What Catholics Need to Know About Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Church leaders urge Catholics to be aware of where their donations are going and how their money is being used when supporting charitable causes. Some financial donations could be used for human embryonic stem cell research through in vitro fertilization, extracting the stem cells and killing the young embryo.

Church leaders urge Catholics to be aware of where their donations are going and how their money is being used when supporting charitable causes. Some financial donations could be used for human embryonic stem cell research through in vitro fertilization, extracting the stem cells and killing the young embryo. 

In his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and are subjects with rights; their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable ‘biological material’” (1,5).

 “As Catholics, we don’t support embryonic stem cell research because it is destroying human life, at the young stage of a human embryo,” said Deborah Shearer, Director of the Diocese of Orlando Office of Advocacy and Justice. “Additionally, scientific research has not demonstrated that human embryo stem cells are of any value for research purposes in the sense that, even though there has been millions of dollars spent, there have been no cures, no treatments of any kind that have resulted in trying to force the development of cells into specific tissues and organs.

Shearer said embryonic stem cells are too unpredictable in their growth, and from a practical perspective, they simply don’t work. On the other hand, adult stem cells, which can come from any part of the body, have been very successful in treating all kinds of diseases and cancers. Scientists have been very successful using adult stem cells, that don’t harm a human embryo, in their treatment and/or cure of over 70 medical conditions to date.

 “We support adult stem cell research,” she said. “Adult stem cell research has proven to work in developing treatments and cures.”

In 2008 during their spring general assembly in Orlando, the U.S. Bishops approved a statement calling the use of human embryos in such research “gravely immoral” and “unnecessary.” They voted overwhelmingly in favor of the document titled “On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: A Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

“It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point,” the document said. “The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path.”

Fueling the controversy is the secular media’s handling of the topic. Shearer said the media’s reporting on the topic is confusing to the general public because it does not distinguish between the two types of research.

“The media has done a lot to distort the line between the two because they just talk about stem cell research. They don’t highlight the benefits and defects of either,” she said. “We need to draw that distinction because killing a human life is, first, morally wrong, and secondly, it has no benefit. You can’t justify it.”

“We owe people the best information and honest research,” Shearer added. “Embryonic stem cell research has been a failure to science and the moral heart of society.”

Editor’s Note: These research organizations are seeking to find cures to diseases and respect life in all stages and forms: