Religion, Politics and Medicine

On December 3rd, 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard – a South African surgeon with one too many a’s in his name –  performed the first human heart transplant and brought organ transplantation into the mainstream.  Even though kidney, skin and eye tissue transplants had been ongoing since the ‘50s, the combination of immunosuppressive drugs prolonging post-operative survival and the sensationalistic nature of heart transplants back then made headlines.  Transplantation turned a corner that day.

I have some dead guy’s ACL in my knee.  Mine was torn in an athletic injury in the early 90’s, and I lived without it for almost a decade before the damage became too painful to tolerate.  The surgery restored virtually the entire range of motion in my knee and allowed me to continue participating in athletic activity.  It was all done with minimally-invasive microsurgery in a single day; I arrived at 8 and left at 5. 

I’m in awe of the medical progress that’s been made in my lifetime, and how even the most critically ill patients can often be “repaired” enough to lead a semi-normal life.  As we continue to progress this rapidly on the medical cutting edge, we are going to have to confront even greater moral and ethical dilemmas associated with playing God than we do today.  It is only a matter of time before an embryonic stem cell provides a cure to some horrific disease, or an aborted fetus saves a dozen lives through embryonic transplants.

The Bush Administration and the Religious Right (and others) may have good reason to advocate a continued moratorium on embryonic stem cell research, but I think that soon, the perceived societal benefits of such research will outweigh the moral obligations to the unborn.  A cure for cancer, or diabetes or Alzheimer’s is all it will take for this issue to finally reach the tipping point.

What will a member of the Religious Right, facing a choice between a future of Alzheimer’s or a new cure based on an embryonic stem cell, then decide to do?


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