Funding Blocked for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bishops Laud Victory of «Common Sense and Sound Medical Ethics»

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 26, 2010 ( The U.S. bishops are welcoming a Monday decision from a federal district court judge that blocked Barack Obama’s executive order to expand federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells.

In a statement Wednesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the decision as a «victory for common sense and sound medical ethics.»

The cardinal said the injunction «vindicates a reading of Congress’s statutory language on embryo research» defended by the bishops for more than a decade.

The decision blocks Obama’s 2009 order encouraging federal funds for research into any embryonic stem cell lines that either had been allowed by the Bush administration or had been created using embryos «left over» from fertility treatments and in which unpaid donors had provided written consent for the embryos to be used for research.

Guidelines were issued after a public consultation process in which many of the 50,000 comments noted ethical objections. 

The public also pointed out that the move violated a law passed since 1996 to preclude federal funding for research that destroys embryos, which Cardinal DiNardo mentioned in his statement.

The Bush and Obama administrations both had supported a position that makes a distinction between the actual destruction of the embryos — not to be federally funded — and research on cells derived from these destroyed embryos — which could be federally funded.

Distorted and narrowed

The cardinal explained how national law has been abused since the Clinton administration: «Each year since 1996, Congress has approved the Dickey amendment to forbid funding any ‘research in which’ human embryos are harmed or destroyed. This should ensure that taxpayers are not forced to fund a research project when pursuing that project requires the destruction of human life at its earliest stage. However, beginning with a legal memo commissioned by the Clinton administration in January 1999, this law has been distorted and narrowed to allow federal funding of research that directly relies on such destruction. 

«As the bishops’ conference said in congressional testimony in 1999, ‘a mere bookkeeping distinction between funds used to destroy the embryo and funds used to work with the resultant cells is not sufficient’ to comply with the law.»

The cardinal added that in the health care reform debate, the bishops have similarly affirmed «that an executive order by itself cannot change the meaning of a law passed by Congress, and that the longstanding policy against funding health plans that cover abortion is not satisfied, but circumvented, by a bookkeeping distinction that merely segregates accounts within such plans.»

Reading the words

Monday’s court decision backed the bishops’ reading of the Dickey amendment, noting the sense of the language of the law shows the intent of Congress to «prohibit the expenditure of federal funds on ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.’”

According to a statement Wednesday from Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the «effects of the judge’s decision are likely to be significant.»

«Dr. Francis Collins, agency director of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], noted in a news conference after the announcement of the federal district judge’s decision that 143 scientific grants worth $95 million, which are now up for annual renewal, will be frozen. In addition, 22 grants totaling $54 million, whose existing research is coming up for renewal in September, will also be frozen. Another 131 grants awarded this year already are out the door and will not be affected until they are up for renewal in a year,» Father Pacholczyk reported.

Using what works

Cardinal DiNardo observed that a good government should use funds for serving human life, and not seek «new ways to evade this responsibility.»

Moreover, alluding to the research successes with adult stem cells, his statement expressed hope that the court decision will encourage the government to «renew and expand its commitment to ethically sound avenues of stem cell research.»

«These avenues,» he affirmed, «are showing far more promise than destructive human embryo research in serving the needs of suffering patients.»

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On the Net:

Cardinal DiNardo’s statement:

Father Pacholczyk’s statement:

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