Cardinal Urges Senate to Back Cord-Blood Research

But Calls for Rejection of 2nd Bill Requiring Embryo Destruction

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 13, 2005 ( Cardinal William Keeler has urged the U.S. Senate to support legislation fostering umbilical cord blood stem cell research and treatments.

At the same time, the cardinal, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, urged the Senate to reject a bill which would use federal funds to encourage researchers to destroy new human embryos from fertility clinics for stem cell research.

In separate letters dated July 11, Cardinal Keeler supported the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, while urging rejection of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin.

The cardinal termed the latter a «destructive and morally offensive» proposal.

The House version of Hatch’s bill was approved 431-to-1 on May 24. The two Senate bills may be considered by lawmakers as early as this week.

In his letter on the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act, Cardinal Keeler noted that embryonic stem cell research raises grave moral objections because it requires the destruction of human life, and its possible use in future treatments remains a speculation.

«By contrast,» he wrote, «this bill relates to an area of stem cell research and treatment that is indisputably acceptable on moral grounds and remarkably promising in terms of clinical benefits: the use of umbilical cord blood retrieved immediately after live births.»

Lack of access

«Umbilical cord blood stem cells have successfully treated thousands of patients with dozens of diseases,» the cardinal stated. «They also exhibit properties once associated chiefly with embryonic stem cells: They grow rapidly in culture, producing enough cells to be clinically useful in both children and adults; they can treat patients who are not an exact genetic match, without being rejected as foreign tissue; and they seem able to produce a wide array of different cell types.»

«What is preventing far broader use of umbilical cord blood stem cells is not an ethical concern, or any lack of evidence of clinical benefits, but simply a lack of funding and access,» Cardinal Keeler continued.

«By helping to establish a nationwide public cord blood bank, this legislation will begin saving more lives almost immediately,» he stated. «By contrast, scientists are now warning against ‘false expectations’ regarding embryonic stem cells, pointing out that clinical use of those cells might be ‘three to five decades’ away.»

In contrast, Cardinal Keeler said the Specter-Harkin bill would rescind the Bush administration’s policy of funding only research on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence.

Morally offensive

Saying this bill would encourage large-scale destruction of innocent human life for research purposes, the cardinal said: «I urge you in the strongest possible terms to oppose all destructive and morally offensive proposals of this kind.»

«Government has no business forcing taxpayers to become complicit in the direct destruction of human life at any stage,» Cardinal Keeler said. «Nor is there any point in denying the scientific fact that human life is exactly what is at stake here.»

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