Catholic Church Leader Backs Ethical Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 27, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Church Leader Backs Ethical Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
June 27, 2005

Washington, DC ( — A leading Catholic archbishop is expressing his support for an experimental technique that could produce embryo-like stem cells without killing human embryos in the process.

Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, New Jersey is among the 35 experts in medicine and ethics who recently announced their support for the research.

He and a number of Catholic bioethicists say the laboratory technique would avoid the moral quagmire created by embryonic stem cell research. That’s because the genetic material injected into the egg would be modified in advance so that instead of producing an embryo, a pluripotent stem cell would be produced.

According to a joint statement issued by the 35 experts, the cell would be “incapable of being or becoming an embryo.”

More than half of the people who signed the statement were Catholics or were associated with Catholic institutions.

The U.S. bishops and the Vatican have opposed stem cell harvesting which destroys human embryos.

An official with the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities told Catholic News Service that the new lab technique could meet the Catholic criteria for stem cell research.

"This new proposal addresses the Catholic Church’s fundamental moral objection to embryonic stem cell research as now practiced, by offering to create cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells without ever producing or harming a human embryo," Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the pro-life secretariat, told Catholic News Service.

"If animal trials show the technique to work as planned, and the eggs needed for the technique can be obtained in an ethical manner, it could provide a morally acceptable way to pursue biomedical research with these cells," Doerflinger added.

Signers of the joint statement called for “initial research using only nonhuman animal cells.”

If the experiments demonstrated “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the technique “can reliably be used to produce pluripotent stem cells without creating embryos, we would support research on human cells,” the statement said.

The technique is known as “oocyte assisted reprogramming.” Oocyte is the medical term for “egg.”

One of the signers, Father Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told Catholic News Service there is “good scientific reason to believe” the procedure will lead to the direct production of a pluripotent stem cell.

"The critical element for moral analysis is that an embryo not be engendered," Pacholczyk told Catholic News Service.

Currently, federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research is limited to stem cell lines that existed before August 9, 2001. President George W. Bush has said he would veto any Congressional legislation that would relax the restrictions. No restrictions exist for private funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Signers of the joint statement included: Legionary of Christ Father Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person; Jesuit Father Kevin FitzGerald, professor of Catholic health care ethics at Georgetown University; Jesuit Father Kevin Flannery, dean of the philosophy faculty at the Gregorian University in Rome; John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Edward Furton, ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.