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Debating the Embryo’s Fate
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by Maureen L. Condic

by Pope Benedict XVI

by William L. Saunders, Jr.

by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

THE SACRED C Church has constantly proclaimed the The Magisterium of theHARACTER OF THE HUMAN EMBRYO sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end.

The Sacred Character of the Human Embryo in the Pre-implantation Stage*
by Pope Benedict XVI ndeed, the study topic chosen for your Assembly, “The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase,” that is, in the very first days subsequent to conception, is an extremely important issue today, both because of the obvious repercussions on philosophical-anthropological and ethical thought, and also because of the prospects applicable in the context of the biomedical and juridical sciences. It is certainly a fascinating topic, however difficult and demanding it may be, given the delicate nature of the subject under examination and the complexity of the epistemological problems that concern the relationship between the revelation of facts at the level of the experimental sciences and the consequent, necessary anthropological reflection on values. As it is easy to see, neither Sacred Scripture nor the oldest Christian Tradition can contain any explicit treatment of your theme. St Luke, nevertheless, testifies to the
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active, though hidden, presence of the two infants. He recounts the meeting of the Mother of Jesus, who had conceived him in her virginal womb only a few days earlier, with the mother of John the Baptist, who was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb” (Lk 1:41). St Ambrose comments: Elizabeth “perceived the arrival of Mary, he (John) perceived the arrival of the Lord; the woman, the arrival of the Woman, the child, the arrival of the Child” (Comm. in Luc. 2: 19, 22-26). Even in the absence of explicit teaching on the very first days of life of the unborn child, it is possible to find valuable information

* This papal address was delivered to the participants of the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Congress on “The Human Embryo in the Pre-implantation Phase.” Text taken from www.vatican.va.

D OCUMENTATION SERVICE in Sacred Scripture that elicits sentiments of admiration and respect for the newly conceived human being, especially in those who, like you, are proposing to study the mystery of human procreation. The sacred books, in fact, set out to show God’s love for every human being even before he has been formed in his mother’s womb. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5), God said to the Prophet Jeremiah. And the Psalmist recognizes with gratitude: “You did form my inward parts, you did knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for you are fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are your works! You know me right well” (Ps 139[138]: 13-14). These words acquire their full, rich meaning when one thinks that God intervenes directly in the creation of the soul of every new human being. God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness (Gn 1: 26) in each one. He makes no distinctions because he perceives in all of them a reflection of the face of his Onlybegotten Son, whom “he chose... before the foundation of the world.... He destined us in love to be his sons... according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1: 4-6). This boundless and almost incomprehensible love of God for the

human being reveals the degree to which the human person deserves to be loved in himself, independently of any other consideration—intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity, and so forth. In short, human life is always a good, for it “is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 34).

The human person has been endowed with a very exalted dignity, which is rooted in the intimate bond that unites him with his Creator: a reflection of God’s own reality shines out in the human person, in every person, whatever the stage or condition of his life.
Indeed, the human person has been endowed with a very exalted dignity, which is rooted in the intimate bond that unites him with his Creator: a reflection of God’s own reality shines out in the human person, in every person, whatever the stage or condition of his life. Therefore, the Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end (cf. ibid., n. 57). This moral judgment also applies to the origins of the life of an embryo even before it is implanted in the mother’s womb,

THE SACRED CHARACTER which will protect and nourish it for nine months until the moment of birth: “Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth” (ibid., n. 61). I know well, dear scholars, with what sentiments of wonder and profound respect for the human being you carry out your demanding and fruitful work of research precisely on the origin of human life itself, it is a mystery on whose significance science will be increasingly able to shed light, even if it will be difficult to decipher it completely. Indeed, as soon as reason succeeds in overcoming a limit deemed insurmountable, it will be challenged by other limits as yet unknown. Man will always remain a deep and impenetrable enigma. In the fourth century, St Cyril of Jerusalem already offered the following reflection to the catechumens who were preparing to receive Baptism: “Who prepared the cavity of the womb for the procreation of children? Who breathed life into the inanimate fetus within it? Who knit us together with bones and sinews and clothed us with skin and flesh (cf. Jb 10: 11), and as soon as the child is born, causes the breast to produce an abundance of milk? How is it that the child, in growing, becomes an adolescent, and from an adolescent is transformed into a young man, then an adult and finally an old man, without anyone being able to identify the precise day on which the change occurred?” And he concluded: “O Man, you



are seeing the Craftsman, you are seeing the wise Creator” (Catechesi Battesimale, 9, 15-16). At the beginning of the third millennium these considerations still apply. They are addressed not so much to the physical or physiological phenomenon as rather to its anthropological and metaphysical significance. We have made enormous headway in our knowledge and have defined more clearly the limits of our ignorance but it always seems too arduous for human intelligence to realize that in looking at creation, we encounter the impression of the Creator. In fact, those who love the truth, like you, dear scholars, should perceive that research on such profound topics places us in the condition of seeing and, as it were, touching the hand of God. Beyond the limits of experimental methods, beyond the boundaries of the sphere which some call meta-analysis, wherever the perception of the senses no longer suffices or where neither the perception of the senses alone nor scientific verification is possible, begins the adventure of transcendence, the commitment to “go beyond” them. Dear researchers and experts, I hope you will be more and more successful, not only in examining the reality that is the subject of your endeavour, but also in contemplating it in such a way that, together with your discoveries, questions will arise that lead to discovering in the beauty of creatures a reflection of the Creator. !



D OCUMENTATION SERVICE Our moral analysis must be built upon fundamental scientific truths. If we obscure the facts, then we will not think clearly or act responsibly about these issues.

Embryology: Inconvenient Facts*
by William L. Saunders, Jr. First, the basics Every human being begins as a single-cell zygote, grows through the embryonic stage, then the fetal stage, is born and develops through infancy, through childhood, and through adulthood, until death. Each human being is genetically the same human being at every stage, despite changes in his or her appearance. Embryologists are united on this point. Consider the following statements from standard textbooks: “Human development begins at fertilization… This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual” (Keith L. Moore and T. V. N. Persaud); “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual” (Bruce M. Carlson); “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human or4

ganism is thereby formed… The embryo now exists as a genetic unity” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Faiola Muller). Normally, the embryo comes into being through sexual conception, in which the female egg cell is fertilized by a male sperm cell. In sexual reproduction the new individual gets half of its chromosomes from the nucleus of the sperm cell and half from the nucleus of the egg cell. The new organism thus produced is genetically distinct from all other human beings and has embarked upon its own distinctive development. Manipulating procreation In addition to this normal process, we have developed laboratory techniques with which to manipulate the procreation of new human organisms. One of these techniques stages the encounter of sperm with egg in a laboratory dish rather than

* Taken from catholiceducation.org.


