Bishops request rule changes
Letter to Tommy Thompson from state's bishops says alter stem cell research guidelines
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, public policy voice of
Wisconsin's Catholic bishops asked Secretary of Health and Human
Services Tommy Thompson to rescind current National Institutes of
Health guidelines permitting public funding of research that
relies on the destruction of human embryos to obtain stem cells
for genetic research.
The conference also asked that federal guidelines comply with
existing federal law, which bans the practice. John Huebscher,
WCC executive director, made the request in a March 15 letter to
Stem cells are the parent cells of all tissues in the body. Stem
cells may be derived from embryos, from adult human tissues and
from umbilical cord blood. In theory, that means scientists can
replace diseased tissue with healthy tissue.
The versatility of stem cells makes them attractive to
researchers working on treatments and cures for a wide range of
diseases including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. However, to
obtain embryonic stem cells for research, the embryo in which
they are developing must be destroyed.
"No rationalizations used by those who seek to dodge the ethical
concerns for the fundamental human rights of living embryos can
alter the fact that the deliberate destruction of embryos for
scientific research purposes is not moral, legal, nor necessary,"
Huebscher wrote. "When embryonic stem cell research treats
embryos as things that can be manufactured, stored, destroyed or
donated to science, sacred human life becomes a commodity."
Huebscher noted that science and technology are valuable tools
that can serve noble ends - such as curing disease, feeding the
hungry, and furthering life in many other ways. As such they
should be respected and encouraged. But, he emphasized, no
potential benefit from research on embryonic stem cells justifies
"We also reject the notion that some lives may be deemed less
valuable and therefore can be sacrificed to benefit the rest of
us," he added.
"If society accepts that embryos can be destroyed, donated or
discarded for research, on what grounds can it object to the
formation of embryos solely for the purpose of research?" he
asked. "By what moral principle may we ban the practice of
cloning an individual in order to obtain a perfect cell match?"
Backers of stem cell research allege that no other option
provides results as promising. However, other scientists argue
that stem cells taken from living adults and stem cells obtained
from umbilical cord blood avoid the ethical dilemmas that
embryonic stem cells present. Adult stem cells already are
showing promise in clinical applications in the treatment of
cancer, arthritis, and lupus.
Scientists now believe that the sources for adult stem cells are
far more numerous than originally thought and that many adult
organs maintain a "reservoir" of stem cells.
"All this makes a compelling case that it is not necessary to
destroy a life to advance in our understanding of and ability to
treat illness," Huebscher wrote.
Huebscher also asked that Catholics and others committed to the
value of human life also write Thompson.
"These issues are too important to be left to scientists. All of
us need to be part of the debate," he concluded.