Stem-cell Scientists Challenged to Justify Research Involving Embryos

DETROIT, October 5, 2010 -- As more than 1,200 business, academic and government leaders from 25 countries gathered in Detroit for the World Stem Cell Summit, CCG Episcopal Adviser Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit said research that destroys human embryos "deserves our scrutiny and scorn." (See the full statement below)

In an opinion piece published Oct. 3 by the Detroit Free Press, the archbishop said embryonic stem-cell research violates the principles on which the United States was founded and Michigan's fetal protection law. "If, indeed, we believe we were 'created equal,' doesn't that belief extend to the indefensible living embryo in the petri dish?" he asked, quoting the Declaration of Independence. "And what of 'life' in 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'? First, it must begin."

The Oct. 4-6 summit, organized by the Genetics Policy Institute, brought together scientists, patients, advocates, business executives, investors, educators, policymakers, government officials and ethicists. Archbishop Vigneron was not a participant in the meeting.

In the article headlined "Even in petri dish, life merits protection," Archbishop Vigneron said, "I started out as an embryo. So did you and everyone else who shares this planet with us. And there is great significance to this irrefutable fact beyond the shared experience."

The archbishop said research using umbilical-cord blood cells and adult stem cells "is to be saluted and supported" and has resulted in "a growing number of cures and treatments." But he said those doing embryonic stem-cell research would agree "that it is imperative to preserve an embryo because it is a living cell."

Full Statement of Archbishop Allen Vigneron:

I started out as an embryo. So did you and everyone else who shares this planet with us. And there is great significance to this irrefutable fact beyond the shared experience. Time magazine's October 4th cover story about the influence of life in the womb states the case: "We are the way we are because it's in our genes: the DNA we inherited at conception." Yes, upbringing and environment have a huge impact on our lives, but one thing never changes until our last natural breath: our DNA. Each human embryo is unique -- it does not have the same DNA of the mother or father. That cell not only becomes us, it is us.

This reality is critical context as the World Stem Cell Summit meets in Detroit during the first week of October. Progress in research on umbilical cord blood cells and adult stem cells is to be saluted and supported. Patients and advocates alike can look to the growing number of cures and treatments discovered through research that does not destroy the living human embryo.  Conversely, experiments on human embryonic stem cells deserve our scrutiny and scorn. If not us, who will speak for our fellow citizens-to-be?

We are blessed to live in a country with some of the most extraordinary founding documents in history. If, indeed, we believe we were "created equal," doesn't that belief extend to the indefensible living embryo in a petri dish? "Unalienable rights" means they can't be taken away by the state. Doesn't that apply to science as well? And what of "life" in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"? First, it must begin.

Embryonic stem cell researchers will attest that it is imperative to preserve an embryo because is a living cell. It is after the living embryo is preserved with its human DNA signature that it is dissected, cloned, destroyed or discarded. True democracy is built on life, not death.

Ours is not the first country or culture to selectively pursue a moral calculus that justifies taking a life to enable scientific experiments. We know from sad experience that dangers follow when we put human hands on the switch of life and death. Embryos are the genesis of human life, and it is morally unacceptable to intentionally destroy them, even if the scientist is trying to cure a debilitating disease or parents are responding to a difficult challenge in their family life. The country we live in defends human rights at home and abroad. That defense must extend to the laboratory.

In Michigan's Compiled Laws, the fetal protection act is precise on punishing individuals who harm or kill a fetus -- or embryo!-- during an intentional assault.

How can there be such a disconnect with what happens in an assault case and what occurs in a laboratory when a human life is destroyed? The person who harmed an embryo in an assault is charged with a felony. The person who destroys an embryo in a petri dish is held harmless and likely considered some sort of medical pioneer. Yet the results were the same: two fewer people in the world who had no power to stop what was happening to them and had no voice in their demise.

The question is called.

 

Parts of this article above were from Catholic News Service release



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