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Friday, June 8, 2007
Cardinal Pell defends human life in Australia
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For those unaware, Australia has been considering a bill that would allow therapeutic cloning. This is a response from Cardinal Pell.

By Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
8 June 2007


Is all human life equally precious?

We should not be distracted away from the elephant in the corner of the room. A huge diversionary tactic has been mounted to focus attention on hypothetical punishments for Catholic politicians by authoritarian bishops, and away from the destruction of human life.

Human life is the issue at hand. Serious anti-lifers and publicity seekers have been trying to shoot the messenger, while they work to bury the message.

Neither should anyone be tricked into believing that opponents of this bill are insensitive to human suffering or inactive in the search for cures.

Three days ago the science journal Nature reported that mouse tissue cells in U.S.A. and Japan were turned into embryonic-type stem cells without the use of eggs or embryos. Old age blindness through macular degeneration might be curable within ten years.

"We now have the right mechanism for sourcing cells without ethical quibbles" said Peter Mountford, head of the Melbourne and London based Stem Cell Sciences.

While objections to the creation and destruction of human life are not quibbles, this development shows the hot air and irrelevance of much of the low level debate on cloning and Christian teaching.

Despite the many advances in adult stem cell research, the Federal and Victorian parliaments have already passed bad legislation legitimizing the destruction of human embryos. The Anglican archbishop of Sydney and the Catholic Bishops of New South Wales continue to oppose such a bill in N.S.W., because we are serious about the importance of human life and oppose State sponsorship of the destruction of human life. This is a marker event and such unethical research is unnecessary.

Caring for the sick is a core business of the Catholic Church, and so is supporting medical research. Research institutes around St. Vincent's Hospital make up one of the largest bio-medical research complexes in the Southern Hemisphere health care. In health care, the Catholic Church is a player, not a wrecker. We've been in this field for two millennia, and we back healing and research with institutions, people, and dollars.

Professor Alan Mackay Sim's Queensland team of scientists working on nasal stem cell research for spinal cord injuries and Professor Pritinder Kaur's team at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre working on using adult stem cells for burns victims are both supported by grants from Sydney archdiocese.

Such adult stem cell research has been much more productive than work on embryonic stem cells which so far has proved to be a dead end. Little has been produced except massive grants for the researchers.

After more than 25 years of experiments with embryonic stem cells in animal models, researchers have yet to develop one successful treatment in mice for any disease that could be used as a model to undertake the first steps for a clinical trial with human patients.

Meanwhile, in the US alone there are currently 1422 government-approved clinical trials related to adult stem cells either on patients or recruiting patients. There is also peer reviewed evidence of the therapeutic benefit to patients who have received an adult stem cell treatment for 72 disease and conditions.

Adult stem cells have also been successfully used in treating type -1 diabetes, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported recently. Most government efforts in Australia are backing the wrong horse.

Finally however, have the Pope and some bishops gone one step too far in even hinting at sanctions for Catholic legislators who reject important teachings? Does this imperil the separation of Church and State? Perhaps legislators should be above Church laws and immune to sanctions for lapses of moral judgement?

Certainly a Catholic Church without sinners would be like a hospital without patients. That is why the blunt instrument of excommunication has hardly ever been used in Australia, as we are a church of the imperfect, not a sect for the elite.

But all of us who wish to remain Catholics have to be measured against Catholic teaching.

To be a disciple of Christ means accepting discipline because the Catholic Church has never followed today's fashionable notion of the primacy of conscience, which is, of course secular relativism with a religious face.

In a pluralist democracy bishops are free to explain Catholic doctrines and discipline, while all individuals and legislators are free to accept or reject what is proposed. But actions have consequences, some of which follow naturally, some of which are imposed and just as members of a political party who cross the floor on critical issues don't expect to be rewarded and might be penalized, so it is in the Church.

On May 9th Pope Benedict explained one Catholic teaching quite succinctly; speaking about abortion he said, "It simply states in Canon Law that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with going to Communion, where one receives the Body of Christ". While recognizing that legislating for abortion or destructive human cloning is another matter again, it is useful to remember that Archbishop Hickey of Perth, Cardinal O'Brien of Edinburgh and Archbishop Smith of Cardiff have all spoken recently on life issues in a similar vein.

Pro-life forces are grateful to the N.S.W. Premier and Leader of the Opposition for allowing a conscience vote on this issue. Politicians and voters will make up their own minds, but everyone should be clear at least about Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life.

I regret the vote of the Legislative Assembly on cloning and hope that the legislative Council will be better informed.

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