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USCCB Submits Comments to NIH on Proposed Guidelines for Stem Cell Research
Date:5/22/2009

USCCB General Secretary urges respect for human life at all stages

Says science and ethics have been ignored in proposed policy

Cites advances in stem cell research that do not destroy human embryos

WASHINGTON, May 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) missed "an enormous opportunity to show how sound science and responsible ethics can not only co-exist but support and enrich each other," said Msgr. David Malloy, General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in comments on draft guidelines to authorize federally funded human embryonic stem cell research. The comments were submitted during the official public comment period on the proposed guidelines, which ends May 26. The Conference has also provided a convenient way for other concerned citizens to submit comments to the NIH on this issue, by visiting the Web site www.usccb.org/stemcellcampaign.

Msgr. Malloy cited the dignity of human life at every stage and the innate human right not to be subjected to harmful experimentation without one's express and informed consent. He said laws that fail to recognize this right "do not succeed in nullifying the right in question, but only call into question their own moral legitimacy."

Msgr. Malloy highlighted the "central fact of science" relevant to the issue of embryonic stem cell research, that the embryo that will be destroyed to obtain embryonic stem cells "is a human being at a very early stage of his or her development."

This is not a matter of religious belief, he said, but a fact acknowledged by federal advisory groups on this issue, including the National Bioethics Advisory Commission appointed by President Clinton. This group concluded that because human embryos deserve "respect" as a form of human life, destroying them for stem cells is "justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research."

Msgr. Malloy added that alternative methods of stem cell research, such as reprogramming ordinary adult cells into "induced pluripotent stem cells" (iPS cells) without harming human life, have made great advances under a federal policy preventing researchers from destroying live human embryos for federally funded research.

"Yet President Obama's executive order of March 9 not only rescinded that policy, but also rescinded the executive order of 2007 instructing the NIH to thoroughly explore new avenues for obtaining pluripotent stem cells without destroying human embryos," Msgr. Malloy said. "Both science and ethics have been ignored in this decision."

Msgr. Malloy said the President's executive order and the draft guidelines fail the Bioethics Commission's test, "by failing to require that morally unproblematic avenues for exploring important medical research goals be thoroughly investigated before the NIH considers any avenues that require destroying embryonic human life."

"Avenues of stem cell research which pose no moral problem are now showing great promise. In fact, human patients suffering from all the conditions cited by President Obama when he signed his executive order -- cancer, juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, heart disease -- have been shown in peer-reviewed studies to benefit from clinical trials using human stem cells," he said. "And in every case, the benefit has come not from embryonic stem cells, but from the adult and cord blood stem cells that this organization and others have said should receive priority attention."

Msgr. Malloy expressed relief the proposed guidelines do not seek to fund research in which embryos are created for the purpose of research, but explained how "in key respects the guidelines are nonetheless broader or more permissive than any policy approved in the past by any branch of the federal government.." He also asked the Obama Administration to "make a clear and authoritative statement, as the Clinton Administration did, that it will never fund research that relies on the creation of human embryos for research purposes."

"As the President noted," Msgr. Malloy said, "we must not make 'a false choice between sound science and moral values.' In fact, these sources of guidance both point in the same direction, away from destructive embryonic stem cell research. His executive order and these guidelines nonetheless insist on a course of action that is both morally objectionable and, increasingly, scientifically obsolete."

Noting that prominent stem cell researchers have recently expressed their own moral misgivings about destroying human embryos for research, Msgr. Malloy concluded, "This is not merely a political or ideological problem, or a problem of religious dogma, but a deeply human problem: We are testing the limits of our obligation to treat all fellow human beings, of every age and condition, with basic respect."

The full text of the comments to NIH regarding the draft guidelines can be found online at www.usccb.org/prolife/NIHcomments.pdf.


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SOURCE U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
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