Stem Cell Research

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Stem cells are cells that retain the ability to renew themselves through cell division and they can also differentiate into a wide range of specialized cell types. Stem cells can be divided into three main categories:

1.    Embryonic stem cells
2.    Adult stem cells
3.    Cord blood stem cells

Recent research has also suggested that amniotic fluid could yield another possible source of stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are taken from human embryos; adult stem cells are taken from various parts of the human body and cord blood stem cells are taken from human umbilical cords. Adult stem cells have been highly successful in treating disease and disability, which is why there is such medical and scientific interest in treatments that use stem cells.

Why is there such heated debate about this issue?

Therapies and research that use embryonic stem cells require the destruction of living human embryos, and despite more than a decade of research and experimentation embryonic stem cells have produced no positive results in the treatment of disease or disability.

Because embryonic stem cell research and therapies necessitate the destruction of human life they are considered gravely immoral and unethical.

Is all stem cell research immoral?

Adult and cord blood stem cell therapies, and research, provide a completely ethical and morally acceptable alternative to embryonic stem cell use.

Neither of these two sources requires the destruction of human life.

Adult stem cell therapies have also proven to be highly successful in treating disease and disability. So far approx. 72 diseases and disabilities have been treated successfully using adult stem cells.

Here are just some of the 72 diseases and disabilities that have so far been treated successfully with adult stem cell therapies:

Brain Cancer
Ovarian Cancer
Testicular Cancer
Breast Cancer
Different types of Leukemia
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Chronic Coronary Artery Disease
Parkinson’s Disease
Stroke Damage
Various types of Anemia
Limb Gangrene
Spinal Cord Injury

Remember, this list is just SOME of the approx. 72 diseases and disabilities that have already been treated successfully with adult stem cells. At the same time; there are no diseases, disorders or disabilities that have been successfully treated with embryonic stem cell treatments despite more than a decade of research and trials.

Is an embryo a human person?
Scientifically speaking the human embryo is created when two human gametes (a sperm and an ovum) combine during the process known as fertilisation.

Once a male gamete has joined with a female gamete something completely new, which did not exist before, has come into existence and that newly created embryo has completely different powers and potentials that neither of the gametes had before conception.

From the moment of conception the human zygote has its own unique DNA, which means that it is more than just a group of random cells or an extension of the gametes it derived from.

It is now a completely new and growing human life.

Such a dramatic change, and creation of something new that was not present before, is never seen again during any of the pre-birth stages of human development.

The newly created human embryo is completely different to the two gametes from which it came, as it has new potentials and powers that neither of the gametes ever possessed.

All things being equal, we know that if the newly created human embryo is left to itself it will continue to grow and develop until nine months later it is being delivered as a new born baby. This is something that a human gamete can never achieve, and it is certainly well beyond the powers of inanimate or non-living things.

This fact also shows that a newly conceived embryo is not just a random grouping of cells, because a random group of cells can never develop and grow to the point of birth. Only a living entity can grow for nine months until it is ready to be born.

A human embryo must be a human person, because it is only a human person that has the ability to grow into a thinking, speaking and philosophising adult. A lifeless non-human group of cells can never achieve such greatness and neither can the individual gametes, or any other thing, that is not a human person. A human embryo possesses all of these powers. A human embryo must be a human person because only a human person possesses and develops into such abilities.

As we have already stated; all of us were once human embryos, which means that all of us have a common beginning, without which we would not be here. A human being cannot bypass the human embryo stage of development, because without the embryo stage of development you cannot exist. You cannot be a human infant, adolescent or adult without first being a human embryo. This clearly shows that the embryo stage of development is an integral and inescapable part of what it means to be a human being.

A newly created human embryo can never develop into anything other than a human infant, adolescent or adult, so therefore it cannot be anything other than a human person.

The human embryo is clearly a newly created human person that is living and growing through the first stages of the journey of human personhood.

If a cure for a deadly disease is one day discovered, then why shouldn’t we be able to destroy embryos for such a good outcome?
Science must always be subservient to moral and ethical concerns, not the other way round.

What were to happen if one day we discovered that cancer could be cured with special cells found only in the bodies of four year old children, but harvesting those cells resulted in the death of those children? Would we think that killing four year old children would a worthwhile price to pay to cure cancer?

I doubt any sane and rational human being would think that such an action was acceptable, yet we are paying the price of human life everytime we destroy a human embryo for embryonic stem cell research.

We have presented the evidence which clearly shows that human life begins at the moment of fertilisation, and to any thinking person any action which would destroy, harm or expose a growing human embryo to unnecessary risk must be considered gravely immoral and highly unethical.

The sanctity of human life must always come before the desire for new technologies, scientific advances or promised disease cures.

Despite more than a decade of research using embryonic stem cells, there have been zero positive results, and the research continues to show very little promise of yielding any positive results in regards to disease cures. Why should innocent human life be sacrificed for such scientific fool’s gold? Especially when one considers that there are other alternative sources of stem cells, such as adult stem cells, umbilical cord stem cells, and recent research is even suggesting that amniotic fluid could also yield stem cells.

All of the aforementioned sources of stem cells are morally and ethically acceptable as they do not require destruction, harm or disproportionate risk to human life. Not only that, but adult stem cells are producing far more positive results than any embryonic stem cell research has ever yielded. At last count there are approximately 72 diseases that are being successfully treated with adult stem cells.

Taking this into consideration; surely spending money on fruitless embryonic stem cell research must be considered immoral, or at the very least; financially irresponsible.

Research which harms or destroys human embryos is not good for humanity, and it can only lead us further away from what it means to be truly human. If we are not prepared to give the most vulnerable and defenceless members of our human family the right to life then how can we claim to be doing anything good for humanity?

There are some costs that are too high, and there are some prices that should not be paid; allowing the destruction of human embryos is one of them.

Recommended Reading:

Family Life International Submission on research using embryos

This twelve page submission, which was originally submitted to the New Zealand government in 2007, uses scientific and natural law arguments to explain the problems with embryonic stem cell research.

What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells
This 2007 article by Maureen L. Condic, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, explains recent developments.

Catholic Church Teaching:

Respect for Human Life (“Donum Vitae”)

The Catholic teaching document on human embryos, and embryo related medical and scientific issues.
Issued by the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 22 February 1987