Public again has chance to give input Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

The Obama administration is again asking for public comment on a proposed change in public policy. Citizen input was requested recently on conscience protection; now the topic is the use of federal funds for stem-cell research.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has drafted guidelines for embryonic stem-cell research. They were issued on April 17 by acting NIH director Dr. Raynard S. Kington. According to a Catholic News Service article, Kington says he believes the draft guidelines reflect “broad support in the public and in the scientific community.”

Divorcing research from ethics

However, the U.S. Catholic bishops and others have criticized the proposals. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia was among those who said the proposed guidelines would open “a new chapter in divorcing biomedical research from its necessary ethical foundation.”

Cardinal Rigali added, “Without unconditional respect for the life of each and every member of the human race, research involving human subjects does not represent true progress.” The cardinal serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. 

The new proposal would allow the use of federal funds for stem-cell research on embryos created for reproductive purposes at in vitro fertilization clinics and later discarded. 

End justifies the means mentality

However, this use of discarded embryos still follows the “end justifies the means” mentality. As Cardinal Riglali said, “It becomes another way for some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals.”

And make no mistake about it. These tiny embryos are human beings. The parents who created the embryos intended to have some of them implanted in the mother’s womb to grow and eventually be born as a child. 

There have been problems in the past about whether parents have actually given full consent for embryos to be used in research. I wonder, too, whether parents were fully informed about what the options were for what could have been their future children.

We can have some measure of comfort that the draft guidelines didn’t go any farther than they did.  Even Cardinal Rigali admitted that it was “noteworthy that, despite calls for an even broader policy by some in Congress and the research community, the draft guidelines do not allow federally funded stem-cell research using embryos specially created for research purposes by in vitro fertilization or cloning.”

Period of public comment

However, Cardinal Rigali urged concerned citizens to join with the bishops in writing to Congress and the Obama administration about the need to restore and maintain barriers against the mistreatment of human life in the name of science.

A period of public comment began with the April 23 publication of the draft guidelines in the Federal Register and is slated to close May 26. Public comment on the stem-cell guidelines may be mailed to: NIH Stem Cell Guidelines, MSC 7997, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892-7997, or submitted online at:

The NIH emphasized that research on adult stem cells and induced pluripotent cells, which do not require the destruction of human embryos, will continue to receive federal funding. There have been many exciting developments in these ethical areas of stem-cell research and we hope they will continue to bring success.

I encourage people to take advantage of this opportunity to enter into this public comment period. It is another chance to bring our Catholic values into the public policy debate on an important moral issue of our time.