By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Is there a moral dilemma for Catholics about cloning and stem cell research? This was the question that Father Tad Pacholczyk answered at the first session of Theology on Tap’s 2009 series, “Be Not Afraid! Bringing Faith into Our Society.” It drew a standing room-only crowd to the Catholic Philopatrian Institute, located at 1923 Walnut St. in Center City, Aug. 6.
The event targeted young adults in their 20s and 30s. The sessions, held Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. through the end of this month, are sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Youth and Young Adults.
Father Pacholczyk, a neuroscientist and director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, began by explaining what a stem cell is by contrasting it with skin cells. While the latter can only reproduce identically, stem cells are more flexible. Embryonic stem cells come from an aborted or miscarried fetus because in order to get stem cells “the embryo must be destroyed,” he said.
He contrasted the stances of the Bush and Obama administrations on embryonic stem cells. While the Bush administration was opposed to destroying embryos for stem cell research, the Obama administration is working from the premise that aborted embryos are currently “thrown away” and could be used to harvest embryonic stem cells.
Father Pacholczyk asserted that if federal funding can be used for embryonic stem cell research it “would be a huge incentive” to increase the number of abortions. This, he said, was exacerbated by celebrities like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox who have made public pleas to support the use of embryonic stem cells to cure diseases like Parkinson’s or to treat spinal cord injuries.
Father Pacholczyk presented an alternative to this view through a segment on “10 Media Myths.” First, he noted that embryonic stem cells are generally derived from aborted fetuses, not from spontaneous miscarriages. Secondly, he did a presentation to show that adult stem cells, which do not require ending a life to be secured, are superior to embryonic stem cells.
He challenged the myth that the Catholic Church is against stem cell research. He reiterated that it is only embryonic stem cell research that the Church is against because it means taking the life of the embryo. The Church, Father Pacholczyk said, is not against umbilical cord or adult stem cell use, nor the use of stem cells from a spontaneously miscarried fetus – though he admitted the latter could “raise some ethical questions.” In addition, he briefly discussed the Church’s stance on cloning.
“I learned a lot,” said Emily Brand, who also said that it would take some time to digest all the information she heard that evening.
As for Rose Miller, a member of St. Laurence Parish in Upper Darby, the session cleared up misconceptions she had about stem cell research. She was taking meticulous notes during the entire two-hour presentation. She plans to communicate what she learned to her fellow parishioners.
“I think this was very informative,” she said. “I am glad I came because I now have a good understanding of what the benefits can be from adult stem cell research. I didn’t realize (they) could possibly be a cure. I didn’t know the difference between stem cells taken from adults and embryonic stem cells. I now have some clarity on that difference, so I will be able to share all of this.”
For more information about the bioethical questions relating to stem cell research, Father Pacholczyk advised visiting www.clinicaltrials.gov. To view the “10 Great Myths in the Debate over Stem Cell Research” visit www.ncbcenter.org/10Myths.pdf.
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.
The ninth annual Theology on Tap series continues Aug. 20 with a question-and-answer panel discussion, “Why Do Catholics Do That?” The series concludes on Aug. 27 with “Living for God in a Godless Society: Bringing the Fire of God’s Love to the World,” featuring In His Sign Radio Network president Kathleen McCarthy.