Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Catholic Church is Leading the Way on Ethical Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine

By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Contrary to the spin of what some within the main stream media falsely claim the Catholic Church does not oppose Stem Cell Research. This recent conference in the Vatican and the alliances it promotes and sponsors is only one of many examples. In fact, the Catholic Church is leading the way on Ethical Stem Cell Research. If you did not know that, take the time to read about this conference. Read this book. Then, spread the good news, about adult stem cell research and the Catholic Church!

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On Thursday April 11, 2013 an extraordinarily important conference began with the enthusiastic approval of the Vatican. The topic is stem cell research and regenerative medicine. In fact, the conference is entitled Regenerative medicine: A Fundamental Shift in Science and Culture and you can read much more about it here. The conference continues through Saturday, April 13, 2013 and is hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, STOQ International, NeoStem and the Stem for Life Foundation. The conference brings together medical researchers, politicians, Church leaders, scholars, scientists and students to educate the world and promote ongoing work in the use of adult stem cells. Here is an excellent description of adult stem cells

On June 27, 2012, Monsignor Tomasz Trafny of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem, Chairman and President of the Stem for Life Foundation and Dr. Max Gomez, trustee of the Stem for Life Foundation presented the first copy of their book, now called The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History is Changing Your Life to then Pope Benedict XVI. The book was the fruit of an ongoing collaboration between the Vatican's Pontifical Council through its charitable foundation STOQ International and the Stem for Life Foundation. The book includes an address by Pope Benedict XVI. 

The book presents the reader with an engaging, comprehensive overview of adult stem cells and their vital role in the future of regenerative medicine.  In powerful, accessible language the book showcases a wide array of emerging adult stem cell breakthroughs, including their ability to repair damaged hearts and organs, restore sight, kill cancer, cure diabetes, heal burns and stop the march of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease. The Pontifical Council has been involved in a multi-year and multi-million dollar partnership with NeoStem, Inc. to promote research involving adult stem cells and their potential use in medical treatments. Adult Stem Cell research is fully supported by the Catholic Church. 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 personally 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 just two examples from the past.

Back in May of 2011 Scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, Massachusetts announced the they used stem cells which they derived from ADULT skin to 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. That same month and year, the 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." Did you hear or read about those scientific breakthroughs involving adult stem cell research? If not, I suggest it is because the entire stem cell discussion has been, for far too long, 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 you read over the years insinuating that the Catholic Church is against "stem cell research"? The Catholic Church is NOT against all stem cell research. The Catholic Church supports and promotes 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."  In 2008 the same Vatican Congregation issued an instruction entitled the "Dignity of the Human Person: On Certain Bioethical Questions"  The Congregation reminded us all 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 all human 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."

The efforts to promote the tired old "The Catholic Church is against science" argument is often  perpetuated by those who simply do not like the Catholic Church's uncompromising defense of the dignity of all human life, at every age and stage. The Catholic Church not only supports but promotes ethical stem cell research. 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 now 58 years old is the same me who was once 26 years old, or six years old, or six days old, or in the womb, or an embryo. 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, including our time as a human embryonic person.  Human embryology and developmental biology affirm that a human embryo is not distinct in kind from a human being, but a human being at an early stage of development. Even prior to implantation, a human embryo is a unique living human being with the genetic constitution and epigenetic primordial that continues to develop throughout his or her life.

Adult stem cell research has produced extraordinary results and some-one doesn't have to die in the process. The Obama administration in the United States 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. The Media's insistence that the Catholic Church opposes authentic scientific progress is misinformed. Sometimes such inaccurate reporting is an example of anti-Catholic bigotry. Sometimes it is simply ignorance. We will be verbally pilloried, accused of being anti-science or somehow impeding progress because we speak for human embryonic Life as we speak for all human life. The Catholic is clear in her unbroken teaching on the dignity of every human person, including what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called "embryonic persons" for good reason. There can be do debate about this fact, we were all once human embryos. We all lived in the first home of the whole human race, our mothers womb.

In 2011 the first of these conferences supporting, promoting and endorsing ethical stem cell research was also held in Vatican City. It was entitled  Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture It was sponsored by the same alliance including the Vatican. When it concluded Pope Benedict XVI made this 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.Indeed, it is her conviction that everything human, including scientific research, "is not only received and respected by faith, but is also purified, elevated and perfected" (ibid., 7). In this way science can be helped to serve the common good of all mankind, with a particular regard for the weakest and most vulnerable."

Contrary to the spin of what some within the main stream media falsely claim the Catholic Church does not oppose Stem Cell Research. This recent conference in the Vatican and the alliances it promotes and sponsors is only one of many examples. In fact, the Catholic Church is leading the way on Ethical Stem Cell Research. If you did not know that, take the time to read about this conference. Read this book. Then, spread the good news, about adult stem cell research and the Catholic Church!

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)