Vatican Official Hopeful at Stem Cell Discovery

Asks Scientists to Help Consider Ethical Implications

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care says he is hopeful about the news that stem cells can be obtained from amniotic fluids.



Following last week's announcement, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán said on Vatican Radio that he received the news with hope, as long as the ethical conditions proper to all transplants are respected.

Acknowledging he is not a scientist, the cardinal called on researchers to assist in understanding the ethical significance of the discovery.

Unlike the method of obtaining stem cells that requires the destruction of human embryos, initial infomation seems to indicate that this newly-dicovered method for extracting stem cells can be in accord with respect for human life.

The discovery is the result of the efforts of scientists of Harvard University, together with researchers of Padua, Italy, and of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. It has sparked intense debate.

Encouraging

Neonatologist Carlo Valerio Bellieni of the Le Scotte University Polyclinic of Siena told ZENIT that "the discovery of the presence of stem cells in the amniotic fluid is encouraging."

Bellieni said that, according to studies, these cells "are readily available and it seems they are found in high quantity."

"Surely this discovery is a strong message for those who manage research in this field: Funds are needed for studying these cells and for the 'banks' that keep this precious liquid," he added.

"As occurs with the blood of the umbilical cord, already at birth the amniotic fluid is available in great quantity" Bellieni, who is a correspondent member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained.

He underlined the need to found "a well-structured network of collection and conservation."

"Obviously, this leads one to wonder if it is reasonable to allocate copious funds to obtaining cells extracted from human embryos, with their consequent death, without having obtained or even perceived a clinical result," Bellieni added. "The latter are funds that could be used to collect effective and useful adult stem cells."

Ethical risks

Asked about the ethical risks connected to this discovery, the neonatologist expressed two considerations: "The first, that private use not be made of the amniotic fluid … this must be kept in mind because, sadly, we see a certain tendency to privatize biological material that could be of common use, as happens in several countries in the case of blood from the umbilical cord, which can be kept for personal use instead of putting it into a public bank.

"Many international scientific societies have protested against this waste and this attitude that discriminates against those who cannot keep the stem cell material for reasons of patrimony.

"The second consideration arises on ensuring that there would be no danger to the newborn in collecting the amniotic fluid."

Bellieni reiterated, however, that the fluid can be attained without amniocentesis.

"Once again it is the facts that speak for themselves," Bellieni added. "Scientific research is a serious thing. To want to force it for ideological reasons, as can happen in the case of those who see the use of human embryos as the only way, leads to waste of money and loss of precious time.

"Once again we see that respect for human life, together with the capacity for research, leads in the right direction of healing and health."