Embryonic Stem Cell Research:
A New Threat to Unborn Life
A Pastoral Statement from the Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli to the Catholic People of Delaware

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

A new threat to unborn life is upon us.  Powerful political and economic forces on both the state and national levels are engaging in a coordinated campaign to normalize and, in some cases, to obtain tax-payer funds for research that destroys human embryos for their stem cells (embryonic stem cell research) and for human cloning. This distressing trend is once again a matter of local concern in the form of a recently announced bill, the Delaware Regenerative Medicine Act (Delaware Senate Bill 80 or "SB 80"). 

I am writing to you today to enlist your aid in opposing SB 80. SB 80 seeks to promote unethical scientific research involving the killing of human embryos in order to harvest their embryonic stem cells.  SB 80 would encourage parents of embryos that were created and stored in fertility clinics for the purpose of implantation and birth, but were later considered to be "excess," to donate such embryos for scientific research. This research will result in the death of these embryos. SB 80 also seeks to further scientific research on embryonic stem cells that will be obtained from killing cloned human embryos, i.e., research cloning. SB 80 does this by purporting to ban cloning for reproductive purposes while conspicuously doing nothing to stop cloning for the purpose of scientific research. 

SB 80 fails to recognize that there is an ethical alternative to human embryonic stem cell research.  Adult stem cell research, which does not involve the death of any human embryos, has already yielded many medical cures, holds the promise for many more breakthroughs and is a viable alternative to embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cells are found throughout the human body, as well as in ethically sound sources such as donated umbilical cords, cord blood, and placentas. Unlike adult stem cell research, human embryonic stem cell research, in addition to being morally wrong, has not yielded a single medical cure. Adult stem cell research has already yielded many successful treatments for a host of medical conditions and should be encouraged by state and federal government.

As Christians, we believe that every human life is directly willed by God and is made in His own image and likeness. For this reason, every human life from the moment of conception must be treated with the same respect we would want for ourselves or our loved ones.  Furthermore, this inherent dignity of the human person is present at the earliest stages of life. Our recently departed and dearly beloved Pope John Paul II once told us: "[F]rom the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a person is involved would suffice to justify an absolute clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing an embryo…the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception.." Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 60.  These words of this great pope ring with a special urgency at this time in history.

Proponents of SB 80 claim that the embryos they seek will be discarded anyway.  Given that SB 80 requires that the parents must give their consent before the embryos can be used, why cannot these parents be encouraged to save their children rather than handing them over to be killed for research? The practice of married couples adopting these embryos may very well be something the state should encourage as an alternative to killing these embryos for their stem cells.

SB 80 also would promote embryo-destructive research in the related area of human cloning. While claiming to ban cloning, SB 80 allows unlimited cloning so long as the clone is killed for research purposes before it can be implanted in a womb for the purpose of giving birth.  It would be our hope to enact a law that bans all human cloning.
 
We all know that the rights of the unborn in this country were taken away with the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The prospect of large-scale, government funded embryonic stem cell research, however, represents in a sense an even more chilling specter. Here for the first time in our nation's history, we will be giving government approval, and eventually if proponents of human embryonic stem cell research have their way tax-payer money, for the systematic destruction of innocent human beings so that their body parts can be harvested for scientific research. This will make human beings into commodities to be exchanged, manipulated and used for the benefit of other people.  Even human reason unaided by religion tells us that respect for the dignity of the human person demands at a minimum that human beings should never be treated as mere means to an end. History shows the horror that result when this easily understood principle is ignored

Proponents say SB 80 is about promoting life, but in reality this would be done only by destroying life. This is the nub of the Church's opposition to embryonic stem cell research -- research that always results in the intentional killing of innocent human life. This research should not be conducted, regardless of the good that is said to possibly come out of it. There are some lines that we dare not cross as a civilized people, and upon which we should be able to agree in a pluralistic society. The destruction of human embryonic life for research purposes is one such issue.

Scientists and laypersons alike agree that life begins at conception and every human person begins life as an embryo. We should nurture and welcome every human life so that everyone is given a chance to develop into the man or woman God created them to be. 

People should never be treated as mere objects for the good of others, to be used then discarded when they have served their purpose. This is precisely what embryonic stem cell research does, and why we must as Catholics oppose SB 80.   We have the duty to oppose every attempt, however well-intended, to turn human life into a mere commodity. 

        Sincerely yours in Christ,
        The Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli
        Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington
        May 26, 2005

 

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