Stem cell, cloning not that complex, advisor says
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Patrick Morris' birth-defective heart stopped beating when he was just 13 months old. His twin brother Michael celebrated his ninth birthday last summer.
Their father, John Morris, knows the pain of the parents of chronically ill children. He understands well how they would cling to what he calls the "science fiction" of embryonic stem-cell research as the key to the cure of a wide array of diseases and injuries.
He even winces after testifying before government bodies or engaging in public debate in opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and its companion issue, human cloning, when a parent approaches him to say, "If you had a child who was sick, you wouldn't be saying these things."
But for Morris, who was recently appointed as special advisor to Bishop Raymond J. Boland and Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn as the issue heats up in the Missouri General Assembly, the issues are neither complex nor impersonal.
"We didn't say, 'Michael's got a heart. Let's give it to Patrick,'" said Morris, associate professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University.
That is the line that human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research crosses - the creation of human life for the purpose of destroying it to harvest parts for medical research into "cures" that may never come about, Morris said.
Senate Bill 160, which would ban human cloning in Missouri, made it out of the Senate Judiciary and Civil & Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Feb. 14 and will be debated by the full Missouri Senate in a matter of weeks.
If approved, it will be sent to the Missouri House of Representatives where its fate is uncertain at best. With newly elected Gov. Matt Blunt publicly opposing the bill, proponents including the Missouri Catholic Conference fear that it could be bottled up by procedural rules and never advanced to full debate.
Morris said Catholics can play a vital role if they will educate themselves about cloning and embryonic stem-cell research and contact their state representatives with a firm and clear message that deliberately taking life to save life is wrong.
To that purpose, Morris is conducting a series of workshops in parishes throughout the diocese.
Morris said he has been gratified by the response to workshops he has already given, which are designed to break the confusion and mystery that often surrounds the debate that is often masked in scientific jargon.
He said that through the scientific arguments that can make eyes glaze over, three "sound bites" have emerged from proponents of embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning to produce embryonic stem cells:
Embryonic stem-cell research holds not only a key, but the only key to cures for nearly every chronic illness and injury, from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's to spinal cord paralysis.
Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research are uneducated about the issue and oppose further research strictly on religious grounds.
Millions, if not billions, of dollars in economic activity will flow into regions that support embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning.
None of that is true, Morris said. In fact, he calls it, "science fiction."
Embryonic stem-cell research isn't new, he said. It has been conducted on laboratory animals for more than 25 years, he said.
"In 25 years, they haven't come anywhere close to anything that will bring it out of the lab," he said. "They haven't done anything in their studies with animals to warrant bringing it to the human level."
Meanwhile, there have been positive results shown in adult stem-cell research which have not garnered near the publicity as the research into stem cells harvested from embryos.
Morris said that stem cells are present in everybody and in every body. Leafing through stacks of three-ring binders in which he collects the latest studies on both embryonic and adult stem-cell research, Morris cites several examples in which adult stem cells have been harvested from a patient's own body and transplanted to regenerate diseased cells in another part.
In fact, researchers at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston published a study in the Feb. 1 Journal of Clinical Investigation in which they successfully regenerated diseased heart tissues in laboratory rats using stem cells harvested from human bone marrow.
He also cited the case of Dr. Dennis Turner, a California man whose symptoms from Parkinson's disease were reversed by 83 percent after he underwent a procedure to transplant his own stem cells harvested from his own spinal cord to repair damaged brain cells.