Why not use IVF embryos for stem cell research?


As usual in an election season, politics gets dirty, and political ads and reactions to them get slimy and underhanded.  The latest example of this has come out of Missouri, where Michael J. Fox has done an ad for Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill.  Now Rush Limbaugh is weighing in on it and "calling Fox’s bluff", stating that he is an actor and was exaggerating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

It is at times like this that the Catholic Church can provide clarity and guidance devoid of politics.  Obviously, there are various documents, encyclicals, speeches, etc. that denounce embryonic stem cell research, cloning of humans, in vitro fertilization, and (the root of most of these modern problems) abortion and birth control.  However, most people, especially non-Catholics, are not going to read every Vatican document and listen to everything a bishop or the Pope has to say.  This is where we have a clear example from out departed Holy Father, John Paul II (a.k.a., "The Great").  He, like Michael J. Fox, suffered from Parkinson’s disease, clearly displaying the effects of it in all his later years of traveling and speaking – yet he never used it as an opportunity for validating any research that destroys a human being, regardless of the stage of development.  Instead, the Pope used it as a discipling opportunity – a way to teach others how to face suffering, pain, and disease (and eventually even death) with dignity, in union with Christ’s Passion.

Additionally, we in the Catholic Church have the advantage of history and moral philosophy to guide us (albeit, some of the horrors of history have been of our own making, but we often learn better from our mistakes and missteps than from anything else).  This is demonstrated by the response to a message board post in which the following question was asked:

Question to opponents to stem cell research. There are over 400,000 frozen embryos – 150 cell blastocysts, that will probably never be implanted into a woman, thus will likely be destroyed. Why are you so against using these cells for research that will save lives? Why not protest the destruction of these cells?

There are actually two questions being asked here, so I will answer the second one first:  First off, we who oppose embryonic stem cell research do, in fact, protest the destruction of frozen IVF embryos.  In fact, pro-lifers who are Catholic are against IVF (in vitro fertilization) altogether – just one of the reasons being that the all of those conceived babies are in a sort of "limbo" on earth.  (It is also important to note here that Catholics are against embryonic stem cell research primarily because of the cloning and destruction of embryos – adult stem cell reasearch, on the other hand, does not involve the loss of life, and has even been proven to be a beneficial and ethical cure against disease.)

The second question ("why are you against using these cells for research…") is answered best by way of analogy:  Nazi Germany, 1941.  Concentration camps are filled with Jews, Gypsies, and other assorted "undesireables" and "subhumans", such as conjoined twins, retarded children, etc.  Since the Nazis are just going to kill all these people that are currently in stasis, why not conduct medical experiments on them?  After all, live dissection and torturing of those who will die anyway could vastly expand our wealth of medical and biological knowledge.  Why not eat from the "tree of knowledge", rather than the "tree of life"?

The same answer holds now regarding embryos as it did then in the concentration camps – they are not subhuman.  They are human beings, with all the inherent rights and dignities granted to humans by a power higher than a government can grant or attempt to revoke.  Therefore, as we don’t conduct experiments on any human being without their full knowledge and consent, we are not to do so to frozen embryos, unconscious/brain-dead people, or any "undesireable" in between.  This is not just a Catholic view, but it is also the view of all medical and scientific ethicists regarding any human experimentation.

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