October 22, 2010


Two pro-life setbacks

The pro-life cause and Catholic teachings have taken somewhat of a beating during recent weeks.

First, there was the announcement that the Nobel Prize for Medicine would be awarded to Robert Edwards, the English doctor who developed in vitro fertilization.

Then there were the headlines that doctors have injected millions of human embryonic stem cells into a patient partially paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. Those stem cells, obviously, were taken from human embryos, what basic biology tells us were human beings. The embryos had to be destroyed in order to get their stem cells.

We will examine the in vitro fertilization matter, but first we will discuss the experiment with embryonic stem cells being sponsored by Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif. The procedure was performed at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga.

Our first thought was “Why?” Why is such research necessary when so much good is being done using adult stem cells taken from skin, bone marrow or umbilical-cord blood cells?

Every few weeks, we learn about more successes being accomplished through the use of adult stem cells. Therefore, why not concentrate on perfecting those procedures instead of resorting to something that is clearly immoral?

We reported, in our Oct. 1 issue, on a Catholic hospital in Tampa, Fla., that is collecting placentas for use in

stem-cell research being done in Clearwater by the Pittsburgh-based Stemnion company. This research is aimed at developing healing therapies for severely burned patients. This is only one example of advancements in morally acceptable stem-cell research.

Nevertheless, some scientists seem determined to proceed with embryonic stem-cell research. At present, that research must be done with private funds because, in August, a federal judge ruled that funding it with federal funds violated a law prohibiting taxpayer money being used for research that requires the destruction of human embryos.

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for something that we know is immoral. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is appealing that judge’s decision.

We hope you readers understand this issue, not least from reading Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk’s “Making Sense Out of Bioethics” column that we publish monthly. He wrote about it was in our Sept. 17 issue.

Then there is that Nobel Prize matter. Our Oct. 8 issue published a lengthy article which quoted Vatican groups that viewed the awarding of the prize to Dr. Edwards as “completely out of place.”

In vitro fertilization and embryonic stem-cell research are connected, even interwoven, because many of the embryos that are being destroyed from research originally came into existence through in vitro fertilization. They are leftover embryos from the in vitro procedure that were frozen in case they were wanted in the future.

Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said, “Without Edwards, there wouldn’t be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, to be used for research or to die abandoned and forgotten by everyone.”

It is true that in vitro fertilization has made it possible for millions of infertile couples to have children since the procedure was perfected in 1978. Many of them are Catholics because they don’t seem to understand—or care—what is wrong with the procedure. Father Pacholczyk has written about that, too.

So why is the Church opposed to it—beyond the fact that it produces embryos for stem-cell research or for destruction, as already mentioned?

Because it separates procreation from the conjugal act in marriage by manufacturing life in a laboratory instead of through the loving act of sexual intercourse. As Father Pacholczyk has said, “It turns procreation into manufacture.”

It is also because in vitro fertilization requires masturbation on the part of the man—an act that the Church has always considered wrong.

There is also the fact that in vitro fertilization usually involves the implantation of multiple embryos. If, as frequently happens, that results in multiple fetuses, the mother is encouraged to undergo “selective reduction”—a “politically correct” description of abortion.

It is also a fact that studies have shown that babies born from in vitro fertilization are nearly twice as likely to have birth defects.

The Church has a tough time getting its message across, but it will continue trying.

—John F. Fink

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