WASHINGTON (December 8, 1998)--Responding to reports of three new developments in embryo research, an official of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops urged a congressional panel to uphold "the ethical principle grounding current restrictions on human embryo research: In trying to serve humanity we should not support actions that are fundamentally wrong. Even a good end does not justify an evil means."
Richard M. Doerflinger, Associate Director for Policy Development at the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Education on embryonic cell research. At issue are three new ways to provide embryonic stem cells for possible therapeutic use: dissecting live human embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to establish cell lines; harvesting "primordial germ cells" from abortion victims; and using cloning technology to fuse human nuclei with cows' eggs to produce embryonic cells.
"On one level," he said, "some of these experiments advance the legal and ethical debate on human cloning. They indicate that cloning is not necessary for promising stem cell research, and thus it may be banned without endangering such research. At the same time, however, each of these experiments raises ethical problems of its own."
Mr. Doerflinger noted that if recent experiments using germ cells are shown to provide usable stem cells without creating human embryos, and the cells can be obtained without relying on induced abortion, they may provide an ethically acceptable alternative to harmful experiments on human embryos. Last year, he said, the Bishops' Conference proposed to Congress that there may be nine promising alternatives to the use of cloning to provide human stem cells--"and eight of these seem to involve no use of embryonic stem cells at all."
"It would be sad indeed if Congress's attention were to focus chiefly on those avenues of research which garner front-page news precisely because they are ethically problematic," Mr. Doerflinger said. "Instead, Congress has an opportunity to use its funding power to channel medical research in ways which fully respect human life while respecting human progress."
The full text of Mr. Doerflinger's Dec. 2 testimony is available at the web address: www.nccbuscc.org/prolife.