DETROIT, MI. (Catholic Online) - On Saturday, October 3, 2010 Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit wrote an outstanding defense of human embryonic life entitled "Even in petri dish, life merits protection" for the Detroit Free Press. The "World Stem Cell Summit" is meeting in Detroit, Michigan this week. The Archbishop noted: "Progress in research on umbilical cord blood cells and adult stem cells is to be saluted and supported. Patients and advocates alike can look to the growing number of cures and treatments discovered through research that does not destroy the living human embryo. Conversely, experiments on human embryonic stem cells deserve our scrutiny and scorn. If not us, who will speak for our fellow citizens-to-be?
"We are blessed to live in a country with some of the most extraordinary founding documents in history. If, indeed, we believe we were "created equal," doesn't that belief extend to the indefensible living embryo in a petri dish? "Unalienable rights" means they can't be taken away by the state. Doesn't that apply to science as well? And what of "life" in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"? First, it must begin."
"Embryonic stem cell researchers will attest that it is imperative to preserve an embryo because it is a living cell. It is after the living embryo is preserved with its human DNA signature that it is dissected, cloned, destroyed or discarded. True democracy is built on life, not death. Ours is not the first country or culture to selectively pursue a moral calculus that justifies taking a life to enable scientific experiments.
"We know from sad experience that dangers follow when we put human hands on the switch of life and death. Embryos are the genesis of human life, and it is morally unacceptable to intentionally destroy them, even if the scientist is trying to cure a debilitating disease or parents are responding to a difficult challenge in their family life. The country we live in defends human rights at home and abroad. That defense must extend to the laboratory. In Michigan's Compiled Laws, the fetal protection act is precise on punishing individuals who harm or kill a fetus -- or embryo! -- during an intentional assault.
"How can there be such a disconnect with what happens in an assault case and what occurs in a laboratory when a human life is destroyed? The person who harmed an embryo in an assault is charged with a felony. The person who destroys an embryo in a petri dish is held harmless and likely considered some sort of medical pioneer. Yet the results were the same: two fewer people in the world who had no power to stop what was happening to them and had no voice in their demise. The question is called."
The conference meets in the aftermath of news that researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, Mass. claim to have reprogrammed adult skin cells into iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells in a way which avoids the risks previously associated with such techniques. The news brought a hopeful response from Richard Doerflinger, the associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who told the Washington Post "With each new study it becomes more and more implausible to claim that scientists must rely on destruction of human embryos to achieve rapid progress in regenerative medicine."
He was joined in his encouraging words by David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association who said the new research "should put one of the final nails in the coffin of federally funded embryonic stem cell research. This breakthrough is further evidence that the government's illegal funding of embryo-destroying research is like investing in vinyl record technology in a digital age."
Archbishop Vigneron's public defense of human embryonic persons is the kind of courageous action needed in a charged atmosphere where some continue to lie, saying that the Catholic Church opposes "stem cell research". Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church ENCOURAGES such research when it does not kill human embryonic persons.
Human embryology and developmental biology affirm that a human embryo is not distinct in kind from a human being, but a human being at an early stage of development. Even prior to implantation, a human embryo is a unique living human being with the genetic constitution and epigenetic primordial that continues to develop throughout his or her life.
However, the right not to be killed in the womb, the right to be born and the right to participate in human relationships are rejected for these little persons. Human embryonic lives are reduced to what one astute Catholic philosopher and lawyer, Robert George, called a "pre-personal way of being human".
The Archbishop is absolutely correct. We must speak for human embryonic Life as we speak for all human life. We must expose and oppose what amounts to a new form of genetic slavery wherein an entire class of human persons is being labeled as property to be used by those who are more powerful.
In 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Holy See issued an "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation". Among the many questions answered was: "What Respect is due to the human embryo, taking into account his nature and identity?" The answer: "The human being must be respected - as a person - from the very first instant of his (her) existence."
At every age and stage of our "human-being- ness", be it as an embryonic person, in the womb, as an infant, as a child, an adolescent, an adult, in our times of illness, in our old age, we have always been dependent on others and vulnerable. This is what it means to be a human being. The emphasis of the proponents of the culture of death on independence and autonomy informs a worldview that Pope John Paul II taught threatens the "entire structure of human rights." (Gospel of Life, Par. 19)
We must speak for human embryonic Life as we speak for all human life. We must expose and oppose this new form of genetic slavery wherein an entire class of human persons is being labeled as property to be used by those who are more powerful. We thank God for the clear and courageous defense of human embryonic life by Archbishop Allen Vigneron.