WASHINGTON (May 18, 2005) — Cardinal William H. Keeler has urged Congress to reject a bill which would use federal funds to encourage researchers to destroy new human embryos from fertility clinics for stem cell research.
H.R. 810 would rescind the Bush administration's policy of funding only research on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence. Saying that the new bill would encourage large-scale destruction of innocent human life for research purposes, the Cardinal said: "I urge you in the strongest possible terms to oppose all destructive and morally offensive proposals of this kind."
Cardinal Keeler is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Government has no business forcing taxpayers to become complicit in the direct destruction of human life at any stage," Cardinal Keeler said in a May 17 letter to the House of Representatives. "Nor is there any point in denying the scientific fact that human life is exactly what is at stake here."
The Cardinal noted that since 1995 Congress has passed – and Presidents of both major parties have signed – annual riders insisting that early human embryos be protected from risk of harm or death in federally funded research projects. "H.R. 810 radically departs from this precedent by encouraging researchers to kill human embryos, or pay others to kill them, to become eligible for federal stem cell research grants," he wrote.
"It would be bad enough to promote such destruction of life if it had been found necessary to save patients with devastating diseases," Cardinal Keeler said. "In such a case it would be important to remember that the end, however worthwhile in itself, does not justify an evil means."
But the argument for funding embryonic stem cell (ESC) research is doubly flawed, wrote the Cardinal, because adult stem cells and other avenues posing no moral problem have advanced quickly toward human clinical trials to treat juvenile diabetes, corneal damage, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, cardiac damage and many other conditions. "At the same time, researchers increasingly acknowledge that the apparent initial 'promise' of ESCs was exaggerated," Cardinal Keeler said. "For example, because of their genetic instability and tendency to form potentially lethal tumors in host animals, these cells may not be ready for human clinical trials for many years, if ever."
"At this point in medical science," Cardinal Keeler continued, "the question is not whether alternative ways are available to pursue the therapeutic goals served by ESCs -- rather, it is whether ESCs will ever catch up with the therapeutic benefits now arising from the alternatives."
"The current federal 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 stated. "The emerging answer is that ESC research is not one of those avenues. If there is to be any change in the existing policy, it should be to end this limited funding of ESC research altogether, so taxpayers' resources can more effectively be marshaled for research now showing itself to be more ethically and medically sound."
The full text of Cardinal Keeler's letter can be found on the Web at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/keeler517.pdf.