Cardinal Keeler warns against use of U.S. funds for embryonic stem-cell research

.- The United States Congress should not authorize the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem-cell research, says William Cardinal Keeler in a letter to the members of the Congress Appropriations Committee, issued yesterday.

Amendments to the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, which would authorize the use of government funds for embryonic stem-cell research, are being considered.

“Government has no business forcing taxpayers to support research that relies on the direct destruction of any human life,” he says.

The authorization of such funding would contradict scientific evidence, indicating that embryonic stem-cell research is not as promising as was originally thought, says the cardinal, who serves as the chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal points out that adult stem-cell research and animal embryonic stem-cell research have proven to be more promising than human embryonic stem-cell research.

In his letter, the archbishop of Baltimore notes that, in 1999, the Clinton Administration’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission stated that early human embryos “deserve respect as a form of human life.” The Commission had concluded that research requiring the destruction of “embryos, remaining following infertility treatments, is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research.”

The National Bioethics Advisory Commission had recommended funding embryonic stem-cell research because it thought, at that time, that no alternatives existed.

However, research has shown that alternatives do exist in the use of adult stem cells and animal embryonic stem cells, says the cardinal.

“As a result, researchers now know that the apparent initial ‘promise’ of embryonic stem cells was exaggerated,” says the cardinal. “At this point in medical science, the question is not whether alternative ways are available to pursue the therapeutic goals served by embryonic stem cells – on the contrary, it is whether embryonic stem cells 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 embryonic stem-cell lines has achieved its stated goal – that of exploring which avenues of stem-cell research will most quickly and effectively lead to promising treatments,” says the cardinal.

“If there is to be any change in the existing policy, it should be to end this limited funding of embryonic stem-cell research altogether, so taxpayers’ resources can more effectively be marshaled for research avenues that now appear to be more ethically and medically sound,” he says.

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