EMBRYOLOGY: INCONVENIENT FACTS in a woman’s body. This is in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Another technique is an asexual one in which no sperm is involved. Instead, an egg has its nucleus removed and replaced by a nucleus from another type of cell—a body cell. The egg is then stimulated by an electrical charge, creating a living human zygote. This is cloning, a process in which the body cell that donated the replacement nucleus supplies the chromosomes of the new human organism. Whether the new organism is produced by fertilization or by cloning, each new human organism is a distinct entity. Twins are genetic duplicates of each other, but no one would deny that each is a distinct human individual. Similarly, a clone would be a genetic duplicate of another human being, but there is no denying that it would also be a separate individual. From its first moment, supplied with its complete set of chromosomes, each new zygote directs its own integral functioning and development. It proceeds, unless death intervenes, through every stage of human development until one day it reaches the adult stage. It will grow and it will develop and it will change its appearance, but it will never undergo a change in its basic nature. It will never grow up to be a cow or a fish. It is a human being from the first moment of its existence. As Paul Ramsey has noted, “The embryo’s subsequent development may be described as a process of becoming what he already is from the moment of conception.”
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The birth of a new ethic These are the facts, which we can either affirm or deny. Unfortunately, the denial of inconvenient facts has become quite common during the past several decades. Consider, for example, an editorial published in the September 1970 issue of California Medicine, which was then the journal of the California Medical Association. The editorial invited the Association’s members to play a new game called “semantic gymnastics.” The first rule of the game was the “avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death.” The goal was to replace “the traditional Western ethic” respecting “the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its state or condition” with “a new ethic for medicine and society” in order “to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing.” The concept of “pre-embryo” In subsequent years, the dehumanization of the unborn was taken a step further when the concept of the “pre-embryo” was advanced. The term referred to the embryo before its implantation in the womb. Certainly the embryo at this point is “pre-implantation,” and certainly implantation is a highly significant event. If the embryo does not implant, it will die; if it implants, it will receive nutrition and a suitable environment in which to live, grow, and develop. (Every human being at every stage of life similarly re-

D OCUMENTATION SERVICE quires nutrition and a suitable environment.) But the critical question is: Does implantation effect a change in the nature of the thing that implants? It is clear from basic facts of embryology that it does not. In the 2001 edition of his leading textbook on embryology, Ronan O’Rahilly writes, “The term ‘preembryo’ is not used here [because] . . . . it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed only at some considerable time after fertilization. [The term] was introduced in 1986 largely for public policy reasons.” For what public policy reasons was the term “pre-embryo” invented? Princeton biology professor Lee Silver, a noted advocate of all the new biotechnologies, supplies the answer in his Remaking Eden (1997): “I’ll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between a six-day-old embryo and a sixteen-day-old embryo. The term is useful in the political arena—where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo experimentation—as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients.” As Gilbert Meilaender has noted, the “pre-embryo” is merely the unimplanted embryo. In other words, it is already an embryo, and all embryos are, at first, unimplanted. An embryo subse6

quently implants unless something (or someone) interferes or the embryo is defective. Its life is continuous from its first moment (whether through fertilization or through cloning) until death. The term “preembryo” was developed and used largely, if not exclusively, to mislead: to hide scientific facts about the beginnings and unity of human life; to bolster support for a new reproductive technology; and to obtain funding for experiments on human embryos. It has led to a confused jurisprudence that treats the embryo, in certain contexts, more like property than like a human being. Though the term “pre-embryo” has been rejected in science, the motive for its creation—to dehumanize the early embryo in order to justify its destruction—lives on. It is part of the debate over human cloning and human embryonic stemcell research. In the cloning debate, the attempt to deny what “everyone really knows” by finding a more accommodating language has been so convoluted that it would be amusing if lives were not at stake. First, proponents of cloning tried to deny that cloning creates a human embryo. Since, they argued, the new entity does not result from sexual reproduction, it could not be an “embryo.” For reasons I have indicated (the nature of the product of cloning as a living, genetically complete, unified, self-integrating human organism in the first stage of development) few were taken in by that ploy. Even prominent advocates of embryonic stem cell research, such

EMBRYOLOGY: INCONVENIENT FACTS as John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University, have acknowledged that the “thing” created by cloning is an embryo. Change of place, change of nature Some have asserted that the location of the thing in a Petri dish or in an IVF clinic (i.e., outside a woman’s womb) means it is not an embryo. They assert that since it will never be implanted in a womb, it can never be a human being. On the Frequently Asked Questions page of the website of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology we are told that “the cells resulting from nuclear transplantation are grown in a culture dish in the presence of special nutrients for only a few days, when they will comprise a cluster of about 120 cells that can be used to derive stem cells. Therefore, because the cells are never transferred to a uterus they cannot develop into a human being on their own.” The question-begging nature of this assertion should be evident: if the cells are “never transferred to a uterus,” it is because the people in the lab choose not to transfer them. It is disingenuous for those who would deprive the embryo of the chance to be born to claim that their action changes the nature and status of the thing considered. This is like the Nazis claiming that concentration camp inmates are not human beings because the Nazis intend to destroy them during lethal experiments. The argument is a variation on the theme of “potentiality”—since the “cluster of cells” lacks the potential to be born, it is
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not a human being. But the fact is that every human being, including every embryo, is full of inherent potential by virtue of being human. That potential may never be realized or it may be impeded in particular cases. But that potential— to live, to grow, and to develop—is part of what it means to be a living human being. A linguistic mischief After opinion polls revealed that Americans did not like any kind of “cloning,” cloning proponents took a bold gamble—they simply decided to re-name the procedure. Instead of “cloning,” it would now be called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” or “nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells.” But both phrases are simply definitions of cloning. Cloning is a laboratory procedure in which the nucleus from a somatic (body) cell is transferred or transplanted into an egg cell from which the original nucleus has been removed. The attempt to use five long words instead of one short one and to pretend that the five words denote something different is linguistic mischief, not science. Worse, with the phrase “nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells,” cloning advocates seek to obscure a crucial fact: the procedure does not “produce stem cells”; it produces an embryo which is later killed so that its stem cells can be removed. Whatever the purpose of any act of embryo-creation may be, whether eventual birth or eventual disaggregation, it is a human embryo and thus a human being that is being produced and killed.

