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Guest Contributor
Archbishop Charles J.Chaput

Most Rev Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. leads the Archdiocese of Denver.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research And Human Dignity
Complex science, simple ethics...

[Archibishop Charles J. Chaput] 11/2/04

A friend of mine who worked with the U.S. delegation to the United Nations told me a story recently. She said that during the U.N. debate on human cloning, supporters repeatedly argued that cloning is “a very complex moral issue.”

The Holy See’s response cut straight to the point: The ethics of cloning, embryonic stem cell research and related technologies is simple. It’s the science that’s complex.

As the national elections draw closer, stem cell research has joined the list of issues hijacked by political parties for their word war. Only days after paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve died earlier this month, a prominent candidate argued that, “if we do the work that we can do in this country” — assuming the right political party is elected — “people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

That sounds wonderful. But it’s a lie. As Charles Krauthammer says — himself trained as a doctor and himself a victim of paralysis — rhetoric like this is nothing more than pandering to the hopes of suffering and desperate people for political gain, without any real prospect of delivering on those hopes. Claims of impending miracle cures based on embryonic stem cell research are simply false. In fact, no such hope exists anywhere in the foreseeable future. The science involved doesn’t support the marketing campaign.

As an example, Krauthammer cites Ronald McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institutes for Health, who has publicly acknowledged that stem cells as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease are a fiction, but that “people need a fairy tale.”

Unfortunately, fairy tales don’t make good national policy, and they can’t take the place of moral reasoning.

Less than a decade ago, Americans were sold the idea that fetal tissue implants could cure Parkinson’s disease. Nothing came of it. Now we’re being teased with promises of Gospel-like healings if only we allow embryonic stem cell research. But nothing — literally no credible body of scientific evidence — suggests the likelihood of any such result.

We do know that stem cells from adults and umbilical cords do show great promise and already have applications in therapy. The Church has no objection to such stem cell research. In fact, she supports and encourages it.

The problem with embryonic stem cell research comes down to this: We need to kill the embryos to do the research. The fact that developing human beings don’t “look human” is irrelevant. So are their size and their stage of development. They’re still human, and left to their natural growth, they become thinking, feeling adults with hopes and moral purpose — exactly like the rest of us.

As Pope John Paul II has warned, “The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.” The Holy Father, who carries the burden every day of his own suffering from Parkinson’s disease, would certainly welcome a miracle cure. But not at any cost.

Some price tags are simply too high. John Paul II understands that we can’t deliberately attack human dignity to serve human dignity. We can’t do evil to accomplish a greater good. The end never justifies the means.

Don’t be fooled by the embryonic stem cell debate. There are other, better ways to accomplish needed stem cell research besides killing human embryos. And don’t be intimidated. Raising moral objections to the destruction of human embryos is not “anti-science;” it’s pro-human dignity; pro the sanctity of human life.

The science of stem cell research may be complex. But the ethics is simple: We don’t kill the innocent. CRO

Most Rev Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. leads the Archdiocese of Denver.

Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.

Copyright 2004
Archdiocese of Denver





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