the truck or the hand grenade*

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When I was in the honors program at Loyola Marymount U, lo these many years, one of our seminars discussed (among other things) Greek tragedy. It was more than thirty years ago, and some of the details are a bit fuzzy. One thing I do remember is how, in reading the plays of the Oedipus cycle, we were all struck by the sense of inexorable doom approaching. Human pride and fear lead to decisions, and those decisions lead to consequences, and the consequences were as bad or worse than what would have happened had the players left well enough alone. The parents of Oedipus who thought that they could avoid the prophecy (He shall kill his father and marry his mother) actually setting up the conditions where that could happen, in their attempt to prevent it. I have to admit, I didn't read the actual plays of Sophocles until I was in that class, although I was familiar with the story line from reading mythologies as a child. (I had also read "Antigone",by Jean Anouilh, in high school French V).
We also read "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Julius Caesar", "The Doll House", and (I think) "The Cherry Orchard". Reading and studying tragedy left me with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I still associate with the inevitability of impending doom. As I watch human beings choose the wrong road, make the wrong choice, I feel as though I am watching these plays from the opening line to the tragic denouement. I see them, and me, boxing ourselves into corners until it seems our only choice left is between running in front of the truck or jumping on the hand grenade.
In 8th grade English, we had to memorize many bits of classic literature. I still remember most of what I learned then - and what has been running around my brain lately is the famous speech from "Julius Caesar" - the one that starts, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" - especially the line about 'honorable men'. "So were they all, all honorable men." The irony of that line hits me so very hard in this time of politicking and debate.
Art is one of the great gifts that God has given to us. We, a part (some say the crown) of His Creation, are privileged to share in the genesis of that creation. We share also in the procreation of life, and what a marvelous gift that is also. It is true that not all are called to co-create new human life, just as not all are called to create symphonies, literature, great visual art - but God has given us all some capacity to share in these gifts.
I was watching some of the presidential debates last night. I think that the questions that were asked were good ones, and well thought out. I was getting a little hot under the collar at times - I was yelling, "Answer the question, idiot" at the TV from time to time. But the question (or rather, the answers to the question) that made me the most apoplectic was the one posed on why we are so focused on embryonic stem cell research rather than adult or umbilical stem cell research. ( I give Mr. Bush a C minus on his answer, and Mr. Kerry an F).
Embryonic research has always struck me as a particularly gruesome form of cannibalism. It is also the prime example (to me, at least) of hubris leading to tragedy.
The human pride and sense of entitlement has led to the proliferation of artificial reproductive technologies. If the reproductive system doesn't produce according to demand, well, just bypass it! As techniques have become more and more sophisticated, there have been more and more early human lives produced (rather than procreated), and uncounted many of these lives are sitting in cold-sleep, slated for eventual death, their only crime that of being no longer wanted. Along come the prophets of utilitarianism, seeking only (they say) to rescue the pearls from the oyster, dismembering these very young human lives to harvest their potential for the 'betterment' of others.
I must be getting old and bitter. As I watch the world around me, and as I try to do what little I can to make things better, I am sometimes overwhelmed by some sad and familiar feelings. As I listen to the arguments and strife, the misguided altruism and the short-sighted optimism of the harbingers of "All New and Improved!", I return to those deep gut aches from my youth. I am viscerally reminded of the inexorable, inevitable, march of doom so reiterated in tragedies from Sophocles, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and others. I am also reminded that as Christians, we do have hope in the gift that Christ has given us - His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Without Him, I can do nothing. But as it says in Phil 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me." Time once again for prayer and sacrifice.

* "The truck or the hand grenade" was what we called a seemingly unsolvable dilemma with tragic consequences, and at the end of the semester we wrote and acted a play with that title.


To be honest, I totally disagree with you on embryonic stem cell research. But I did want to say to you that I have so much respect and admiration for the way in which you presented this, it was beautiful really and totally without political rhetoric, and I think it was awesome.

You don't often write long posts, but when you do, they're fantastic. Good for you.

This is kind of a secondary issue to your excellent post... isn't embryonic stem cell research privately funded?
I thought the current discussion was whether US tax dollars would be used for for all kinds of stem cell research.
In other words, the corner has already been turned and the debate is about public funding.
Is my information incorrect?

The debate is about public funding, indeed. There is also a ballot issue in California which would provide public funding from taxpayer dollars.

Dear Alicia,

What is so often overlooked in this distressing debate are the truly disasterous results of embryonic stem cell research experimental treatements. I have read of people who were "cured" of parkinson's but endured that continued and uncurable shaking associated with the medication for Parkinson's because the embryonic cells grew like cancer and overproduced the chemical necessary for regulated cell messages.

I've read of lung tissue in brains and heart cells in kidneys.

What people fail to recognize is that embryonic tissue is kind of "wild" stem cell stock. The most effective treatments I have encountered have come from adult bone marrow stem cells and placental stem cells. Recently Nature published a long article detailing success in rebuilding heart muscle after severely damaging MIs by using adult bone marrow stem cells.

The point is that scientists are not moralists and are not qualified to comment on most moral issues. They want what they want and they hire dubious philosophers like Peter Singer to support it. In point of fact there are places that science should not meddle and when the results must come from the destruction of life, they will inevitably be tainted by their origin.

So, nicely written, nicely done. Thank you.



The thing that bothers me most about the discussion on stem cells is the scientists' assertions that there aren't enough placental or umbilical cord donations to make that end of the science worth it.

I've had two children, and therefore two placentas and umbilical cords, and no one asked me if I wanted to donate them to the worthy cause of stem cell research. In fact, I had to ask to see the last placenta, and I wanted to bury a small piece in my garden, but they said the whole thing had to be burned. Burned! All those valuable stem cells up in smoke!

So I think the supply and demand argument is a red herring. They could have all the placental stem cells they wanted, if they just asked. They use the abondoned embryos because it takes less effort to get them. It's only about convenience.

BTW, I keep hearing there are women in the US who are volunteering to gestate these babies simply to save their lives. I think they call the program "Snowflake Babies." Does anyone know if this is true?

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on October 9, 2004 2:35 PM.

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