WASHINGTON (April 5, 2007)— As the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on federal funding of stem cell research next week, Cardinal Justin Rigali urged Senators to reject legislation (S. 5) which would promote the destruction of human embryos to obtain their stem cells. "With enactment of such legislation, federal law would for the first time force taxpayers to encourage deliberate attacks on innocent human life in the name of medical progress," the Cardinal said.
Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
In a letter to the Senate (April 4), Cardinal Rigali emphasized that the stem cell issue is not a matter of supporting versus opposing progress.
"The question is whether our technical progress is guided by an equally advanced sense of the dignity of each and every human life, so our technology becomes a servant to humanity and not our cruel master," the Cardinal wrote. "As Pope Benedict XVI said to stem cell researchers in Rome last September, research that relies on 'the planned suppression of human beings who already exist, even if they have not yet been born,' is 'not truly at the service of humanity.'"
"On a practical level, embryonic stem cell research has been as disappointing in its results as it has been divisive to our society," Cardinal Rigali continued. "Problems such as uncontrollable growth and tumor formation have forced researchers to conclude that it may take a decade or more of very expensive research even to determine whether embryonic stem cells may someday be used to treat a human condition."
At the same time, Cardinal Rigali noted, ethically sound research using non-embryonic cells has continued to advance, helping patients with over 70 conditions in clinical trials (see www.stemcellresearch.org). "It seems virtually every byproduct of live birth -- amniotic fluid, amniotic membrane, placenta, cord blood, and the tissue of the umbilical cord itself -- contains stem cells that may rival embryonic stem cells in their flexibility," the Cardinal said.
Cardinal Rigali said that Senators will also have an opportunity to vote on legislation (S. 30) which funds all avenues of stem cell research that do not involve harming or destroying a living human embryo. "Unlike S. 5, it gives priority to research that promises genuine benefits for patients in the short term – a priority that supporters of S. 5 have neglected in their zeal for speculative embryo research," the Cardinal said. The bill includes a proposal to study the feasibility of banking amniotic and placental stem cells, modeled on the banking of bone marrow and cord blood stem cells that have saved the lives of patients with dozens of conditions. S. 30 also funds research in new techniques for deriving embryonic or embryonic-like stem cells without harming embryos.
"I urge you to vote against S. 5 -- on behalf of taxpayers who should not be forced to help destroy life in the name of 'progress,' and on behalf of genuine progress for suffering patients," Cardinal Rigali wrote. "Please support medical progress that we can all live with."
The full text of the Cardinal's letter is available at: www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/s5letter.pdf