ACTORS Michael J. Fox and Mary Tyler Moore supported federal funding for stem cell research in their September 14 testimony before a Senate subcommittee. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, said, "The ... inescapable conclusion is that this research offers the potential to eliminate diseases, literally saving millions of lives." Fox recently left the popular television show Spin City as a result of his malady.
The celebrities' appearance came as the Senate's subcommittee on labor, health and human services prepares to vote on legislation which will allow public funding for the controversial research.
Government recommendations in the U.S. and England that would permit research on human-embryo stem cells have been decried by religious groups in both countries. In this country an official of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops called National Institutes of Health guidelines that will permit the federal funding of research on human-embryo stem cells "immoral and illegal" and said new medical advances make such research unnecessary.
In England the British government's proposal to allow what it calls "therapeutic cloning"--research into using stem cells from human embryos and cloning embryos for this purpose--has been condemned by Cardinal Thomas Winning, archbishop of Glasgow and chairman of the joint bioethics committee of the Roman Catholic bishops' conferences of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
The NIH guidelines announced on August 23 have been welcomed by those who believe the research might lead to advances in treatment of numerous diseases. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a Washington-based coalition of more than 40 national organizations from major denominations and faith groups, is one of the few religious bodies to support the research. A statement from the group's board of directors contended that while moral reservations about the procedure are legitimate, the potential for life-saving cures to human diseases should be paramount. "As people of faith, we are called to be partners with God in healing and in the alleviation of human pain and suffering," the statement said, adding that it would be unethical to put the status of an embryo above that of a sick, dying or injured person. "Prohibitio ... would elevate the showing of respect to human embryos above that of helping persons whose pain and suffering might be alleviated due to the knowledge gained from studying embryonic cells," the statement concluded.
The developing science is controversial because it involves destroying human embryos for scientific research. Embryonic or early-stage stem cells are the building blocks of all human tissues, and scientists believe they may hold the cure for a number of diseases.
"For the first time in history, our federal government will promote research in which developing human beings are destroyed," countered Richard Doerfiinger, associate director of the bishops' conference's ProLife Secretariat. "It is always wrong to directly destroy one innocent member of the human family to help another.... We will explore all avenues in Congress and elsewhere for reversing these indefensible guidelines, so medical research may again be guided by sound moral principles. …