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The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bishop John D'Arcy has committed his life to the service of the Catholic Church and the teachings of Jesus Christ which it represents. Recently he issued public statements on the dangers and immorality of embryonic stem cell research. In response several catholic people have publicly expressed their disagreement with the bishop on this issue. Some have even referred to their dissent as a, "difference of opinion," with the the leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. They make the claim that embryonic stem cell research should be allowed and promoted, because it will help to save tens of thousands of lives and improve the lives of people with Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other diseases each and every year.

However, these catholics need to be more honest with themselves. This is not a mere a clash of personal opinion. 

In order to provide clarity, let us examine what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say. According to paragraph 2270 (CCC), "Human life must be recognized and protected absolutely from the moment of conception." Because embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction and death of human embryos, it violates this nonnegotiable teaching of the church. The catechism is clearer still on the issue of medical experimentation that does not respect the life and dignity of each human. "Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject's physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate avoidable risks." (2295 CCC)  

These are not the new stands or personal objections developed in recent years by one man, one bishop. In fact, the catechism cites the Didache, or Teaching of the Apostles c. 70AD on the great importance of protecting the life of unborn embryos (CCC 2271). For catholics, these teachings are the clear uncompromising voice of the church founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit in teaching truth for nearly 2,000 years.

Perhaps some don't accept the catechism, the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Even so, it is clear through expounding this train of thought that stem cell research cannot morally justifiable. If because embryonic stem cell research helps to save and improve lives, it should be allowed despite the fact that it requires the destruction of human embryos, we must examine other life saving policies based on the same criteria.
Let us forget for a moment that adult stem cell research is the only stem cell research that has provided working treatments and realistically potential cures for the diseases mentioned above. Let us pretend that destroying human embryos by the thousands is able to, without the considerable doubt that exists, cure everyone with these diseases, thus making it both permissible and desirable to do so. Are we not then required to apply similar logic to other possible life saving cures? 7% of people in the world are universal organ donors. Each year over a thousand people in the United States, and untold numbers around the world, die waiting on organ transplants. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, organ transplants are a scientific and time tested method of saving lives. If the government were to sponsor doctors to harvest the organs of each universal donor, either voluntarily or without consent, these doctors would be using their great skill and scientific know how to save nearly 30 lives per donor. All total over 63 million lives would be saved by using the universal donors of the US alone. Perhaps we should be concerned about the UD's experiencing pain during the process. No worries, scientists and doctors could simply and painlessly put these UD's into induced comas.  

If it is sinful, as some have said, for scientists not to do embryonic stem cell research, why is it not sinful that gifted scientists and those in power are not authorizing this use of universal donors? 

By simply making a utilitarian judgment based on the number of lives that could be saved, we open ourselves up to the allowance of acts even more heinous than the abduction, objectification, and disposal of universal organ donors. If we begin advocating the use of human beings as a means to an end what will be the marker as to whether the purpose is legitimate or not? Will you? Will I? Will public opinion? How about the government?
If you acknowledge that life begins at conception and that an embryo is just as much a human person as you or I, we cannot accept destroying (killing) these human lives. If you deny the person hood of these individuals that is a different debate altogether. Regardless, a catholic who takes such stances finds themselves not at a difference of opinion with Bishop John D'Arcy, but at odds with and speaking out against, the clear consistent teaching proclaimed by the Catholic Church and its true guardians for over 2,000 years.

Jacob Alles

Columbia City



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