Fr. Giles O.F.M.

Recently President George Bush has declared it permissible for federal tax dollars to be used for research with existing stem-cells derived from human babies.

Before delving too far into this highly debated topic, it seems appropriate to clearly state a few ideas. First you will notice that the word human "embryos" is not used. This is deliberate because it is all too easy for us to forget that an "embryo" is a baby. Secondly, it is noted that the president did not approve of spending federal tax dollars on any experiments on babies, his approval only extended to funding for experiments on "currently existing stem-cell lines" (which came from previously murdered babies). Thirdly, please note that this in no way makes the development of "stem-cells" from human babies illegal — it only states that federal tax dollars will not pay for the murder of these babies to obtain "stem-cells". Private individuals or bodies that do not accept federal monies may legally murder babies to obtain "stem-cells". Lastly, it should be noted that "stem-cells" could also be obtained from cells taken from adults without causing their death. ("Researchers" claim that there may be greater potential for development and experimentation from "stem-cells" taken from human babies rather than from adults.)

"Stem-cells" are the primitive cells which are capable of developing into any of the various cell types found within the human body (skin cells, bone cells, blood cells, muscle cells, etc.). There is a theory (belief) that with these cells we should be able to "raise" or "grow" necessary cells or tissues to repair or replace those defective or missing cells and tissues in sick or diseased people.

First, let us look logically at the simple physical aspects. It is a known scientific fact that all living things grow, reproduce, and die. We are never going to be able to continually "fix" a body so that it will live forever. For example, if we are able to replace defective cells _ such as "cancer-cells" _ does that mean that we have done away with cancer? The answer seems obvious _ no. In order to do away with cancer we must find out what is causing the cancer and do away with that cause. We may compare it to a motor vehicle that is burning oil. We may continually put oil into the vehicle and claim that we have solved the problem. We may alleviate the problem for a while, but the problem still exists and unless the cause of the problem is found and corrected, eventually major damage will ensue.

Granted we may learn some things from experimenting with these human "stem-cells" that might allow us to possibly "prevent" some diseases or disorders, but this possibility does not seem to justify the murder of other human beings. It seems that it should be possible for us to observe without killing. Which, in fact, is possible with "stem-cells" taken from adults, placentas or even surgical waste. There is no logical reason why one human life should have preference over another. Why should one be killed so that another may live longer or more comfortably? There is no natural reason why this should be. On the contrary our natural reason states that they are both entitled to life, and not at the expense of another.

Philosophically, we can enter into the question of the soul. Do these "stem-cells" have a soul? And if so, what kind of soul is it? Is it a human? Is it an animal? Or is it a vegetable? Some of the greatest doctors of the Church have delved into this matter, and still the Church has remained silent and has only spoken when the discussion enters into the realm of morality. In this realm She has always taken the safest course and has stated that in a doubt the being must be treated as if it had a human soul.

Normally when cells were removed from a living being, the cells died. This caused no problem. Dead cells have no soul. Normally when two human generative cells unite a new being is created. At this moment, the Church teaches, God creates and unites a soul to this being and it is declared human from that very moment of conception. (This is the safer course, which is opposed to saying that it begins as a vegetable and then grows into an animal and lastly becomes a human.)

We have developed the ability to take living cells and tissues from humans and have those cells and tissues continue to grow and reproduce. The question becomes what happens to the soul? Do those cells have a human soul? Or do they have an animal or vegetal soul? It is obvious that they must have a soul as they are living and growing and reproducing. Some instances appear very obvious. For example: we have the ability to take skin cells and grow them in sufficient amounts to repair the skin of burned victims. It appears that these skin cells are behaving as vegetal cells and therefore may be grown and manipulated without any need for concern over violating the will of God or the rights of another human. But, what about "stem-cells" that may have the ability to develop into any part of the human body (or even a whole human body?) I don't see that this question is going to be resolved any time soon here on earth. We will know for certain when we enter eternity, but until that time we must follow the example of the Church and take the safest course.

Even if we set aside the question of the soul, we must remember that the end does not justify the means. No matter what good we may perceive in the study and development of "stem-cells" it is clear that we have no right to murder human babies to reach this goal.

Return to Contents

Return to Homepage.