National momentum to expand embryonic stem cell research was held in check last week when President George Bush vetoed the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act." Bush also issued an executive order supporting alternative means for obtaining and using versatile or "pluripotent" stem cells such as cord blood, amniotic fluid and adult cells.
The president's actions were met with gratitude among pro-life supports, including Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus.
"This bill would not actually enhance stem cell research, but divert federal funds away from legitimate research toward avenues requiring the destruction of innocent human life," said Cardinal Rigali. "The cause of science is not enhanced but diminished when it loses its moral compass."
The cardinal said that recent discoveries regarding "pluripotent" stem cells demonstrated that science not only raises new ethical questions but at times can help address them. He said adult stem cells continue to produce new clinical advances on a regular basis, most recently showing benefits for patients with juvenile diabetes.
"Tragically, some embryonic stem cell advocates in Congress have dismissed such advances or even greeted them with suspicion, as though medical progress were less genuine or praiseworthy when it respects early human life," Cardinal Rigali said. "I urge them follow the president's lead on this issue by promoting research and therapies that everyone can live with."
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said that "adult cell reprogramming does not pose the moral problem of creating or destroying (human) embryos." Reported advances "would be a gain for science, ethics and society," he said.
"President Bush has proved once again that he understands something that (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and her allies cannot seem to comprehend — the future of stem cell research is in ethical stem cell research, not life-destroying research," said Smith. "I praise President Bush for both vetoing this misguided bill and for expanding the federal commitment to pluripotent stem cell research that does not compromise human dignity."
Smith said that while embryonic stem cell research has yet to result in a single cure, one breakthrough after another have been made through research and therapies using adult stem cells. "The president understands that it is here where the hope is, not in destroying embryos so as to derive their stem cells," he said.
Smith is the author of the landmark law, "The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005" (P.L. 109-129), which seeks to increase the nation's supply of cord blood and create a national registry to match cord blood for those in need, opening the door to potentially hundreds of cures and treatments by using the stem cells in umbilical cords.
He predicted that the House will uphold the president's veto and expressed hope that Pelosi and her allies will understand that unsuccessful embryo-destroying research is not the only option. "Stem Cell research options that are ethical, that are already yielding successful medical therapies and that are showing promise for treating many additional diseases and conditions are the types of research where our resources should be invested," Smith said.