Excerpt from the Church's document on certain issues regarding procreation, Dignitas Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions (September 2008). With new research and procedures, it is most important to be informed and to know the moral dimensions. This section deals with the therapeutic use of stem cells. (The numbers below correspond to the numbers at the beginning of each section in the official document).
32. With regard to the ethical evaluation, it is necessary to consider the methods of obtaining stem cells as well as the risks connected with their clinical and experimental use.
In these methods, the origin of the stem cells must be taken into consideration. Methods which do not cause serious harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit. This is generally the case when tissues are taken from: a) an adult organism; b) the blood of the umbilical cord at the time of birth; c) fetuses who have died of natural causes. The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo, on the other hand, invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit: "research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity. In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity"
The use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them—even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available—presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal....
Research initiatives involving the use of adult stem cells, since they do not present ethical problems, should be encouraged and supported.
33. Recently animal oocytes have been used for reprogramming the nuclei of human somatic cells—this is generally called hybrid cloning—in order to extract embryonic stem cells from the resulting embryos without having to use human oocytes.
From the ethical standpoint, such procedures represent an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and animal genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man. The possible use of the stem cells, taken from these embryos, may also involve additional health risks, as yet unknown, due to the presence of animal genetic material in their cytoplasm. To consciously expose a human being to such risks is morally and ethically unacceptable.
...continued next week.