The Stem Cell Debate and the Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is clearly opposed to embryonic stem cell research. “A human embryo should be regarded as a human person,” Bishop Paul Loverde of Virginia declared recently. He urged members of Congress “and people of good will everywhere” to replace the National Institutes of Health guidelines with ones “which will ensure that medical research will be guided by sound moral principles.”

Despite the best efforts of Catholic Church officials to establish a moral framework for the debate, the public relations battle in the media over stem cell research continues back and forth.

A new study published this week in the journal Science reports that embryonic stem cells used in cloning mice often result in severe abnormalities.

“It takes only one cell going awry at the wrong time and place to have seriously flawed individual,” said Dr. David A. Prentice, an Indiana State University professor of life sciences.

The study was released as President George W. Bush is considering whether to continue his support of the ban on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

The study was conducted by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It echoes the dangers posed by non-cloning embryonic stem cell research.

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, warned President Bush in a recent letter about the hazards of stem cell research. “Unchecked cell growth is a significant issue in embryonic stem cell research as well as in fetal tissue research,” Connor said. “As a consequence, some researchers are concluding that tissue-specific stem cells harvested from adult sources may prove to be a far more effective mode of treatment than pluripotent stem cells harvested from human embryos.

“The study concerning cloning and embryonic stem cell research is further evidence that the government should only support research that is ethical and shows the most promise, such as adult stem cell research,” Connor said. “Human embryonic stem cell research does not fit this bill.”

Connor urged President Bush to remain true to his earlier pledge and oppose federal funding of this research.

“Embryonic stem cell research kills real people, and real scientists understand this,” said Father Joseph Howard, executive director of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission. “No truly pro-life politician would allow such killing to take place.”

Father Howard was commenting on a full-page ad, which appeared in the July 9 edition of The Washington Times. The purpose of the ad was to educate the American public about the scientific fact that personhood begins at fertilization/conception.

The ad states: “Remove stem cells from embryos and real persons really die.” It features Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and 15 lawmakers who support experimentation, which involves killing embryonic persons.

“As famous people often do,” the ad continues, “they’ve forgotten where they came from. Because all of them were once embryonic persons and all of them would have died anonymous deaths had their stem cells been removed.”

The U.S. bishop’s pro-life office has encouraged concerned Catholics throughout the 67 parishes in Northern Virginia to express their feelings about stem cell research by signing the on-line petition sponsored by the “Do No Harm Coalition” (

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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