Catholic Bishops Approve Statement Opposing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 13, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Bishops Approve Statement Opposing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 13
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — The nation’s Catholic bishops followed through on their desire to put forward an initial statement opposing embryonic stem cell research. They voted almost unanimously — 191 to 1 — to approve the statement at their annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

The bishops needed a two-thirds vote to approve the document buy they came together in a unified manner to approve the statement.

As with abortion, the statement makes it clear to Catholics and non-Catholics alike that embryonic stem cell research is immoral.

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.

They say the research is immoral because it destroys human life and treats human beings as commodities.

"Harvesting these ‘embryonic stem cells’ involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings, a gravely immoral act," the statement says. "Yet some try to justify it by appealing to a hoped-for future benefit to others."

"Direct attacks on innocent human life are always gravely wrong. Yet some researchers, ethicists, and policy makers claim that we may directly kill innocent embryonic human beings as if they were mere objects of research – and even that we should make taxpayers complicit in killing through use of public funds," it explains.

"Thus, while human life is threatened in many ways in our society, the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research confronts us with the issue of respect for life in a stark new way," the bishops said.

"As believers who recognize each human life as the gift of an infinitely loving God, we insist that every human being, however small or seemingly insignificant, matters to God," they added.

After the vote, Archbishop Joseph Naumann from Kansas City said he hoped both voters and candidates would keep the statement in mind.

"Certainly, we hope it would be a document that would be taken seriously by all policymakers," Naumann said.

The paper makes it clear the bishops have no problem with adult stem cell research and any other type that does not involve the destruction of human life.

The statement is 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 sets 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.

Although embryonic stem cell research has been controversial during the tenure of President Bush, both presidential candidates support the practice and will likely widen the federal funding for it.

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.