Monday, August 15, 2005

Distinct sources of stem cells, and their morality

At a parish in New Jersey this weekend, I realized that the problem of ignorance on the topic of stem cells is deep in the minds of the Catholics and the world. This issue has created confusion because of the distinction between morally legit stem cell research and morally offensive stem cell research is not only rarely explained thoroughly nor understood fully.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has an informative fact sheet on stem cell research that many parishes are using as a bulletin insert. Upon seeing this fact sheet in the bulletin, a woman turned to my aunt and myself and said "I agree with embryonic stem cell research. My son had a daughter last year, and I am so glad they kept the blood."

Puzzled, I chimed in, "Are you speaking about the cord blood and placenta?"

She was, and I informed her that stem cells obtained from the umbilical cord blood and placenta are considered adult stem cells because they do not involved the destruction of a human embryo. My aunt went on to explain how embryonic stem cell research is possible only because a human person in the very earliest stages of development is picked apart like a 2nd grade science experiment, piece by piece, for the sake of research. The child no longer exists; on the contrary, the cells, stem cells, of his little body are used to grow various organs and cells for use by researches. This is just as barbaric as surgical abortion, if not more, for these children are often created via cloning for the specific purpose of being picked apart for stem cell harvesting.

The woman we were conversing with was mistakenly referring to cord blood stem cells as embryonic stem cells, and it is easy to see where the confusion comes from. The process by which the placenta and umbilical cord are saved for further research is morally legit, and it is growing in popularity. Sadly, researchers who obstinately demand millions of tax dollars for their destructive research do not recognize the benefits of umbilical stem cell research.

The last point is that we are not doubting that embryonic stem cell research could be beneficial, however we must remember the basic tenet of natural and moral law that the end never justifies the means.

Action for today: contact your senator and congressman and let him know you want a federal umbilical blood bank in lieu of funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Additional resource: Do No Harm: The coalition of Americans for research ethics

Vatican Document (one of many!): Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells

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