September 30, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Vatican in turmoil as it kills its upcoming stem cell conference

Get out of Jail Free CardThe Vatican has reportedly killed its planned upcoming stem cell conference.

What’s the scoop?

Last year the Vatican had an invitation only stem cell conference at which embryonic stem cell researchers, who are presumably going to Hell, and discussion of embryonic stem cell research were banned.

I did a number of posts on this 2011 Vatican stem cell meeting including this one speculating on their goals and this one on their $1 million gamble on a stem cell biotech called NeoStem. I  found the intermixing of religion and science cause for serious concern.

What was notable about this planned 2012 Vatican stem cell conference that is now never going to happen is that embryonic stem cell researchers and supporters such as George Q. Daley and CIRM President Alan Trounson were prominent invited speakers. Many of us found this to be very surprising and a potentially encouraging sign that the Vatican might be opening up a bit on the stem cell issue perhaps readying for a mature, respectful dialogue. However, I wondered in conversations with others in the stem cell community how the Vatican would control the meeting and how could they prevent speakers from talking about ES cell research?

Well, this conference got the kibosh apparently specifically for that reason. It was going to be too open and perhaps actually have too real scientific discourse rather than fake.

The Catholic News Agency has a piece about the cancelled meeting that says:

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. I hope and pray that a review will be affected of the basis on which these congresses are planned,” said the unnamed academy member.

What this reveals is that the Vatican’s highest leadership has no real intention to facilitate genuine scientific dialogue or progress. Not surprisingly, ideology dominates reality and science for the Vatican, but how did the meeting get scheduled in the first place at the Vatican with Daley and Trounson (as well as other pro-ES cell researchers) as speakers?

Another quote from the Catholic News Agency provides some insight:

“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. 

Therefore one of the most intriguing aspects of this meeting and its subsequent cancellation before it actually took place is that these events clearly indicate the presence of significant discord within the Vatican on the stem cell issue. Different Vatican leaders are in turmoil over the stem cell issue and some must be in favor of a more open dialogue, which I hope may be a foundation for a future that is more open.

I’m hopeful more insight on the cancellation will come out soon so stay tuned!

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