Today, Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier has a column in The Age entitled “Let’s be concerned about all human life”.
It is hard to know a) who he is taking his stand against (Archbishop Hart or the Victorian Government?), and b) what his actual stand is (pro-life certainly, but to what degree?).
His topic is, of course, the proposed changes to Victoria’s laws that would “allow scientists to clone human life for research purposes”. This is, he says, a “vexed” ethical question. But it is not a question which he proceeds directly to address. First he makes a detour to comment about the “Roman Catholic ethical system“.
It appears that Archbishop Freier is actually reacting to these statements of our Catholic Archbishop rather than to the proposed legislation before the parliament? For rather than proceeding to critique the prevailing culture that could lead to such ethically bankrupt practices as creating human beings just to kill them off in experimentation, the Archbishop dives straight in (apropos of nothing) to a discussion of Catholic moral theology:
I respect the position of the Catholic Church — a position also held by many in the Anglican Church — that all human life from the moment of conception is sacred and has an inviolable right to life. This belief inevitably opposes the creation of human embryos purely for experimentation and then destruction.
To say “I respect” is not the same thing as to say “I share”. One is almost waiting for other boot (the “BUT…”) to drop.
Yet it doesn’t–not immediately anyway. Apart from the comment that “I am not concerned here to establish whether the Roman Catholic ethical system is right or wrong in its entirety” (one wonders why he should even think anyone would look to him for such a judgment to be established), he agrees that “there are questions that need to be asked“, and he proceeds to ask them.
Some of these questions, in general, favour the Catholic position, particularly the question which he identifies as the “key moral question“:
at what point does human life begin? Is being able to think and feel like a human being the test or is it just having the potential to develop these abilities? If we decide a cluster of cells just days old — the early pre-implantation embryo — does not satisfy this criterion, then what do we say about an old person with severe dementia? Is this person any less human than a fit and healthy young person? Is it possible to say we are more or less human at different points on the continuum of life? Or do we have an essential and indivisible humanness that remains the same at every point?
Others we would react to with some concern (such as:
what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Are we made in this image simply through our DNA and biological distinctiveness, or does it depend on our becoming human people in relationship with God?)
And is he having a go at Archbishop Hart when he asks
Is it reasonable for the opponents of this legislation to argue emotively that it allows human life to be created and then to be “killed off”?
(In his first statement Archbishop Hart said that “creating and then destroying human life” is always totally unethical.”)
And when he writes that there are other “disturbing threats to the sacredness of human life that cry out for urgent attention and justice”, is he suggesting that the Catholic Church does not give the same attention to these injustices that it gives to bioethical questions?
I must say that I am more than a little amazed that an Anglican Archbishop–in addressing a public ethical issue as important as “therapeutic” cloning–should chose publically to engage the issue in such a sectarian manner.