Catholic Bishops in the United States and Australia continue to speak out in clarification of what constitutes ethical stem cell research as they respond to a new study which, they say, contains misrepresentations in its findings.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a new statement Thursday in reaction to a controversial new report in the journal “Nature,” which claims to show an “ethical” way to harvest stem cells from human embryos.
The bishops, who are in favor of many forms of adult stem cell research, remain steadfastly opposed to embryonic research, which results in the destruction of an already conceived human life.
The report published in the August 23rd, online edition of “Nature,” claims that researchers working at Advanced Cell Technology in Worchester, Massachusetts, were able to remove single stem cells from 8-10-celled embryos and then create an embryonic stem cell line without harming the original embryos.
However, Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Bishops Conference, said that the report in “Nature” is a misrepresentation and contains no answer to ethical questions.
“The reality is very different,” Doerflinger said, “Researchers did not safely remove single cells from early embryos, but destroyed 16 embryos… This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem.”
Contraryto their claims, Doerflinger says, the researchers in the “Nature”article removed an average of six cells from each embryo and, in theend, were only able to created two cell lines from the 91 cellsextracted from the 16 human embryos they destroyed.
Doerflinger said that even if the study had been successful in creating stem cell lines, which are bands of constantly-dividing cells that scientists theoretically hope to transform into “cures” for human diseases and disorders, from the single cells pulled from each embryo, “serious ethical problems would remain.”
The National Catholic Bioethics Center described one such ethical problem in a press release this morning. The procedure, according to the bioethics center, “requires a non-therapeutic intervention performed on a human embryo.”
“Research carried out on a human subject for the sake of others is subject to special restrictions if the subject cannot give consent, and it is permissible only if it involves minimal risk. In this procedure at least 10 percent of the embryo’s body mass is removed for research, not for the purpose of treating that specific embryo-patient for a known medical condition. The embryo is employed as a starting source for harvestable raw materials in a gesture of reducing young humans to commodities or manipulable products.”
Doerflinger said that “embryo biopsies” have been destroying human life for years. Fertility clinics, he said, have continuously used the same method to do genetic testing, and they have destroyed a number of embryos as a result.
“As our fellow human beings, embryonic humans should not be manipulated, harmed, or used solely for possible benefit to others, even if this would not always kill them. In any event, further efforts to find a “safe” way to take cells from these embryos would surely require more experiments like this one that are clearly destructive and unethical.”
Doerflinger pointed out that the U.S. bishops continue to strongly support bipartisan efforts, “to fund avenues for discovering or creating cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells without exploiting human embryos at all.”
Nevertheless, the “Nature” study is gaining traction and may have an effect on Australian policy debate as well.
Australians have been left reeling in recent weeks after Prime Minster John Howard added to the already heated embryonic stem cell debate by proposing a “conscience vote” on a plan to use “therapeutic” cloning, the process of creating cloned human embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting cells from them.
Now Australian lawmakers and politicians, even those previously opposed to therapeutic cloning and embryonic research, are showing an interest in the “Nature” study’s claim of “ethical” embryonic research.
According to today’s issue of “The Age,” even Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who has led the opposition to the therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research proposals, is turning an interested eye.
"I think it looks quite promising and it may well make the legislation that a couple of my colleagues are promising to bring before the parliament unnecessary," Abbott said of the study.
But even if the method of “embryo biopsy” were to eventually prove effective, only destroying a human life here and there, and even if the “ends” of successfully creating embryonic stem cell lines justified the “means” of destroying numerous human embryos along the way, there remains the fact, pointed out by many bishops, that research with embryonic stem cell lines has still not shown any success. While, at the same time, successful research being done with adult stem cells continues to be ignored.
Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta in Australia, says that proponents of embryonic stem cell research should be forced to answer questions as to why the success such ethically viable adult stem cell has been overlooked.
In the September issue of “Catholic Outlook,” Bishop Manning notes that not only have embryonic stem cell experiments failed to produces a single, unqualified, therapeutic success, even in animal models, but supporters of the embryonic model continue to laud their unproven and currently unethical methods and ignore “the fact that adult stem cell therapies are being used extensively today in treating diseases.”
“I don't doubt that the media and proponents of the embryonic stem cell argument will try to ridicule the Catholic input as outdated moral platitudes versus genuine human need; archaic religion versus progressive science; Christian ethicists against suffering celebrities; religious fundamentalists versus science and enlightenment,” Manning said. “But the truth remains that any use of research, technology or proposed therapeutic procedures, which involves the destruction of the human embryo should be banned altogether as unethical and unnecessary.”
Meanwhile Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said this week that there is a serious push to explore scientific avenues which are now opening without taking time to consider the ethical consequences of moving wildly ahead. The cardinal said that everyone involved in the embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning debate needs to take a step back, “have a glass of water,” and “pause for a minute,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
The cardinal told the Telegraph that his message for those, “very emotionally involved in pushing for change," is, “let's go slowly and clearly.”
In respect to his views on cloning, the cardinal said, “I respect human life…I’m not in favor of creating life to destroy it.”