Sed Contra: Stem Cells Equal Baby Parts

Deal W. Hudson

May 1, 2000

A sense of tragedy helps to keep a culture moral. Tragedy reminds us of the suffering we cannot alleviate, the finite boundaries we must not cross, no matter how tempting the horizon. In the ancient world, tragic boundaries were policed by the gods so that the men who acted as gods soon learned, painfully, otherwise. If there is any tragic sense alive and well in the country, I can’t find it—perhaps the Nasdaq will once again make Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles popular.

Take the case of embryonic stem cells. Taken from the innermost cell mass of a human embryo, these cells possess a God-given power called “pluripotency.” Stem cells, in short, can grow into and become any of the tissues in the body. Once these cells are isolated, by removing them from the human embryo, they can be used to treat diseased cells anywhere in the body. The medical possibilities are revolutionary, the ethical possibilities devolutionary, one more step backward toward a complete culture of death. (For a comprehensive view, see the excellent articles on the Web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Center at

Crisis, like many other religious magazines, has warned against the growth of stem cell research (April 1999), yet acceptance of this medical treatment is becoming mainstream. The major traffic and news station (WTOP) of Washington, D.C., has reported the progress of stem cell research in the most glowing terms, without even a hint of an ethical complication.

The federally funded National Institutes of Health, working with the President’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, has set guidelines allowing stem cell research as long as none of the Department of Health and Human Services funds are used for the derivation of stem cells from human embryos.

It will take moral leadership in high places to slow down, shut off, or redirect this research. The president of the United States has the power, through the appointments to his administration, to stop all research using the body parts of human embryos. The president could make it his administration’s policy to direct federal funds for the ethically acceptable use of adult stem cells, a practice that is now being explored. In fact, adult stem cells which can be legitimately obtained have the same healing effect of those taken from embryos. Can you imagine a National Bioethics Advisory Committee with people like John Haas, Robert George, Leon Kass, James Q. Wilson, and Stanley Hauerwas. Men and women of faith should clamor for it.

Some argue that there are thousands of “spare” human embryos that are going to “waste” as a result of in vitro fertilization. These embryos are literally held in cold storage and will never be used because in vitro clients create more embryos than they will actually use. So why not use them? Does this strike anyone else as a peculiarly American attitude? We can’t let those embryos just lie around and go to waste! Just at the point where the tragic sense should kick in, the American disposition is to start extracting the resources from these embryos so we can do some good, that is, make a healthier, happier America.

Nothing illustrates better the way one ethical breakdown leads to another. There shouldn’t be thousands of frozen embryos in the first place, so there would be no temptation to harvest them for our “good” purposes. The owners of in vitro clinics probably see this as a way both to profit from their embryo banks while avoiding the dilemma of what to do with the embryos down the road.

The National Institutes of Health lists Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns, and spinal cord injuries among the maladies that can be treated with stem cells. Even Jerry Lewis, a man whose charitable work I greatly admire, was touting the benefits of stem cell treatment for muscular dystrophy on his last Labor Day telethon. Who doesn’t feel tempted when faced with such a list, such a catalog of human suffering and death?

The essential principle of a culture of life is the protection of those most vulnerable among us. To protect them, we must resist the urge to profit from their vulnerability, whether to make our lives more comfortable or to heal the diseases that ravage us. Yes, that means making the tragic decision of not healing disease and not relieving suffering using stem cell treatment.  The wisdom of that decision will become apparent once this generation begins to realize that stem cells are nothing less than baby parts.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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