The Bishops of Wisconsin released a pastoral letter Tuesday as part of a diocesan campaign to educate citizens regarding stem cell research and promote ethical medical research.
In "Serving All and Sacrificing None," Bishops Peter Christensen (formerly pastor of Nativity parish in St Paul), Timothy Dolan, Jerome Listecki, and Robert Morlino emphasize the scientifically-demonstrated humanity of the embryo as the basis for opposing embryonic stem cell research.
"It is scientists who have demonstrated that the single cell, or zygote that results from fertilization, contains the complete genetic information necessary for the development of a unique human being. It is scientists who have shown us that human development is a continuous, uninterrupted process, from zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, to adult."
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells capable of developing into various types of important cells that scientists can then use to heal damaged or diseased tissue. Ethical concerns arise when scientists extract stem cells from embryos, thus destroying innocent human life in the process.
The letter insists that scientific research cannot progress without ethical considerations.
The Bishops cite the case of Tuskegee Syphilis Study as an example of unethical research that disregarded human dignity in the name of biomedical progress. In the Tuskegee, Alabama study, doctors deliberately deprived African-American patients of penicillin without their consent in order to see the full effects of the disease on victims.
Likewise, the Wisconsin Bishops argue that the good of medical research for ill patients can never justify the destruction of innocent human life.
The Bishops reaffirm their support for non-embryonic stem cell research.
"The Church supports stem cell research whenever it does not involve destroying human embryos. Adult stem cells found, for example, in the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, and skin cells can be extracted without harming the donor, and they have already helped thousands of individuals suffering from serious ailments. The Church applauds the recent breakthrough in reprogramming adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells."
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), the public policy arm of the Bishops, released a Question and Answer booklet and a 14-minute DVD related to the letter as part of an educational campaign it hopes will spark discussion and action across the diocese.
"I could see parishes having evening conversations around stem-cell research, where the video could be shown at the meeting of a parish group," said John Huebscher, WCC executive director.
The DVD traces the story of Stephanie Miller, a near-death patient now living a healthy life thanks to ground-breaking adult stem cell heart therapy. The video also notes that embryonic stem cell treatments have brought many patients tumors, but have not brought a single one the longed for cures typically promised.
The WCC also encourages educated citizens to consider involvement in political life in order to defend the dignity of each human person.
See the bishops' letter and other resources: