NEW YORK, OCT. 22, 2004 ( The Holy See alerted the U.N. of the danger of hindering promising research in adult stem cells by diverting attention to the cloning of human beings as a source of embryonic stem cells.

The warning came from Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, when addressing the 6th Committee of the general assembly on Thursday on the topic of the "International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings."

Despite the title, since the question was posed, the objective has been to find "a juridical framework that would allow and accelerate the advancement of medical science in the procurement and use of stem cells, and to identify and ban practices that would be disrespectful to human dignity," the prelate reminded his audience.

"There are two potential sources of stem cells for human research": "adult stem cells, which are derived from the umbilical cord blood, the bone marrow, and other tissues" and embryonic stem cells, which are obtained by the disaggregation of human embryos," explained a Holy See document on human cloning, dated Sept. 27, prepared in view of the 6th Committee's debate.

Archbishop Migliore said that from "a purely scientific point of view, the therapeutic progress already achieved with so-called adult stem cells" is "very promising."

Because "[t]he unexpected plasticity of adult stem cells has made it possible to use this type of of undifferentiated, self-renewing cell successfully for the healing of various human tissues and organs, particularly in hearts damaged after myocardial infarction," explains the Holy See document.

Moreover, "it is universally agreed that the use of adult stem cells does not entail any ethical problems," and the Holy See "applauds and encourages" such research, which "is completely compatible with respect for the dignity of human beings," the document states.

"The multiple therapeutic achievements that have been demonstrated using adult stem cells, and the promise they hold for other diseases, such as neurodegenerative disorders or diabetes, make efforts to support this fruitful avenue of investigation an urgent matter," it specifies.

"By contrast, research using human embryonic stem cells has been hampered by important technical difficulties," experiments carried out on these cells have not been successful, not even in animals, and could cause cancer, the document continues.

"Technical problems aside, the need to extract these cells from living human embryos raises ethical questions of the highest order," the document stresses.

"The Holy See opposes the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in order to harvest their stem cells, even for a noble purpose, because it is inconsistent with the ground and motive of human biomedical research, that is, respect for the dignity of human beings. And this process, moreover, makes "one human life nothing more than the instrument of another," Archbishop Migliore added.

Therefore, the prelate said that "[i]f adult stem cell research has already demonstrated conditions for success and raises no ethical questions, it is only reasonable that it should be pursued before science embarks on cloning embryos as a source for stem cells, something that remains problematic both scientifically and ethically," he stressed.

"Does this mean that we are opposed to scientific progress? Rather, we would say that the choice is not between science and ethics, but between science that is ethically responsible and science that is not," he added.

"The danger is that this progress toward cures will be halted or slowed down by the diversion of attention and resources towards the cloning of human beings as a potential source of stem cells," alerted Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

The prelate also emphasized that "the distinction that is sometimes drawn between reproductive and therapeutic cloning seems specious. Both involve the same technical cloning process and differ only in goal. Both forms of cloning involve disrespect for the dignity of the human being."

"Further, given the fact that cloned embryos would be indistinguishable from embryos created by in vitro fertilization and could readily be implanted into wombs and brought to birth, we believe it would be practically impossible to enforce an instrument that allowed one type of cloning while banning another," he stressed.

Given that the question of the cloning of human embryos knows no boundaries, "and that this particular scientific pursuit concerns the nature and existence of human life itself," Archbishop Migliore agreed that a "supra-national" body "has the scope to encompass the full breadth of this issue. This matter -- of vital interest to the human race today and in the future -- properly belongs here in this universal body," he said to the committee and the general assembly.

Moreover, "the subject of human embryonic cloning can best be addressed by a juridical instrument, since the rule of law is essential to the promotion and protection of human life. It is by the rule of law, based on right reason, that societies can properly regulate whatever appears to challenge our fundamental notions of human life and dignity" Archbishop Migliore pointed out.

Therefore, "the Holy See remains convinced of the wisdom of an international juridical instrument that comprehensively bans human embryonic cloning," the Archbishop said.