“Sacrifice” and Stem Cells

In the October 2006 issue of The Lutheran, the publication of our estranged brothers and sisters in the ELCA, a man claiming to be a pastor in Christ’s Church, Ron Letnes, wrote the following in an opinion piece about his legally blind son (“My View,” p. 10):

Many speak of a “culture of life.” I like that. It’s a sound ethical principle because it’s about hope. What is necessary for a culture of life to be real, for hope to happen, is to enlarge the tent to include the minority. A most hope-filled path is to broaden the availability of stem cells from as many sources as possible, from adult to embryonic stem cells. Open the possiblilities for hope and for cure.

A culture of life is about compassion and mercy. What is so purely ethical and merciful about protecting tens of thousands of embryonic stem cells that will be destroyed because nobody wants to use them for producing a child while allowing tens of thousands of the living[!!] to languish in paralysis, dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, blindness and loss of hearing for the rest of their lives?

A culture of life has a price–sacrifice. We want it for free so we can feel moral and righteous. We forget that God sacrificed God’s Son so the world could have life. A culture of life is born out of accepting the necessity of suffering love–of reframing some of our beliefs so others may live and of making sacrificial choices for the sake of justice for the least of these.

Forget for a moment that this is a pastor in the ELCA. The quoted comments are indicative of the proponents of the stem cell debate, though I have yet to hear anything this chilling or blasphemously ironic.

The irony of claiming that embryonic stem cell experimentation is “pro-life” is the very least, and the most generic, of Letnes’ moral problems. For Letnes, “enlarg[ing] the tent to include the minority” means, not giving them life, but destroying embryos for scientific experimentation. Yeah, that makes sense. Do whatever you can to prolong earthly existence, even at the expense of the “minority.”

Letnes is so blinded by the needs of his own son, that he can’t even call the “experimental material” an embryo. It’s “embryonic stem cells” that those damn pro-lifers are trying to protect, not embryos. People don’t even want to produce a child with them! As if an embryo was equivalent to sperm and egg as pieces that go into the production of a child. What must be added to an embryo to “produce a child”? A womb? Parents? Birth? Perhaps Ron Letnes the biologist can tell me what the difference is between an embryo in the womb and and embryo outside it. Obviously he doesn’t think it should be included in the category “living.” So now he’s the arbiter of that category? What if I don’t like including Mr. Letnes in the category “living”? Can he be killed for the sake of my relatives with dementia? Are the twentieth century, genocidal parallels not clear enough?

There is a deeper problem with that second paragraph: the feeling that “since no one else is going to use those ‘extra’ embryos, why can’t we, and for ‘good’?” But that’s not the conclusion I draw from extra embryos. In the world of the truly pro-life, extra embryos are in themselves the sign of a distorted view of God’s creation. Modern reproductive technology is not morally neutral.

Finally, the last paragraph of “his view” contains the most mind-numbingly blasphemous words I have read by a supposedly Christian pastor in recent days. This guy has out-and-out heretics like Spong beat hands down. To suggest, to even consider, an analogy between embryonic stem cells and Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross simply defies explanation. How does one come to the point where he so idolizes human, earthly life that he’s willing to not only sacrifice the lives of others for it, but compare the death of human offspring to the death of Christ on the cross? For Letnes, making “sacrificial choices” means “I will make a sacrificial choice for you.” Does his Christology allow him to say that Jesus went unwillingly to the cross, that His will was not in line with His Father’s? You want sacrifice? How about sacrificing the “good life” of those who already have the voice to speak for those who cannot yet speak for themselves? That means you might have to stop thinking about yourself and your own family for a minute.

“A culture of life has a price–sacrifice.” Ron, might the price of a culture of life extend the other way? To your son, Alzheimer’s patients, diabetics, and the paralyzed? As much as I love my new son, and as much as I might sinfully wish it, how could I claim the lives of others so that he might live? Do you have no faith in the providence of God? You talk about hope. Do you have no hope in the resurrection of the body? Your blind son will see again one day, if he is a Christian; but likely not from embryonic stem cells. It will be because the One who gives sight to the blind is coming again to make all things new. And you presume to take for yourself this promise of God and have it fulfilled now at the expense of others for whom Christ Himself became an embryo, a child, an adult, died, rose, and ascended. You don’t speak for “the least of these.” You speak for those who would be the greatest at the expense of the least. God have mercy.


Jonas Michael Ottomar

Our first-born son (and second-born child), Jonas Michael Ottomar, came into this world on Friday, October 13th at 8:23 in the morning. Thanks be to God for a safe and healthy birth for both mom and baby (all 10 pounds, 8 ounces of him!). He will, God willing (and I think He does), enter the Kingdom of God through Holy Baptism next Sunday.

Psalm 127

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
1Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.