D OCUMENTATION SERVICE Human stem cells have indeed proven to have great value in the invention of new medical treatments, though it is significant that the only treatments developed to date have involved stem cells acquired nondestructively from nonembryonic sources, including adult donors. Therapies involving the use of adult stem cells are already numerous, whereas therapies derived from embryonic stem cells are still only theoretical (see, for example, Maureen L. Condic’s “Stems Cells and False Hopes,” FT August/September 2002). Wesley J. Smith has called the media coverage of advances in adult-stem-cell regenerative therapies “grudging,” and notes that the favored theme in much media coverage is that embryos hold the key to the future. Nonetheless, the public is becoming aware that stem cells can be obtained, nondestructively, from adults. And we are also becoming aware that the harvesting of stem cells from embryos cannot be accomplished without causing those embryos to cease to exist as organisms—that is, without killing them. My hope is that we come to understand clearly that it is a matter of scientific fact, and not of opinion, that the embryonic organisms we are being urged to exploit and discard are, like us, human beings. !

What are Stem Cells?
DR. DIANNE IRVING, former research biochemist/biologist with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), defines stem cells as “essentially primordial cells of a human organism (i.e., a human being) which are capable of becoming all or many of the 210 different kinds of tissues in the human body.” These cells divide, generating two progeny (or “daughter cells”), one of which will become something new and another which will replace the original cell. That is where the term “stem” comes from, meaning stem cells give rise to other more specialized cells. Stem cells come in three basic types: totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent. Totipotent means the cell’s potential is “total.” These are found in the human embryo up to about the 4-day morula stage. Pluripotent means that the cells can give rise to many types of cells but not all types of cells. Multipotent cells are more specialized. These are also often referred to as embryonic, fetal, and adult stem cells, respectively. Now you know the basics of what stem cells are. It is not what they are, however, but how they are obtained that is immoral. [Casey Carmical]
Source: carmical.net. 8 (256)

THEOLOGY OR EMBRYOLOGY beings” “Human embryos are human ? — a scientific, and not religious, dogma.

Theology or Embryology?*
by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk


mbryonic stem cell researchers typically marshal several arguments to encourage public approval and funding for their research, which requires the direct destruction of five to seven day old human embryos. One argument runs like this: “Well, that’s your feeling about embryos, your narrow religious viewpoint, and you shouldn’t impose that on me. Your sentiments about embryos are different than mine, and we’re all entitled to our own sentiments and opinions.” Pervasive argument This pervasive argument has embedded itself in the modern American mind to a remarkable degree, and has been used quite effectively to justify embryonic sacrifice by many researchers. At its root, advocates take a scientific question and turn it into a religious one. Once it falls into the category of religious mystagogy, it can be dismissed outof-hand as irrelevant to public policy and discourse. Embryonic stem cell researcher Dr. Doug Melton at Harvard recently took exactly this tack when he spoke with the New York Times: “This is all about differing religious

beliefs. I don’t believe I have the right to tell others when life begins. Science doesn’t have the answer to that question; it’s metaphysical.” With that sleight of hand, he sought to transform embryology into theology. Humanity of embryos The fact is, of course, that the statement, “a human embryo is a human kind of being” does not depend on religion any more than the statement “a cow embryo is a cow kind of being” does. Science, quite apart from any narrow, dogmatic religion, affirms dogmatically that human embryos are human beings, rather than zebra or cow beings. Science, quite apart from religious dogma, affirms dogmatically that every person walking around in the world was once an embryo. This scientific dogma admits of no exceptions and is absolute. So while science makes it clear that human embryos are human beings, religion steps in after that fact to speak to the question of whether it is correct that all human

* Taken from catholiceducation.org.



D OCUMENTATION SERVICE beings should be treated in the same way, or whether it is okay to discriminate against some in the interests of others. Yet even here, religion is not necessary to understand the real moral issue. For example, we don’t need religion to understand that discriminating against some classes of humans based on their skin color is wrong. Similarly, we don’t need religion to understand that discriminating against some classes of humans based on their size or young age is wrong. To grasp these truths, all we need is some honesty and a moment of clear thinking. Our early beginnings Embryos, of course, are remarkably unfamiliar to us. They lack hands and feet. They don’t have faces or eyes for us to look into. Even their brains are lacking. They look nothing like what we are used to seeing when we imagine a human being. But they are as human as you and I. When we look at a scanning electron micrograph of a human embryo, a small cluster of cells, sitting on the point of a sewing pin, we need to ask ourselves a very simple question: “Isn’t that exactly what a young human is supposed to look like?” The correct answer to that question doesn’t depend on religion or theology, but on embryology. Embryos seem unfamiliar to us on first glance, and we have to make an explicit mental effort to avoid the critical mistake of disconnecting from who we once were as embryos. I remember flying in an airplane one time, seated a couple of rows

away from a mother who was holding her newborn baby as he was crying loudly. The pressure changes in the cabin seemed to be causing terrible pain in his ears, and despite his mom’s best efforts, he continued to cry loudly and uncontrollably. He had a little four-year-old sister in the next seat, who was also trying to help her mom to calm the boy down, but again, to no avail.

While science makes it clear that human embryos are human beings, religion steps in after that fact to speak to the question of whether it is correct that all human beings should be treated in the same way, or whether it is okay to discriminate against some in the interests of others.
After a few minutes, an agitated man across the aisle blurted out to the mother, “Isn’t there something you can do to shut up that baby?” There was an awkward moment where the young mother started to blush, and didn’t know what to say, when suddenly her daughter turned to the man and said, “Hey mister, you were once like him.” The man seemed to be caught off guard by the little girl’s logic, and he calmed down for the rest of the flight. Her impeccable reasoning reminded him where he came from and put him in his place. It demon(258)



EMBRYOLOGY? dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying; they slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, ‘This’ll make it better.’ And the little boy got up and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. “They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long, time. People who were there are still telling the story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too.” This beautiful story of everyone turning around and looking after the interests of the weakest and the most vulnerable reminds us of exactly the kind of society God wants us to build, one where every life, even the weakest embryonic life, is embraced as a gift and treasure of infinite and irreplaceable value. With God’s help and our determined efforts, that is the kind of society we must aspire to build in the future. !

