To treat a disease ? Or to look years younger?
Whatever the purpose, stem cell therapy has been used successfully for both.
Even the Catholic Church in the Philippines, once a skeptic, recognizes its potential to contribute to human development through new treatments for fatal diseases.
In fact, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is convinced there is nothing “morally objectionable” with stem cell therapy.
How stem cell therapy works
Also called regenerative medicine, according to the Mayo Clinic, stem cell therapy involves manipulating blank cells from a donor into specific cells (of the heart, nerves, etc.) and then implanting them into a patient.
The healthy cells are then believed to contribute to the healing of the defective or damaged area of the body.
CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas has even likened stem cell therapy to “natural healing,” as when torn skin or muscles heal with the help of other surgical procedures.
“There is nothing that is morally objectionable with stem cell therapy when somatic stem cells are used as sources or raw materials to help the diseased organ heal or replenish its lost component,” Villegas said in a pastoral letter issued on October 17.
“Example of this therapy is bone morrow transplant, cornea transplant, use of umbilical cord to develop cell lines, skin blood, fat and many others,” he explained.
But he clarified that the Church believes that ethical norms should still guide doctors and experts in the practice as well as the conduct of research to further develop the procedure.
Exploitation and health hazards
Without any ethical standard, Villegas feared stem cell could harm human beings and veer a medical culture away from a just and compassionate society.
“The urgent desire of many persons to undergo such therapies for serious medical conditions has led to situations where selfish and misguided interests have exposed vulnerable persons to exploitation and potential health hazards,” Villegas said.
This prompted the archbishop to issue a set of guidelines for those procuring, providing, or regulating such therapies:
1. Don’t use stem cells derived from human embryos or aborted fetuses.
“Such therapies abet directly or indirectly the practice of abortion. It is not only morally objectionable, it is morally repugnant as the use of human embryo means killing a human being in order to save another human being,” Villegas explained.
2. Exercise caution when undergoing stem cell therapies using plant cells, animal cells and genetically modified human stem cells.
“Rigorous scientific verification must be made to ensure that such therapies will not lead to harmful effects. Authorization must be obtained from proper authorities before such therapies are made available,” he said.
3. It’s okay to use stem cells from umbilical cord blood as long as they are proven safe and are approved by regulating bodies.
4. Don’t fall for clinical research trials being passed off as actual treatments.
Villegas explained that clinical research trials are intended simply to gather scientific data. They are not the cure.
He also insisted that scientific research should prioritize the protection of persons from harm and exploitation over stem cell’s advancement.
5. Think of others.
“While the restoration of health, alleviation of suffering, and prolongation of life are legitimate human pursuits, the fostering of an individualistic and market-driven system of health care hinders the formation of a society based on compassion and mutual care,” Villegas said.
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