The US bishops have issued a very clear statement on embryonic stem cell research. It does not dwell upon the scientific nuances of the issue, but rather assists the reader to focus on the moral issues involved. The statement is not marked by condemnation, but rather by explanation. It is not a rejection of research or of those who stand to benefit from research, but rather a call to pursue the well being of those very individuals by preserving the moral standards that protect their dignity and that of the rest of us.
The statement reminds us that there is great medical promise in therapy with “adult stem cells,” which “can be obtained without harm to the donor and without any ethical problem.”
On the other hand, if human lives are destroyed for what some argue is the greater good of curing disease, this argument undermines the dignity of the very people for whom it tries to advocate. “The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow, if his or her survival is viewed as disadvantaging other human beings.”
Addressing the doubt some have as to whether embryos really are human, the statement reminds us, “Just as each of us was once an adolescent, a child, a newborn infant, and a child in the womb, each of us was once an embryo.”
And for those who acknowledge the humanity of the embryo but not its claim to protection, the bishops warn, “If fundamental rights such as the right to life are based on abilities or qualities that can appear or disappear, grow or diminish, and be greater or lesser in different human beings, then there are no inherent human rights, no true human equality, only privileges for the strong.”
The bottom line is that human beings can never be considered a means to an end or a mere object of research. The moral boundary of human activity in every sphere can be summarized by saying that people are not things. Every human being is a human person, and a person is never a product. From pornography to abortion, from economic oppression to unjustified warfare, from the Holocaust to the destruction of embryos, the violation of the same principle can be seen. The only appropriate response to the human person is love.
The Church in no way opposes research or the progress of medical science. Indeed, this statement is an affirmation of that fact, because by reaffirming where the bright moral lines are that research must never cross, the Church encourages researchers to work harder to discover alternatives that provide the benefits we all seek while preserving the moral foundation that provides the rationale for seeking those benefits in the first place. And those alternatives are coming to light — a fact which can help even those who justify the destruction of embryos to realize that there is no reason to take that path.