In the National Post article "Moratorium urged on use of 'fresh' embryos" (September 13, 2005), two of Canada's "leading ethicists" express shock because a Toronto clinic is using never-frozen embryos to harvest stem cells. The ethicists ask for an end to this practice because fresh embryos are "very precious."
The ethicists are rightly concerned about the life and health of the mother. As the article notes, the process of in vitro fertilization is "invasive and potentially harmful" for the mother, who must take fertility drugs and then have her eggs extracted to prepare for the procedure. The ethicists believe that fresh embryos should be frozen and kept for future reproductive use; thus, the mother will be able to avoid further hormonal treatments and egg extraction procedures.
However, with respect to the embryo it is not more ethical to harvest stem cells from a frozen embryo than from a fresh embryo. It is also not more ethical to harvest cells from an embryo that will be discarded anyway than from an embryo that could be used for reproduction. The morality of killing a human embryo cannot be measured by the future utility of the embryo to the mother or to society. Instead, the immorality of killing either a fresh or frozen human embryo rests in the inherent worth and dignity of each human life.
All human embryos are living human beings. Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, the founder of modern genetics, declared that "from the moment of fertilization, that is from the earliest moment of biologic existence, the developing human being is alive, and entirely distinct from the mother who provides nourishment and protection." This is also the teaching of the Catholic Church (Donum Vitae, Evangelium Vitae).
Since stem cell extraction always kills the human embryo, we call on the Canadian government, and on all Canadians, to stop the practice of human embryonic stem cell research altogether. As a human being, the embryo has the same fundamental rights as all other human beings. This includes the right to life. It is never ethical to destroy the life of an innocent human being. Each person must be respected for himself, not reduced in worth to an instrument for the benefit of others.
Embryonic stem cell research simply diverts funds that could be used more helpfully for adult stem cell research. Adult stem cells have already cured tens of thousands of patients with a variety of conditions, and have started to be used successfully to heal blood disorders, leukemia, lymphoma, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other diseases. Adult stem cells can be harvested in morally acceptable ways from various human tissues, including the placenta, which is rich in stem cells and can be stored for up to 13 years. We encourage science to focus more on adult stem cell research, where the real potential for cures and therapies has been shown to lie and which would avoid killing innocent human life.