Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 16, 2009
Stem-cell policy places politics over ethics
Cardinal Justin Rigali says the new order allows the taking of human life
BY NANCY FRAZIER O’BRIEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – A leading U.S. bishop has criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order to allow federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research as “a sad victory of politics over science and ethics.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia said Obama’s action “ignores the fact that ethically sound means for advancing stem-cell science and medical treatments are readily available and in need of increased support.”
Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee (USCCB) on Pro-Life Activities, was among Catholic, pro-life and other leaders who criticized the action, which Obama had promised during his campaign.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said the stem-cell policy of former President George W. Bush, in effect since Aug. 9, 2001, had forced “a false choice between sound science and moral values.”
Obama also urged Congress to consider further expansion of funding for such research.
Since 1995, an amendment to the annual appropriations bills for federal health programs has barred federal funding of research involving the creation or destruction of human embryos.
But the president had strong words against human cloning, which he said is “dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society, or any society.”
Obama said he would work to ensure that “our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.” A “majority of Americans — from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs — have come to a consensus that we should pursue” embryonic stem-cell research, the president said.
But Rigali said the executive order “disregards the values of millions of American taxpayers who oppose research that requires taking human life.”
He reiterated points raised by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, who said in a Jan. 16 letter to Obama that a change in the policy on funding of embryonic stem-cell research “could be a terrible mistake — morally, politically and in terms of advancing the solidarity and well-being of our nation’s people.”
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, former president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said allowing the use of public funds for embryonic stem-cell research was “without ethical or scientific justification.”
“It’s about the destruction of human beings in order to turn them into material for experimentation,” he told the Italian news agency ANSA March 9.
The Italian bishop said it was unclear why research on embryonic stem cells would need to be pursued now that new discoveries have been made with other kinds of stem cells.
He referred to the work of a Japanese biologist who found in 2007 that adult stem cells could easily be reprogrammed to an embryonic state.
At the White House, Obama said he “cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that.”
“But I can promise that we will seek them — actively, responsibly and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground,” he added.
The Bush policy had allowed funding of embryonic stem-cell research only when the stem-cell line had been created before Aug. 9, 2001.
NO NEW LINES
The executive order Obama signed permits federal funding of stem-cell lines created since then, but would not allow funding of the creation of new lines, leaving that decision to Congress.
Obama also signed a “presidential memorandum on scientific integrity” March 9. That memorandum orders the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for ensuring that “the administration’s decisions about public policy be guided by the most accurate and objective scientific advice available.”
He said scientific advisers should be appointed “based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology.”
But Paul Long, vice president for public policy at the Michigan Catholic Conference, said the order “regrettably places ideology and political posturing ahead of proven scientific therapeutic advancements.”
Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., called Obama’s action the “newest step by the president to eventually remove all legal protections for innocent, nascent human life.”
“The president boldly proclaimed that he was taking the politics out of science,” Finn added. “Rather, it seems clear that he is only asserting ‘his politics’ over life itself.”