Only 'Adult' Research gets Blessing from the Church
The emotional debate concerning embryonic stemcell research and the cloning of human life moves front and center onto the New Jersey political scene when voters go to the polls on Nov. 6.
At stake is a statewide "Stem Cell Research" bond issue question. If approved, the measure would authorize $450 million in taxpayer dollars for state-sponsored stem-cell research programs. It's expected the overwhelming majority of funds in the bond issue would be earmarked for research on embryonic stem cells.
The Catholic Church strongly supports adult stem-cell research, but remains adamantly opposed to embryonic stem-cell research and cloning.
"Catholic Bishops have consistently opposed human embryonic stem-cell research on the basis that creation and destruction of human embryonic stem cells violate the sanctity of human life," Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the Trenton-based New Jersey Catholic Conference, said.
"However, the referendum that New Jerseyans will vote on in November does include funding provisions for adult stem-cell research, which the Catholic Church strongly supports and which already has helped thousands of patients without destroying life," Brannigan continued. "What's more, new clinical uses of adult stem cells are being discovered every week."
Brannigan pointed out that after two decades of research, embryonic stem cells "have not helped a single human being. For this reason, we are devoting our efforts to educating Catholics to the idea that, if this referendum passes, the state has both a fiscal and a moral responsibility to direct this funding into areas that are ethical and moral, and sure to bear results without harming innocent human beings," he said.
Proponents of the November referendum, which is supported by Gov. Jon Corzine, contend their goal is finding cures for those suffering from devastating diseases. However, a growing number of patient advocates, scientists and religious leaders from all faiths are joining in an effort to expose the myths and misinformation in the stem-cell debate.
Embryonic stem-cell research-experiments utilizing live human embryos, which are always destroyed in the clinical process-have not yielded a single cure or treatment. By contrast, there are more than 60 proven medical treatments that have been gained by over 20 years of adult stem-cell research, according to Dr. Richard Watson, chief of Ambulatory Urology at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Watson, a past president of the Philadelphia-based Catholic Medical Association (Web site: www.cathmed.org), addressed the topic last year during the Legislative Dialogue forum, which was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark and held at Mother Seton Regional High School in Clark (see The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 25, 2006).
An important tool in the effort to fully inform Catholics and voters of other faiths about the Church's position on stem-cell research is a video documentary co-sponsored and distributed by state Catholic leaders entitled: "The Science of Stem Cells: Finding Cures and Protecting Life." The 14-minute documentary reviews the various issues connected to the stem cell debate-issues rarely examined in full by the secular mass media.
Pastors and high school principals in the four counties of the Archdiocese of Newark have received a packet containing this video along with brochures that can be ordered and distributed to parishioners and students. The video was funded in part by the New Jersey Knights of Columbus (Web site: www.njkofc.org) as part of the organization's efforts to expose the misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounds the stem-cell debate. The video also can be seen online via the Web site: www.rcan.org/life.
The video features an interview with Dr. David Hess, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia (Web site: www.mcg.edu). Hess is physician and neurologist recognized as one of the leading stem-cell researchers in the United States.
Stem cells are tiny building blocks of the body with an ability to repair or even replace damaged cells or tissues and lead to cures and treatments for a wide range of illnesses and conditions. Adult stem cells typically are harvested from umbilical cord and placenta blood.
Earlier this year, the Elie Katz Umbilical Cord Blood Program facility, located in Allendale, was opened to encourage Garden State Catholic hospitals to donate biological material to support adult stem-cell research (see The Catholic Advocate, March 21).
Hess objects to attacks by critics who charge that those opposing cloning and embryonic stem-cell research put a "moral" argument-the destruction of a human embryo-ahead of current human suffering from dreaded ailments such as cancer and Alzheimer disease.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Hess declared. "As a physician, I deal with these very tragic situations all the time and I am very sensitive to what's going on. I desperately want to help. But the fact is, a lot of us (researchers) believe that the biggest bang for the buck is with adult stem-cell research. It's going to get us to a real cure or treatment for more patients much faster."