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The current debate on embryonic research has come to the fore this week. In the media, the storm is over whether church hierarchies are exercising undue coercion in influencing politicians of their flock who may be inclined to vote against church teachings.

The effect of this media focus, of course, muddies the waters by introducing the age old controversy of the relationship of church and state.

While I have not followed the particular debate closely, it seems to me that in its purest form, without ascribing dubious motivation to either side, the dilemma is this:

Medical science has identified the possibility of advancing technique and know-how in alleviating some identified forms of human suffering using the results of stem-cell research. The broadest and most effective treatment is possible through embryonic stem-cell applications, as opposed to more limited adult stem-cell results. The most effective application, however, involves the destruction of human embryos.

The values competing for ascendancy all call on large measures of human compassion. It is right that we should use all our available knowledge to alleviate human suffering. It is right that we should preserve dignity and respect for all human life and potential.

Standing by and watching our fellow human beings suffer debilitating wasting diseases when we know a potential cure is possible is unacceptable. Sacrificing another human life, even in embryonic form, to alleviate another’s pain is unacceptable. If the bill succeeds however, the former will have been deemed in legislation to be less unacceptable than the latter, even with corollaries that provide ethical safeguards.

To leave the argument pared down to these opposing propositions, however, does not do justice to the angst of the debate. Behind every proposition is a human story, told with pain, love and tears. We often shield ourselves from the vulnerability of these stories by retreating to a doctrinaire stance, building a wall of defiance from behind which we fire our bullets at the other side.

My appeal is this. For many of us, the lines are already drawn in this debate and we know where we stand even if it’s somewhere in the middle and we are undecided. For some, there is urgency for resolution. For Easter people, however, the way of compassionate listening and engagement is still open. Become informed. Talk to your MP, as many are advising, and listen to the issues that they are weighing. Respectfully offer your perspective. Above all, remain vulnerable, open and alive to the Spirit’s compassion being enabled within you. This is the way of Jesus.

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