Controversial speakers prompt Vatican to call off conference, among scheduled participants was head of California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
By David Kerr
Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) — A controversial scientific conference which featured pro-embryonic stem cell researchers and was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has been canceled, just one month before it was set to take place.
“I am infinitely relieved that the Church has avoided a major blunder which would have confused the faithful for decades to come,” said one member of the Pontifical Academy who asked for anonymity in commenting to CNA.
The 3rd International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research was scheduled to take place at the Vatican April 25-28, concluding with an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
The key lecture was to be given by George Daley of Harvard Stem Cell Institute, a practitioner of embryonic stem cell research. The Catholic Church says that research with embryos is unethical because it involves the willful destruction of human life.
“The Holy Spirit has certainly shown to be present through those faithful members who drew attention to the ambiguity of the choice of speakers,” said the unnamed academy member. “I hope and pray that a review will be affected of the basis on which these congresses are planned.”
Other contributors for the four-day event included Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and John Wagner of the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute. Both men are vocal supporters of embryonic stem cell research.
“The news of the cancellation of the Congress is an enormous relief to many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who felt that the presence on its program of so many speakers, including the keynote speaker, committed to embryonic stem cell research, was a betrayal of the mission of the Academy and a public scandal,” said another member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who also did not want to be named.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells and can generate all 200-plus types of tissue present in humans. Their incredible versatility means they have the potential to provide replacement tissue to treat numerous disorders.
The Catholic Church approves of stem cell research but disapproves of those cells being culled from the destruction of an embryo or fetus. Instead, the Church advocates the use of “adult” stem cells, which are taken from a donor’s existing stem cells or from the placenta or umbilical cord at birth.
Officials within the Pontifical Academy for Life had previously defended the inclusion of embryonic stem cell researchers in the April congress. They stressed that the scientists in question were also experts in adult stem cells and would not use the conference to promote views contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“Since the Superiors of the Academy had for months resisted requests that these speakers should be removed from the program, one assumes that they were obliged to take the decision to cancel in virtue of directives coming from a higher level in the Curia,” added the second academy member.
The conference was organized in conjunction with three other Catholic organizations – the Foundation Jerome Lejeune, the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Comite Consultatif Bioethique Monaco.
Contributors are being sent notice of the cancellation by the organizing committee, with the promise of a letter of explanation to follow soon. News of the cancellation has not yet been made public.
The Pontifical Academy for Life was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1994 as an international forum for bioethicists who are committed to studying, upholding and promoting the Church’s teachings on the sanctify of life.
Article 6 of its founding statutes suggests that the Academy should cooperate with non-Catholic and non-Christian bioethicists — but only if they “recognize that the dignity of man and the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death, as enunciated by the Magisterium of the Church, is the essential moral foundation of the science and art of medicine.”
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