Stem Cell Research & Human Cloning
A stem cell is a relatively unspecialized cell that, when it divides, can either make another cell like itself, or make any of a number of cells with more specialized functions. The Catholic Church is not opposed to all types of stem cell research. Most stem cell research uses cells obtained from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, and other sources that pose no moral problem. Useful stem cells have been found in bone marrow, blood, muscle, fat,
nerves, and even in the pulp of baby teeth. Some of these cells are already being used to treat people with a wide variety of diseases.
The Church opposes embryonic stem cell research because harvesting these stem cells kills a living human embryo. The Church opposes the direct destruction of innocent human life for any purpose, including research.
Facts & Figures
Below is an ethical overview of some of the current types of stem cell research:
- Embryonic Stem Cells (pluripotent stem cells harvested from living embryos which are 3-5 days old) — always morally objectionable, because a young human must be destroyed in order to harvest his or her stem cells
- Embryonic Germ Cells (pluripotent stem cells derived from germ cells [sperm or egg-producing cells] of fetuses) — morally objectionable when utilizing cells derived from elective abortions, but morally acceptable when utilizing cells from spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) if the parents give informed consent
- Adult Germ Cells (pluripotent stem cells derived from testicular biopsy) – morally acceptable, assuming informed consent of the adult donor
- Umbilical Cord Stem Cells — morally acceptable, since the umbilical cord is no longer required once a baby has been delivered
- Placentally-derived Stem Cells — morally acceptable, since the afterbirth is no longer required once a baby has been delivered
- Post-Natally Derived (Adult) Stem Cells (e.g. stem cells from bone marrow or blood or fat from liposuction) — morally acceptable, assuming informed consent from the adult donor
- De-Differentiation Strategies (pluripotent stem cells derived from treating adult cells with chemicals or other bio-active substances to “back-differentiate” them towards a more primitive state) — morally acceptable as long as the de-differentiation procedure doesn’t go so far as to make a human embryo
- Reprogramming Strategies (pluripotent stem cells derived using a modified nuclear transfer technique, for example ANT-OAR) — morally acceptable as long as the reprogramming generates a distinctly non-embryonic entity, that is to say, a cell or group of cells that is not an organism, from which stem cells could be obtained.
Educational Materials on Church Teaching
Respect Life Programs
Cure Without Cloning
Respect Life 101
Stem Cells & Human Cloning: Presentation / Facilitator Notes
USCCB: Stem Cell Research
USCCB: Adult Stem Cells
USCCB: Embryonic Stem Cells
USCCB: Human Cloning
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): Respect for Human Life
Leadership & Volunteer Opportunities
If you or your organization has expertise or an interest in the topic of stem cell research and human cloning, or if you would like to learn how you can assist in the life-saving work of the Respect Life Office by becoming a resource for information on the Church's teaching on stem cell research and human cloning, please contact us.