A report in yesterday’s New York Times chronicled a team of scientists who are making strides to find medical cures through the use of embryonic stem cells. The hook? No human embryos necessary.
Scientists think that stem cells from early-stage human embryos have the potential to grow into almost any of the body’s organs or tissues. The problem is that to obtain the cells, a human life must be destroyed in the process--something which has been expressly forbidden by the Catholic Church and many pro-life groups.
According to the Times report, Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of M.I.T. and Dr. George Daley of Harvard Medical School, are trying to create embryonic-cells without the embryos, and thereby more in line with Christian medical ethics.
The new method could allow scientists to create a small group of basic cells--independent of a human embryo which would only last for a total of a few weeks.
In addition to embryonic means, many pro-life groups point out that stem cells can be obtained from numerous sources in fully developed adults; again, a method which does not require the destruction of human life.
While the new idea has not been thoroughly probed by ethicists, the Times quoted Dr. Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center in Portland, who is excited about participating in the new research which, he says, allows him to do so without violating his moral principles.
"Virtually everyone in the stem cell field is interested in this," Dr. Grompe said. "Some feel it's the only ethical way. Others feel it is the only practical way." All agree, said the Times, "there has been an ethical impasse."
In addition, the BBC reported yesterday that another group of researchers, this time in Britain, have launched a test to see whether a patient’s own stem cells could be used in medical treatments.
Lead researcher Dr Anthony Mathur told the BBC that, "This is one of the biggest and most comprehensive trials of its kind in the world…Our studies will tell us if adult stem cells in bone marrow can repair damaged hearts and if so how these cells should be administered to patients."
The Catholic Church has no objection to stem cells which are obtained without killing a living embryo.
In a document released last summer on the issue of stem cell research, the Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops Conference said that, "The Church encourages the development of human understanding in this area in a manner that respects the sanctity of human life at every stage."
The bishops also cited the "Vatican Instruction on Respect for Human Life", which says that "no objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings, or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother's body."