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Associated Press

ORLANDO, Florida — U.S. Roman Catholic bishops issued a document Friday warning against what they consider the moral dangers of embryonic stem cell research, saying it treats human beings as commodities and reduces procreation to a manufacturing process.

With general elections looming in November, the bishops said they are not asking Catholics or the public to choose between science and religion. Instead, they are urging people to examine how society should conduct medical research.

Research advocates say that banning scientific use of embryos would halt promising efforts to find treatments for diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Human embryonic stem cells are created in the first days after conception and give rise to all organs and specialized tissues in the body.

But the bishops said that “no commitment to a hoped-for ‘greater good’ can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now.”

“As believers who recognize each human life as the gift of an infinitely loving God, we insist that every human being, however small or seemingly insignificant, matters to God,” the bishops said.

The document, which church leaders approved in a 191-1 vote, contains no new teachings.

However, bishops said the statement was needed to clear up confusion on Catholic beliefs, especially in an election year when the issue is expected to be the subject of policy debates.

On Thursday, a proposed state constitutional amendment in Colorado that would define a fertilized human egg as a person was certified for the November ballot. Opponents of the measure say it would not only curtail abortion rights but would also deter in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research.

Church opposition to embryonic stem cell research is noted four times in the bishops’ election-year guide on public policy issues – “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

“An initial decision to destroy so-called ‘spare’ embryos for this research leads to far broader abuses, including human cloning and new risks to women,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann from Kansas City, Kansas, and part of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Last month, Naumann said that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic Democrat who supports abortion rights, should stop taking Holy Communion until she changes her stance.

“Certainly, we hope it would be a document that would be taken seriously by all policymakers,” Naumann said after the vote.

Bishops adopted the document during the final public session of their midyear meeting.

They said the church had no objection to use of stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood. Nor do they oppose other research that “involves no harm to human beings at any stage of development.” But they rejected the argument that embryonic stem cell research is harmless because the embryos would be destroyed anyway.

“Ultimately each of us will die, but that gives no one a right to kill us,” the bishops said.
The bishops contended that cloning to produce human embryos for research “will inevitably facilitate attempts to produce live-born cloned children.” Human beings will become “commodities” and procreation will be reduced “to a mere manufacturing process.”

“It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point,” the bishops said. “The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path.”


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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