September 9, 2005


Funding for embryonic stem-cell research

Now that Congress is back from its August recess, the Senate will soon be taking up the bill that will provide additional funding for embryonic stemcell research. Before its recess, on July 29, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., made news when he broke with President Bush and announced that he was reversing his earlier stand. He now believes “that embryonic stem-cell research should be encouraged and supported.” This is despite the fact that such research requires the killing of the embryos in the process of harvesting their inner cell mass.

It’s extremely difficult to make people—Catholics as well as non-Catholics—­feel sympathy for embryos. They might acknowledge, as Frist himself did, that an embryo is biologically human, but the possibility of curing diseases is a powerful incentive to experiment with embryos, even if it means killing them.

Nevertheless, the end still doesn’t justify the means. That’s a hard point to get across to pragmatic Americans.

Frist said that he would restrict experimentation to embryos left over from fertility treatments. That might sound like a good argument, but the fact is that the Catholic Church also condemns in vitro fertilization ( IVF ).

An article in the Aug. 12 issue of Commonweal pointed out that, in the debate over federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, Catholics have been silent about the fact that in vitro fertilization clinics also kill embryos. The Catholic Church has always opposed IVF , but surveys show that Catholics have accepted it as a means of overcoming infertility in roughly the same numbers as other Americans have.

It appears to be true that, as the article says, “Catholic couples treasure the children that have been created through IVF and have a hard time seeing these children and the techniques that led to them as anything other than a blessing.” Besides, the article says, the U.S. bishops have not condemned IVF nearly as strongly as they have abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

You wouldn’t know it by some of the news stories, but no law currently prohibits embryonic stem-cell research. It is being carried out legally by private funding. The issue the Senate is considering, as the House of Representatives already did, concerns federal funding for such research. Christians and others who are opposed to such research, because it involves the killing of human beings, should not be forced to pay for such research through our taxes.

We also repeat what we said in an earlier editorial: We do not oppose stem-cell research. Most news stories mention “stem-cell research” without the word “embryonic,” giving the indication that Catholics and other Christians oppose all stem-cell research. On the contrary, we strongly support stem-cell research that doesn’t involve the destruction of a human embryo. And many scientists are convinced that research on adult stem cells will be much more successful—indeed, is already much more successful—than that on embryos’ stem cells.

It should be noted, by the way, that “adult” stem cells don’t necessarily come from adults. They can come from anything from a late fetus onward, but the process of harvesting them doesn’t require the killing of a human being. In practice, they come from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and rolls of fat that accumulate at the waist.

We said this in an earlier editorial, but it deserves repetition: Adult stem cells are already being used in the treatment of about 60 diseases, including damage from heart attacks and strokes, various types of cancer, anemia, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. They have even been used to grow new corneas to restore sight to blind patients. It’s possible that embryonic stem cells could do even more, but if we must fund such research, why not spend more on what has already been proven to work?

We applaud President Bush’s determination to try to prevent the destruction of more embryos. He has said that he will veto the bill now being considered by the Senate, and we believe that there are enough pro-life men and women in Congress to prevent an override of his veto.

Nevertheless, we encourage our readers to urge Senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh to vote against this bill.  

— John F. Fink  


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