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Mass. bishops condemn cloning, embryo destruction

By Donis Tracy
Posted: 3/4/2005

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The four bishops of Massachusetts have issued a joint statement strongly condemning human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research and exhorting Massachusetts Catholics to do the same.

"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in the midst of a debate about human cloning and embryo research," the statement began. "As the Roman Catholic Bishops of this state we affirm that a deeply rooted respect for human life should always guide our public policy."

"Cloned human embryos are human beings with a claim on our conscience; they deserve the respect and protection accorded to the human person," the statement declared. "Extracting embryonic stem cells from any embryos, whether cloned or otherwise created, will kill the embryos. The lethal connection between cloning for research purposes and harvesting of embryonic stem cells can neither be denied nor wished away."

“We, the Roman Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts, urge all Catholics and other citizens of good will to register your concerns about destructive research on human embryos by contacting Governor [Mitt] Romney and your state legislators as soon as possible. Call on them to support legislation that bans all forms of human cloning and any research that destroys human life,” the statement urged.

The statement was issued just two weeks after a Statehouse committee hearing for a new bill — Senate Bill 25 — encouraging embryonic stem-cell research sponsored by Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, D-Boston.

If passed, Senate Bill 25 would make it “the policy of the commonwealth to foster research and therapies in regenerative medicine,” notably embryonic stem-cell research. It would also encourage “the extraordinary biomedical scientists situated in Massachusetts within institutions of higher education, research institutes, hospitals and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies” to conduct extensive embryonic stem-cell research in the hope of finding cures for illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and other disabling conditions.

Embryonic stem cells are found only in embryos. In order to harvest these stem cells, a human embryo must be destroyed.

"We all know that embryos are human beings at their earliest stage and we also know that killing is wrong," declared Maria Parker, associate director for public policy at the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public-policy arm for the Catholic Church in Massachusetts. "This is a very problematic bill."

Although the bill directly prohibits human reproductive cloning, it promotes somatic cell nuclear transplantation, a procedure employed in what is often referred to as “therapeutic” cloning. However, somatic cell nuclear transplantation can also be used for reproductive purposes. It is the same procedure used to create Dolly the sheep, the first clone of an adult animal, in 1997.

"Supporters of legislation in Massachusetts that favors embryonic stem cell research want to downplay any connection between this research and the cloning and destruction of human life," the statement explained. "They argue that a process that researchers are using to get embryonic stem cells, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, does not involve the cloning of human embryos, and they claim that following up this process with the harvesting of embryonic stem cells does not result in the loss of embryonic life."

"We hope that the general public and our public officials are not fooled by such false claims."

"Cloning involves the laboratory creation of an individual's identical twin at the embryo stage through means other than the natural union of a mother's egg and a father's sperm," the bishops' statement continued. Therapeutic cloning seeks to clone "new human life only for destruction, harvesting embryonic stem cells through methods that kill the cloned embryo."

“The bishops are very concerned about this legislation,” added Parker, stressing that if the bill is passed it would “open the door to widespread human experimentation in Massachusetts.”

Parker said that the leadership in the state senate is pushing to pass this legislation as quickly as possible. In addition, there are currently several other stem-cell research bills coming before the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, she noted.

"When legislation opens all doors in Massachusetts to cloning and live experimentation on human beings, it should not be put on the fast track, which is what is currently happening," she stressed.

"Legislators should have accurate, solid, scientific information. They should know the moral reservations there are to this type of stem-cell research. And, they should be allowed to give very serious consideration before making any type of decision," she added.

"Science should not be allowed to destroy human life for the purpose of science," Parker declared.

Although the Catholic Church is opposed to embryonic stem-cell research and cloning of all types, the Catholic Church is not opposed to all types of stem-cell research. Adult stem-cell research, where adult stem cells retrieved from a person’s own body are used to cure their debilitating illnesses is supported by the Church.

In addition, adult stem-cell research is the only type of stem-cell research that has ever yielded any positive results.

"Ethical research involving adult stem cells has already achieved great success and gives patients real hope for cures ... Thanks to good science, therefore, society does not need to stray from its commitment to life in order to alleviate human suffering," the bishops' statement stated.