Stem Cell Research: Why the Vatican Agreed to Pay for It

Cynthia Dermody

stem cell
Flickr photo by vivere libero
When I hear the word stem cell research, I run for cover, because I know there's going to be a fight. This is one of those very complicated issues infused with emotion, morality, ethics, politics ... which means it's just a big mess.

But this week, some news came out that may actually bring a lot of the adversaries, including the Catholic church and a segment of the medical research community, to the same side of the table.

The Vatican is actually paying for the research.

Earlier this week. the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced that the Vatican will provide $2.7 million in funding for adult stem cell research. Yes, no embryos, which is why the Catholics are on board with this. Thrilled, actually.

Researchers believe stem cells are the key to curing some of the world's worst diseases, like diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. They especially love embryonic stem cells -- those mostly harvested from leftover live embryos at fertility clinics -- because these are essentially blank biological slates that can be programmed to develop into any type of cell in the body.

Therein lies the crux of the controversy, of course. Is an embryo a human being or a piece of property?

Some say there are more limitations with adult stem cells. First of all, they're not easily found in all parts of the adult human body, and doctors can only use them to develop specific products or treatments based on the part of the body they come from. There's a benefit to this when you consider that cells harvested from one's own body allow more tailored treatments and less chance of rejection. That's the gist behind those cord blood bank services that start calling you when they learn you're pregnant.

For instance, first up in the Baltimore study -- harvesting stem cells from the intestinal tract to try to find a cure for Celiac disease.

No matter how you feel about this issue, you have to admit that it's a start, but one I fear will never really have a mutually accepted happy ending.

Do you agree with embryonic stem cell research, or should more funding be put into the use of adult stem cells?

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