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One of the difficulties in this age of technology that develops faster than ethicists are able to ponder its implications is just finding a way to think about it.

Where to start?

It seemed clear to me in watching the fallout from President George Bush’s pronouncement on embryonic stem-cell experimentation that we have a long way to go not only in understanding this issue but also in figuring out how to talk about it in the public realm. For instance, one of Bush’s press officers was nearly giddy in pronouncing to every news talk show that would have her that the president had figured a path to his decision without crossing “that moral line.” She never did define that line, at least in the pieces I saw, nor did anyone press her on the matter. Truth is, the line had been crossed. What Bush did not do was cross the moral line again, if you will, and he managed to straddle the political line nicely, given his earlier courting of antiabortion forces with words that left the impression that he regarded embryonic life as inviolable from the earliest moments.

The discussion of recent weeks demonstrated again how difficult it is to tie decisions over the earliest stages of life to political rules and regulations. The issues simply do not conform easily to legal formulas, a reality attested to by the fact that Bush won praise from some unlikely characters -- religious right figures such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and TV preacher/political operative Pat Robertson, who are staunchly antiabortion and oppose such research.

One certainty is that the debate will continue, which is why we welcome the thoughts of Fr. Paul Surlis, retired professor of moral theology and social ethics at St John’s University, New York. Surlis adds to the discussion that began in NCR’s pages in the July 27 issue with the contribution of Mark Waymack of Loyola University, Chicago, and that will continue in the months ahead.

For the past two weeks, we have had the pleasure of hosting Ludovica Eugenio at NCR. She writes and translates for Adista, an Italian news agency that does considerable -- and impressive -- coverage of the Vatican under the editorial direction of Giovanni Avena and Eletta Cucuzza. The news agency, by the way, has rented an office on the floor where it is located to our own Rome correspondent, John Allen.

Eugenio is becoming acquainted with the NCR operation in all of its phases -- from the finance department and advertising to marketing and editorial. In between, she helped us produce the Aug. 24 issue, making wonderful contributions to our staff meetings, and she interviewed a range of American Catholics, for a future story, about their views on the main challenges the church faces in the next few years.

She was here until Aug. 23, when she returned to Rome and her husband, Giovanni Ferrò, news editor of Jesus magazine, and her two children, Maddalena, 8, and Lorenzo, 6.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, August 24, 2001