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Monday, June 16, 2008

Catholic Bishops & Embryonic Stem Cells

On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a document that condemns embryonic stem cell research, which they claim is morally dangerous and reduces human beings to manufactured commodities. The document, ratified by a near unanimous vote of 191 to 1, says that even if embryonic stem cell research can provide significant medical advancements, "no commitment to a hoped-for 'greater good' can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now." The bishops made clear that they do not wish to force Catholics to choose between science and religion, but rather to consider human dignity before conducting medical research—and the document does allow for research that "involves no direct harm to human beings at any stage of development," including research involving adult stem cells and those obtained from umbilical cord blood. Yet, according to virtually all stem cell scientists, adult cells cannot substitute for embryonic stem cells, which have the proven capacity to become every kind of cell in the human body. From a scientific perspective, Christopher Thomas Scott, executive director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program on Stem Cells and Society, told Science & Spirit last year that we need to pursue all avenues in "a robust research effort, one that is agnostic to cell type." —Stephen Mapes