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What does in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research have to do with the Fifth Commandment?

what-does-in-vitro-fertilization-and-stem-cell-researchWhile in vitro fertilization is more appropriately treated in relation to the integrity of the link between fertility and love, it deserves brief mention here. This is because very often in the process, eggs that have been fertilized and are beginning to grow as a human person are discarded or destroyed. This action is the taking of human life and is gravely sinful.

Every human body contains stem cells, undifferentiated cells that have the potential to mature into a wide variety of body cells. They develop early in the human embryo after fertilization or conception. They are also found in the placenta, the umbilical cord, as well as in the adult brain, bone marrow, blood, skeletal muscle, and skin. Scientists theorize that these stem cells may be used for therapeutic purposes for curing diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Some scientists, however, maintain that the best source for stem cells is the human embryo. The moral problem is that in order to retrieve the stem cells, the growing child must be killed. But every embryo from the moment of conception has the entire genetic makeup of a unique human life. The growing child must be recognized and treated as completely and fully human. He or she needs only time to grow and develop. To destroy an embryo is to take a human life, an act contrary to God’s law and Church teaching.

Some argue that the good obtained by healing serious diseases justifies the destruction of some human embryos. But this reduces a human being to a mere object for use. It assumes there are no moral absolutes that must be held in all circumstances. It violates the moral principle that the end does not justify the means. Embryonic stem-cell research is an immoral means to a good end. It is morally unacceptable.

Similarly, cloning, whether for reproductive or therapeutic uses, is immoral on many levels, not the least of which is because it too involves the destruction of human embryos.

No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings, or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother’s body. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation [Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987])

On the other hand, stem cells can be obtained from adults with their informed consent. The federal government has spent millions of dollars on this research. Stem cells from placenta, bone marrow, and the umbilical cord are being used to treat leukemia. This is a promising field of research and does not involve the moral implications of embryonic stem-cell research.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.