.- Cardinal William Keeler has urged the United States Senate to reject a bill supporting embryonic stem-cell research and pass other legislation that supports umbilical cord blood stem-cell research and treatments. The two bills may be considered on the Senate floor as early as this week.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (H.R. 810/S. 471), sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin, supports embryonic stem-cell research.
The bill favoring umbilical cord blood stem-cell research is the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 (S. 1317), and it is sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch. The House version of this bill (H.R. 2520), introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, was approved May 24 by a vote of 431 to 1.
In separate letters, dated July 11, Cardinal Keeler noted that embryonic stem-cell research raises grave moral objections because it requires the destruction of human life, and its possible use in future treatments is speculative.
The chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said H.R. 810/S. 471 would also rescind the Bush Administration’s policy of funding only research on embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence.
By contrast, he said, umbilical cord stem-cell research “is indisputably acceptable on moral grounds and remarkably promising in terms of clinical benefits.”
The cardinal said umbilical cord blood stem cells exhibit properties once associated chiefly with embryonic stem cells.
“They grow rapidly in culture, producing enough cells to be clinically useful in both children and adults; they can treat patients who are not an exact genetic match, without being rejected as foreign tissue; and they seem able to produce a wide array of different cell types,” he said.
“What is preventing far broader use of umbilical cord blood stem cells is not an ethical concern, or any lack of evidence of clinical benefits, but simply a lack of funding and access,” Cardinal Keeler continued.
“By helping to establish a nationwide public cord blood bank, this legislation will begin saving more lives almost immediately,” he said, adding that scientists are now saying the clinical use of embryonic stem cells is three to five decades away.
“At this point in medical science,” Cardinal Keeler said, “the question is not whether alternative ways are available to pursue the therapeutic goals served by embryonic stem cells — rather, it is whether embryonic stem cells will ever catch up with the therapeutic benefits now arising from the alternatives.”
For the cardinal’s letters, go to: www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/keeler711.pdf and www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/stemcell/keelercord.pdf