WASHINGTON (July 7, 2004) -— In a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Cardinal William Keeler urged opposition to any amendments to the Labor/HHS appropriations bill that would authorize using federal funds to encourage the destruction of human embryos for their embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
"Obviously such efforts are in direct violation of any ethic that deserves to be called pro-life," Cardinal Keeler said. "Government has no business forcing taxpayers to support research that relies on the direct destruction of any human life."
"This is in no way changed by the argument that these human embryos 'would have been discarded anyway,'" the Cardinal continued. "The fact that many abortions are performed in the U.S. creates no argument that Congress must use its funding power to promote such killing. The claim that humans who may soon die automatically become fodder for lethal experiments also has ominous implications for research using condemned prisoners and terminally ill patients. In the final analysis, all of us will die anyway, but that gives no one a right to kill us."
Cardinal Keeler is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
In his July 7 letter to Appropriations Committee members, the Cardinal recalled that in 1999, President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) acknowledged broad agreement that early human embryos "deserve respect as a form of human life." The Commission recommended funding ESC research because it thought at that time that no alternatives existed; but it said this factual judgment "must be revisited continually as science advances."
In the intervening five years, Cardinal Keeler continued, knowledge of stem cells has advanced through privately funded research using adult stem cells, animal ESCs, and the human ESC lines eligible for funding under the current policy. "As a result, researchers now know that the apparent initial 'promise' of ESCs was exaggerated,"
Cardinal Keeler said. "At the same time, adult stem cells and other avenues that pose no moral problem have advanced quickly toward human clinical trials to treat corneal damage, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, cardiac damage and many other conditions." (For details see www.stemcellresearch.org.)
"In short, the blind have begun to see, the lame have begun to walk, and those sentenced to death are being reprieved--partly because some dedicated scientists and physicians were not convinced that stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos were the sole or indispensable road to treatments," Cardinal Keeler wrote.
"The current policy of funding research on a limited number of existing ESC lines has achieved its stated goal—that of exploring which avenues of stem cell research will most quickly and effectively lead to promising treatments," Cardinal Keeler said. "If there is to be any change in the existing policy, it should be to end this limited funding of ESC research altogether, so that taxpayers' resources can more effectively be marshaled for research avenues that now appear to be more ethically and medically sound."
The full text of Cardinal Keeler's letter can be found on the Web site at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/keeler070704.htm.