One of the first pieces of legislation passed by the US House of Representatives last week was a bill that would remove current limits on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The vote was 253-174. Senate action on a similar bill is expected within a matter of months. Not surprisingly, pro-life advocates were quick to respond.
"The House voted to force all taxpayers to fund stem-cell research requiring the destruction of human embryos," said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. "As in the past, President Bush had pledged to veto this misguided and unethical legislation and there are not enough votes to override that veto."
Doerflinger said Congress should turn its attention to stem-cell research that poses no moral problem and that is already beginning to help patients with dozens of conditions in clinical trials. "Unlike embryonic stem-cell research, research using stem cells from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid and other sources is showing enormous promise and is likely to produce new treatments for patients now living," he said.
"Most Americans support stem-cell research and most greatly prefer that this research advance without harming or destroying human life at any stage," Doerflinger said. "The truly statesmanlike approach to this issue would be to take up this challenge, supporting medical progress that all Americans can live with."
"This vote is an example of politics trumping both morality and science," said Carrie Gordon Earll, Focus on the Family's senior analyst for bioethics. "It's never morally acceptable to destroy human life in research. In the history of medical experiments, some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions."
Earll said there is something wrong with the medical experiment if it purposefully threatens or destroys a human life. "In a civilized society, we must demand more," she said. "Thankfully, in the case of stem-cell research, we have ethical alternatives that are just as good, perhaps better, than the unethical ones."
Adult stem cells have been used in more than 1,000 human clinical trials and currently treat more than 70 conditions, Earll said. "Compare that to embryonic stem cells, which are not being used in any human trials and have not produced a single treatment or cure."
"Every lawmaker who voted against this bill supports stem-cell research, but not the kind that requires killing human embryos, and we commend them for that," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. "The key lawmakers pushing this bill rejected an anti-human cloning amendment, which was one more proof that the biotech industry is determined to use human cloning to create human embryo farms."
If this type of legislation is a harbinger of things to come from the 2007 Congress, it does not bode well for pro-lifers across the country.
There is one bright spot though: One of the legislative issues being promoted by the Virginia Catholic Conference during the current Virginia General Assembly is the prohibition of the use of state funds for research that requires the destruction of human embryos or fetuses. The VCC wants an increase in state funding earmarked exclusively for the therapeutic use of stem cells obtained by using adult stem cells or stem cells from umbilical-cord blood.