Q. I have a child with Type 1 diabetes. Currently there is some research being done toward a cure for this disease, but it involves embryonic stem cells. Should I refuse to hope for a cure that comes through this method? And if a cure does happen to come from this research, am I barred from using it for my child? (Yorktown, Virginia)
A. I certainly understand your deep concern for your child’s health and your strong desire to do everything morally permissible to help. The Catholic Church is sometimes portrayed as opposing all stem-cell research. That is incorrect. What the church opposes is the particular type of research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
As the Vatican indicated in No. 32 of “Dignitas Personae,” a 2008 document “On the Dignity of the Human Person,” the destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.
The church, on the other hand, does strongly support research using adult stem cells. In fact, the Vatican in 2013 hosted a conference of medical experts to promote that research.
I have seen no reports to date of any lasting and verifiable cures from the use of embryonic cells. However, stem cells from adult tissue and from umbilical cord blood are already providing healing treatment, particularly for victims of strokes and vascular disease.
So I would think that your stronger hope for a cure for diabetes might lie in the type of research that is morally permitted and encouraged by the church.
As for your hypothetical question, whether you might morally use a cure discovered from embryonic research, I have not yet seen a definitive answer to that from Catholic moralists, but I think that I can deduce one.
In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a study regarding the use of vaccines derived from aborted human fetuses. The academy felt that the use of such vaccines was permissible but only in the absence of ethical alternatives. However — and this is probably a telling difference — the academy noted that those particular fetuses had been killed for reasons entirely unrelated to the production of vaccines, and so the nexus is remote.
By contrast, embryonic stem-cell research involves the ongoing destruction of human embryos for the very purpose of medical research. So it seems to me that the use of the fruits of such research would not be morally permissible, since it would offer tacit support to such harmful experimentation.
Q. My “good Catholic” neighbor — a devoted congregant entrusted with a key to her parish church, a nursing home volunteer, a member of Bible study classes (and a helpful neighbor to me) — insists that all Muslims are jihadists.
When I tried to tell her that the only two Muslims I’ve known were good people (and that not all Muslims are terrorists, anymore than all priests are pedophiles), she was vehemently dismissive. I would like you to tell me if her belief is that of the Catholic Church or if she more likely developed it from watching Fox News. (City of origin withheld)
A. You should introduce your “good Catholic” neighbor to the insights of Pope Francis. In his 2013 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he very clearly stated the following in No. 253: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence.”
In November 2014, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about the violence against Shiite Muslims and Christians in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State. He said once more that it was wrong to equate Islam itself with violence, called the action of ISIS “a profoundly grave sin against God” and invited Muslim leaders to issue a global condemnation of terrorism to help dispel the stereotype.