BY NANCY FRAZIER OʼBRIEN AN AMERICAN cardinal has said that plans to allow federal funding of embryonic stemcell research would open “a new chapter in divorcing biomedical research from its necessary ethical foundation”.
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the American bishops’ committee on pro-life activities, said: “Without unconditional respect for the life of each and every member of the human race, research involving human subjects does not represent true progress... It becomes another way for some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals.” The cardinal was commenting on draft guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to allow federal funding of research on embryos created for reproductive purposes at in vitro fertilisation clinics and later discarded.
The guidelines were welcomed by a number of academics at Catholic universities since they would not allow embryos to be created and then destroyed for research purposes.
Cardinal Rigali said it was “noteworthy that, despite calls for an even broader policy by some in Congress and the research community, the draft guidelines do not allow federally funded stem-cell research using embryos specially created for research purposes by in vitro fertilisation or cloning”.
“We can hope that NIH and Congress will continue to respect this ethical norm, and will realise that the alleged ‘need’ for violating it is more implausible than ever due to advances in reprogramming adult cells to act like embryonic stem cells,” he said.
But he said that some might “pursue a more extreme policy” and urged “other concerned citizens” to join with the bishops in writing to Congress and the Obama administration “about the need to restore and maintain barriers against the mistreatment of human life in the name of science”.
The draft guidelines specifically ban funding “for research using embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes”.
Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University, said the guidelines showed “a very positive sign that President [Barack] Obama has been listening – as he promised – to the heightened claims of conscience posed by Catholics in the modern medical environment”.
But Douglas Johnson, a Catholic congressman, said the guidelines could be “part of an incremental strategy intended to desensitise the public to the concept of killing embryos for research purposes”.