“I am convinced that the true measure of the greatness of a society is not in terms of its gross national product or its military might, but will always be in terms of how it treats its weakest members,” bioethicist Fr. Tad Pacholczyk told the students and faculty of Christendom College during a talk delivered on January 30. Part of the college’s Major Speakers Program, the talk clarified much of the confusion surrounding embryonic stem (ES) cell research and how the research violates natural law.
Fr. Pacholczyk, who earned his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Yale University, explained that all ES cell research destroys human embryos. Due to the apparent flexibility of ES cells, the mainstream media and celebrities have been outspoken in their support of the research, but it has yielded no practical medical applications.
“As a former embryo myself, I have strong objections to how embryos are being treated,” he quipped.
He noted that very little is heard about adult stem cells that are extracted ethically from sources such as the umbilical chord, placenta, amniotic fluid, bone marrow, liposuction fat cells, olfactory tissue, and cadavers. Research using these stem cells has been very successful in the treatment of ailments like leukemia, spinal injuries, and immune system deficiencies, he said.
The Director of Education for The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Fr. Pacholczyk listed ten types of stem cells and said that nine out of the ten types could be extracted and researched ethically according to the Catholic Church.
“Most forms of stem cell research are ethical,” he said. “It is only a very narrow slice of the pie that raises moral objections.”
Showing a magnified picture of an embryo on the tip of a sewing needle, he said that you should not be asking yourself how small it is.
“What you should ask yourself is: ‘Isn’t this exactly what a young human is supposed to look like?’ And once you grasp that, then we have the foundation for a meaningful ethical discussion,” he said.
Fr. Pacholczyk described the work of Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, Japan, who discovered the Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Yamanaka created a cell with the same properties of an ES cell by inserting a virus into an adult skin cell. Yamanaka was inspired to achieve this breakthrough in stem cell research due to a personal encounter with an embryo. While visiting an ES cell research facility, Yamanaka viewed an embryo in a microscope. Fr. Pacholczyk related what Yamanaka said of that experience:
“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized that there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
Fr. Pacholczyk cited Yamanaka’s experience as an example of how one does not need religious revelation in order to see the problem.
“The natural law is sufficient to understand that there is a profound ethical violation in place here,” he said.
Fr. Pacholczyk also informed students and faculty of a 1940 federal law that protected the bald eagle and its egg, giving equal ramifications to the harming of both the bird and the egg.
“If these animals are valuable for the purposes of preservation, you’re going to see that you safeguard them at all stages of their life cycle—from the very beginning to very end,” Fr. Pacholczyk said. “What is so special about that egg? What is inside that egg? It is an embryonic eagle—the very same creature that soars through the air. Even a perfect and resolute atheist can appreciate the reasonableness and cogency of a federal law like that. And yet sadly—and strangely—the moment we begin to talk about our own embryonic origins we go through all these mental connections and somersaults to try to convince ourselves that we never were embryos—or whatever the false argument is—trying to justify the unjustifiable.”
A DVD of Fr. Pacholczyk insightful presentation can be purchased through the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s website.
Christendom College’s Major Speakers Program is an important aspect of the academic life at the College, offering the students and community an opportunity for cultural, intellectual, and spiritual enrichment beyond the classroom. The program offers students the opportunity to gain greater insights and depth of understanding of important issues, and to interact personally with a wide range of men and women who are shapers and critics of our society.