Committee passes guidelines for stem cell research

July 31, 2003

David Elliott, a deputy from Mississippi, is also a grandfather who spoke of the hope that stem cell research could offer his granddaughter. She suffers from a genetic disease that likely will kill her before she reaches adulthood.

The Rev. Neil Lebhar, a visitor from the Diocese of Florida, testified that despite his grandchild’s genetic disease, he believes “using life–even potential life–for the sake of others without their consent is a very dangerous road to go down.”

The Social and Urban Affairs Committee weighed impassioned testimony on both sides of the stem cell research debate. On Thursday morning, they unanimously passed out of committee the amended resolution A014, which concerns research on human stem cells and includes pieces of resolutions C020 and C021.

The new language, which will go first to the House of Deputies, urges the continuation of adult stem cell research. At the same time, the resolution supports “the choice of those who wish to donate their early embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have ended.”

According to testimony from Dr. Cynthia Cohen, a member of the Ethics and the New Genetics Task Force and a faculty member at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, more than 400,000 embryos are in storage throughout the United States. Only a handful – between 30 and 40 – are earmarked for donation to other infertile couples. The resolution is aimed at giving guidelines and recommendations for couples who plan to donate their unused embryos for research on genetic and other debilitating diseases.

“Stem cells represent a hope for those of us who deal with pain or paralysis,’’ said Sr. Cyndy Anderson, an alternate from the Diocese of Maine and a spinal cord injury survivor.

The Rev. Richard Grant from the Diocese of Texas countered that more energy should be put into adult stem cell research. “Many of us have loved ones who could benefit from cures to diseases,” he said. “I believe researchers are exploiting our desires.”

Amended resolution A014 also urges the U.S. Congress to fund medical research on embryonic stem cells generated for IVF, so long as the cells meet four provisions: the early embryos are no longer required for procreation and would be discarded; those donating the embryos have given their consent; the embryos were not deliberately created for research purposes; and the embryos were not obtained by sale or purchase.

In addition, the resolution calls for the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish an oversight body to monitor such research in the private and public sector.

In other business Thursday morning, the committee held hearings on resolution A011, which outlines the ethical guidelines for gene transfer and germline intervention, and A012, which explores the idea of parenting children in the face of new genetics.