Theology and fetal tissue research

Some of you will recall that, in June, the Trump administration announced a severe tightening of medical and related research that uses fetal tissue. The details of the revised regulations are beginning to emerge — and the news is not good (link might be paywalled).

On 5 June, the Trump administration banned fetal tissue studies by in-house NIH scientists and said extramural proposals must go through an ethics review lasting up to 6 months (Science, 14 June, p. 1016). The review will be performed by a board composed of 14 to 20 people, including at least one theologian, one ethicist, and one attorney; one-third to one-half of its members must be scientists.

I understand the point of seeking the opinion of a lawyer, and an ethicist — but what on earth can a theologian offer?

Seriously: theology is not a branch of knowledge. Theology is “the study of god and man’s relationship with god,” so it should not be taken seriously until (1) the existence of an infinitely powerful supernatural being has been proved, and (2) a reliable way of knowing the wishes of that supernatural being has been proved. Until that groundwork has been laid, theologians are just spinning cotton-candy fairy-castles.

Probably, the theology representative on that committee is going to be a Christian. But what does that actually mean? Albert Mohler is a Christian theologian, and so is Bishop John Spong — and is there anybody acquainted with the work of both men who wouldn’t expect carnage if they were locked in the same room for half-an-hour? And what about Muslim theologians, and Hindu theologians, and Mormon theologians, et cetera, et cetera?

This regulation is nothing but a sop to the Evangelical Right, and almost certainly assures the existence of bureaucratically embedded below-the-radar opposition to all fetal tissue research. That is, the stupidity of these regulations will probably outlast the Trump administration, along with the needless deaths.

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