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Benedict and Biotechnology

August 9, AD 2013 2 Comments

This March a team of researchers revealed that they had successfully cloned human embryos and, for the first time ever, the tiny human beings survived long enough to either be implanted in a uterus or destroyed for their stem cells (these scientists did the latter).

For some reason, this got me thinking about our previous Holy Father. Looking back, one of the things I appreciated most about Benedict XVI’s papacy, besides his own personal witness of holiness, was the way he often drew attention to what he called the “difficult problem of bioethics,” especially in the area of science and human biotechnology.

Like John Paul II, Pope Benedict recognized the temptation of science to reduce the human person to yet another material object to be analyzed, experimented upon, and manipulated, a mere means to human progress.

One instance of Benedict’s papacy in particular sticks out in my mind.

On Nov. 12, 2011, at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Pope Benedict addressed participants of the first international conference Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture.

The Holy Father opened his remarks with praise for the various institutions exploring and promoting research on adult stem cells (ASCs). ASCs hold great possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissue and restoring its capacity for regeneration. These therapies, the Pope said, would be a great advancement for medical science as well as bring hope to many people who suffer and their families.

“For this reason, the Church naturally offers her encouragement to those who are engaged in conducting and supporting research of this kind, always with the proviso that it be carried out with due regard for the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.”

Man is both the “agent of scientific research,” and also “the object of that research,” the Pope noted. However, the “transcendent dignity” of man “entitles him always to remain the ultimate beneficiary of scientific research and never to be reduced to its instrument.” This, of course, is the problem with embryonic stem cell research. Embryos are human beings in the earliest stages of development and research using embryonic stem cells always involves the destruction of these nascent human lives.

“The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.”

Science and ethics must be in dialogue with one another “to ensure that medical advances are never made at unacceptable human cost.” By calling for respect for the ethical limits of biomedical research, the pope said, the church does not seek to impede scientific progress, but to “guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity.”

The conference Pope Benedict was speaking at was part of the Vatican’s $1 million dollar collaboration with US based biopharmaceutical company NeoStem’s Stem For Life Foundation to support research and increase public awareness of treatment using adult stem cells.

The pope concluded his address with a prayer that adult stem cell research “will bring great blessings for the future of man and genuine enrichment to his culture.”

Obviously, 
after 40 years and over 50 million murdered unborn children, abortion 
remains our highest pro-life priority here in the United States. It’s the one we’ve been fighting 
the longest. But it’s not the only pro-life battle before us. If we are truly concerned about the value and dignity of every human life, especially at it’s most vulnerable stages, then simply being “anti-abortion” is not enough. 

Not in today’s world. We have GOT to start making the many other threats to the
dignity of the human person (ESCR, assisted reproductive technology, 
human cloning, etc…) an equal priority for our 
movement before they get just as out of hand as abortion is today.

Human cloning is not coming; it is already here. It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle. Now. In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca and I discuss the realities of human cloning and what we can do to stop it.

Note that this latest cloning “breakthrough” like the first one, was not done in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA (Oregon to be exact) where there are no restrictions on this or other once unthinkable kinds of human experimentation currently in practice.

I understand that it’s not easy keeping up with all the attacks on the dignity of the human person these days, but we cannot afford to let these other issues fall through the cracks. This ‘aint your momma’s pro-life movement, anymore. Or, it shouldn’t remain so. Pro-life 3.0 is upon us whether we like it or not and it’s progressing fast — and largely under the radar. I think Pope Benedict saw that very clearly. Let’s follow his lead and confront the difficult problem of bioethics now before it’s too late.

About the Author:

Chelsea Zimmerman editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor for Ignitum Today and Catholic Stand. She often writes about life issues and Catholic spirituality and has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Last year she started the pro-life video series BioTalk. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.
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  • Phil Dzialo

    Regardless of one’s position on biotech, I believe that the best we can do is to encourage all parents to bank cord blood at the birth of their child. Banking and storing placental cord blood can produce stem cells without violating RCC principles and eventually save lives.

    Hopes for treating disease with stem cells from umbilical cord blood has received a major boost, following the discovery of primitive cells with clinical potential matching that of the far more controversial embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The latter are originally derived from human fetuses, which are then destroyed, and have become a major ethical issue, especially in the US.

    Much promise in this area of healing through banked cord blood and will reach fuller fruition within a decade.