In order to discuss the moral and ethical
dilemmas associated with stem cell research, a differentiation must be
established between the use of adult stem cells (ASC) accepted by the Church,
and the use of embryonic stem cells (ESC) that are condemned by the Church.

ASC, also known as “non-embryonic” stem
cells, are present in adults, children, infants, placentas, umbilical cords,
and cadavers. Our specific interest as it relates to the topic of this paper is
to note that obtaining stem cells from these sources does not result in certain harm or death to a human being.[i]
Therefore, there are no bioethical concerns at the basic research level
associated with using ASC, and the Church supports these means. Furthermore,
ASC treatments are producing results. According to Dr. David
Prentice, Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at Family
Research Council,

60,000 people are helped worldwide by adult stem cells every year. [ASC] are
used to treat spinal cord injuries, cancers, anemia, and are showing promise in
treating heart damage, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, and dozens of
other diseases. Adult stem cells also have the
only reported case of successful treatment of a Parkinson’s patient documented
in the scientific literature.” [ii]

However, ESC are derived differently.
They are removed from human embryos in a process that destroys the embryo,
which is to say, kills a human being. In other instances, embryos are tragically
termed as “leftovers” from the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process. [iii]
These so-called “leftover” embryos are nothing less than human beings, but our
own United States Department of Health and Human Resources, National Institute
of Health website, in complete disregard to the true nature of these embryos dryly

“Clinics use this method to treat certain types of
infertility, and sometimes, during the course of these treatments, IVF embryos
are produced that are no longer needed by the couples for producing children.” [iv]

Thus, we discover one nexus of the
immoral union of IVF and ESC: No matter how well intentioned the couple, the IVF process itself ultimately supplies
the ESC industry with human embryos necessary for embryonic stem cell
experimentation and research
. The Catholic Church holds fast to the
teaching that each embryo destroyed in the name of research, is a life
destroyed. And each frozen “leftover” embryo, even when not used for research
(and/or is simply discarded) is still physically compromised by the freezing
process itself, reducing its ability to survive.[v]

To be sure, we are not discussing insignificant
or small numbers. Researchers report that from 1989 – 2007 five million IVF
babies were born.[vi]
But if 5 million IVF babies were actually born, how many additional embryos
remain frozen in “storage” as the immoral legacy of each IVF act? It is
estimated there are 400,000 IVF produced embryos in frozen storage in the
United States.[vii]
And how many human embryos have been discarded? The fertility industry
regulator, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has recorded
IVF processes for over the past 22 years. In a report made public by the Health
Minister of Great Britain, Lord Howe, they reported last year that 1.7 million
embryos created for IVF had been thrown away.[viii]
When we strip away the sterile language proponents use to describe IVF
activities, what is really being stated is, “A human life has been murdered or
thrown away.”

Any parent can understand the motivation of a
childless couple to have a child. The trouble with IVF is not that the desire
for raising a child is wrong or immoral, but in the details of that desire. No
objective good can be justified if it is achieved through evil. As objectively
good as it is for a couple to desire a child, that desire cannot be satisfied
by embracing evil in order to achieve this good end.

Pope Paul VI was very clear on this point in his
Encyclical Letter “On the Regulation of
when he wrote, “It is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do
evil so that good may follow therefrom. [To engage in evil] is unworthy of the
human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual,
family or social well-being.” [ix]
The Pope’s timeless comments address the demand for IVF by charitably asking
couples to consider embracing God’s will for them and live by faith; that if
they are meant to conceive a child, God will surely provide them with a child.

But what cannot happen, as Fr. Tad Pacholczyk
pointed out so clearly in an article published by the National Catholic
Bioethics Center, is that the marriage act necessary for conceiving children be
eliminated and replaced by a suite of fundamentally immoral actions, linked
together in such a way as to produce a child. What IVF does is separate out the
demonstration of love between a man and woman in marriage, from the child that
necessarily flows from that love. As Fr. Pacholczyk explained, “IVF is really
the flip-side of contraception: rather than trying to have sex without babies,
we try to have babies without sex.”[x]
Therefore, IVF, especially for any self-professed Catholic, is prohibited on
both bioethical and moral grounds.

What is behind the spread of IVF? One reason is
there are too few bioethicists today willing to lend their voices to speak out
against the darker, immoral sides of both ESC and IVF. Once again, we find the
Catholic Church clergy and laity are one of the few voices willing to be speak
forcefully and publicly against these practices. And in an example of, “Putting
your money where your mouth is,” in 2010 the Vatican donated roughly $3million
to support researchers who were looking at the therapeutic benefits of adult
intestinal stem cells. Also, in 2011 the Vatican donated $1 million to an adult
stem cell company.[xi]

But in a “man bites dog” sad but true
observation, some ethicists have sold themselves out as hired guns, willing to
lend not only their professional standing, but their personal integrity, to
drug companies and biotech firms. This “divided house” so to speak, sends a
mixed message to the world. How so? When professional Ethicist A in so many
words blesses the practices of IVF and ESC, while Ethicist B condemns one or
both, what is the public to do? What are they to understand? Predictably, as
mentioned above we have seen large numbers of people suppress their own
conscience, not to mention the teaching of the Church, and simply follow the
advice of whichever ethicist has supported the view they wanted to hear without
regard to the larger moral and ethical issues at work. Anyone who sells out the
Truth for money will have much to answer for.

