and support embryonic stem cell research. Lots of folks have commented on this argument, but rather than summarize, Weblog would rather simply point to the best analysis: that of Slate's William Saletan.

If Bush accepts the arguments of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, and former Sen. Connie Mack of Florida that it's possible to be both prolife and pro-stem-cells (Saletan calls them "pro-pros"), "he'll be what they are: functionally pro-choice." In a brilliant deconstruction of the pro-pros argument—for which he largely depends on Hatch's letter to President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson (which is not online yet)—Saletan argues that it all sounds awfully familiar. The pro-pros want us to believe that personhood is situational, it's OK to dismember an embryo if it's unwanted, embryo dismemberment should be safe and legal, embryo dismemberment is prolife and profamily because it prolongs lives and helps families, and embryo dismemberment is the parents' choice. Most telling is the conclusion of Hatch's letter: "It is significant to point out that no member of the United States Supreme Court has ever taken the position that fetuses, let alone embryos, are constitutionally protected persons. To do so would be to thrust the courts and other governmental institutions into the midst of some of the most private of personal decisions." As Saletan notes, "It's hard to imagine how anyone who wrote those words could truly believe in an unborn child's right to life." No kidding. Let's hope that actual prolife voices will point out the fallacies of the pro-pros argument on the Hill, in the White House, and in the shaping of public opinion.

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Religious freedom:

Faith-based initiative:

  • The dwindling 'armies of compassion' | President Bush's faith-based initiative is in deep trouble because it lacks a constituency committed to its success, and because every move the administration makes to appease the idea's opponents weakens support from likely allies. (E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post)
  • Bad faith | That the president's strongest ally is suddenly disillusioned with the faith-based plan is a good indication of just how dismal its prospects are and just how broad the disaffection is among black clergy. (The American Prospect)
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Church and State:


Religion and politics:

Sexual ethics:

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Missions and ministry:

Church life:


  • Milwaukee's altar of controversy | Archbishop has another tangle with Vatican over church renovations (The Washington Post)
  • African bishops consider condom use | A proposal by the AIDS office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference seeks to allow the use of condoms as part of a wider program to stop the spread of HIV (Associated Press)


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  • Oldest Christian find in Norway | New discovery hints that Christianity may have had a foothold in Norway centuries earlier than previously thought (Aftenposten, Oslo)
  • Also: A Severe Salvation | How the Vikings took up the Christian faith (Christian History, issue 63)

Fatal church van crash:

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Other stories of interest:

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