Catholic ethicist explains Church’s support for stem cell research

.- Fr. Tadeusz Pacholcyzk, director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, emphatically reiterated, earlier this week, that the Catholic Church is not opposed to stem cell research and, in fact, applauds the efforts of scientists in their work preformed with adult stem cells.  Pacholcyzk was speaking to large crowd gathered at a presentation concerning the science and ethics of stem cell research and cloning Sunday, at the John Paul II Center For the New Evangelization in Denver.

Fr. Pacholcyzk, who received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Yale University, conducted post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School, and studied theology and bioethics in Rome, listed and debunked what he called, “ten media myths about stem cell research and cloning.”

One predominant myth, said Pacholcyzk, who has been a Catholic priest for seven years, asserts that the Catholic Church is categorically opposed to stem cell research.  In fact, Fr. Pacholcyzk insisted, the ethics of stem cell research depend on the source of the cells.  

Pacholcyzk numbered the four primary sources of human stem cells: human embryos, aborted or miscarried fetuses, pregnancy matter (umbilical cord, placenta, amniotic fluid), and adult tissues and organs.  

Only one method of obtaining stem cells is always morally evil, he said, to extract stem cells from human embryos. This method necessarily destroys the life of the embryo, Pacholcyzk said.  Pacholcyzk said that the Catholic Church openly applauds research performed with stem cells obtained in all other methods that do not violate human life.  

Pacholcyzk also dismissed the claim that that embryonic stem cells offer the greatest hope for curing over 100 million patients with various diseases and injuries.  Pacholcyzk first asserted that estimated number of cures which could be had is grossly exaggerated.  To this day, he said, no human or animal subject has been successfully treated using embryonic stem cell therapy.  

Furthermore, due to their very nature, work with stem cells often ends in tumors and death in test subjects, Pacholcyzk said.  Embryonic stem cells are able to become any type of cell in the body, a trait scientists call plasticity.  These cells also multiply themselves at astonishing rates.  Consequently, the cells’ rapid growth often produces a deadly tumor in test animals known as a teratoma.  

On the other hand, he pointed out, stem cells gathered from adult tissues and pregnancy matter are already producing impressive results.  Fr. Pacholcyzk listed dozens of diseases currently treatable using these stem cells, including sickle-cell anemia, leukemia, spinal cord injury, and heart disease.  These stem cells are obtained without destroying human life and so do not pose the ethical problems of embryonic stem cell research.

Fr. Pacholcyzk also briefly touched on the subject of human cloning.  “It is a myth,” he said, “that therapeutic cloning does not violate human life.”  In fact, he said, the process creates a human embryo in order to produce tissues and organs for use in medical treatments.  Obtaining these tissues requires the destruction of the embryo.  Therapeutic cloning, Fr. Pacholcyzk insisted, is intrinsically evil because it creates human life only to destroy it.

Finally, Fr. Pacholcyzk addressed the topic of frozen embryos.  Advocates of embryonic stem cell research often conclude that hundreds of thousands of embryos frozen in fertility clinics throughout the country are soon to be discarded.  Since they will be thrown away, it seems reasonable to them to reap some benefit from their destruction through scientific research. Fr. Pacholcyzk emphatically countered that the possible future of these embryos does not justify their destruction – what may happen to a human life in the future does not justify its destruction in the present. “If we surrender this battle over the frozen embryos, we will have nothing left to stand on,” Pacholcyzk said.

Fr. Pacholcyzk’s presentation was sponsored by ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) a non-profit group committed to promoting the teachings of Pope John Paul II and other prominent Catholic thinkers.

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