In Pope John Paul’s encyclical letter on human
life, in Chapter I he takes us all the way back to the dawn of humanity and the
first recorded murder of Cain killing Abel. He then subsequently identifies the
various methods used to attack and destroy human life, such as genocide,
abortion, and euthanasia. [xii]
By applying the principle that a murder remains a murder regardless of how,
when, or by what method the murder is committed, by association the Pope has
placed IVF and ESC precisely where it belongs in the pantheon of murder: As
legitimate next door neighbors to all the other historical abominations and
insults to human life. Pope John Paul wants us to understand there is no cover,
not even a fig leaf of cover, to hide behind which refutes that the destruction
of embryonic human life is still categorically, murder, and the moral
equivalent of Cain killing Abel.

Pope John Paul then proceeds to remind humanity
that such actions will not go unpunished, a sobering reminder that there will
be consequences for participating in these immoral acts, even if the act itself
is in the pursuit of “good.” [xiii]
Ethical evils cannot be committed even when the ultimate aim is demonstrably
and unarguably good. He rightly calls our attention to the central question when
he reminds us of the scripture, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Pope John Paul is asking who speaks for the life
that is destroyed by ESC research. Who speaks for the new human life suspended
in frozen animation, or discarded and destroyed as IVF embryos destined for ESC
experimentation? Who will be their voice? With a deep understanding of the
issues, Pope John Paul defeats specious arguments such as concerns for world
overpopulation, insufficient food, and depletion of natural resources trotted
out in an attempt to legitimize population control. Of course these issues
should be addressed by the nations of the world, but always in a manner
consistent with a culture that embraces and supports the Christian message of
life, never death and murder. God would not leave humanity with a challenge
that can only be resolved by resorting to murder. Indeed, how can something
formed in the image and likeness of God be subjected to frozen preservation
methods, research and experimentation, followed by an inevitable death?

Alas, as Pope John Paul reminds us, none of our
current problems, or future problems, should be surprising to anyone, as once
sin entered the world every manner and sort of personification of evil became
inevitable. But it is in our own response to these challenges that we
demonstrate our fidelity to the Gospel message of Christ. In these ethical and
moral challenges, we find our own dignity as fellow human beings. It is through
helping others, especially those least able to help themselves, that we demonstrate
true love for each other. To achieve this end, “Pray, pray, pray” as our
Blessed Mother teaches us. The only option not available to the Catholic
Christian, is to do nothing.

The unborn are depending on us.


[i] Linda K. Bevington. “An Overview of Stem
Cell Research” at The Center For Bioethics and Human Dignity; Trinity
International University, August 2009, at

[ii] Dave Andrusko. “Once Paralyzed Man Given New Lease on Life Thanks to
Adult Stem Cells” at Life News, 17 October 2013,

[iii] Bevington, ibid.

[iv] Junying Yu and James A. Thomson.
“Embryonic Stem Cells” at National Institute of Health, 16 September 2010, at

[v] Dr.
Peter Saunders. “5 Million Children Have
Been Born From IVF, One-Third in Last Six Years” at Life News, 28 October
2013, at

[vi] Bonnie Rochman. “5 million babies born through IVF in past 35 years,
researchers say” at NBC News, 14 October 2013, at

[vii] Carlos Simoń and Antonio Pellicer, Stem
Cells in Human Reproduction; Basic Science and Therapeutic Potential (London:
Informa UK Ltd., 2007) p 145

[viii] Andrew Hough. “1.7 Million Embryos
Thrown Away” at The Telegraph, 31 December 2012, at

[ix] Paul VI, Pope. “Paul VI, Pope
(1968-07-25) Message of the Holy Father entitled, Humanae Vitae,” para 7, at

[x] Fr. Tad Pacholczyk. “Babies In Test
Tubes” at National Catholic Bioethics Center, December 2005, at

[xi] Daniel Kuebler. “The Reality of
Research: Why the Church is right about stem-cell research”, at National
Catholic Register, 8 January 2012, at

[xii] John Paul II, Pope. “John Paul II, Pope
(1995-03-25) Message of the Holy Father entitled, Evangelium Vitae,” at

[xiii] Pope John Paul II, ibid, para 62


Simoń and Antonio Pellicer, Stem Cells in Human Reproduction; Basic Science and
Therapeutic Potential (London: Informa UK Ltd., 2007)