Today the Vatican held the first day of its adult stem cell conference. Embryonic stem cells remained not surprisingly uninvited. This conference is an unprecedented event in the thousands of years of history of The Church so not surprisingly many people are very interested in the event and trying to understand what it means.
Interestingly, while one day prior to the meeting, former U.S. Secretary Thompson had proposed a U.S. Adult Stem Cell Commission, today there were no apparent press releases (PR) on what actually went on in the meeting itself. I found that really surprising. I thought they would be issuing a stream of press releases. Perhaps they are on their way. However, it is already almost 1am Thursday in Italy at this point so presumably the conference organizers are either asleep or not thinking about letting the world in on what went on in Day 1 of their meeting. No live blogging the meeting in this case it appears as well. I’m extremely curious about the meeting and was honestly hopping for some press coverage of the actual content of the meeting.
An interesting and important question is why the Vatican is holding this Adult Stem Cell Meeting in the first place? With hundreds of attendees and speakers, a multi-day meeting of this kind is racking up a very large bill. In addition the Vatican is risking $1 million on the high risk biotech NeoStem for their research on adult stem cells.
Why is the Vatican expending its resources and in effect linking its reputation to adult stem cell research? I’ve wondered about this. There is risk here not only of losing all the money involved, but also of linking the Vatican to a specific company that could fail and to a field as a whole that has had its share of controversy.
To balance this risk, the Vatican must have some kind of hope for potential positive outcomes.
One clue comes from a Herald Sun quote from Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life:
The Vatican’s conference on adult stem cells dispells (sic) the widespread notion that the Catholic church is at “loggerheads with science”.
What this means is that one important goal of the conference is to demonstrate that the Vatican is not at odds with science and scientists, but quite the contrary has a positive relationship with them under certain circumstances.
I think it is also clear that another goal of the conference is to simply promote the great potential of adult stem cells and many of the talks listed on the conference schedule seem to reflect that. I don’t see anything wrong with this goal (and adult stem cells are awesome), except for the fact that only certain types of research are allowed to be discussed. That is contrary to the fundamental principles of science.
The bottom line is that it is their meeting, they are paying the bills, they are hosting it, and they’ve invited the speakers who have agreed to come, so they of course get to choose what happens.
But it still worries me when we start mixing science and religion…
I am curious to see if any info or PRs come out of the meeting in the next couple days so we can get a better sense of what is going on. I know many of you readers of this blog are curious too since you’ve told me so…stay tuned!