WASHINGTON (July 11, 2001) -- The President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged Congress not to fund embryonic stem cell research.
"Embryonic stem cell research has not helped a single human patient or demonstrated any therapeutic benefit," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza.
Bishop Fiorenza said the decision whether to provide public funding for research that relies on the destruction of human life in its earliest stages will be one of the most important decisions of this Congress.
"We know that speculation about the possible benefits of such research, and mistaken views about the status of the human embryo, have led many to urge you to abandon your convictions," he said. "We believe it is more important than ever to stand for the principle that government must not treat any living human being as research material, as a mere means for benefit to others."
Bishop Fiorenza wrote to the House and Senate July 11. A similar letter was recently sent to President Bush.
The Bishop noted that government support for destructive human embryo research has been proposed in this country since 1979, and that since 1994 the National Institutes of Health has also favored supporting research in which human embryos are created solely for research and then destroyed.
"Throughout this history, however, no Administration of either party has funded a research project that relies on destroying live human embryos," Bishop Fiorenza wrote. "If the federal government decides even to partially implement the National Institutes of Health's guidelines for embryonic stem cell research, this will open the door to broader assaults on innocent human life in the name of research. Congress and this Administration would then endorse the principle that alleged research benefits outweigh the inviolable dignity of innocent human life. Attempts to prevent further abuses will likely be futile, as researchers demand more and more freedom to set aside restrictions that prevent them from realizing their dreams of conquering disease."
Bishop Fiorenza said funding research relying on the destruction of human embryos would violate federal statutory law, and that at least nine states have acted to protect these embryos from lethal experiments. In some states, destructive experimentation on human embryos is a felony.
"We do not see how such laws would survive, and others like them be enacted, if the federal government were to give its blessing to such destruction for research purposes," he said. "An entire area of law where states have been able to express respect for human life would be wiped away."
Bishop Fiorenza said expansive claims are being made for the benefits of human embryo research which are really conjectural, whereas adult stem cells have helped hundreds of thousands of new patients and new clinical uses expand almost weekly.
"Even President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission, recognizing the human embryo as 'a developing form of human life,' concluded that the use of embryos from fertility clinics for such research cannot be justified if morally noncontroversial alternatives exist," Bishop Fiorenza said. "There is now ample evidence that they do exist, are far more promising than once thought, and are worthy of increased public attention and government support."
Bishop Fiorenza's letter was accompanied by a press release concerning a poll on stem cell research, a fact sheet about the proven benefits of adult stem cells, and a fact sheet about the nine state laws against harmful embryo experimentation.