In France in the mid 1800s, an entirely Roman Catholic country, many premature babies were neither named nor baptized. Belief had changed from infants not baptized going straight to hell to infants not baptized going to a place called "Limbo," a Latin term for the "edge." Thus it was comforting to know that preemie babies had a place and if it was God's will that they go there, well, families could look forward to better circumstances with the next pregnancy.

But science was beginning to impose on the belief that God was in charge of all infants' fate. Bad infant practices even for the healthy were widespread. Cow's milk was being given to infants and diseases and reactions were rampant. A campaign to teach mothers how to return to the use of their own milk was launched. But that did not save the lives of premature infants. Then along came Dr. Alexandre Lion. What was known for chickens - incubation - was developed for premature infants. Many were saved and thus they gained their names and were baptized, sometimes to the chagrin of their parents. Other innovators, such as Drs. Pierre Budin and Stephane Tarnier advanced programs to care for infants who came to their clinics. However, French governmental motives were not entirely scientific. It needed more soldiers in the population for the wars and focused resources on better hospitals and clinics. But science was intent on saving lives, not throwing them away later.

Just as illogical Catholic dogma advanced from premature babies who were not baptized going to hell to babies going to Limbo, today's Catholic and other fundamentalist Christian practice that using stem cells is an abomination and a mortal sin for those who use them, even for science makes little sense. The acceptance of lost life, even when born alive hardly compares to today's belief that stem cells are potential life.This is a broad leap and one that should not be taken. The question we face today is whether religion should interfere with the ability of scientific research to find cures and treatments for diseases that could save the lives of the living.

Science pushed hard in 19th Century France to help save the lives of tiny human beings that had been given up for lost. Now science must push hard for the use of cells that will be critical in not only discovering new means of treatment, but possible cures for a broad array of diseases and debilitating conditions.

Today's populations, in France and elsewhere in the developed world have higher levels of education and understand the issues better. They are addressing the question of using stem cells from a perspective beyond religion. Baby Boomers have produced fewer babies, even in Catholic countries where contraception is forbidden. The worldwide aging population clearly sees the need for better health and so does government that must pay for insurance in most countries. The need for good health and the discovery of new cures has flipped from the 19th Century need for more soldiers to a 21st Century need for healthy seniors and all others. Stem cell research can help. Religion must get out of the way once again and let science prevail.

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