In its March 3, 2004 issue, LifeSite Daily News made the following statement, “The Senate’s social affairs, science and technology committee has unanimously approved Bill C-6, an Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction and Related Research.” The bill will now go to the third and final reading in the Senate and be given a final vote directly thereafter.

“The legislation allows destructive research on human embryos ‘leftover’ from fertility clinics; it allows the specific creation of human embryos for the express purpose of research on IVF (in- vitro fertilization), sanctions destructive “in-vitro fertilization” and its allowance for homosexual couples; and contains loopholes which would allow for human cloning for research purposes and more.” Opponents of the bill are strongly urging Canadians to immediately contact at least the senators from their province and insist that they vote against the bill.

As I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, I am not equipped to explain why this process is morally wrong, so I contacted my friend, Dr. John Shea, and requested he explain the meaning of stem cell research and its moral significance. Dr. John kindly did so and also granted me permission to publish the article that follows.

Stem Cell Research

John B. Shea, MD, FRCP (C)All the tissues of the body are replaced over time. The cells in each tissue which are the source of this replacement are called stem cells. Stem cells can be obtained from a person at any time after birth. These cells are called somatic stem cells. They can also be obtained from the embryo. These are called embryonic stem cells. All stem cells can be coaxed into producing the kind of tissue from which they came or altered into some other tissue.

There are serious moral problems in using embryos as a source of stem cells. First of all, they are obtained from embryos conceived by in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization is the creation of a new human being by means of effusion of a human ovum and a human sperm in a laboratory dish. This process – “in vitro fertilization”- treats the human embryo as if he or she were a product and not a human being and is therefore gravely immoral. Pope John Paul II has reiterated this teaching in speaking to the Pontifical Council for the Family in February 2004.

It is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the child’s right to be conceived in marriage and from marriage (Donum Vitae, 1987). The Pope told the Pontifical Academy for Life on Feb. 22, 2004, that the act by which husband and wife become father and mother through their reciprocal gift, makes them co-operators of the Creator in bringing to the world a new human being, called to life for eternity. Such a gesture cannot be substituted by a mere technological intervention.

The second moral problem is that the process by which these stem cells are obtained kills the embryo, a tiny human being. This occurs usually in the third to sixth day of his or her life. Scientists who do embryo research claim that their purpose is to cure disease. But evil may never be done that good may come of it. Furthermore, embryonic stem cell research has never cured any disease, has caused tumours in some patients and caused tissue rejection, which can only be prevented if the patient takes anti-rejection drugs for the remainder of his or her life. The drugs may also have harmful effects.

In contrast to this, treatment of patients with somatic stem cells has been very effective and is also morally acceptable. Sources of somatic stem cells include umbilical cord tissue and blood, the placenta, and adult tissues of many kinds, such as marrow, blood, skin fat, neural tissue and muscle. These cells have been used successfully to form bone cartilage, neural tissue, blood vessels, heart cells, fat, skin and muscle. Somatic stem cells have also been used successfully in the treatment of multiple sclerosis rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and cancer of various kinds including brain tumours, ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, leukemias, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.