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Cardinal Rigali says ‘sweeping’ embryonic research rules not pro-life
Cardinal Justin Rigali / Prof. Douglas Kmiec
Cardinal Justin Rigali / Prof. Douglas Kmiec

.- Archbishop of Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali has challenged Prof. Doug Kmiec’s defense of new National Institutes of Health guidelines on embryonic stem cell research. Cardinal Rigali charged that the regulations are “broader” and “more sweeping” than any proposed in the past and cannot truthfully be called a “pro-life” policy.

On April 17 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a request for public comment on its draft guidelines which permitted funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells “that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose.” The NIH said that somatic cell nuclear transfer—more commonly known as cloning—will not be allowed under the guidelines.

Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic who became a prominent supporter of President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, discussed NIH guidelines in his Catholic News Service column. Kmiec praised the guidelines as “ethically sensitive” and in some respects “more strict” than President George W. Bush’s policy, which barred funding for research on embryonic stem cells from embryos destroyed after August 9, 2001.

Saying President Obama had taken “reproductive” cloning “off the table,” Kmiec claimed the federal government was moving “in a noticeably more Catholic-friendly direction.”

Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, responded to Kmiec in his own essay for Catholic News Service.

He denied that the Obama administration’s policy was ethically sensitive and stricter than previous government rules.

The cardinal pointed out that while the Bush policy forbade researchers from destroying embryos to qualify for federal stem-cell research grants, the new NIH guidelines are “more sweeping” and encourage the destruction of new embryos and those not yet conceived.

Responding to Kmiec’s claim that embryo donation will be a “strict” process to ensure parental consent, the cardinal said this practice is “surely broader than not allowing them to be donated for destruction at all.”

Cardinal Rigali said it was not true that the guidelines limit research to embryos created for fertility treatments that would have been discarded.

“Parents will be invited to consider donating their embryonic sons or daughters for research at the same time that they are considering whether to save them for their own later reproduction or donate them so another couple can have a baby,” he wrote. “The new guidelines will encourage destruction of some embryonic human beings who could otherwise have lived and grown up to adulthood.”

“In key respects, these guidelines are broader than any proposed in the past for destructive embryonic stem-cell research by any president or Congress,” the cardinal said.

According to Cardinal Rigali, President Barack Obama’s executive order which expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research also authorized the NIH to broaden policy to include the use of stem cells from cloned embryos specifically created for research.

“Tragically there is significant support in Congress for such further expansion as well, and pro-life Americans will be called upon to defeat such legislation,” he warned.

President Obama’s apparent foreclosing of “reproductive cloning,” the cardinal underscored, “only means cloned human embryos will be created solely for stem cells and other research uses, and not be allowed to survive and be born.”

“That cannot be called a sensitive or pro-life policy.”

The cardinal rejected Kmiec’s claim that the federal government was moving in a more Catholic-friendly direction, saying it is not even moving in “a human-friendly direction.”

“The values and ideals of our nation on the equality of all human beings are at stake when we discuss such issues, for people of all religions or no religion,” Cardinal Rigali’s Catholic News Service column concluded.

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