Stem Cell Basics: Facts and Myths


Myth #1 Stem cells can only come from embryos.

Fact—Stem cells can be taken from umbilical cords, the placenta, amniotic fluid, adult tissues and organs such as bone marrow, fat from liposuction, regions of the nose and even cadavers up to 20 hours after death.

Myth #2 The Catholic Church/and Christians in general are against stem cell use and research.

Fact—There are four categories of stem cells. 1) embryonic stem cells; 2) embryonic germ cells; 3) umbilical cord stem cells; 4) adult stem cells. Since embryonic germ cells can come from miscarriages where no deliberate interruption of pregnancy occurs, three of the four categories (2, 3 & 4) are potentially morally acceptable and the church vigorously encourages research in these areas.

Myth #3 Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC) has the greatest promise.

Fact-Up to now, no human being has been cured of any disease using ESC. Adult Stem Cells (ASC) have cured thousands and are responsible for treating or curing nearly 100 different types of diseases.

Myth #4 Embryonic Stem Cell research is against the law.

Fact—There is no law or regulation against destroying human embryos for research purposes. In Aug. 2001, Pres. Bush banned the use of federal funding to support ESC lines created after this time, it is not illegal. Anyone using private funds is free to pursue it.

Myth #5 Pres. Bush created new restrictions to federal funding of ESC research.

Fact—Bush’s decision to permit research on ESC lines created before Aug. 2001 actually relaxes a 1996 prohibition (The Dickey Amendment) on using federal funds for research in this area.

Myth #6 Therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning are fundamentally different.

Fact—The creation of cloned embryos, either to make a baby or to harvest cells, occurs by the same series of technical steps. The only difference is what will be done with the cloned embryo—will it be implanted into a woman’s womb to be born (for spare parts or other uses) or destroyed for its stem cells?

Myth #7 Cloning and a scientific term called “Somatic nuclear cell transfer” (SNCT) are different.

Fact—They are the same thing. SNCT is cloning by a different name. The end result is a cloned embryo.

Myth #8 Using SNCT produces tissues or organs without creating an embryo.

Fact—Currently, scientists are unable to bypass the creation of an embryo. If this was possible, and it may be in the future, there would be no fundamental moral objection to deriving tissues or organs this way.

Myth #9 Every body cell or somatic cell is somehow an embryo and a human life.

Fact—There is a basic biological difference between a regular body cell and one whose nuclear material has been fused with an unfertilized egg cell, resulting in an embryo.  Only embryos are potential adults. Skins cells, for example, are only potentially more skin cells.

Myth #10  Since frozen embryos may one day be thrown away, that makes it viable, even laudable, to violate or destroy those embryos.

Fact—Due to the unfortunate circumstance that these human beings are trapped in liquid nitrogen through no fault of their own does not make it morally acceptable to exploit them by harvesting them for their stem cells.

Tad. Bio— Rev. Pacholczyk earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Yale University, did postdoctoral research at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and advanced work at the Gregorian University in Rome in the areas of dogmatic theology and bioethics, where he earned two more degrees. Rev. Pacholczyk is a Catholic priest and is currently the Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in Philadelphia.

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