WASHINGTON (March 6, 2000) -- Cardinal William Keeler urged the Senate to reject the "Stem Cell Research Act" (S. 2015)-- legislation which would give approval to and even expand the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released draft guidelines for funding human embryonic stem cell research.
"If Congress were to approve S. 2015, it would officially declare for the first time in our nation's history that government may exploit and destroy human life for research purposes," Cardinal Keeler said.
The Cardinal also urged the NIH to withdraw the draft guidelines, which he termed "unethical and illegal, as well as unnecessary for medical purposes."
Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, is Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities.
The "Stem Cell Research Act" (S. 2015) was introduced by Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin on January 31. Senator Specter said he introduced the legislation because he does not believe the NIH proposal "goes far enough." The Act would explicitly overturn Congress's current ban on direct federal funding for the destruction of human embryos.
"I urge you to oppose this legislation," wrote Cardinal Keeler in a March 3 letter to Senators.
"While Senator Specter described his proposal as 'almost identical' to current law allowing fetal tissue research, that is not the case," Cardinal Keeler said. "Federal funding policies allow harvesting of tissue from aborted or miscarried children only after they are dead, and no federal researcher may be involved in any way in the decision to kill that child.
"The research to be funded under S. 2015 is the abortion--it is precisely the cell harvesting procedure that kills the unborn child," Cardinal Keeler continued. "The NIH's proposal violates Federal policies established in 1993 for fetal tissue research; moreover, the Specter/Harkin proposal does so more completely, by directly funding the destruction of life."
Cardinal Keeler noted that both the NIH's own Human Embryo Research Panel and President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission have conceded that the early human embryo deserves respect as a "form of human life."
"The sponsors seek to justify the destruction of these embryos on the grounds that they 'have been discarded' by fertility clinics and have no 'potentiality for life.' This is not true," Cardinal Keeler said.
The Cardinal also challenged the claim by some that these embryos may be destroyed because they are no longer needed for fertility treatments.
"Such a rationale is in conflict with all of Congress's modest efforts to respect unborn human life in federally funded programs over the past quarter of a century," Cardinal Keeler continued. "The fact that an unborn child may be 'no longer needed' or wanted by parents, and thus intended for abortion, has never been seen by Congress as a reason for using federal funds to take part in the killing. In fact, since 1985 Congress has said that children intended for abortion must be treated in federally funded research with the same respect as children intended for live birth."
"I urge you to oppose legislation such as S. 2015 as well as the NIH stem cell guidelines themselves, because both proposals demean human dignity by promoting the destruction of human life," Cardinal Keeler wrote.
NOTE: The full text of Cardinal Keeler's letter will be available on the Conference website, www.nccbuscc.org.