GENERAL CONVENTION 2003


 

 


Deputies endorse research on human stem cells (A014)
By James Thrall and Sarah T. Moore

August 2 - [ENS] Despite objections, deputies voted Friday afternoon to endorse the
continuation of stem cell research and to call for making embryonic stem
cells more widely available to researchers.

Randolph Dales of New Hampshire, chair of the Social and Urban Affairs
committee, said that the resolution (A014), which combines two resolutions
on ìnew geneticsî (C020 and C021), supports stem cell research ìwith very
specific provisos.î
In addition to urging Congress to support medical research on embryonic
stem cells with federal funding and supporting the choice of those who wish
to donate embryos unused after in vitro fertilization, the resolution calls
on the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a national
interdisciplinary body to oversee all research in both public and private
sectors. A provision urging that ìadult stem cell researchî continue was
amended with the removal of the word ìadultî to refer to stem cell research
in general.

The resolution stipulates that research be supported only if the donated
embryos are no longer required for procreation and would otherwise be
discarded; are donated with signed informed consent that they may be used
for research; were not created for research purposes; and are not sold or
purchased.

John Vanderstar of Washington said that his twin granddaughters are among
the hundreds of thousands of babies born through the successful technology
of in vitro fertilization, a technology endorsed by the 1982 General
Convention and reaffirmed by the convention of 1991. The process has
created a stockpile of more than 400,000 frozen embryos that will only be
discarded or destroyed if they are not used, he said. The embryos, which
contain “undifferentiated stem cells,” are “extremely useful for research”
into possible treatments or cures for Parkinsonís disease, Alzheimerís,
diabetes and other illnesses, he said.

Vanderstar argued that the research was not a pro-life, pro-choice issue,
noting that even conservative Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is a strong
supporter of putting the embryos to “life-giving use.”

The Rev. David A. Elliott III of Mississippi said that embryonic stem cells
are considered more promising than adult stem cells for producing a cure
for such diseases as the spinal muscular atrophy, the ìnumber one killer of
children under two in America,î which affects his granddaughter. Research
using the frozen embryos that will be discarded anyway, he said, is “in its
own way pro-life because this will give others a chance for a cure.”

But Andrew E. Figueroa of Southern Ohio said, “I am increasingly clear in
my own mind that creating these embryos, knowing that they will eventually
be discarded or sacrificed for research is morally wrong. Even though my
own mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer's, I would encourage the
house to defeat this resolution.”

And the Rev. Jennie C. Olbrych of South Carolina argued that a central
principle of the Judeo-Christian ethic “is that the end never justifies the
means.” Endorsing research using the embryos “would place the good of
research above the good of life” and would encourage the view that an
“embryo with all of its potentials” is only ìa thing of utilitarian value.î
She urged the deputies instead to endorse adoption of embryos, an avenue
she said she and her husband would have loved to have had when they
discovered they were infertile. ìWhy not encourage movement in the other
directions from life to life?î she asked.

The Rev. Donald Curran of Central Florida said the promise of stem cell
research has been exaggerated by those wanting access to the embryos. ìThe
Episcopal Church should not compromise our baptismal covenant that respects
the dignity of every human life based on the promises of some whose only
interest is the advancement of science regardless of the cost,î he said.
ìNo human life, not the embryo, not the elderly, the disabled, or death-row
prisoners should be destroyed for the potential benefit of others.î
The resolution was adopted by a margin of 590 to 212. It now goes to the
House of Bishops for consideration.

New Release on Committee Recommendation before passage of A014

 

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