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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 6, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 11Oakland, CA

Church urges research on cord-blood cells,
not those of embryos

Catholic officials and other pro-life leaders moved again into the heart of the controversy surrounding stem cell research after the House of Representatives last month passed two bills, one promoting increased research using umbilical cord blood and the other lifting President George Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for research using stem cells from human embryos.

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, applauded the broader use of cord-blood stem cells, calling their use in both research and treatment “an ethical and exceptionally promising field.” But, he said, the killing of human embryos to harvest their stem cells is morally wrong.

President George Bush has promised to veto the embryo research bill, which fell short of a veto-proof margin by more than 50 votes. At a news conference, Bush said “I’ll veto the bill as it now exists” because it would use “taxpayers’ monies for the use of experimentation that would destroy life.”

“This was a David and Goliath story,” said Doerflinger of the House debate. “The pro-life movement and its allies in Congress went up against the combined resources of Hollywood celebrities, the research establishment, and a wealthy for-profit biotechnology industry, and fought them to a standstill.”

He said Congressional supporters of embryonic stem cell research showed “an appalling degree of ignorance and confusion” when they declared that such cells have a proven ability to cure patients and that adult stem cells do not. “Exactly the opposite is true,” he said.
Doerflinger challenged the pro-life community to educate Congress about the facts. Studies using umbilical cord blood retrieved immediately after live births have already shown results in treating more than 60 diseases.

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore wrote to Congress before the votes, saying that unlike the “false expectations” raised by embryonic stem cell research, umbilical cord cells show great promise in terms of clinical benefits and are “indisputably acceptable on moral grounds.”
The cord-blood legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., was approved on a 430-1 vote, with only Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, opposing it.

During the floor debate, Smith told House members, “Amazingly, we are on the threshold of systematically turning medical waste – umbilical cords and placentas – into medical miracles.”

The legislation will help establish a national public cord-blood bank.
According to a nationwide poll commissioned by the U.S. bishops last month, the embryonic stem cell bill runs counter to the opinion of a majority of Americans. Fifty-two percent of Americans in the poll opposed federal funding of stem cell research that requires destroying human embryos.

However, a Gallup poll taken in early May 2005 found that 60 percent of Americans say medical research involving stem cells from human embryos is “morally acceptable.” That’s up significantly from May 2002, when 52 percent held that opinion, according to Gallup research.

December 2004 polling data from the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press points to a similar trend toward growing support over the past three years.

The bill would make new cell lines eligible for federally funded research and would include lines coming from embryos generated as byproducts of in vitro fertilization procedures. Federal policy currently bans the use of government funds for research on cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is among those religious groups in favor of embryonic stem-cell research.

The nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization does not give an embryo outside the womb the full status of personhood and credited both bills as efforts to save human life and ease pain.
“By narrowly tailoring those cells upon which such research may be conducted, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act serves to value and venerate the sanctity of life and our responsibilities to our fellow man and woman,” the union said in a statement.




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