In his papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II warned the world community that “with the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological progress there arise new forms of attack on the dignity of the human being.”
We see this danger in the current debate over stem-cell research embroiled in presidential election-year politics. Most stem-cell research uses cells obtained from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, and other sources that pose no moral problem. Stem cells from adult tissue and umbilical cord blood have proven benefits. Already they have been used to help people with Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, heart damage, corneal damage, and dozens of other conditions, and new treatment uses are still being found.
But the current political hype over embryonic stem cells is diverting our attention and our resources from the real progress already being made with non-embryonic stem cells. The Kerry campaign and other political figures are ignoring the facts, calling for more federal funding for embryonic stem- cell research, an approach that has yet to yield any medical breakthrough and poses a serious moral danger.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign and others claim that embryonic stem-cell research will lead to cures for many diseases, but this is largely speculation. These stem cells have never treated a human patient.
President Bush allowed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research under certain conditions in 2001. When the president made his decision to provide federal funding for research using existing embryonic stem-cell lines—involving previously destroyed embryos—he was complying with legislative language passed by Congress each year since 1996 forbidding federal funding for any research that creates, injures, or destroys human embryos.
While I differ with the president on funding the existing lines, it is worth noting that Senator Kerry is misleading the public by claiming that the president “banned” embryonic stem- cell research. As the senator knows, privately funded embryonic stem-cell research is legal in the United States. And President Bush provided the first federal funding ever for this research. Moreover, the president provided $190.7 million in fiscal year 2003 for research using human non-embryonic stem cells from adult tissue, cord blood, placenta, and bone marrow.
As a member of the bipartisan Senate Biotechnology Caucus, I am a strong supporter of advancing science and believe that Congress should continue funding the many non-controversial research alternatives that are leading to life-saving therapies for a number of medical problems. At the same time, we can never justify taking human life to try to save another life.
The government’s funding priorities have a major impact on the direction that medical research takes. While available research funds have been diverted toward exploring embryonic stem-cell research, some promising adult stem-cell avenues for treating juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, and Parkinson’s disease have been underfunded. Many advances in these fields have emerged from other countries.
William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, recently told appropriators in Congress, “If there is to be any change in the existing policy, it should be to end this limited funding of [embryonic stem-cell research] altogether, so taxpayers’ resources can more effectively be marshaled for research avenues that now appear to be more ethically and medically sound.”
With stem cells, it’s not a choice between science and ethics. We can and must have both