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LIFE-RESEARCH Aug-16-2004 (930 words) xxxn

Expert on stem cells exhorts Catholics to understand issue

By Jean M. Schildz
Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- People in the pews really need to understand the issue of stem-cell research, especially in light of the upcoming presidential election, said a nationally respected neuroscientist and theologian.

Stem-cell expert Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk spoke to Catholic pro-life officials gathered in St. Louis Aug. 6.

He said the debate on such research and the closely related issue of cloning is not just national in scope but international as the United Nations now faces again the question of whether to ban all types of human cloning.

"To have an informed debate," the priest said, "people need to be aware of what the real parameters of the discussion are: What is a human embryo? What is cloning? What are stem cells, and where do you get them from? And what's the price that's going to be paid if we take stem cells from certain sources like living, growing human embryos?"

Father Pacholczyk said later in an interview the claim that embryonic stem-cell research shows the greatest promise for curing disease "is vastly oversold." The number of those cured by use of such cells is "exactly zero," the priest said. He noted that "the true cures are coming from adult and umbilical cord stem cells."

Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger in the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, are on opposite sides of the debate. Kerry has vowed to lift restrictions on stem-cell research instituted by Bush on Aug. 9, 2001. Bush restricted the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research to cell lines that existed at that time.

Father Pacholczyk holds a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale University and has conducted postdoctoral research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He completed advanced studies in Rome in theology and bioethics.

Now director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center's new office in Philadelphia, Father Pacholczyk has served as a national spokesman on stem-cell research and presented congressional testimony.

The Fall River, Mass., diocesan priest was in St. Louis to meet with about 100 pro-life directors and state Catholic conference directors at their annual conference, sponsored by the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

Father Pacholczyk spoke on his "10 great myths" in the debate over stem-cell research. He also highlighted successes and medical benefits of adult and nonembryonic stem-cell research.

The priest noted the Catholic Church supports three of four types of stem-cell research, opposing only the use of embryonic stem cells.

Reiterating that point in a later interview with the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper, he said, "The Catholic Church vigorously supports healing. She runs the biggest network of hospitals in the world. She believes in healing, she promotes healing, but always in a manner that respects true human dignity, without violating that dignity in order to achieve a cure.

"And embryonic stem-cell research represents a step where you violate human dignity in order to get what you want in the end -- a possible cure. And that decision to violate the embryo is intrinsically objectionable, always," he added.

Father Pacholczyk charged the secular media with doing a poor job of reporting clearly the facts on these issues. He singled out two of the 10 myths he debunked earlier as "really critical that people understand."

The first myth, he said, is that embryonic stem-cell research shows the greatest promise. In reality, "the stress on the destruction of embryos as a way to bring about medical cures and miracles is vastly oversold. ... The true cures are not coming from destroying embryos. The true cures are coming from adult and umbilical cord stem cells. And people need to realize that.

"That's the exciting science that works today, and we don't have to wait 10 years or 20 years and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a project that may fizzle," he added. "We have cures that work today."

Adult stem cells, he said, have existed and been in use for years, if not decades. "So literally tens of thousands of people have already been cured of various ailments and treated for various disorders with adult stem cells," he said.

"And if you asked the question how many people have been cured of any disease using stem cells from embryos, the answer is exactly zero," said Father Pacholczyk. "Nobody has ever been cured of any disease yet."

The priest predicted that if and when that were to occur the secular media "will trumpet it on the front pages and say that this is the greatest thing to happen in a hundred years or the likes. But in point of fact the cures are already happening with the non-morally objectionable sources of stem cells."

Another key myth he said the public is being sold is the claim that therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning are fundamentally different from one another.

When you hear people argue that there's a difference between the two kinds of cloning, "that is a smoke screen," the priest said.

"Those two types of cloning do not differ from each other in the way that you make the cloned embryo. They're exactly the same."

As he noted in his talk, "The creation of cloned embryos either to make a baby or to harvest cells occurs by the same series of technical steps. The only difference is what will be done with the cloned human embryo that is produced: Will it be given the protection of a woman's womb in order to be born, or will it be destroyed for its stem cells?"


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