Church: Don’t use human embryos for stem cell cure

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Archbishop Socrates Villegas: Killing an embryo is killing a human being (cbcpforlife.com photo)

DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines—Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the Catholic Church is not against stem cell treatment but is wary that human embryos taken from aborted fetuses have been used in the controversial therapy.

In his pastoral guidance issued Thursday on queries about the morality of the treatment, Villegas said there was nothing “generally objectionable” about stem cell therapy.

“Stem cell research and therapy that use adult human stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cord blood are acceptable as long as they are proven safe and are approved by regulating bodies,” Villegas said.

What the Church fears are incidences when “such therapy abets directly or indirectly the practice of abortion,” he said. “[This] is not only morally objectionable [but also] morally repugnant as the use of human embryo means killing a human being in order to save another human being.”

“We have always believed that a human embryo or fertilized ovum is a (complete) human being although in its primitive form,” he said, adding that this entity “is irreplaceable.”

“Killing an embryo in any of its stage of development is killing a human being. This makes it morally repugnant,” the bishop said.

Villegas issued the statement in response to requests by the Union of Catholic Physicians for moral guidance regarding the medical issue of stem cell therapy and the ethical dimensions in the practice of their profession.

The dangers and potentials of stem cell therapy, which has become available in the country, have prompted the Church to provide pastoral guidelines for those procuring, providing or regulating such treatment, he said.

He also cautioned people against stem cell therapy that uses plant cells, animal cells and genetically modified human stem cells.

“Rigorous scientific verification must be made to ensure that such therapy will not lead to harmful effects. Authorization must be obtained from proper authorities before such therapy is made available,” he said.

Villegas urged doctors and researchers to avoid issuing exaggerated or unproven claims of cures from stem cell therapy. “Medical and government authorities must be vigilant against misrepresented, unapproved and unregulated stem cell research and therapy,” he said.

“As in all applications of science, the Church believes that stem research and therapy that result from them should be guided by ethical norms to ensure that harm to human beings be avoided at every stage of life and that the formation of a just and compassionate society for all be fostered,” he said.

He said the Catholic Church has always supported researches that lead to the cure of diseases. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the bishop said, “When science is applied to the alleviation of suffering and when it discovers on its way new resources, it shows two faces rich in humanity: Through the sustained ingenuity invested in research and through the benefit announced to all who are afflicted by sickness.”

Villegas said stem cell researches have been helpful in improving bone morrow transplants and cornea transplants.

But he said clinical research trials should not be misrepresented as therapeutic stem cell treatments as these are intended to gather scientific data for developing future stem cell therapies.

“These trials do not guarantee cures and carry greater risks to participants than approved therapeutic treatments. Participation in these trials is voluntary and must not require payment,” he said. Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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