Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 20, 2001
Abuse of embroyonic stem cells
The Catholic Church has given moral approval to stem cell research that may someday provide a cure for diseases such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and some forms of leukemia. But the Church will never countenance the destruction of human embryos for any reason, including the possibility of providing life-saving treatment to people who are already born. The end never justifies the means.
The unborn have no ability to defend themselves or to advocate on their own behalf. Even fetuses who are aborted - those who already look human - do not draw much public sympathy. Pity then the poor embryo, conceived only a few days earlier. Who will feel solidarity with this young life, invisible to the naked eye and, under a microscope, looking only like a blob of cells?
And yet this is a state through which all of us have passed. Harvested for our stem cells at such an early age, we would have never been born. Reflecting on embryos killed for their parts, we can only say, "There but for the grace of God go I."
That such reflection does not often take place does not make it any less true. The embryo is human life, deserving of the full protection of the law and certainly not to be dehumanized by federal funding for research purposes.
U.S. President George W. Bush has attempted to strike a compromise by banning funding federal experimentation on new "lines" of embryonic stem cells. He has left the door open to federal funding for experimentation on existing lines and has placed no barriers to privately funded experiments. Yet all embryonic stem cell research should be banned.
Bush believes he has taken a stand in favour of human life. This is dubious. Indicative of this is the ringing endorsement his stand has received from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents 1,000 biotechnical companies and academic institutions.
The BIO believes that while Bush's restrictions place roadblocks to medical research, eventually medical advances will force the U.S. government to open up its policy.
Our hope ought to be something much different. Our hope should be that the embryonic stem cell research, which has never led to any effective treatment, will soon prove to be an expensive failure.
Our hope should be that other sources of stem cells - from adults (already used successfully in treatment), and from umbilical cords of newborns and placentas - will provide cures for many diseases. These sources of stem cells may provide life and health without also destroying life.
Last week, a team of researchers at McGill University in Montreal announced they have captured stem cells from human skin and from mice that are capable of growing into brain cells and a range of other tissues.
In April, a U.S. company, Anthrogenesis Corp., said it has developed a large supply of useful human stem cells from the placenta that is expelled from the mother after childbirth. "The fact that large quantities of stem cells can be obtained from the placenta will make obsolete the need to use human embryos or aborted fetuses as a source of stem cells," said a company spokesman.
Bush also announced he would provide "aggressive federal funding" for research of this sort. This announcement is to be applauded. It can help build a culture of life rather than one of death.
On embryonic research, Bush's approach appears to be more restrictive than that of Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock's draft bill on reproductive technology. Rock would ban the sale and purchase of human embryos and would also prohibit embryos from being created solely for research purposes. It would give token protection to human life but fail to take the all-important step of banning all research using embryos.
In short, we are entering a Brave New World that needlessly sacrifices the voiceless for an apparently laudable end. However, that goal can be met without the sacrifice of human life. We need political leaders with fortitude who can stand strongly in defence of human life against the demands of the medical industrial complex.
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