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WFF Statement on
President Obama’s Executive Order Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells
 

Contact: Helen Hull Hitchcock
Director, Women for Faith & Family
Ph 314 863-8385 – E-mail:
wf-f@wf-f.org

March 9, 2009

“When science is applied to the alleviation of suffering and when it discovers on its way new resources, it shows two faces rich in humanity: through the sustained ingenuity invested in research, and through the benefit announced to all who are afflicted by sickness”. These words of Pope Benedict XVI were addressed to a symposium on stem-cell therapy sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life held in September 2006.  In this same address, the pope strongly approved of efforts to use adult stem cells to achieve new therapeutic results.

We strongly agree — and we have been much encouraged by recent highly promising results of the therapeutic use of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, skin and other sources that can provide “pluripotent” cells that can develop into other tissue. This research, using cells not derived from human embryos, has seen remarkable development within the past few years.

This has been particularly heartening, in that it shows that the “sustained ingenuity” of researchers has produced very hopeful treatments, and that this research has been completely free from the grave ethical problems involved in the destruction of human embryos to obtain stem cells. 

In the same address to the 2006 symposium, the pope pointed out that there are sound reasons for objections to embryonic stem-cell research: 

“Research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity. In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity.”

President Obama, in his remarks on signing his Executive Order on stem cells on March 9, said that his decision “is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda — and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” 

He said that his Administration is committed to assuring that “our public policies [are based] on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions.”

The president spoke stirringly of the “urgent work of giving substance to hope and answering those many bedside prayers, seeking the day when words like ‘terminal’ and ‘incurable’ are finally retired from our vocabulary.” Although earlier in this same address President Obama noted that “At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated.”

Thus it is puzzling that the president’s action revoked the 2007 Executive Order that had encouraged the National Institutes of Health [NIH] to support research to discover sources of pluripotent stem cells that do not involve destroying human embryos — that is, how to use ordinary adult cells to produce “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS).

Because of this research, adult and cord-blood cells are now successfully being used to reverse serious illness, and to rebuild damaged organs. These striking developments in stem-cell research have been hailed by the journal Science as the greatest breakthrough of the past year. In addition, many scientists who specialize in this research have said that these iPS cells have scientific advantages over the stem cells derived from human embryos, making embryonic stem cells irrelevant to genuine medical progress. This would eliminate the serious ethical problem of destroying human embryos, and would overcome the “political” and “ideological” controversy that has surrounded this research.

We urge President Obama and his Administration’s scientific advisors (Health and Human Services, NIH) to review his Executive Order Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells.

As it stands, the new Executive Order forces all Americans to support research that destroys embryonic human life. Although the president laudably excludes human cloning (though no reason for this exclusion is given), his Order does not expressly favor the far more promising stem-cell research that does not involve the destruction of new human life, and which also has given far greater hope for finding cures. 

A review and refocusing of this Executive Order would help to achieve the president’s goal to be “open and honest” about scientific facts, and his commitment to “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology”. It would also help to answer the “bedside prayers” of countless Americans who cannot, in conscience, justify sacrificing new lives for old. 

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Women for Faith & Family is an organization of Catholic women based in St. Louis, Missouri, representing about 50,000 Catholic women in the US and abroad.


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