The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Local News

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 Thompson.

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 destroying them.

"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.

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