Blog Post

U.S. Bishops Call Embryonic Stem Cell Research “Gravely Immoral”

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer (June 16, 2008) By a vote of 191-1, the U.S. bishops adopted a statement on embryonic stem cell research in which they call experimentation on human embryos “the deliberate killing of human beings, a gravely immoral act.” It also condemned attempts to force citizens to pay for such research, saying it would “make taxpayers complicit in such killings . . .” The statement was drawn up by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and adopted during the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Bishops which took place last week in Orlando. In the absence of the Committee’s chairman, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Joseph Nauman of Kansas City introduced the statement. “The statement firmly rejects attacks on the lives of embryonic human beings for any reason, including medical research,” Archbishop Nauman summarized. “It also responds to several arguments used to justify such killing, and explains how an initial decision to destroy so-called ‘spare’ embryos for this research leads to far broader abuses, including human cloning and new risks to women.” The statement goes on to explicitly reject the practice of embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human life. “Harvesting these ‘embryonic stem cells’ involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings, a gravely immoral act . . . true service to humanity begins with respect for each and every human life.” The statement goes on to refute the three most common arguments in favor of embryonic stem cell research: 1) that any harm down is outweighed by the potential benefits; 2) that what is destroyed is not yet a human being with fundamental human rights; and, 3) that dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as a loss of embryonic life. In the first case, the Bishops argue that “the false assumption that a good end can justify direct killing has been the source of much evil in our world. This utilitarian ethic has especially disastrous consequences when used to justify lethal experiments on human beings in the name of progress. No commitment to a hoped-for ‘greater good’ can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now.” Even though embryonic stem cell research is touted as being the route to potential cures for a wide variety of diseases, it has yet to cure a single malady and has proven problematic in the laboratory because of the tendency of embryonic cells to produce tumor and cause immune rejection issues in humans. On the other hand, adult stem cells are already being used to treat more than 70 diseases including some cancers, heart disease and auto-immune diseases, to name a few. Responding to the second argument, that an embryo in the first week of life is too small to be considered human, the Bishops say that “the human embryo, from conception onward, is as much a living member of the human species as any of us.” To those who say the embryo can’t be considered human at this early stage because it lacks mental and physical abilities, the Bishops respond, “ . . . (T)o claim that our rights depend on such factors is to deny that human beings have human dignity. . . . If fundamental human rights such as the right to life are based on abilities or qualities that can appear or disappear, grow or diminish, and be greater or lesser in different human beings, then there are no inherent human rights, no true human equality, only privileges for the strong.” Third, to those who argue that the only embryos that will be used for experimentation are “spare” embryos in fertility clinics who will die anyway, the Bishops argue: “This argument is simply invalid. Ultimately, each of us will die, but that gives no one the right to kill us. Our society does not permit lethal experiments on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners on the pretext that they will die anyway.” This argument is also inaccurate. According to a 2003 study by the Rand Corporation, of the 400,000 embryos that remain frozen in fertility clinics across the country, only 2.8 percent (about 11,000 embryos) are available for research. The vast majority of these embryos are reserved for future attempts at pregnancy. Of the number available for research, less than 275 stem cell lines would be created, which means the demand for available embryos will not be satisfied by what is currently available. “It is also increasingly clear that such stem cell ‘harvesting’ will not stop with the destruction of ‘spare’ embryos frozen in fertility clinics,” the Bishops write. “The search for a large supply of viable embryos with diverse genetic profiles has already led some researchers to claim a right to create vast numbers of human embryos solely to destroy them for research. Thus human cloning, performed by the same method used to create Dolly the cloned sheep, is now said to be essential for progress in embryonic stem cell research.” Human cloning is intrinsically evil, the Bishops say, because it reduces human procreation to a mere manufacturing process. They cite other atrocities being committed upon embryos in the name of science, such as fetal farming, which is the process of developing cloned embryos in a woman’s womb for several weeks in order to harvest them for more useful tissue and organs. This practice was outlawed by Congress in 2006. The Bishops also cite the widespread practice of offering women huge sums of money to harvest their eggs for cloning research through processes that pose serious health risks to women. Research is already taking place around the world that combines human and animal cells to create “hybrid” embryos that are part-human and part-animal. As John Paul II so accurately described the situation in the Gospel of Life, “It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point.” © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace. In “Embryonic Stem Cell Research - Why Not?” experts Dr. Gerry Sotomayor, Bill Schneeberger and Fr. Edward Krause explain the medical, moral and social implications of this research.