By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A federal judge ruled this week that taxpayer dollars can be used to fund embryonic stem cell research, a decision that has renewed the debate over the morality of research that involves the intentional destruction of a human life.
The Atlantic is reporting that U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed a lawsuit by two scientists who claimed the funding of embryonic stem cell research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law that prohibits the use of taxpayer funds in any research that harms or destroys embryos. Attorneys for the Obama Administration argued that the law’s definition of “research” was vague and that embryonic stem cells were not included in its scope.
Judge Lamberth, who originally ruled in favor of the scientists and called a halt to the research for some time last year, agreed with the Administration and dismissed the suit.
This action has caused a resurgence of argument for and against the destructive research that has yet to produce a single cure.
Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president, called the ruling a victory for patients and research. “While we don’t know exactly what stem cell research will yield, scientists believe this research could treat or cure diseases that affect millions of Americans every year. That’s why President Obama has long fought to support responsible stem cell research… For too long, patients and families have suffered from debilitating, incurable diseases and we know that stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans across the country. President Obama is committed to supporting responsible stem cell research and today’s ruling was another step in the right direction.”
But the moral issues remain insurmountable for many. “There are two very distinct kinds of stem-cell research. Some of it is conducted on adult stem cell lines, while other researchers want to use embryonic stem cells,” writes John Hayward of Human Events. “Obtaining embryonic stem cells for scientific research involves creating human embryos with in vitro fertilization, then destroying them to isolate the stem cell lines. This is morally objectionable to many people, so they don’t want their compulsory tax money used to fund it.”
Others, such as Francis Collins, the outspoken Christian and director of the National Institutes of Health, told USA Today he believes moral choices have to be made about this research. “Is it more ethical to use the 400,000 frozen embryos that will never be drawn out of fertility clinic freezers for a benevolent purpose or to discard them?”
Collins position is based on the faulty assumption that 400,000 embryos are indeed available. According to the Rand Corporation, the total number of frozen embryos stored in freezers throughout the U.S. was about 396,000 in 2002. However, the vast majority of those embryos (88.2%) are being held for family building with just 2.8 percent of the total (11,000) designated for research.
“Of the remaining embryos, 2.3 percent are awaiting donation to another patient, 2.2 percent are designated to be discarded, and 4.5 percent are held in storage for other reasons, including lost contact with a patient, patient death, abandonment, and divorce,” Rand found.
Suck a small supply of embryos means it will soon become inevitable that embryos will have to be created in laboratories in order to harvest their stem cells. This probability has already led to a rash of unethical egg-gathering schemes from researchers around the world, many of which prey upon poor women or coeds in need of money.
The Church is a strong supporter of stem cell research and has invested at least $1 million adult stem cell research, but it remains adamantly against research on embryos.
On August 25, 2000, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a document entitled “Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells,” which summarizes the reasons why the Catholic Church opposes ESCR.
First, because the preparation of embryonic stem cells from a living embryo requires the destruction of the embryo, which the Church teaches is a gravely immoral act.
Second, because some scientists have used cloning to produce embryos in order to harvest stem cells. Even though these embryos are not created in the normal manner, the Church recognizes them as being a live human life and thereby deserving of protection from destruction.
The Church also opposes the use of embryonic stem-cell lines that already exist for the same reason that She opposes the creation of new lines – because those lines also began with the destruction of innocent human life.
Unfortunately, taxpayers who oppose this research will have little recourse in the U.S. as an appeal of Judge Lamberth’s decision does not appear likely at this time.
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Table is from Rand Corporation.