Using Human Embryos for Research

30 November 1999

25 July 2006

"Appealing exclusively to the future benefits that may come about as a result of destructive research on human embryos obscures broader ethical issues," says John Kleinsman, a spokesperson for The Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre.

"We fully support the desire of stem cell researchers to seek cures that may one day provide the key to a wide range of serious illnesses and diseases. The key ethical dilemma is when human embryos are destroyed in order to source embryonic stem cells."

"While some people regard the embryo as merely a collection of cells, deserving of no special respect, and while others regard it as meriting some protection but believe that for very good reasons embryos may sometimes be used for research, Catholic teaching holds that without exception the living embryo is, from the moment of fertilisation, a living human being with an absolute right to life. A life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother. It is already the human being it will always be and will only grow in size and complexity. On that basis all embryos are entitled to the same respect as persons."

"Stem cell research holds real promise for the prevention and treatment of serious diseases. However, we have a moral obligation to pursue good outcomes by using only ethical means. It is an old axiom that the end does not justify the means. Sufficient account needs to be taken of the moral harm associated with the destruction of human embryos, including its wider repercussions for the way we look at all human life."

"Other stem cells known as 'adult' stem cells can be obtained from a variety of other sources in ways that do not require the destruction of embryos. This type of research provides an ethically acceptable alternative. There is also other promising research which is seeking ways of obtaining cells with the same properties of embryonic stem cells without the need to create or harm human embryos."

For a full discussion of the Catholic understanding of the moral and ethical issues associated with stem cell research refer to The Nathaniel Report:

  • issue number five: The Moral Status of the Embryo
  • issue number twelve: Stem Cell Research in New Zealand