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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