On the condition that the work does not involve human embryos, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the Roman Catholic Church’s support for stem-cell research.
Adult stem cells exist in tiny numbers within developed organs. This was the topic of discussion at a conference at Rome’s La Sapienza University on research into the treatment of heart disease with so-called adult stem cells. The pontiff directed his comments at delegates attending the conference as he held his traditional weekly general audience at the Vatican.
The use of embryonic stem cells is controversial because harvesting the cells involves the destruction of a human embryo. The cells are created shortly after conception.
The church’s position is “clear,” the German-born pope said. “Scientific research should be rightly encouraged and promoted as long as it doesn’t hurt human beings whose dignity is inviolable from the very first stages of existence,” he said.
Based on a conviction that an embryo is a human being from conception and therefore its life cannot be interrupted, the church’s objections to embryonic stem-cell research are the same as its arguments against abortion.
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, outlined the Vatican’s position in a 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” saying, “Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and are subjects with rights; their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable `biological material.”