Conference: Stem-Cell Debate Pits Life Against Life

Robert George Warns of Embryo-Destroying Research

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By Robert F. Conkling

BALTIMORE, Maryland, OCT. 20, 2008 ( The debate surrounding embryo-destroying stem-cell research is essentially one of the rightness of killing one person for the benefit of another, says Princeton professor Robert George.

George said this during the closing keynote address at the Catholic Medical Association’s 77th Annual Education Conference on the applications of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body to the practice of medicine.

Some 306 physicians and 18 medical students gathered Oct. 9-12 in Baltimore, Maryland, to reflect on «Theology of the Body: Modern Challenges to Health, Conscience, and Human Dignity.»

The annual conference, held under the patronage of wife, mother and Catholic physician St. Gianna Beretta Molla, opened with a Mass presided over by Cardinal William Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who currently leads the see of Baltimore, presided over the closing Mass.

George, who is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, said «science, specifically embryology, is on the side of those who are repelled by the idea of embryo-destructive stem-cell research.”

He explained that science reveals that the human embryo, from its first manifestation as a one-cell zygote, is a self-governing being, fully directing its own growth and development. He underlined that from conception, the human being passes through stages of development, but cannot be considered another kind of being.


He argued that to justify killing infants with developmental disabilities to obtain transplantable organs, even in the face of illness and suffering by other persons, would be untenable and nobody would argue in favor of this practice on the basis of a “need for organs to be transplanted.”

The professor, who is also the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institution, said the debate over the legality and ethics of harvesting stem cells from living human embryos — which results in killing the embryos — is essentially a debate over whether it is morally right to kill members of a certain class of human beings to benefit others.

“If the debate is informed by serious attention to the facts of embryogenesis and early human development, and to the profound, inherent and equal dignity of human beings,» George stated, «then we, as a nation, will in the end reject the deliberate taking of human life, regardless of the promised benefits.”

He continued: “Scientists have already made tremendous progress toward the goal of producing fully pluripotent stem cells by non-destructive methods of harvesting stem cells — from adult tissues and fetal cord blood.

«Were such methods pursued with the vigor now shown by defenders of embryo-destructive research, the future might see the promise of stem cell science fulfilled, with no stain on our national conscience.”

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