VATICAN CITY (CNS): In rejecting research using embryonic stem cells, the Catholic Church is not trying to impede science or delay treatment that can save lives, Pope Benedict XVI said.
The Church’s opposition to the use and destruction of embryos flowed from the conviction that all human life was sacred and that destroying the most defenceless would never lead to a true benefit for humanity, the Pope said on November 12 to participants in a Vatican-sponsored conference on research using adult stem cells.
“When the end in view is so eminently desirable as the discovery of a cure for degenerative illnesses, it is tempting for scientists and policy-makers to brush aside ethical objections and to press ahead with whatever research seems to offer the prospect of a breakthrough,” the Pope said.
However, “the destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another”, he said.
The Pontifical Council for Culture partnered with NeoStem Inc., a United States company researching and marketing adult stem-cell therapies, to sponsor the conference, “Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture”.
The 30 speakers, along with patients who had been treated with stem cells, looked not only at the scientific progress being made with adult stem cells, but also at the cultural, ethical and political issues surrounding the research, its use and its availability.
Pope Benedict told conference participants that “in drawing attention to the needs of the defenceless, the Church thinks not only of the unborn, but also of those without easy access to expensive medical treatment”.
“Illness is no respecter of persons, and justice demands that every effort be made to place the fruits of scientific research at the disposal of all who stand to benefit from them, irrespective of their means,” he said.
The Pope said the Church supported research with adult stem cells, which had the possibility of developing into a variety of specialised cells and can alleviate degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissues.
Adult stem cells were obtained not from fertilising and destroying human embryos, but from “the tissues of an adult organism, from the blood of the umbilical cord at the moment of birth or from fetuses who have died of natural causes”, he said.
By calling for respect for the ethical limits of biomedical research, the Pope said, the Church did not seek “to impede scientific progress, but on the contrary to guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity”.
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