Monday, July 24, 2006

Politicians, religion and spiced up history

On July 17, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) spoke on the Senate floor regarding the recently passed, then vetoed, bill that would loosen federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Amidst bringing up the usual candidates (e.g. Galileo, Columbus, etc.) to show the evils of allowing science to be checked by any kind of morality, he mentioned this tidbit:

"Pope Boniface VII banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s. This stopped the practice for over 300 years and greatly slowed the accumulation of education regarding human anatomy. Finally, in the 1500s, Michael Servetus used cadaver dissection to study blood circulation. He was tried and imprisoned by the Catholic Church."

Around the same time, another Senator (Tom Harkin) let loose with similar claims after comparing the President's veto with the actions of an ayotollah:

Sen. Harkin ... claimed that Bush is now aligned “with people like Pope Boniface VIII, who banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s. This stopped cadaver dissection for over 300 years, over 300 years.”

The problem with both statements is that there isn't a shred of truth to them. Not only did Specter get the name of the pope in question wrong, but both senators were likely fed grossly inaccurate information which was corrected by this swift Catholic News Service story:

What's a 13th-century pope got to do with stem cells? Nothing at all

In his 1845 textbook "The History of Medicine," German author Heinrich Haesar said dissection of cadavers continued without hindrance during the Middle Ages in European universities, run under the direction of church leaders.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry on anatomy, says that Guy de Chauliac, considered the father of modern surgery, encouraged the use of dissection in anatomical studies in the 14th century and insisted "on the necessity for the dissection of human bodies if any definite progress in surgery is to be made."

Since de Chauliac was the personal surgeon to three popes and encouraged dissection while a member of the papal household, "this fact alone would seem to decide definitely that there was no papal regulation, real or supposed, forbidding the practice of human dissection at this time," the encyclopedia says.

And what of Michael Servetus, supposedly imprisoned for his cadaverous crimes by the Catholic Church? He was actually executed by the Calvinists for his opposition to certain doctrinal questions relating to the nature of God.

Read the whole story

No comments: