No clones allowed. Religious groups back new NIH stem cell rules

The Obama Administration issued long-sought guidelines Friday for advancing new federally-funded embryonic stem cell research reversing a nearly nine year ban by the Bush White House.

Despite hysterical and inaccurate claims by conservative religious groups over “fetal farming”, the National Institutes of Health guidelines do not allow embryonic cloning or other methods of deriving stem cells beyond those available through fertility clinics.

The Washington Post notes that while some in the scientific community hailed the new rules as pragmatic others grumbled that the political compromise would hamper promising research to cure terminal illnesses and life-threatening conditions.

The NIH modeled its revised policy on Congressional legislation that was long-championed by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver but unable to withstand veto threats by Bush. Degette and her Delaware Republican co-sponsor Michael Castle have indicated that lawmakers will press further for more expansive stem cell research rules.

Additional ethical safeguards, including signed donor consent and restrictions on obtaining only discarded embryos from fertility clinics for approved research purposes, were welcomed by centrist political leaders.

Faith in Public Life, a nonpartisan religious policy center, posted responses from a variety of denominations on its blog on the proposed guidelines:

The United Methodist Church’s official position states that:

…Given the reality that most, if not all, of these excess embryos will be discarded–we believe that it is morally tolerable to use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes. This position is a matter of weighing the danger of further eroding the respect due to potential life against the possible, therapeutic benefits that are hoped for from such research…

The Religious Action Center says:

[T]he Jewish tradition teaches us that preserving life and promoting health are among the most precious of values… Indeed, our tradition requires that we use all available knowledge to heal the ill, and “when one delays in doing so, it is as if he has shed blood” (Shulchan Aruch, Yorei De`ah 336:1).

The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s statement says:

[We] affirm the use of fetal tissue and embryonic tissue for vital research. Our respect for life includes respect for the embryo and fetus, and we affirm that decisions about embryos and fetuses need to be made with responsibility… With careful regulation, we affirm the use of human stem cell tissue for research that may result in the restoring of health to those suffering from serious illness.

The Orthodox Union said in a letter to President Bush:

The potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life from the traditional Jewish perspective. Moreover, our rabbinic authorities inform us that an isolated fertilized egg does not enjoy the full status of person-hood and its attendant protections. Thus, if embryonic stem cell research can help us preserve and heal humans with greater success, and does not require or encourage the destruction of life in the process, it ought to be pursued.

The public has 30-days to weigh in on the proposed NIH guidelines which are expected to go into effect in July.

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Wendy Norris

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