Catholic Bishops Will Vote on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Paper This Week

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 9, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Bishops Will Vote on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Paper This Week

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 9
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — The nation’s Catholic bishops will likely adopt a new statement on stem cell research when they gather in Orlando, Florida this week for a national meeting. As with abortion, the statement could make it clear to Catholics and non-Catholics alike that embryonic stem cell research is immoral.

If approved, this statement will be the first formal comment issued by the bishops devoted exclusively to the contentious research that involves the destruction of human life.

The brief policy statement they may adopt would set the stage for a more comprehensive document that would fully explain the Catholic Church’s position against immoral practices like embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.

The statement on embryonic stem cell research is devoted to the question whether researchers, with or without government funds, are ethically justified in destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells for research and possible future treatments.

The bishops firmly answer this question in the negative, respond to several arguments used in the public debate to justify such destruction, and explain how an initial decision to destroy so-called “spare” embryos for this research leads to far broader ethical abuses, including new risks to women of child-bearing age.

"While human life is threatened in many ways in our society, the destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research confronts us with an issue of respect for life in a stark new way," the statement says.

"The issue of stem-cell research does not force us to choose between science and ethics, much less between science and religion," the document adds. "It presents a choice as to how our society will pursue scientific and medical progress."

The new statement will counter arguments by embryonic stem cell research supporters that any harm the research does, in killing human beings, is outweighed by the potential benefits.

"No commitment to a hoped-for ‘greater good’ can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now," the statement adds.

In fact, policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the vulnerable patients that stem-cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow," it concludes.

Approval of this statement requires support by two-thirds of the USCCB’s members.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been prominent in the national debate on stem cell research for many years.

Conference officials have offered public statements, testimony and letters to Congress on the issue and many individual bishops and state conferences of bishops have spoken out, especially in the context of state legislation and ballot initiatives.

The Catholic Church’s moral position against destroying human embryos for research is also stated briefly in other documents by the full body of bishops, such as the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship paper released in November 2007.