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Holy Spirit Interactive Youth: Bible Geek: Stem Cell Research: Right or Wrong?

Stem Cell Research: Right or Wrong?

I am really trying to understand embryonic stem cell research, and I stil do not understand why the Catholic church is against it, if it is saving lives? Can you help me?

This is a popular question the past couple years, especially after the deaths of notable people like Christopher Reeve and Ronald Reagan, and after the events surrounding the death of Terry Shiavo.

Interestingly enough, as usual, the media usually reports one side of the "debate", but rarely do they fully explain the Church's teaching on hot topics, particularly as they relate to human dignity or morality.

This is a HUGE topic and far too expansive to deal with here, (also, it's not necessarily about Scripture) but how about an "overview" since you took the time to ask it, and I'll throw in a few Scripture verses along the way, okay?

Basically, stem cell research experiments with cells that can develop into human beings. And the Catholic Church is against any experimentation on embryos. Yes, it may aid in development of medical research for the future, but the Church does not believe in injuring human beings in the process? Take a minute to read the following from the Catechism and other stem cell research:

“Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject’s life or physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate or avoidable risks. Experimentation on human beings does not conform to the dignity of the person if it takes place without the informed consent of the subject or those who legitimately speak for him.” (CCC 2295)

First, what are stem cells and why are they so important?

Essentially, stem cells are cells that have the potential to become many different kinds of cells. They are the means by which cells in the body can be replenished. In the very early embryo these cells are totipotent—that is, they have the potency to become any kind of body cell. In adult stem cells, the cells are pluripotent —they have the capacity to become a variety of cells, but not all. Scientists hope to obtain lines of these embryonic stem cells—large numbers of them grown from a common source—and coax them into becoming specific kinds of cells.

Next, over the last few decades there has been a strong affirmation by the pope and bishops that the human embryo is to be valued and, in effect, treated as a person from the time of fertilization forward. It is not to be destroyed or seen as disposable tissue that can be used in research as any other tissue might be. Nor should such embryos be generated specifically for research purposes. This of course is possible, given the technology of in vitro, “outside the body,” fertilization. And in fact, one fertility clinic in Virginia has reported that in fact that is exactly what it is doing.

Manipulation is a word that means "to take apart with your hands". Through stem cell research, the Church points out that man, once again, is attempting to play God. The "end" (saving lives) does not justify the means (taking lives and harming life) in this case. The truth just hurts, sometimes, that science, while wonderful, cannot take the place of God. We are all designed to die. We are dying every second. The issue is often made out to be a "quality of life" issue. The Church points out, boldly (and often times, alone) that it is a sanctity of life issue.

The Instruction is careful to note that the Church has not taken a philosophical position on the time of ensoulment. However, "From the moment of conception, the life of every human being is to be respected in an absolute way…" (Donum Vitae, Introduction).”

Scripture affirms several things to us about conception, birth and life - as intimate gifts from God:

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.” - Psalm 139:13-16

“Even all the hairs of your head are counted.” - Mt. 10:30

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” – Jeremiah 1:5

“Just as you know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother's womb, so you know not the work of God which he is accomplishing in the universe.” – Eccl. 11:5

“Thus says the LORD who made you, your help, who formed you from the womb: fear not, O Jacob, my servant, the darling whom I have chosen.” – Isaiah 44:2

Does this sound like God doesn't have an intimate knowledge of His creation? Do these verses speak of a God who is not present in every moment, every stage of life? Absolutely not. The problem with modern culture is that it has confused freedom through God with freedom from God. They think their bodies are their own and do not admit that life and creation take three people - a woman, a man and God.

Again, this is a huge topic. Inevitably, people are going to say that this explanation is "too narrow" or "too expansive" or "too...blah blah blah". The truth? There has been a ton written on this that is available for you to read - but always consider your source. Many entities claim to proclaim Catholic teaching, but do not. Go right to the source. Spend time in the Catechism. Spend time on the Vatican website. Spend time talking with the people in your parish who teach the faith. Spend the time. Make the time. Remember, they call what you read in the newspapers "stories" for a reason.

God is the author of all life.

At some point EVERY one will admit that...now or later, but every knee will bend and every tongue confess that JESUS is Lord.


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