Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 18, 2002
Halt stem cell research
Bishops, CHAC want Parliament to deal with embryo issue first
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Canada's Catholic bishops want a moratorium on all embryonic stem cell research pending government legislation on assisted human reproduction, which could be passed as early as May.
Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the appeal in a letter to Health Minister Anne McLellan March 7, three days after the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) released guidelines allowing for public funding of research on human embryos left over from infertility treatment.
Berthelet noted that the Commons standing committee on health recently held hearings on draft legislation concerning assisted human reproduction and that members of the CIHR Working Group also had an opportunity to appear before the committee.
He asked, "Should not this legislative process be allowed to play itself out with vigorous debate by elected representatives who are accountable to Canadians?"
Berthelet said the report of CIHR gives the impression that the legislative process is being pre-empted and that the views of ordinary Canadians are being discounted.
He also expressed the bishops' "profound disappointment" at the CIHR report and told McLellan that the Church's position is that "human embryos are human beings with dignity who must be respected as human subjects and not treated as research objects."
The position is based on both reason and faith and supported by a broad range of scientific and ethical opinion, he said. "The potential of embryonic stem therapy for healing degenerative diseases cannot outweigh the reality that a human embryo dies in the process."
The letter also said the issue of the moral status of the human embryo was "circumvented" in the CIHR report.
"Clearly, there is no consensus in favour of embryonic stem cell research," it said. "Moreover, a decision of this moral import, which affects the ethical tone of our society and engages public funds, ought not to be made by a body that is not directly accountable to the Canadian people."
Parliament is the best place for such ethical and moral issues to be discussed "after a full and open discussion with the Canadian people and a thorough analysis of the status of the human embryo," said the letter.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Catholic Health Association of Canada is challenging claims that early embryos are not human life as well as the belief that "it is acceptable to destroy them in order to extract their stem cells."
Leo Klug also said the CHAC is opposed to the guidelines announced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) that would allow research on stem cells derived from human embryos.
"We believe the embryo deserves the same respect owed to any human being," he said in a CHAC news release March 6.
Klug was reacting to guidelines released by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) March 4 that allow for funding of research on human embryos left over from infertility treatment or therapeutic abortions.
The CHAC says its position does not reflect an anti-science stance.
"As a national Christian health organization, we share the hope of many that stem cell research will bring about the possibility of new treatments for serious illnesses resulting from the death or deterioration of cells and tissues," it said.
"The moral dilemma lies in determining what sources of stem cells will be used."
The organization says "impressive results" in research on adult stem cells show that the adult body harbours stem cells that may be as flexible as embryonic stem cells.