Please welcome Monica from Every Day is a Gift, as a guest blogger discussing the important bioethical issue of Stem Cells today.
“Stem cells.” It’s a buzz-word that I know conjures up different thoughts, ideas and feelings (or lack there-of) for different people, but it is a term that is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society in reference to medical “advances”. Five years ago, if someone had done the old “random association” game (listen to a word and write down what immediately pops into your mind) with me and said the word “stem cells,” I probably would have said something vague like “science” or “biology”. Ask me again today and you will get an earful.
As a Catholic mother living in today’s American Society, I have become increasingly more aware of my need to keep myself informed and up-to-date when it comes to the morality of practices that society deems to be good and common-place. As Catholics, we should constantly strive to filter every issue – big or small – through the lens of Catholic moral teaching. And the issue of ethical stem cell use is no small one.
The stem cells used in most medical research and pharmaceutical development today are namely from two sources.
- Adult stem cells
- Embryonic stem cells
Looks pretty innocuous does it not? Let us take a closer look. First off, we will define the term “adult stem cells”. These are essentially stem cells that have undergone some degree of development, therefore while called “adult” cells; they can also be found in a child or even a fetus. It has to do with the stage of development the cells have reached at the time they are gathered, not from whom they are gathered. For instance, stem cells gathered from the umbilical cord soon after a child’s birth are considered adult stem cells just the same as those gathered from an adult’s bone marrow (a common place from which to obtain them). You may also have heard the term iPSC’s (induced pluripotent stem cells). These are adult stem cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic (pluripotent) stem-cell state. (1) Adult stem cells are, for all intents and purposes, considered to be obtained in an ethically acceptable manner. Hmmm, you say? Ethically acceptable?? Why would that even be an issue? I mean, we have the CDC and the NIH, government and even tax payer dollars behind all this research and development. All those people are certainly looking out for the best interests of the human race, right? Why would ethics even be an issue? Let’s go a bit further with our definitions.
Come with me as we define #2, the stem cells found in embryos. First off, we will make sure we understand the definition of the word “embryo”. An embryo is the young of a viviparous (bringing forth living young rather than eggs) animal, especially of a mammal, in the early stages of development within the womb, in humans up to the end of the second month. (2) Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they can develop into almost any body tissue. Some medical researchers hope this means they can eventually be used in stem cell therapies for many different human conditions due to this versatility. Still sounds pretty harmless, even good, right? So let’s make sure we’re all clear on just how exactly these embryonic stem cells are obtained. Embryonic stem cells are obtained by killing the embryo. (3) Wow. Yes, you read that right. But I’ll say it once more, for effect. Embryonic stem cells are obtained by killing the embryo. That sounds an awful lot like abortion to me. And as a Catholic, I have been taught since I was a young child that abortion is wrong and that all human life is sacred from its very beginning – when the sperm and the egg meet and a soul is infused into that tiny, tiny being by our omnipotent God – until its natural end. So how does all this jibe? How do we rationalize this act in the name of good medicine? Some would argue that these embryonic stem cells were obtained from elective or voluntary abortions. A very nice way of putting it, but seriously…over whose eyes are we trying to pull the wool? I don’t know of any baby who has “elected” or “volunteered” to be aborted. Whether the stem cells were aborted specifically for the purpose of science, or they were just “happened upon” conveniently, the ends do not justify the means, and two wrongs certainly can never make a right. So whilst some may argue there have been amazing medical advances, treatments and drugs derived from these cell lines, I will argue back, “how can we claim such good has come from such horrific evil.” It just cannot be so. Especially when more and more studies are being done to show that iPSC’s can be just as effective as pluripotent (embryonic) cells, and without the risk of tissue rejection, which is another major mark against the use of embryonic stem cells that is being conveniently ignored by its proponents. (4) and (5)
You may still be wondering how all this affects me personally; why a Catholic mom who spends her days changing diapers, reading stories, and keeping house would feel so passionately about these big scientific issues. The answer comes down to the one thing we have yet to address: the specific uses of these so-called electively obtained embryonic stem cells. The two main places they are being used more and more frequently are 1.) some of the common vaccines we give our children and 2.) a growing number of pharmaceutical drugs on the market that are being developed to treat things like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cystic Fibrosis among others. (6) I am not here to start a debate about vaccines or ethical medical practices, but I am here to make you aware. To get you thinking. Because up until about a year-and-a-half ago, this was something I didn’t give a second thought. Something about which I was “conveniently” ignorant, blissfully unaware. And I believe that is too often the case among the general population and even, I dare say, many medical professionals out there. People need to know what is going on. People need to be aware. People need to act. If every Catholic person in our country – doctors, politicians, housewives, everyone! – were to express their repulsion over this abhorrence, then maybe some changes would be made. But until then we continue down a twisting, winding path of unethical acts that are essentially swept under the proverbial rug, all in the name of scientific progress. When will it end? What will they think of next? And the most important question, what do YOU intend to do about it?
Monica is a Catholic wife and mother of two precious children. Find her blogging about everyday life, Catholicism and her beloved family at http://www.livingeachdayasagift.blogspot.com/