PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — Cells taken from embryos hold therapeutic promise, but it is simply wrong to destroy human life in its early stages.
That’s the opinion of the chief stem-cell researcher at a medical school hospital in what some would say is one of the nation’s most liberal cities.
Dr. Markus Grompe, director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Stem Cell Center since 2004, is a devout Catholic and a member of St. John Fisher Parish in Portland.
"I support the church’s view on protection of embryonic life," Grompe told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland archdiocesan newspaper, in an interview in his office at the hospital. "That has sometimes put me in a difficult situation."
Grompe is looking forward to the day when a method is discovered to provide embryonic stem cells — or their equal — without destroying embryos. But for now, his lab works with cells taken from adults, and he is keen on those advances.
Grompe and his team are devising a way to repair diseased livers by injecting adult stem cells into the organs. The work has a special focus on children with genetic liver disorders. The method, which would nix the need for liver transplants, has worked in lab animals.
"There is a lot in favor of embryonic stem cells," said Grompe, a German citizen who studied at the University of Ulm in southern Germany. "But we need to make a choice based on ethics." He said the colleagues who disagree with him are not evil, but want to advance medicine.
The German-born Grompe has been active on the international level in the stem-cell debate. In April 2006, he went to the Vatican and addressed the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Grompe allows that the question of the therapeutic use of embryonic stem cells is still open. But he insists that embryonic cells are likely to lead to a therapy that adult cells cannot reach.
"What makes embryonic stem cells so different is that they can be grown to unlimited quantities," he said. "You can make a lot of what you need to make and you can do it again and again. Adult stem cells don’t do that."
That potential makes the Catholic stand all the more difficult yet necessary, he said. "As Catholics, we need to stick to the facts and the truth. The reason we object to embryonic stem-cell research is not because the cells are not good or the adult cells are better. The real reason is that we have moral and ethical objections. We have to stick to our guns. Just because a medical procedure is immoral doesn’t mean it will not work."
This is an important point to make. Right now there is a lot of effort in the pro-life movement used in debunking ESCR because of the lack so far of actual cures. The main point should be that it is simply wrong to use a human person in experiments. Though you can easily understand by the ineffectiveness of ESCR so far has been much touted since it is an easy point to make. Much harder in the current culture to speak of the personhood of the human embryo. It is quite unlikely that in a sound bite society that arguments made by Peter Kreeft in his excellent article Human Personhood Begins at Conception are likely to be heard.
The January issue had a real good view of the science of ESCR and the fact that the morality of it goes beyond killing embryos for research and that it involved serious health risks to women who donate eggs for this research.