strated how all of us, even in our weakest moments, are deserving of respect. After we landed, I heard him offer a brief apology to the mother for his outburst against the helpless baby. In debates about embryos, when apparently learned men like Dr. Melton at Harvard begin discussing these tiny, helpless human creatures, they would likewise do well to ponder the little girl’s rejoinder: “Hey mister, you were once like him.” Protecting vulnerable Even though it is a fundamental embryological truth that you and I were once embryos ourselves, the advocates of this research are eager to portray human embryos as different from the rest of us, unable to make the grade, and hence fair game for destruction by those of us lucky enough to have already passed through those early and vulnerable embryonic stages ourselves. Will we permit radical injustices and ethical transgressions like these to become systemic and promoted as the societal norm? Will advocates be permitted to get away with confusing embryology and theology in the public square? Will the powerful like Dr. Melton be permitted to violate and instrumentalize the weak on our watch? These are questions with enormous implications for the future of our society. Mr. Rogers, the famous children’s TV personality, once gave a talk where he mentioned his favorite story from the Seattle Special Olympics. Here’s how he described it: “Well, for the 100-yard
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Alternatives to Embryonic Stem Cells
(An interview with Dr. David Prentice)
by Kathryn Jean Lopez Lopez: There are other ways to get stem cells, besides embryos, aren’t there? Are they just as good? Prentice: There are several excellent alternatives to embryos, and they are actually better potential sources of stem cells for numerous reasons. The best sources are from our own organs termed “adult stem cells” or “tissue stem cells.” Another excellent source is cord blood; the small amount of blood left in an umbilical cord after it is detached from a newborn is rich in stem cells. In the last two years, we’ve gone from thinking that we had very few stem cells in our bodies, to recognizing that many (perhaps most) organs maintain a reservoir of these cells. We’ve known for some time that bone-marrow stem cells can make more blood, but now we know that these adult stem cells can also make bone, muscle, cartilage, heart tissue, liver, and even brain. Interestingly enough, we now know that our brain contains stem cells which can be stimulated to make more neurons, or to take up different job descriptions as muscle or blood. Bone marrow and cord blood are already successfully being used clinically, while clinical use of embryonic stem cells is years away. Current clinical applications of adult stem cells include treatments for cancer, arthritis, lupus, and making new corneas, to name a few. One distinct advantage of using our own adult stem cells is that there will be no transplant rejection, since it is our own tissue. Use of human embryonic stem cells will require lifelong use of drugs to prevent rejection of the tissue. Or, the patient will have to be cloned (a second ethical issue!), and that embryo (the patient’s twin) sacrificed to obtain the embryonic stem cells for the tissue (essentially creating a human being whose only purpose is to be “harvested”). Another advantage of adult stem cells might be considered from a manufacturing viewpoint: A 2-step manufacturing process is more direct and has much less likelihood of a problem than a 10step process. Adult stem cells have shown success at forming many specific tissues so far, certainly more than human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. And as one researcher noted regarding human embryonic stem cells: “We thought from the




first that problems would arise using hPSCs [human pluripotent stem cells] to make replacement tissues,” indicating that the early stage cells are both difficult and slow to grow. “More important, there’s a risk of tumors. If you’re not very careful when coaxing these early cells to differentiate—to form nerve cells and the like—you risk contaminating the newly differentiated cells with the stem cells. Injected into the body, [embryonic] stem cells can produce tumors.” No such problems exist with adult stem cells. Lopez: To what extent are we exploring those options? Prentice: Several scientists are investigating uses of adult stem cells to form new tissues or repair damaged/diseased tissue, such as for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke. As mentioned before, others are already using bone marrow and cord blood, as well as corneal tissue, for clinical applications. But the number of researchers in this area is still small, as is the amount of grant dollars needed to fund the research. And sadly, embryonic stem cells have been held up as the panacea for disease and a fountain of youth, despite the advantages of adult stem cells both scientifically and ethically. Given that adult stem cells have shown themselves to be scientifically more successful than embryonic stem cells, and ethically palatable, much more needs to be heard and said about adult stem cells, and much more funding needs to go to adult stem-cell research. Lopez: Do members of Congress understand this debate? Are you confident that people in the administration do—especially to offset HHS secretary Tommy Thompson, who is personally for research on human embryos for this purpose. Prentice: Some members of Congress have made it a point to be well informed in the real facts of this issue, particularly Sen. Sam Brownback. Many, however, have received blended or deceptive information, and have been misled as to the capabilities of adult stem cells and the scientific disadvantages of embryonic stem cells. Lopez: What should pro-life groups be doing to get the real story out-about alternative sources? And, simply, what their argument against this research is, so it isn’t simply caricatured in the press?

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Prentice: First INFORM YOURSELF WITH THE FACTS on the alternatives, as well as the facts (rather than the hype) about embryonic stem cells. Do No Harm, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, has a wealth of articles about the alternatives on their website, plus links to other sources. Then tell your family, friends, neighbors, any groups to which you belong, and especially your Senators and your Representative. Impress on them that there is more to the story than is usually told, and urge them to check out the real difference in results between embryonic and adult stem cells, the promises versus the reality. And INSIST that the media tell the full story, complete with all of the adjectives and the evidence. Human embryonic stem-cell research is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary. It is ILLEGAL regarding use of federal funds because Congress has stated that no funds should be used for research which involves the creation or destruction of human embryos for research purposes, and human embryos are destroyed in the process of deriving human embryonic stem cells. It is IMMORAL, because human beings are killed in the process. Scientifically there is no disputing that we are a human being even at the one-cell stage. It has never been acceptable to sacrifice one set of human lives for the potential benefit of others (and they are only potential benefits at this point.) Human embryonic stem cell research assigns different values to different human beings, designating some as people and some as property. It is totally UNNECESSARY. Ethical alternatives exist such as adult stem cells which have already shown much more promise than embryonic cells, these results for adult stem cells are fully detailed in the scientific literature, and that adult stem cells are already being used clinically, making good on the potential that embryonic stem cells only promise.

David Prentice is a professor of life sciences at Indiana State University and an adjunct professor of medical & molecular genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Dr. Prentice also services as an ad hoc science adviser to Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback. Interview taken from catholiceducation.org.



WThe scientific, ethical, and political advantages TEM CELLS ? HICH S ELLS M ORE —E MBRYONIC S TEM C ELLS OR A DULT S of using

adult stem cells instead of embryonic ones are significant.

