US Bishops: Stem Cell Issue Not Science vs. Religion

Release Statement on Unethical Research

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- U.S. bishops noted that stem cell research has captured the imagination of many in our society, but affirmed that the deliberate killing of innocent human beings is gravely immoral.



The prelates addressed the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research in a statement approved at their spring meeting, which ended Saturday.

The bishops first explained what stem cells are and why they have generated so much interest in the scientific community.

"Scientists hope these biological building blocks can be directed to produce many types of cells to repair the human body, cure disease, and alleviate suffering," they noted. "But some scientists are most intrigued by stem cells obtained by destroying an embryonic human being in the first week or so of development. Harvesting these 'embryonic stem cells' involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings, a gravely immoral act."

3 false arguments

The prelates looked specifically at three arguments put forth to justify destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells: "1) any harm done in this case is outweighed by the potential benefits; 2) what is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights; and 3) dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as involving a loss of embryonic life."

After showing the fault in each argument, the bishops noted: "This is not only a teaching of the Catholic Church. Our nation’s Declaration of Independence took for granted that human beings are unequal in size, strength, and intelligence. Yet it declared that members of the human race who are unequal in all these respects are created equal in their fundamental rights, beginning with the right to life.

"Tragically, this principle of equal human rights for all has not always been followed in practice, even by the Declaration’s signers. But in our nation’s proudest moments Americans have realized that we cannot dismiss or exclude any class of humanity -- that basic human rights must belong to all members of the human race without distinction."

Finally, the bishops looked at the assertion that embryos used for stem cell research are "spare," and thus "unwanted embryos who will die anyway."

"This argument is simply invalid," they affirmed. "Ultimately each of us will die, but that gives no one a right to kill us."

And beyond

The statement also focuses on the issue of cloning and other related issues.

"Human cloning is intrinsically evil because it reduces human procreation to a mere manufacturing process, producing new human beings in the laboratory to predetermined specifications as though they were commodities. […] This is especially clear when human embryos are produced by cloning for research purposes, because new human lives are generated solely in order to be destroyed," the bishops clarified.

They added: "Some researchers and lawmakers even propose developing cloned embryos in a woman’s womb for some weeks to harvest more useful tissues and organs -- a grotesque practice that Congress has acted against through the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006.

"Some would solicit women as egg donors for human cloning research, even offering cash payments to overcome these women’s qualms about the risk to their own health from the egg harvesting procedure."

Referring to a proposal that has already been approved in the United Kingdom, the bishops continued, "Other researchers want to use animal eggs for human cloning experiments, creating 'hybrid' embryos that disturbingly blur the line between animal and human species."

"It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point," the prelates stated.

Referring to Pope John Paul II's "The Gospel of Life," they added: "The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path. We therefore urge Catholics and all people of good will to join us in reaffirming, precisely in this context of embryonic stem cell research, that 'the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.'"

"The issue of stem cell research does not force us to choose between science and ethics, much less between science and religion," the bishops concluded. "It presents a choice as to how our society will pursue scientific and medical progress. Will we ignore ethical norms and use some of the most vulnerable human beings as objects, undermining the respect for human life that is at the foundation of the healing arts?

"Such a course, even if it led to rapid technical progress, would be a regress in our efforts to build a society that is fully human. Instead we must pursue progress in ethically responsible ways that respect the dignity of each human being. Only this will produce cures and treatments that everyone can live with."

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On the Net

Bishops' Stem Cell Statement: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/bishopsESCRstmt.pdf