Tuesday, July 07, 2009

As Obama Nears Rome, The Line Holds at Home

In the run-up to President Obama's first meeting with Pope Benedict on Friday at the Vatican, the administration's freshly-released guidelines on embryonic stem-cell research were panned earlier today by the US bishops.

In a late afternoon release from the Mothership, the conference response to the move by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came from the bench's chair for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia:
“In April I criticized the NIH’s draft guidelines for destructive embryonic stem cell research, saying that under these guidelines ‘federal tax dollars will be used to encourage destruction of living embryonic human beings for stem cell research – including human beings who otherwise would have survived and been born.’

“The final guidelines issued yesterday are even broader. 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.

“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. Even comments filed by the Catholic bishops’ conference and others against specific abuses in the draft guidelines were not addressed. For example, federally 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. Existing federal law against funding research in which human embryos are harmed or destroyed is not given due respect here.

“This debate now shifts to Congress, 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.”
After a monthlong comment period last spring on a first set of proposals -- during which the bishops led a campaign for ethically sound research guidelines vis a vis church teaching -- the NIH draft released yesterday entered into force today. The USCCB push was duly noted, and supportively so, by the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, whose relatively sanguine coverage of the Obama White House has come under fire from church conservatives over recent weeks.

In April, the administration's stem-cell policies landed Obama's lead Catholic surrogate in ecclesial hot water.

After the NIH's first proposals were defended by the former Republican operative and CUA Law Dean Doug Kmiec as "ethically sensitive" in a column for Catholic News Service, Rigali retorted in a column of his own that the new policy would be "more sweeping" than its Bush administration predecessor, "encouraging the destruction of new embryos including those not yet conceived."

Last week, the President nominated Kmiec as the next US Ambassador to Malta.