Bishops Blast New Stem Cell Guidelines

Some 30,000 Public Comments Ignored

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By Kathleen Naab

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Justin Rigali is decrying a decision made by the National Institutes of Health to broaden the guidelines for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The chairman of the U.S. episcopal conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities lamented today that the "comments of tens of thousands of Americans opposing the destruction of innocent human life for stem cell research were simply ignored in this process."

Jennifer Miller, executive director of Bioethics International, told ZENIT that indeed some 30,000 of the 49,000 comments received by the NIH during the public comment period were disregarded.

"We called the NIH for comment," Miller explained. "They stated that it is not uncommon to receive 49,000 comments regarding new guidelines. What is noteworthy is that the majority of comments were against the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, however these comments were ignored because they did not answer the initial question, which wasn’t whether to but how to fund the research. Approximately 30,000 comments were 'deemed not responsive to the question put forth,' according to the acting director of NIH."

The new guidelines, released Monday, were established upon the wish of U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama in March already lifted many, though not all, of the limits on federal funding for this research. He directed the NIH to determine the guidelines for this funding.

Among the restrictions still in place, Miller said, is that which prohibits the creation of embryos solely for their cells. Instead "only donated 'excess embryos'" may be used.

She explained: "These embryos are termed excess because they are created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes, that is for the purpose of birthing a child, however they ended up ‘un-needed’ or ‘unwanted’ due to various circumstances. A common circumstance results from the fertilization of more embryos than needed to achieve the desired number of births by the parent, hence the term ‘excess.' -- I don’t mean to imply that these embryos have less value than those who are born nine months later, merely that they were labeled ‘extra’ by the donor."

Going further

In his statement today, Cardinal Rigali explained implications of the NIH decision: "Parents who are asked to consider having their embryonic children destroyed for research will not even have to be informed about all their other options -- only about the options that happen to be available at their particular fertility clinic.

"Moreover, under the final guidelines, stem cell lines that existed previously or that are produced in foreign countries may be made eligible for federally funded research even if they were obtained in ways that violate one or more of the NIH's own informed consent requirements. […]

"[F]ederally funded researchers will be allowed to insert human embryonic stem cells into the embryos of animal species other than primates; federal grants will be available even to researchers who themselves destroyed human embryos to obtain the stem cells for their research."

The cardinal urged Americans to continue opposing the use of their tax dollars for this research.

“This debate now shifts to Congress," he noted, "where some members have said even this policy does not go far enough in treating some human beings as objects to be created, manipulated and destroyed for others’ use. I hope Americans concerned about this issue will write to their elected representatives, urging them not to codify or further expand this unethical policy."