Why the Catholic Church is right about prohibiting embryonic stem cell destruction

Even a child old enough to know about human reproduction realizes that his (or her) life as a human being begin the moment his (or her) father’s sperm penetrated his (or her) mother’s egg.  A secular children’s book on the biology of human reproduction from my local library is very clear that life begins at conception as well.  It reads:

“But nine months before, when you first began, you were just one little cell, even smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. Half of this cell came from your mother’s body, and the other half came from your father’s body.”

Essentially, the Catholic Church says that human life begins at conception not in spite of science but because of it.

So then why is the beginnings of human life such a hotly debated issue?  I believe it is because the debate about when life begins is actually focused on the wrong question or rather questions.

It is not a matter biologically of when a new human organism begins.  That is an established fact.  The real debate is about whether or not human life has value, whether or not an embryo or fetus has moral worth simply because he (or she) is human and whether or not every human life deserves respect and protection.  When people say that life does not begin at conception I think what they are really saying is that they do not believe that embryonic life has value and that it does not deserve to be protected.

The Catholic Church teaches that the new human life that begins at conception has dignity and worth simply because it is human.  Catholics know that human life is present from the moment of fertilization.  We also know that all human life is intrinsically valuable.

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Stem Cell Treatments and Catholic Teaching

As stem cell treatments have begun to generate some positive results, the Catholic Church has come out in opposition to the use of human embryonic stem cells, sometimes referred to as fetal stem cells, for research. In 2008, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement opposed to embryonic stem cell banking while in support of other treatments derived from cord blood stem cell research and similar scientific efforts.

The USCCB statement on the subject of stem cells is grounded in two core beliefs:

  • Good cannot come from evil.
  • Human life begins at conception.

On the first belief, the USCCB asserts, “No commitment to a hoped-for ‘greater-good’ can erase or diminish the wrong of taking innocent human lives here and now.” The bishops go on to warn that the argument for a greater good could also be used to justify experimenting on those suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other debilitating diseases in the hope of finding future effective treatments. Instead of condoning the destruction of embryos, the USCCB calls for a compassionate and committed response to these illnesses that promotes respect of all life.

To the second point, the USCCB notes that it is a biological fact that embryos are a separate beings from the moment of conception. Not only do they contain all genes necessary for human life, they are endowed with a DNA distinct from either parent. Although some may argue that a human life at this early stage of development is too small and weak to warrant protection, Catholic bishops respond that denying the dignity of humankind’s smallest members diminishes us all.

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