Scientists, celebrities, politicians, reporters . . . from the average person to the president of the United States . . . it seems like everybody is talking about stem cells and their potential to cure some of the most debilitating human afflictions.
If you believe the hype, all we have to do is fund research on stem cells – specifically embryonic stem cells – and we’re on our way to medical utopia.
It’s not that simple. The hype has put a haze over the truth about embryonic stem cells: they are living human beings and must be protected, and there is a morally acceptable alternative by using adult stem cells.
Michael Ciccocioppo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation based in Harrisburg, brought that message to Holy Child Church in Mansfield in the Diocese of Scranton on April 21, 2009. His talk was sponsored by the parish Health Ministry Committee.
The presentation summarized three key points:
1. Embryos are living human beings. Church teaching is clear that embryos must be treated and protected like every other person. Extracting the stem cells from embryos kills them. Therefore, stem cell research which kills living human embryos is wrong and should not be done.
2. There have been no diseases or injuries successfully treated using stem cells that were derived by killing living human embryos. Whereas, 73 diseases and injuries have been successfully treated using adult stem cells that were obtained from people after they were born. No one was killed or injured to obtain these stem cells. Therefore, we completely support this stem cell research. Recent studies show that embryonic-like stem cells can be made from ordinary skin cells. More emphasis should be put on this research, and not on embryonic stem cell research. The biotech industry, instead, is looking for a government bailout.
3. The current plan by the Obama Administration to give taxpayer money to do research only on frozen embryos that were originally made for reproductive purposes is a bait and switch strategy. There are not enough such embryos available and it is only a matter of time before the biotech industry will push for government funds to clone human embryos for the purpose of killing them for research.
Armed with the truth, we are all called to do whatever we can defend these smallest and most vulnerable human beings, according to Mr. Ciccocioppo.
‘A person’s a person, no matter how small’
The speaker used the Horton character to illustrate his point. Horton is the elephant in Dr. Seuss’ story, Horton Hears a Who. The tale is about Horton’s efforts to save the tiny people of Whoville from destruction at the hands of a character called Roo, a Kangaroo who doesn’t believe people could be so tiny. But Horton repeats the classic line throughout the story, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Mr. Ciccocioppo said, “Well that story is fiction, but this one is not: Embryos are persons so small. You can’t see them or hear them or touch them at all. But some smart people want to kill them because they don’t believe they are people at all.”
Researchers believe that they will be able to cure diseases using stem cells from living human embryos. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2274, teaches that a person must be treated as a person from conception. It says, “the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.”
Pope Benedict XVI has said that “…in this ‘unformed’ embryo God already sees the whole future.”
Since researchers must kill living human embryos to get their stem cells, embryonic stem cell research is wrong and we must do all we can to stop it, Mr. Ciccocioppo said.
Embryonic stem cells don’t work anyway
“But it gets worse,” he added. “Not only is embryonic stem cell research bad because it kills, after years of research it just doesn’t work!”
He explained that there are many sources of stem cells after a person is born that can be used to treat people; these are called adult stem cells. A common place to get adult stem cells is in bone marrow and people have been successfully treated with adult stem cells for decades.
In fact, 73 diseases and injuries have been successfully treated with these stem cells and nobody gets hurt in obtaining them. But zero diseases and injuries have been successfully treated with embryonic stem cells which can only come from living embryos that must be killed.
Research studies published in late 2007 revealed that amniotic fluid is a rich source of stem cells. Other researchers published studies demonstrating that ordinary skin cells can be coaxed into becoming embryonic-like. Clearly this research demonstrates that scientists should focus more on these stem cells that can be obtained without hurting anyone – rather than continuing the unethical practice of killing innocent embryos to obtain their stem cells for doomed research.
“Let’s be clear that, even if cures were discovered using embryonic stem cells, this treatment would still be wrong because living human beings would have to be killed to get their stem cells. But the fact of the matter is that not only it is wrong, it’s completely ineffective too,” Mr. Ciccocioppo said.
Follow the money
Yet researchers and the biotech industry have been turning to the federal and state governments for tax-payer dollars to pursue their ambitions because private investors don’t want to throw their money away into the black hole that embryonic research has turned out to be.
“This is nothing more than the biotech industry looking for a government ‘bailout,’ and it is wrong,” Mr. Ciccocioppo said. “And some scientists actually want to clone and kill humans for research!”
President Obama lifted President Bush’s ban on using tax dollars to pay for embryonic stem cell research shortly after he was sworn in. And recently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published proposed guidelines. Although the guidelines will only fund research on frozen embryos that were originally made in laboratories for reproductive purposes, this is really a “bait and switch” strategy, according to Mr. Ciccocioppo. They could change the rules later after the public has been desensitized to the concept of killing human embryos for research purposes.
In fact, even in the last session of the Congress, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter proposed a bill that would have authorized the cloning and killing of living human embryos on a massive scale. That bill, fortunately, never got out of committee. But, President Bush would have vetoed it if it had ever made it to his desk.
“Based on his campaign promises and anti-life actions since taking office, it is likely that President Obama would sign such a bill if it ever made it to his desk,” Mr. Ciccocioppo said.
The speaker reminded everyone that we are called to come to the rescue of these smallest of human beings.
“I urge you to be like Horton, not like Roo,” Mr. Ciccocioppo said. “Since embryos can’t talk and we don’t see them at all, protect and speak up for them. Because, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.'”
This article was initially published in the April 30, 2009 issue of The Catholic Light, the newspaper of the Diocese of Scranton.