Which Sells More— Embryonic Stem Cells or Adult Stem Cells?*
by Maureen L. Condic uch of the debate surrounding embryonic stem cells has centered on the ethical and moral questions raised by the use of human embryos in medical research. In contrast to the widely divergent public opinions regarding this research, it is largely assumed that from the perspective of science there is little or no debate on the matter. The scientific merit of stem cell research is most commonly characterized as “indisputable” and the support of the scientific community as “unanimous.” Nothing could be further from the truth. While the scientific advantages and potential medical application of embryonic stem cells have received considerable attention in the public media, the equally compelling scientific and medical disadvantages of transplanting embryonic stem cells or their derivatives into patients have been ignored.


* Taken from catholiceducation.org.

Scientific arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells There are at least three compelling scientific arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells as a treatment for disease and injury. First and foremost, there are profound immunological issues associated with putting cells derived from one human being into the body of another. The same compromises and complications associated with organ transplant hold true for embryonic stem cells. The rejection of transplanted cells and tissues can be slowed to some extent by a good “match” of the donor to the patient, but except in cases of identical twins (a perfect match), transplanted cells will eventually be targeted by the immune system for destruction. Stem cell transplants, like organ transplants, would not buy you a “cure”; they would merely buy you time. In most cases, this time can only be purchased at the dire price of permanently suppressing the immune system.


D OCUMENTATION SERVICE The proposed solutions to the problem of immune rejection are either scientifically dubious, socially unacceptable, or both. Scientists have proposed large scale genetic engineering of embryonic stem cells to alter their immune characteristics and provide a better match for the patient. Such a manipulation would not be trivial; there is no current evidence that it can be accomplished at all, much less as a safe and routine procedure for every patient. The risk that genetic mutations would be introduced into embryonic stem cells by genetic engineering is quite real, and such mutations would be difficult to detect prior to transplant. Alternatively, the use of “therapeutic cloning” has been proposed. In this scenario, the genetic information of the original stem cell would be replaced with that of the patient, producing an embryonic copy or “clone” of the patient. This human clone would then be grown as a source of stem cells for transplant. The best scientific information to date from animal cloning experiments indicates that such “therapeutic” clones are highly likely to be abnormal and would not give rise to healthy replacement tissue. The final proposed resolution has been to generate a large bank of embryos for use in transplants. This would almost certainly involve the creation of human embryos with specific immune characteristics (“Wanted: sperm donor with AB+ blood type”) to fill in the “holes” in our collection. Intentionally producing large numbers of human em16

bryos solely for scientific and medical use is not an option most people would be willing to accept. The three proposed solutions to the immune problem are thus no solution at all.

There are profound immunological issues associated with putting cells derived from one human being into the body of another. The same compromises and complications associated with organ transplant hold true for embryonic stem cells.
The second scientific argument against the use of embryonic stem cells is based on what we know about embryology. In an opinion piece published in the New York Times (“The Alchemy of Stem Cell Research,” July 15, 2001) a noted stem cell researcher, Dr. David Anderson, relates how a seemingly insignificant change in “a boring compound” that allows cells to stick to the petri dish proved to be critical for inducing stem cells to differentiate as neurons. There is good scientific reason to believe the experience Dr. Anderson describes is likely to be the norm rather than a frustrating exception. Many of the factors required for the correct differentiation of embryonic cells are not chemicals that can be readily “thrown into the bubbling cauldron of our petri dishes.” Instead, they are structural or mechanical ele(264)

WHICH S ELLS MORE—E MBRYONIC S TEM CELLS ments uniquely associated with the complex environment of the embryo. Cells frequently require factors such as mechanical tension, large scale electric fields, or complex structural environments provided by their embryonic neighbors in order to activate appropriate genes and maintain normal gene–expression patterns. Fully reproducing these nonmolecular components of the embryonic environment in a petri dish is not within the current capability of experimental science, nor is it likely to be so in the near future. It is quite possible that even with “patience, dedication, and financing to support the work,” we will never be able to replicate in a culture dish the nonmolecular factors required to get embryonic stem cells “to do what we want them to.” Failing to replicate the full range of normal developmental signals is likely to have disastrous consequences. Providing some but not all of the factors required for embryonic stem cell differentiation could readily generate cells that appear to be normal (based on the limited knowledge scientists have of what constitutes a “normal cell type”) but are in fact quite abnormal. Transplanting incompletely differentiated cells runs the serious risk of introducing cells with abnormal properties into patients. This is of particular concern in light of the enormous tumor–forming potential of embryonic stem cells. If only one out of a million transplanted cells somehow failed to receive the correct signals for differentiation, patients could be given a small number of fully undifferentiated embryonic stem
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cells as part of a therapeutic treatment. Even in very small numbers, embryonic stem cells produce teratomas, rapid growing and frequently lethal tumors. (Indeed, formation of such tumors in animals is one of the scientific assays for the “multipotency” of embryonic stem cells.) No currently available level of quality control would be sufficient to guarantee that we could prevent this very real and horrific possibility. The final argument against using human embryonic stem cells for research is based on sound scientific practice: we simply do not have sufficient evidence from animal studies to warrant a move to human experimentation. While there is considerable debate over the moral and legal status of early human embryos, this debate in no way constitutes a justification to step outside the normative practice of science and medicine that requires convincing and reproducible evidence from animal models prior to initiating experiments on (or, in this case, with) human beings. While the “potential promise” of embryonic stem cell research has been widely touted, the data supporting that promise is largely nonexistent. No evidence yet for embryonic stem cells To date there is no evidence that cells generated from embryonic stem cells can be safely transplanted back into adult animals to restore the function of damaged or diseased adult tissues. The level of scientific rigor that is normally applied (indeed, legally required) in the devel-

D OCUMENTATION SERVICE opment of potential medical treatments would have to be entirely ignored for experiments with human embryos to proceed. As our largely disappointing experience with gene therapy should remind us, many highly vaunted scientific techniques frequently fail to yield the promised results. Arbitrarily waiving the requirement for scientific evidence out of a naive faith in “promise” is neither good science nor a good use of public funds. nificant. Deriving cells from an adult patient’s own tissues entirely circumvents the problem of immune rejection. Adult stem cells do not form teratomas. Therapeutic use of adult stem cells raises very few ethical issues and completely obviates the highly polarized and acrimonious political debate associated with the use of human embryos. The concern that cells derived from diseased patients may themselves be abnormal is largely unwarranted. Most human illnesses are caused by injury or by foreign agents (toxins, bacteria, viruses, etc.) that, if left untreated, would affect adult and embryonic stem cells equally. Even in the minority of cases where human illness is caused by genetic factors, the vast majority of such illnesses occur relatively late in the patient’s life. The late onset of genetic diseases suggests such disorders would take years or even decades to reemerge in newly generated replacement cells. Some challenges In light of the compelling advantages of adult stem cells, what is the argument against their use? The first concern is a practical one: adult stem cells are more difficult than embryonic ones to grow in culture and may not be able to produce the very large numbers of cells required to treat large numbers of patients. This is a relatively trivial objection for at least two reasons. First, improving the proliferation rate of cells in culture is a technical problem that science is quite likely to solve in the future. Indeed, substantial progress has already been made to18 (266)

