Cardinal Rigali rips new NIH embryonic stem cell guidelines

Cardinal Justin Rigali
Cardinal Justin Rigali


Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, has criticized the new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines on human embryonic stem cell research, lamenting that they are “even broader” than their draft proposals.

His April 21 statement on the draft guidelines had said federal tax dollars would be used to encourage destruction of “living embryonic human beings” for stem cell research, including “human beings who otherwise would have survived and been born.”

On Tuesday Cardinal Rigali said the final guidelines are “even broader” in that “parents asked to consider having their embryonic children destroyed for research will not even have to be informed about all their other options” but only about options available at their particular fertility clinic.

“Moreover, under the final guidelines, stem cell lines that existed previously or that are produced in foreign countries may be made eligible for federally funded research even if they were obtained in ways that violate one or more of the NIH's own informed consent requirements,” he said.

There was some question about whether the new NIH informed consent requirements would disqualify certain embryonic stem cell lines permitted funding by President George W. Bush’s policy. Some defenders of President Obama’s stem cell policy pointed to this apparent restriction as evidence in its favor.

However, the NIH has announced a compromise that would permit funding for such stem cell lines if scientists
could show they met the spirit of the new standards.

“The comments of tens of thousands of Americans opposing the destruction of innocent human life for stem cell research were simply ignored in this process. Even comments filed by the Catholic bishops’ conference and others against specific abuses in the draft guidelines were not addressed,” Cardinal Rigali criticized.

The cardinal noted that the standards allow federally funded researchers to insert human embryonic stem cells into the embryos of animal species other than primates. Federal grants will also be available even to researchers who themselves destroyed human embryos to obtain stem cells for research.

“Existing federal law against funding research in which human embryos are harmed or destroyed is not given due respect here,” he said in his Tuesday comments.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, included in the annual appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 1996, bars federal funds for research in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded or “knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

Cardinal Rigali said the debate on embryonic stem cell research now shifts to Congress, where he said some members believe “even this policy does not go far enough in treating some human beings as objects to be created, manipulated and destroyed for others’ use.”

“I hope Americans concerned about this issue will write to their elected representatives, urging them not to codify or further expand this unethical policy,” his remarks concluded.

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