Catholic teaching on embryonic stem-cell research: clear, consistent



President Bush’s statement Aug. 9 on embryonic stem-cell research prompted immediate response from Catholic leaders and theologians around the country.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston applauded him for setting limits to any future experimentation on embryos, but regretted his decision to allow federal funding on existing embryonic stem-cell lines.

Dr. John Haas, of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, shared a similar view.

While he acknowledged the president’s refusal to provide government support for any future destructive embryonic stem-cell research, Dr. Haas also pointed out the unfortunate inconsistency in the president’s decision:

“The president pointed out that there are currently 60 genetically diverse stem-cell lines already in existence and that he will allow federal funds to be used for research on those cell lines. He acknowledged that these cell lines were brought about ‘where the decisions over life and death were already made.’ It is good that he at least recognized that the cell lines had their origin in the destruction of embryonic human life. However, he unfortunately then argued that those who had already been involved in the destruction of those embryos, and those who came later, can benefit from government funds.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life explicitly ruled out the sort of compromise settled on by President Bush, saying that it was immoral for scientists to use embryonic stem cells even if the scientists were not involved in removing them from the embryo. Doing so involves “a close material cooperation in the production and manipulation of human embryos.”

I wish to reaffirm my own statement released in the aftermath of President Bush’s decision on the matter. “Any embryonic stem-cell research is an affront to human life for those who believe that human life and human personhood begin at conception. The Catholic teaching is that human life and human personhood begin at conception. We do not support the funding of research that depends on the destruction of human embryos.”

The rationale for this teaching is spelled out in two excellent articles published in the Aug. 16 issue of The New Catholic Miscellany (p. 7), authored by Msgr. Joseph Roth and Dr. Mark O’Rourke. I suggest a careful reading of those articles by all interested in the church’s official teaching on this subject.

Also one may read a fuller treatment on this matter in the publication by the National Catholic Bioethics Center entitled: National Catholic Bioethics Center Quarterly, “Respect for the Human Embryo” (Summer 2001, Vol. 1, No. 2).

We are reminded of the forceful and clear message our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, presented in his words to President Bush on July 23:

“A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death. In defending the right to life, in law and through a vibrant culture of life, America can show the world the path to a truly humane future, in which man remains the master, not the product of his technology.”