Organ transplants, stem cell use topics of Respect Life seminar

AIKEN — The Small Christian Communities and Pro-Life Core Team of St. Mary Help of Christians Church held a Respect Life seminar March 6 at the Aiken Public Library.

Topics were organ transplantation and the ethics of stem cell use and cloning. The speakers were parishioner Mark Mikos and Dr. David C. Hess, chairman of neurology at the Medical College of Georgia.

Mikos began by recounting his personal experiences living with chronic kidney disease and later being diagnosed with Alport Syndrome, a genetic kidney disorder that results in end-stage renal failure.

Mikos is a kidney transplant recipient and talked about the impact the arduous journey had on his family and on his Catholic faith.

He discussed his research into kidney disease, transplantation, and its success and failure with recipients.

He talked about preparing himself spiritually and physically for the transplant, the preparation of his family for his kidney dialysis, and the wait for a donor.

Mikos discussed how a donor was found and the difficulty of knowing that another human life had been lost even though his life was being regained. He said his faith became deeper and was strengthened by this physical trial.

He also talked about the National Organ Donor Registry and how long a person might wait for a donor match,  how one could become an organ donor, and the steps to take, especially in making personal wishes known to  family members who will be making these decisions at the time of one’s death.

Hess covered the general formal concepts of stem cell research and cloning as they impact regenerative medicine (the repairing or replacement of diseased or defective tissues or organs) and medical ethics.

He spoke with optimism about the amount of knowledge, research, and success in the growing area of regenerative medicine.

However, his outlook on the use and abuse of stem cells, especially fetal or embryonic stem cells, was quite bleak.

The doctor spoke of his increasing concern regarding the deliberate ending of one life to heal or help another’s life.

He also discussed how the argument for wide-ranging stem cell research is being framed in emotional terms alone: “If you’re against stem cell research, you are preventing a cure for my disease or a loved one’s afflictions.”

Hess pointed out that much media attention is focusing on fetal/embryonic stem cell research at the neglect of adult stem cells and other more available means of help.

More knowledge and success has been gained with adult stem cells, Hess said. He stressed that stem cells were “not some magical cure,” but are part of an overall strategy for targeting a specific disease.

In adults, he said, new stem cells are being generated both in the brain and other areas of the body.

Regenerative medicine via cell therapy would attempt to replace damaged cells with the person’s own cells manipulated and stimulated towards growth.

These new cells would not be rejected by the person’s body since they had originally come from that same person, unlike embryonic stem cells which would be donor cells and seen as foreign by the recipient’s body. Many difficulties arise with the use of embryonic stem cells, which can easily form tumors — something the use of adult stem cells avoids, Hess said.

Cloned cells also tend toward mutations and abnormalities in the genetic material, simply by the way these cells are created, he said.

Hess closed by discussing the many stem cell research bills being debated in Congress and various state legislatures and how these same issues are being addressed worldwide.

Countries with Catholic world views are against fetal/embryonic stem cell research and all cloning. Countries with other outlooks are much more open and likely to engage in this research and experimentation on human beings, he said.

The doctor touched on Catholic Church documents upholding the dignity of the person and the respect for and sanctity of human life, from birth to death. He concluded that what began with in vitro fertilization has now become cloning.

Both of the speakers’ lectures are available on the St. Mary Help of Christians Web page, which can be found at under the contents listing.

Submitted by Nancy Marie Regets.