ISSUE: June 6, 2005VOL.
43, NO. 11Oakland,
Church urges research on cord-blood cells,
not those of embryos
By Monica Clark
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
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.