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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIV, No. 2
Pentecost 2009

Women for Faith & Family
Celebrating 25 years of service to the Church

US Bishops:
Oppose Funding of Destructive Embryonic Stem Cell Research!
Support Cures we can all live with

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a special web section on stem cell research, and initiated a campaign to oppose the destruction of embryos. On April 28, the following announcement of this campaign was posted on the USCCB web site:

On March 9, President Obama issued an Executive Order overturning the limits President Bush had placed on government funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research. On April 23, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published draft guidelines to implement the Obama directive. If these guidelines are approved, federal taxpayer funds will support research on human embryonic stem cells derived by killing human embryos created in fertility clinics through in vitro fertilization [IVF]. Parents will be able to donate their embryonic children for such research when they feel they no longer need them for reproduction. The guidelines currently do not allow federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells derived from cloning or parthenogenesis, or from IVF embryos specially created for research purposes. See: (Note: The public had until May 26 to submit comments.)

Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the draft guidelines “a new chapter in divorcing biomedical research from its necessary ethical foundation.” Without unconditional respect for human life, he said, experiments on human subjects become “another way for some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals.” The cardinal called for “increased support for promising and ethically sound stem-cell research and treatments that harm no one.” He expressed concern that some in Congress and the Administration want to go beyond the draft guidelines and use embryos specially created for research by in vitro fertilization or cloning. (For the cardinal’s full statement on the USCCB website see:

Calling the guidelines “the first step”, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Michael Castle (R-DE) intend to move forward with broader legislation to “promote all forms of ethical stem cell research”, which in their view includes cloning and the creation of embryos solely to destroy them.

For important information, see the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities’ special stem cell page “Oppose Funding of Destructive Stem Cell Research” at:

Following are excerpts from a stem cell question-and-answer document from the bishops’ web site. The complete version, which may be used as a parish bulletin insert, is accessible online:

Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning: Questions and Answers

What is a stem cell?

A stem cell is a relatively unspecialized cell that, when it divides, can do two things: make another cell like itself, or make any of a number of cells with more specialized functions. For example, just one kind of stem cell in our blood can make new red blood cells, or white blood cells, or other kinds — depending on what the body needs. These cells are like the stem of a plant that spreads out in different directions as it grows.

Is the Catholic Church opposed to all stem cell research?

Not at all. Most stem cell research uses cells obtained from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, and other sources that pose no moral problem. Useful stem cells have been found in bone marrow, blood, muscle, fat, nerves, and even in the pulp of baby teeth. Some of these cells are already being used to treat people with a wide variety of diseases.

Why is the Church opposed to stem cell research using the embryo?

Because harvesting these stem cells kills the living human embryo. The Church opposes the direct destruction of innocent human life for any purpose, including research.

If some human embryos will remain in frozen storage and ultimately be discarded anyway, why is it wrong to try to get some good out of them?

In the end we will all die anyway, but that gives no one a right to kill us. In any case, these embryos will not die because they are inherently unable to survive, but because others are choosing to hand them over for destructive research instead of letting them implant in their mother’s womb. One wrong choice does not justify an additional wrong choice to kill them for research, much less a choice to make taxpayers support such destruction. The idea of experimenting on human beings because they may die anyway also poses a grave threat to convicted prisoners, terminally ill patients, and others.

Haven’t doctors, scientists, and commentators said that embryonic stem cell research will lead to the cure of many diseases?

Some have made this claim, but in fact this is largely speculation. Embryonic stem cells have never treated a human patient, and animal trials suggest that they are too genetically unstable and too likely to form lethal tumors to be used for treatment any time soon. Years ago it was said that stem cells from embryos would be the most useful because they are so fast-growing and versatile, able to make virtually any kind of cell. But those advantages become disadvantages when these cells make tumors, creating a condition worse than the disease. Yet many supporters remain wedded to this approach, having invested a great deal of money and effort and hoping they can still make it work. This kind of exaggerated “promise” has misled researchers and patient groups before — most obviously in the case of fetal tissue from abortions, which in the 1990s was said to promise miracle cures and has produced nothing of the kind.

Is the Church telling us to choose the lives of embryos over the lives of suffering patients?

No. It is calling us to respect both, without discrimination. We must help those who are suffering, but we may not use a good end to justify an evil means. Moreover, treatments that do not require destroying any human life are at least as promising — they are already healing some conditions, and are far closer to healing other conditions than any approach using embryonic stem cells. The choice is not between science and ethics, but between science that is ethically responsible and science that is not. …

What are the advantages of harvesting donor cells from the intended recipient of the stem cell therapy?

Because these cells come from the patient, they are an exact match and will not be rejected by the body as foreign tissue. Also, because no foreign substance is placed in the body, there are fewer regulatory barriers to their medical use.

Who is funding stem cell research? What role is federal funding playing in determining research priorities?

Many private foundations and for-profit biotechnology companies fund stem cell research, but the federal government (especially through the National Institutes of Health) remains the largest source of funds. The government’s funding priorities have a large influence on the direction that medical research takes. Since available research funds began being diverted toward exploring embryonic stem cell research, some very promising adult stem cell avenues for treating juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, etc. have been underappreciated and underfunded. Many advances in these fields have emerged from other countries.

What is human cloning and how is it related to stem cell research?

In human cloning, the DNA from the nucleus of a person’s body cell is inserted into an egg whose own genetic material has been removed, and the egg is then stimulated to begin embryonic development. The resulting cloned embryo would genetically be an almost identical twin to the person supplying the body cell. This research overlaps with the stem cell issue. That is, human cloning might be done to create an embryo who will be destroyed to provide stem cells genetically matched to a patient, so the cells will not be rejected as foreign tissue. But some cloning research is done for other purposes — for example, to create embryos with devastating illnesses from the body cells of sick patients, to study the early progress of that disease. Most embryonic stem cell research involves embryos created by in vitro fertilization, not cloning.

Why does the Church oppose human cloning?

Cloning is a depersonalized way to reproduce, in which human beings are manufactured in the laboratory to preset specifications. It is not a worthy way to bring a new human being into the world. When done for stem cell research, it involves the moral wrong of all embryonic stem cell research (destroying an innocent human life for possible benefit to others) plus an additional wrong: It creates human beings solely in order to kill them for their cells. This is the ultimate reduction of a fellow human being to a mere means, to an instrument of other people’s wishes.

Can cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells be obtained without destroying embryos?

Yes. For example, in November 2007 several teams of scientists discovered a way to “reprogram” ordinary adult cells to produce cells with the versatility of cells obtained from embryos. These “induced pluripotent stem cells” or “iPS cells” pose no serious moral problem, are easier to produce than embryonic stem cells, and can be tailor-made as an exact genetic match to each patient. Many experts say advances like this will make stem cell research that requires destroying embryos obsolete.

Does opposition to cloning and embryonic stem cell research come only from one theological or political view?

No. Serious moral concerns about these practices have been raised by an array of both religious and secular groups, including some who disagree with the Catholic Church about abortion — Friends of the Earth, the United Methodist Church, etc. The human cloning ban supported by the Church has been approved twice by the House of Representatives by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Many other countries (including Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Norway) have passed similar bans. Opposition to the idea of treating early human life as a mere object or commodity in the laboratory transcends religious and political divisions.

For the U.S. bishops’ official 2008 policy statement “On Embryonic Stem Cell Research” and for more information, see

Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning: Questions and Answers was developed as a resource by the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Revised, June 2008

Copyright © 2004, 2008, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.

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