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Science Serves Life: Vatican Conference Promotes Adult Stem Cell Research
By Deacon Keith Fournier
November 16th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The Catholic Church supports adult stem cell research and opposes embryonic stem cell research. Human embryonic stem cell research is always deadly. A human embryo is not distinct in kind from a human being, but a human being at an early stage of development. "Extracting" their stem cells is a form of embryonic execution. Efforts to promote the tired old "Catholic Church is against science" argument is perpetuated by those who do not like the Catholic Church's uncompromising defense of the dignity of all human life, at every age and stage.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Last week the Pontifical Council for Culture - in collaboration with NeoStem, Inc. and its educational foundation - cosponsored an important conference entitled "Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture." The Pontifical Council is involved in a 5-year, $1 million partnership with NeoStem, Inc. to promote research involving adult stem cells and their potential use in medical treatments.
"NeoStem's Stem for Life Foundation, formed to create awareness about the promise of adult stem cells to treat disease, and the pontifical council's STOQ Foundation (Science Theology and the Ontological Quest), will work to advance research on adult stem cells, to explore their clinical applicability in the field of regenerative medicine, and the cultural relevance of such research especially with its impact on theological and ethical issues".
The Pontifical Council for Culture through its charitable foundation STOQ International made an economic commitment of one million dollars to this collaboration with NeoStem, an international biopharmaceutical company with operations in the US and China.
The Catholic Church unequivocally opposes human embryonic stem cell research. She must! She will not change her position. Why? The answer is simple, it is always deadly. The human embryo is a living member of the human species who, like every one of us, is always in development. Every human being possesses an equal moral dignity and has a fundamental Right to Life. This is true no matter what age or stage of our development, degree of dependence upon others (we are all dependent upon others) or the opinion of others as to our "worth". We are not products we are persons.
The Vatican expressed it this way in 2008, "the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions).
Among the worst examples of using language to deceive and hide the truth is the failure to differentiate between human EMBRYONIC stem cell research and ADULT stem cell research. I have concluded that blurring these two very different areas of medical research may be an intentional act on the part of some who are hell bent on killing human embryonic persons for experimentation.
Oh, I know, some people will gasp when they read such a strong statement. However, given the amazing breakthroughs occurring with adult stem cell research and the lack of coverage such advances are receiving, I am left with no alternative. Let's consider a few examples from the recent past.
Scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, Massachusetts announced the results of a study in May wherein they used stem cells which they derived from ADULT skin to actually re-grow areas of the retina and improve vision. Chinese researchers announced they have taken stem cells derived from ADULT skin and prompted them to become liver cells, thereby restoring a liver in a laboratory animal.
Last May the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reported that scientists discovered that ADULTS have stem cells within their lungs which are capable of being used to regenerate damaged lungs. They found "undifferentiated human lung stem cells nested in niches in the distal airways. These cells are self-renewing, clonogenic, and multipotent in vitro."
Have you heard or read about these scientific breakthroughs involving ADULT stem cell research? If not, I suggest it is because the entire "stem cell" discussion is intentionally laden with misinformation and mired in emotional appeals which cloud the scientific facts.
Human embryonic stem cell research has produced no substantial, lasting medically verifiable results. More importantly, it is always deadly for the human embryonic person. To the contrary, adult stem cell research harms no-one and has borne very promising results. Yet, those who support adult Stem Cell research and oppose embryonic stem cell research are accused of trying to impede scientific progress.
How many news reports have insinuated that the Catholic Church is against "stem cell research"? The Catholic Church is NOT against all stem cell research. The Catholic Church supports ADULT stem cell research. The Catholic Church properly opposes EMBRYONIC stem cell research. Human EMBRYONIC stem cell research is always deadly. A human embryo is not distinct in kind from a human being, but a human being at an early stage of development. "Extracting" their stem cells is a form of embryonic execution.
In 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Holy See issued an outstanding instruction entitled "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation". Among the many questions answered was, "What Respect is due to the human embryo, taking into account his nature and identity?" The answer: "The human being must be respected - as a person - from the very first instant of his (her) existence." The entire instruction can be read here.
In 2008 the same Vatican Congregation issued an instruction entitled the "Dignity of the Human Person" Once again, the Congregation reminded us that science must be placed at the service of the human person, the family and the common good. Any use of new technologies must respect that the human body is never an "it" - but an "I" - some-one who must never be treated as an object, "The body of a human being, from the very first stages of its existence, can never be reduced merely to a group of cells. The embryonic human body develops progressively according to a well defined program with its proper finality, as is apparent in the birth of every baby."
This defense of the dignity of life begins with these words, "The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses a great "yes" to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever greater importance in today's world."
Every one of us is in development at every moment of our human existence. In fact we might more accurately be described as what I would call "humanbecomings" rather than human beings. The "me" who is 56 years old is the same me who was once 26 years old, or six years old, or six days old. At the very moment of conception this unique "me" came into human existence as a human person, a human being. We all know this to be true. No stage of our human life and development is less worthy of respect than another.
ADULT stem cell research has produced extraordinary results and someone doesn't have to die in the process. The Obama administration's favoring of the deadly use of embryonic stem cells in spite of the medical science which shows that adult stem cells actually produces results (and their extraction never kills) is morally repugnant and an egregious misuse of federal money. Insisting that the Catholic Church opposes authentic scientific progress which respects the dignity of human life is misinformed. Sometimes such knowingly inaccurate reporting is an example of anti-Catholic bigotry.
When the conference concluded, Pope Benedict XVI met with the participants. He thanked them for their work and made this critically clear observation: "the potential benefits of adult stem cell research are very considerable, since it opens up possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissue and restoring its capacity for regeneration. The improvement that such therapies promise would constitute a significant step forward in medical science, bringing fresh hope to sufferers and their families alike. For this reason, the Church naturally offers her encouragement to those who are engaged in conducting and supporting research of this kind, always with the proviso that it be carried out with due regard for the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.
"This proviso is most important. The pragmatic mentality, that so often influences decision-making in the world today, is all too ready to sanction whatever means are available in order to attain the desired end, despite ample evidence of the disastrous consequences of such thinking. When the end in view is one so eminently desirable as the discovery of a cure for degenerative illnesses, it is tempting for scientists and policy-makers to brush aside ethical objections and to press ahead with whatever research seems to offer the prospect of a breakthrough. Those who advocate research on embryonic stem cells in the hope of achieving such a result make the grave mistake of denying the inalienable right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception to natural death.
"The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another. Yet, in general, no such ethical problems arise when stem cells are taken from the tissues of an adult organism, from the blood of the umbilical cord at the moment of birth, or from fetuses who have died of natural causes (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae, 32).
"It follows that dialogue between science and ethics is of the greatest importance in order to ensure that medical advances are never made at unacceptable human cost. The Church contributes to this dialogue by helping to form consciences in accordance with right reason and in the light of revealed truth. In so doing she seeks, not to impede scientific progress, but on the contrary to guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity.
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