The fact that adult stem cell development has been directed by nature rather than by scientists greatly increases our confidence in the normalcy of the cells being generated.
Despite the serious limitations to the potential usefulness of embryonic stem cells, the argument in favor of this research would be considerably stronger if there were no viable alternatives. This, however, is decidedly not the case. In the last few years, tremendous progress has been made in the field of adult stem cell research. Adult stem cells can be recovered by tissue biopsy from patients, grown in culture, and induced to differentiate into a wide range of mature cell types. The bright future of adult stem cells The scientific, ethical, and political advantages of using adult stem cells instead of embryonic ones are sig-

WHICH S ELLS MORE—E MBRYONIC S TEM CELLS wards increasing the rate of adult stem cell proliferation. Second, treating an individual patient using cells derived from his own tissue (“autologous transplant”) would not require the large numbers of cells needed to treat large populations of patients. A slower rate of cell proliferation is unlikely to prevent adult stem cells from generating sufficient replacement tissue for the treatment of a single patient.



In light of the serious problems associated with embryonic stem cells and the relatively unfettered promise of adult stem cells, there is no compelling scientific argument for the public support of research on human embryos.
The more serious concern is that scientists don’t yet know how many mature cell types can be generated from a single adult stem cell population. Dr. Anderson notes, “Some experiments suggest these [adult] stem cells have the potential to make mid–career switches, given the right environment, but in most cases this is far from conclusive.” This bothersome limitation is not unique to adult stem cells. Dr. Anderson goes on to illustrate that in most cases the evidence suggesting scientists can induce embryonic stem cells to follow a specific career path is equally far from conclusive. In theory, embryonic stem cells ap(267) 19

pear to be a more attractive option because they are clearly capable (in an embryonic environment) of generating all the tissues of the human body. In practice, however, it is extraordinarily difficult to get stem cells of any age “to do what you want them to” in culture. There are two important counterarguments to the assertion that the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells is less than that of embryonic stem cells because adult cells are “restricted” and therefore unable to generate the full range of mature cell types. First, it is not clear at this point whether adult stem cells are more restricted than their embryonic counterparts. It is important to bear in mind that the field of adult stem cell research is not nearly as advanced as the field of embryonic stem cell research. Scientists have been working on embryonic stem cells for more than a decade, whereas adult stem cells have only been described within the last few years. With few exceptions, adult stem cell research has demonstrated equal or greater promise than embryonic stem cell research at a comparable stage of investigation. Further research may very well prove that it is just as easy to teach an old dog new tricks as it is to train a willful puppy. This would not eliminate the very real problems associated with teaching any dog to do anything useful, but it would remove the justification for “age discrimination” in the realm of stem cells. The second counterargument is even more fundamental. Even if adult stem cells are unable to gen-

D OCUMENTATION SERVICE erate the full spectrum of cell types found in the body, this very fact may turn out to be a strong scientific and medical advantage. The process of embryonic development is a continuous trade–off between potential and specialization. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to become anything, but are specialized at nothing. For an embryonic cell to specialize, it must make choices that progressively restrict what it can become. The greater the number of steps required to achieve specialization, the greater the scientific challenge it is to reproduce those steps in culture. Our current understanding of embryology is nowhere near advanced enough for scientists to know with confidence that we have gotten all the steps down correctly. If adult stem cells prove to have restricted rather than unlimited potential, this would indicate that adult stem cells have proceeded at least part way towards their final state, thereby reducing the number of steps scientists are required to replicate in culture. The fact that adult stem cell development has been directed by nature rather than by scientists greatly increases our confidence in the normalcy of the cells being generated. There may well be multiple adult stem cell populations, each capable of forming a different subset of adult tissues, but no one population capable of forming everything. This limitation would make certain scientific enterprises considerably less convenient. However, such a restriction in “developmental potential” would not limit the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells for treatment of disease and injury. Patients rarely go to the doctor needing a full body replacement. If a patient with heart disease can be cured using adult cardiac stem cells, the fact that these “heart–restricted” stem cells do not generate kidneys is not a problem for the patient. The field of stem cell research holds out considerable promise for the treatment of disease and injury, but this promise is not unlimited. There are real, possibly insurmountable, scientific challenges to the use of embryonic stem cells as a medical treatment for disease and injury. In contrast, adult stem cell research holds out nearly equal promise while circumventing the enormous social, ethical, and political issues raised by the use of human embryos for research. There is clearly much work that needs to be done before stem cells of any age can be used as a medical treatment. It seems only practical to put our resources into the approach that is most likely to be successful in the long run. In light of the serious problems associated with embryonic stem cells and the relatively unfettered promise of adult stem cells, there is no compelling scientific argument for the public support of research on human embryos. !



The embryoKEY ARGUMENTS IN Eto intensify in the future, debates are sure MBRYO DEBATES and we need to insist on careful and rationally supported arguments from all parties in the debate.

Key Arguments in Embryo Debates*
by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk


ecause of this growing public interest, I am often invited to participate in public debates on stem cell research and cloning. My sparring partners are usually other scientists, politicians, or public policy experts. The debates are typically held at universities or colleges, and audiences generally have the opportunity to ask questions of both sides afterwards. Having participated in a number of these debates over the past few years, I’ve been surprised by how often certain arguments are trotted out with great solemnity, as if they were obviously right and true, even though a casual observer can quickly recognize their notable flaws and inadequacies. Efficiency argument Recently I had the opportunity to debate a stem cell researcher at a gathering of physicians at the New York Academy of Medicine. Our discussion was cordial and civil, even though we clearly disagreed with each other’s positions. Not infrequently, such discussions tend to

take the form of a dispute over the relative merits of the two major categories of stem cells: adult vs. embryonic (adult stem cell research does not require the destruction of young human embryos while embryonic stem cell research generally does). I did my best to avoid letting our discussion slip into a polemic about what might work best, about efficiency, even though this was one of the key arguments used by my opponent. He stressed how embryonic stem cells appear to have certain desirable characteristics, and may one day be able to work better than adult stem cells, and if cures end up being derived from embryonic stem cells in the future, then, in effect, it must be ethical to do such research, and to destroy human embryos. This argument in one form or another has been put forward widely by the media, and has won over many Hollywood personalities, patient advocacy groups, and Washington politicians.
* Taken from catholiceducation.org.



