MANILA, Oct. 22, 2013—In light of the moral and ethical debates pertaining to the limitations of science and technology in aiding humanity, the incoming president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) denounced certain stem cell procedures that pose threats to the sanctity of human life.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas blasted stem cell therapy that uses cells derived from human embryos or aborted fetuses, noting that this kind of treatment “abets directly or indirectly the practice of abortion.”
“Stem cell research and therapies that use stem cells derived from human embryos or aborted fetuses should be rejected and prohibited,” Villegas said in a statement addressed to the Union of Catholic Physicians in his archdiocese, who sought for pastoral guidance over the matter.
“It is not only morally objectionable, it is morally repugnant as the use of human embryo means killing a human being in order to save another human being,” he added.
Villegas stressed the teachings of the Catholic Church, pointing that “a human embryo or fertilized ovum is a (complete) human being although in its primitive form.”
“Such human being or entity is irreplaceable and is always an end in himself. Killing an embryo in any of its stage of development is killing a human being. This makes it morally repugnant,” he said.
Scientists and medical experts must also observe caution in doing stem cell research and therapies that use “plant cells, animal cells, and genetically modified human stem cells,” Villegas said, adding that rigorous scientific verification and authorization from proper authorities must be acquired to ensure the safety of the public from such procedures.
Not against stem cell
Villegas clarified that the church is not against stem cell therapy in general, emphasizing that the church recognizes its potential “to contribute to human flourishing through the development of treatments for debilitating and fatal diseases.”
“Generally, there is nothing that is morally objectionable with cell therapy,” he said. “As in all applications of science, the Church believes that stem research and the therapies that result from them should be guided by ethical norms to ensure that harm to human beings be avoided at every stage of life and that the formation of a just and compassionate society for all be fostered.”
“While the development of effective stem cell therapies is still an on-going process, the urgent desire of many persons to undergo such therapies for serious medical conditions has led to situations where selfish and misguided interests have exposed vulnerable persons to exploitation and potential health hazards,” he added.
Despite the hazards present in certain stem cell treatments, the prelate said that “the use of adult human stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cord blood are acceptable as long as they are proven safe and are approved by regulating bodies.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that three politicians died after undergoing stem cell treatment in Germany. The Philippine Medical Association had already issued a warning against “xenogenic” (animal-based) stem cell therapy last June.
Understanding clinical trials
Villegas also said that clinical research trials must be understood in the proper context, noting that the protection of persons from harm and exploitation must prevail over the advancement of scientific research.
“Clinical research trials are intended to gather scientific data for developing future stem cell therapies. These trials do not guarantee cures and carry greater risks to participants than approved therapeutic treatments,” he said.
“Participation in these trials is voluntary and must not require payment. To charge payment is a violation of research ethics and an exploitation of research subjects,” he added.
The prelate also called on medical and government authorities to be vigilant against “misrepresented, unapproved, and unregulated stem cell research and therapies” to ensure the safety of the public.
Noting the high cost of stem cell procedures, Villegas urged medical professionals and patients of the treatment to be more sensitive to the plight of the poor who have limited, if not none at all, access to basic health care.
“Those who provide or procure expensive stem cell therapies cannot remain indifferent to the lack of basic health care among the poor. We deplore the lack of basic health services for the poor in government institutions,” he said.
“Vaccinations and basic health care facilities are hardly accorded to almost eight million Filipinos. We cannot allow the high cost of stem cell therapies to blind us to the cry of the sick and the poor,” he added.
He also urged the faithful to shun greed as manifested by the worsening commercialization of health services.
“While the restoration of health, alleviation of suffering, and prolongation of life are legitimate human pursuits, the fostering of an individualistic and market-driven system of health care hinders the formation of a society based on compassion and mutual care,” he said.
“In the spirit of solidarity and justice, those who benefit from stem cell therapies whether as medical practitioners or clients should also actively and concretely contribute to improving the health care of persons who are least in society,” Villegas added. (Jennifer Orillaza)