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Health Progress







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Catholic Health Association of the United States


In November 1998 biologists announced that they had discovered a way to isolate and preserve human stem cells. Since stem cells are capable of developing into any kind of human tissue or organ, this was a great scientific coup. Researchers envision using the cells to replace damaged organs and to restore tissue destroyed by, for example, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, or even Alzheimer's. But, since stem cells are taken from aborted embryonic and fetal tissue or "leftover" in vitro embryos, their use raises large ethical issues. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently decided to fund research employing, not stem cells, but "cell lines" derived from them. The NIH has essentially made an ethical determination, finding sufficient "distance" between cell lines and abortion. Can Catholic universities sponsoring biological research agree with this finding? Probably not. In Catholic teaching, the concept of "complicity" would likely preclude such research. However, Catholic teaching would probably allow research done with stem cells obtained from postpartum placental tissue and from adult bone marrow and tissue. These cells, which lack the pluripotency of embryonic and fetal stem cells, are nevertheless scientifically promising and do not involve the destruction of human life.




Author Posting. © Catholic Health Association of the United States, 1999. This article is posted here for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Health Progress, Vol. 80, Iss. 5 (1999)

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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