D OCUMENTATION SERVICE In responding to this argument during our debate, I recounted a little story from when I traveled to the Philippines to give a lecture about stem cells. It was my first time in that country, and I was struck by the contrasts I saw. On the one hand, segments of the Philippine society were doing very well. On the other, I witnessed startling poverty. One day, as we drove along a boulevard lined with people living in hovels made out of cardboard boxes, I noticed a boy, a street child, after all, is living no better than an animal? He’s probably just going to die anyway in his difficult circumstances…” After sharing this Philippine experience with my audience at the debate, I asked them a question: “Could a scientific research program like that ever be ethical?” The obvious answer to that question reminds us how ethics must always come before efficiency. Taking the lives of young humans (whether as little boys or little embryos) cannot be pronounced ethical simply because it might result in huge benefits to older, more powerful, or more wealthy humans. The fact remains that objective moral limits constrain all areas of human endeavor, including the practice of the biological sciences. Whenever the sirencall of healing and progress is blaring in our ears, we are obliged to be particularly attentive to those absolute moral boundaries. Argument from wastage A second argument that comes up quite often in debates about the embryo is the so-called argument from wastage. The starting point for this argument is the medical observation that most pregnancies don’t survive and are flushed from a woman’s body. One well-known embryology textbook summarizes it this way: “The total loss of conceptuses from fertilization to birth is believed to be considerable, perhaps even as high as 50% to nearly 80%”. The fact that most embryos don’t survive is then taken and used as a justification for destroying embryos to get stem cells. As another oppo22 (270)

Ethics must always come before efficiency. Taking the lives of young humans (whether as little boys or little embryos) cannot be pronounced ethical simply because it might result in huge benefits to older, more powerful, or more wealthy humans.
rummaging through piles of trash for food. His clothes were dirty, and he seemed quite frail. It looked like he did this on a daily basis in order to survive. As I watched him, the rhetorical thought flashed through my mind, patterned on the language of embryonic stem cell advocates: “…he’s so small, so insignificant: what if a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes could be developed to benefit all of suffering mankind, by promoting scientific research that depended on killing just a single little boy like him, who,

K EY ARGUMENTS nent of mine once put it during a debate at Southern Methodist University in Texas, “If Mother Nature destroys so many embryos naturally, why shouldn’t we be able to as well? Why get all worked up about using frozen embryos in research, when so many early embryos die naturally from miscarriages?”


EMBRYO DEBATES for me to shoot a machine gun into a crowded stadium and claim thousands of victims of my own. Many options’ argument Another tactic that is sometimes used during debates about the human embryo is to try to dissipate the energy of the argument over many options. I participated in a debate at Rutgers University in New Jersey where one of my opponents suggested that if I am so concerned about protecting embryonic humans, then I need to be equally concerned about protecting older humans by doing everything in my power to stop various wars and armed conflicts around the world. In my reply to his argument, I stressed the significant differences between the decision to go after an enemy during an armed conflict, and the decision to go after human embryos for their stem cells. Embryonic humans are always absolutely innocent and helpless, and therefore can never be willfully and directly targeted. In wartime, however, the situation is clearly more complex because the parties involved are no longer innocent, and self-defense has always been recognized as a legitimate moral choice when unjust aggression arises. The embryo debates are sure to intensify in the future, and we need to insist on careful and rationally supported arguments from all parties in the debate. Where vulnerable and defenseless human life is concerned, the stakes are much too high to allow specious and imprecise arguments to carry the day. !

The fact remains that objective moral limits constrain all areas of human endeavor, including the practice of the biological sciences. Whenever the siren-call of healing and progress is blaring in our ears, we are obliged to be particularly attentive to those absolute moral boundaries.
But the difference between a natural miscarriage and the intentional destruction of embryos is precisely the difference between the unfortunate case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome vs. the unconscionable case of smothering an infant with a pillow. What Mother Nature does and what I freely choose to do as an acting person are two separate realities, not to be confused. To put it dramatically, the fact that Mother Nature sends tsunamis that claim the lives of thousands of victims doesn’t somehow make it OK
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D impose a religious viewpoint We do not OCUMENTATION SERVICE in opposing embryonic stem cell research

“Imposing Our Beliefs” on Others*
by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk


lot of hot-button topics are being debated in our state legislatures these days, topics of great ethical and bioethical importance, ranging from emergency contraception to gay marriage. These debates address important issues for the future of our society. Lawmakers face the daunting task of making decisions about what should or should not be permitted by law within a reasonable society. Recently I was asked to speak in Virginia at legislative hearings about embryonic stem cell research. After I gave my testimony, one of the senators asked a pointed question. “Father Tad, by arguing against embryonic stem cell research, don’t you see how you are trying to impose your beliefs on others, and shouldn’t we as elected lawmakers avoid imposing a narrow religious view on the rest of society?” The senator’s question was an example of the fuzzy thinking that has become commonplace in recent years

within many state legislatures and among many lawmakers. Two major errors were incorporated into the senator’s question. First, the senator failed to recognize the fact that law is fundamentally about imposing somebody’s views on somebody else. Imposition is the name of the game. It is the very nature of law to impose particular views on people who don’t want to have those views imposed on them. Car thieves don’t want laws imposed on them which prohibit stealing. Drug dealers don’t want laws imposed on them which make it illegal to sell drugs. Yet our lawmakers are elected precisely to craft and impose such laws all the time. So the question is not whether we will impose something on somebody. The question is instead whether whatever is going to be imposed by the force of law is rea-

* Taken from catholiceducation.org.





sonable, just, and good for society and its members. The second logical mistake the senator made was to suppose that because religion happens to hold a particular viewpoint, that implies that such a viewpoint should never be considered by lawmakers or enacted into law. Religion teaches very clearly that stealing is immoral. Would it follow that if I support laws against stealing, I am imposing my narrow religious viewpoint on society? Clearly not. Rather, the subject of stealing is so important to the order of society that religion also feels compelled to speak about it. Religion teaches many things that can be understood as true by people who aren’t religious at all. Atheists can understand just as well as Catholics how stealing is wrong, and most atheists are just as angry as their Catholic neighbors when their house is broken into and robbed. What is important is not whether a proposed law happens to be taught by religion, but whether that proposal is just, right, and good for society and its members. To be more coherent, of course, the senator really should have chosen to address the substance of my testimony, rather than talking about the imposition of religious views. The argument I had offered, interestingly, did not depend on religious dogma at all. It depended rather on an important
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scientific dogma, namely, that all humans come from embryonic humans. The statement that I was once an embryo is a statement about embryology, not theology. Given the fact that we were all once embryonic humans it becomes very clear why destructive embryonic research is an immoral kind of activity. Exploiting the weak and not-yet-born in the interests of the powerful and the well-heeled should not be permitted in a civilized society. This argument, moreover, can be clearly seen by atheists, not just Catholics.

