WASHINGTON (July 12, 2006)—With the U.S. Senate poised to consider three bills relating to bioethics and stem cell research, Cardinal William H. Keeler urged support for two of those bills—which, he said, respect both science and ethics—and rejection of a bill which would force taxpayers to support the destruction of early human life.
In a letter to the Senate, Cardinal Keeler expressed support for S. 2754, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, and S. 3504, the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act. He called on the Senate to reject H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, "in the name of sound ethics and responsible science."
In accordance with a unanimous consent agreement approved on June 29, the Senate may vote on all three bills the week of July 17.
Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act would fund efforts to derive and study cells which have the capabilities of embryonic stem cells but which are not obtained by destroying human embryos.
"Many studies suggest that stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood already have the versatility once thought to exist only in embryonic cells, or may acquire this versatility by various forms of 'reprogramming'," Cardinal Keeler explained. He wrote that "the effort to explore all feasible avenues of research that do not attack human life is worth pursuing."
The Fetus Farming Prohibition Act amends current federal law against abuses in the area of fetal tissue research. It would prevent the use of human fetal tissue (such as fetal stem cells) obtained by growing human embryos in a human or animal uterus in order to provide such tissue.
Cardinal Keeler noted that most animal studies cited in support of so-called therapeutic cloning have required placing cloned animal embryos in a womb and growing them to the fetal stage to obtain usable stem cells. Some state laws, including one in New Jersey, could allow such "fetus farming" to harvest human body parts.
"Now is the time to enact a national policy against such grotesque abuse of women and children by approving S. 3504," the Cardinal wrote.
Cardinal Keeler said that H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, violates a decades-long policy against forcing taxpayers to support the destruction of early human life. "Federal funds would promote research using 'new' embryonic stem cell lines, encouraging researchers to destroy countless human embryos to provide more cell lines and qualify for federal grants," the Cardinal said. "However, no alleged future 'promise' can justify promoting the destruction of innocent human life here and now, whatever its age or condition."
"While these moral considerations are paramount, it is also worth noting that the factual assumptions behind the embryonic stem cell campaign are questionable," Cardinal Keeler continued. "Embryonic stem cell research is not showing the remarkable 'promise' claimed by supporters, but lags far behind adult stem cells and other approaches that are providing real treatments for dozens of conditions."
"In short, the Senate has an opportunity to approve two bills that respect both science and ethics — and to reject misguided legislation that ignores ethical demands in its pursuit of an ever more speculative and elusive 'progress'," Cardinal Keeler said. "Technical progress that makes humans themselves into mere raw material for research is in fact a regress in our humanity. Therefore, I strongly urge you to oppose H.R. 810, and to approve the other two bills proposed as part of this agreement."
NOTE: The full text of Cardinal Keeler's letter can be found on the Web at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/keelerhr810.pdf.