Much has been written in the media about the Nov. 6 bond question that would authorize the State of New Jersey to spend $450 million to support stem-cell research (see The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 10 edition). Because there continues to be much confusion over the nature of stem-cell research, the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey, in concert with the Trenton-based New Jersey Catholic Conference, have sought in the time leading up to this election day to clarify for Catholic voters the Church's teaching related to stem-cell research.
The Catholic Church has been committed to the care and healing of the sick from its very beginning. When Jesus commissioned the Apostles to "go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Jesus also told them that those who believed in his name should be healers ("They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover," Mark 16:18). In America, Catholic hospitals and Catholic Charities have continued that apostolic mission and are at the leading edge of care for the ill, those who are poor and especially those who are uninsured or underinsured.
Following this tradition to be healers, the Catholic Church strongly supports adult or non-embryonic stem-cell research and treatment. In New Jersey, our Catholic hospitals are a major source for the collection of cord blood, placentas and amniotic fluid-all of which are rich in non-embryonic stem cells. Earlier this year, the Elie Katz Umbilical Cord Blood Program was established in Allendale (see The Catholic Advocate, March 21). This facility will collect biological material that will be used to pursue adult stem-cell research. Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey, based in Princeton, organized the state's Catholic hospitals to support this leading-edge facility.
Adult stem cells already have helped thousands of patients with life-threatening diseases and debilitating conditions. Over 70 clinical uses of adult stem cells have produced successful treatments for conditions such as diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, corneal regeneration, Crohn's disease and immune deficiencies.
In contrast, embryonic stem-cell research has yet to provide a single successful clinical treatment. Moreover, harvesting embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of human embryos. The Catholic Church holds that human life begins at conception and must be absolutely protected from the moment of conception. As such, the Catholic Church can never support embryonic stem-cell research, which requires the destruction of innocent human life.
Recently the five dioceses of the Catholic Church in New Jersey, in partnership with the New Jersey Knights of Columbus, began a statewide educational initiative on stem-cell research geared to inform fellow Catholics and other interested citizens on the difference between adult and embryonic stem-cell research and the implications of human cloning.
Through regular articles in our diocesan newspapers and other resource materials, and a DVD entitled "The Science of Stem Cells: Finding Cures and Protecting Lives," which is being shown in parishes across the state, the New Jersey bishops are fulfilling their responsibility to assist our people to form their consciences properly on this significant public policy. This informative video also is available for viewing online by visiting the archdiocesan Web site (www.rcan.org/life).
We share the hope that stem-cell research will lead to cures of debilitating diseases. Adult stem-cell research has a proven track record of making that hope a reality. On the other hand, embryonic stem-cell research has not helped one single human being. We speak out against embryonic stem-cell research and the allocation of monies for research which, in our judgment, fails to respect the sacredness of human life at its beginning.
Although the intent of the bond question is to provide funding of embryonic stem cells, it does provide for some funding of research into adult stem cells. Certainly, our hope is that all funding would be devoted to adult stem cells because of the moral dilemma that embryonic stem-cell research causes, and because of the proven result that adult stem cells have generated. If the bond question passes, the state has both a fiscal and a moral responsibility to direct this massive funding into areas that are ethical and moral, and sure to bear results without harming innocent human beings.
Our state is living in a time when resources are scant and our needs are becoming more overwhelming every day. A scan of local newspaper headlines will show most dramatically that the state's infrastructure (bridges, roads and tunnels) needs attention; people are less able to meet the cost of living; schools are not meeting the challenges of educating our young; and many other ills faced by our society. State and federal budgets are tight, yet these problems will cost billions of dollars to solve.
I pray that the people of New Jersey will understand and support the Catholic Church's respect for life especially for the most vulnerable among us, and let their elected representatives know that, if they empower our state to enter into financing stem-cell research, New Jersey must concentrate its efforts on research that produces true benefits instead of another series of promises.
(Editor's note: A version of this column appeared in the Oct. 14 edition of The Record newspaper, a unit of North Jersey Media Group Inc. Archbishop Myers is the president of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.)