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Pro-lifers counter calls for stem-cell financing

June 18, 2004
Jennifer Brinker
St Louis Review

Members of the local pro-life community are countering calls to ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

"One of the things to be clear about in this, is that the people who are pro-embryonic stem cell research can be very clever with their terms," said Father Edward Richard, MS, associate professor of moral theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

"The thing that embryonic stem cells refer to are the cells of a destroyed human embryo ó always," he said.

Earlier this month, 58 U.S. Senators wrote a letter to President George W. Bush, calling on him to ease restrictions on government funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The letter, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., came at a timely moment. It was written just days before former President Ronald Reagan died from complications of Alzheimerís disease.

"Embryonic stem cell research might hold the key to a cure for Alzheimerís and other terrible diseases," Feinstein said in a prepared statement. "This is why we must do everything in our power to support this research and give hope to the millions of Americans who suffer today."

Earlier this week, the Bush administration rejected the calls to change the policy.

Father Richard, who testified for a ban on human cloning at state Senate Judiciary Committee hearings earlier this year, said he found it disturbing that many legislators donít fully understand the terminology being used to describe stem cell research.

The bill that Father Richard testified for died in committee.

"Embryonic stem cell research, as far as clinical applications go, means that they must have cloning," he said. "So they use the words Ďtherapeutic cloning.í"

Others, he said, sometimes call it "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or "cell regeneration research."

But ultimately, the intention from the beginning is to "destroy the embryo," Father Richard said.

Some people, he noted, wonít recognize these embryos as human beings. In a May 5 commentary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, former Sen. John C. Danforth called embryos used for stem cell research "tiny bundles of unfertilized cells existing in petri dishes."

"What his point and others are saying is that if the embryo was created by cloning, rather than by fertilization, that it is not a human being," Father Richard said.

In his comments during the state Senate committee hearings, Father Richard said, "If you begin with the one-cell stage, it still is a member of that species that it is cloned from. Dolly did not become a sheep somewhere along the process. She was a sheep from the moment it was cloned."

The priest noted that during the hearings, Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, reacted to his statements by saying, "I donít believe that Dolly was a sheep."

When he speaks on stem cell research, Father Richard said he often will say that "The Roman Catholic Church supports stem cell research ó but we are against the destruction of innocent human life." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also has said that "adult stem cells and other ethically acceptable alternatives have helped hundreds of thousands of patients."

What many people who argue for embryonic stem cell research miss out on is that the use of adult stem cells in clinical applications has proven to be successful, Father Richard said.

It has been widely reported that adult stem cells have helped people with juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, corneal repair and different types of cancer, among other illnesses.

"Adult stem cells are showing the most promise, in many areas, from heart disease, to breast cancer, Parkinsonís (disease), multiple sclerosis," said Pam Fichter of Missouri Right to Life. "And embryonic stem cells have shown zero promise."

Fichter called embryonic stem cell research the "next Roe vs. Wade" and described the issue in the state of Missouri as a "David vs. Goliath" situation.

"You have the very powerful biotech industry, who has tremendous resources, to get out the point of view that they want to make, which we think is not just deceptive, but the message is based on misinformation, on lies and on deceptive terminology."

During the most recent session of the Missouri General Assembly, Missouri Right to Life worked to include protective language in legislation that would "make sure there were no state funds going to agencies doing this type of research, where human life was destroyed," Fichter said.

For the next legislative session, Missouri Right to Life will continue to support efforts to create a state ban on the use of public funding and facilities for the purpose of cloning.

Michael Panicola, vice president of ethics for SSM Health Care, said he feels that in addition to addressing the problem of destroying an embryo, people also should be looking at how scarce health care resources are allocated.

"How much do we value early human life, and are we willing to sacrifice it to possibly cure or alleviate the symptoms of these various diseases?" he asked.

"I think the societal issue is, do we want to allocate the resources to this research and the potential therapies that evolve from it when we have 44 million uninsured in this country alone? A global health problem also is providing basic health care to millions of people worldwide. So I think itís an allocation issue in addition to the issue of destroying embryos."

Molly Corcoran Kertz, director of the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Committee, quoted the childrenís author Dr. Seuss, who once wrote, "A personís a person no matter how small."

"They are saying because it doesnít look like a person, it isnít big enough to be a person," she said. "But it is not going change in any way except for its growth. The materials that it is made of are not going to change in any way. It will never be anything but a person."

"The truth is twofold: First, the public has to be aware that any embryo is a human being," Kertz said. "The other thing is you can never justify taking or sacrificing a life for the possibility of improving another life. Nobody is to make that decision, no matter how small that life is."

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