The statement that I was once an embryo is a statement about embryology, not theology. Given the fact that we were all once embryonic humans it becomes very clear why destructive embryonic research is an immoral kind of activity.
During my testimony, I pointed out how in the United States we have stringent federal laws that protect not only the national bird, the bald eagle, but also that eagle’s eggs. If you were to chance upon some of them in a nest out in the wilderness, it would be illegal for you to destroy those eggs. By the


force of law, we recognize how the egg of the bald eagle, that is to say, the embryonic eagle inside that egg, is the same creature as the glorious bird that we witness flying high overhead. Therefore we pass laws to safeguard not only

Exploiting the weak and not-yet-born in the interests of the powerful and the well-heeled should not be permitted in a civilized society. This argument, moreover, can be clearly seen by atheists, not just Catholics.
the adult but also the very youngest member of that species. Even atheists can see how a bald eagle’s eggs should be protected; it’s really not a religious question at all. What’s so troublesome is how we are able to understand the importance of protecting the earliest stages of animal life but when it comes to our own human life, a kind of mental disconnect takes place. Our moral judgment quickly becomes murky and obtuse when

we desire to do certain things that are not good, like having abortions, or destroying embryonic humans for their stem cells. So anytime we come across a lawmaker who tries to suggest that an argument in defense of sound morals is nothing but imposing a religious viewpoint, we need to look deeper at what may really be taking place. That lawmaker may not be so concerned about avoiding the imposition of a particular view on others—more likely, they are jockeying to simply be able to impose their view, a view which is ultimately much less tenable and defensible in terms of sound moral thinking. Hence they seek to shortcircuit the discussion by stressing religious zealotry and imposition without ever confronting the substantive ethical or bioethical argument itself. Once the religious imposition card is played, and Christian lawmakers suddenly become weak-kneed about defending human life and sound morals, the other side then feels free to do the imposing themselves, without having expended too much effort on confronting the essence of the ! moral debate itself.




What Should We Do with the Frozen Embryos?
IT IS USUALLY ASKED with a sense of urgency, even desperation, as they reflect on the fate of the hundreds of thousands of human embryos cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen at fertility clinics. The simple answer is that ethically there is very little we can do with the frozen embryos except to keep them frozen for the foreseeable future. No other morally acceptable options seem to exist. The question of what to do with the frozen embryos, I sometimes remind my audiences, is not in fact the most pressing question we face. A much more urgent issue is how to stop the relentless manufacturing and freezing of new embryos which is occurring each day, with clockwork-like regularity, in every major city in the United States. The infertility industry has become an embryo mass-production line with virtually no legal oversight or national regulation. Catering to strong parental desires, it is a multibillion dollar business aptly described as the “wild west of infertility.” To start to bring this into check, strong laws and regulations like those found in Germany and Italy are urgently needed. In those countries, no more than three embryos may be produced for each infertility treatment, and all three must be implanted into their mother. Extra embryos may not be produced or frozen; as a result, there are essentially no frozen embryos stored in German and Italian fertility clinics. For those embryos that do end up abandoned in liquid nitrogen, the question often arises: would it be morally permissible to give them up for “embryo adoption,” whereby other couples could implant, gestate and raise them as if they were their own children? There is ongoing debate among reputable Catholic theologians about this matter, and technically it remains an open question. A recent Vatican document called Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations about the approach, without, however, explicitly condemning it as immoral. But we can easily see reasons why the promotion of embryo adoption would be imprudent. If embryo adoption were to become standard practice in the current, largely unregulated climate of the fertility industry, this could actually stimulate the production of yet more embryos; IVF clinic operators would be able to placate themselves by saying, “We really don’t need to worry about producing extra embryos, because there will always be somebody willing to adopt any that are left over.” It could offer the clinics an excuse to continue and even expand their current immoral practices.

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Some have suggested that a morally acceptable solution to the frozen embryo problem might come through applying the principle that “extraordinary” means do not have to be undertaken to prolong human life. They argue that to sustain an embryo’s life in a cryogenic state is to use extraordinary means and this is not required. In fact, however, the decision to continue cryopreserving an embryo in liquid nitrogen is probably not an instance of using extraordinary means, since the burden and costs involved in taking care of embryonic children in this way are actually minimal. When we have children, we have a duty to clothe, feed, care for, and educate them, all of which costs plenty of money. When our children are frozen, we don’t need to clothe, feed, or educate them; our care for them can only be expressed by paying the bill each month to replenish the liquid nitrogen in their storage tanks. This way of caring for our children is obviously unusual, but it does not seem morally extraordinary in terms of achieving the desired end of safeguarding their physical integrity. In my opinion, parents have an obligation to care for their children in this way until some other option becomes available in the future (maybe a sophisticated “embryo incubator” or “artificial womb” of some kind), or until there is a reasonable certainty that they have died on their own from decay or “freezer burn,” which may occur whenever frozen embryos are stored for extended periods. Perhaps after a few hundred years, all the stored embryos would have died on their own, and they could finally be thawed and given a decent burial. This approach would not involve us in the direct moral agency of ending their lives by withdrawing their life-sustaining liquid nitrogen. Frozen embryos, clearly, can never be donated to science. Such a decision would amount to handing over not cadavers, but living human beings, for dismemberment at the hands of stem cell researchers. This would always be a radical failure in the parents’ duty to protect and care for their offspring. These considerations indicate the difficulty of answering the question about the disposition of frozen human embryos. We are reminded how sinful choices have consequences, and how the original decision to violate the moral law by doing IVF invariably has grievous repercussions, including the kinds of quandaries considered here, for which no moral resolution is apparent. [Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D.]
Source: catholiceducation.org.



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