Episcopal Church leaders praise new stem cell research bill

May 25, 2005

Episcopalians offered praise for the passage of rare bipartisan legislation expanding research of donated stem cells derived from human embryos after in vitro fertilization. The bill, H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, passed by a vote of 238-194 and was co-sponsored 200 legislators, including 13 Episcopal members of Congress.

Domestic policy analyst John Johnson, of the church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C., praised the action by the House of Representatives. "Attention on the issue now goes to the Senate, where similar legislation (S. 471) also has strong bipartisan support, despite the threat of a presidential veto, and could be considered this year," Johnson said.

A letter signed by Maureen Shea and Dr. Cynthia B. Cohen was sent to the House in support of the measure. Shea is the director of the Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C., and Cohen was a member of the Ethics and the New Genetics Task Force established by Executive Council after the 2000 General Convention. The Task Force reported to the 2003 General Convention a resolution (A014) titled "Support Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research," which was considered and passed. That resolution and the report to the General Convention from the Task Force were the basis for the letter sent to Congress.

"As stewards of creation, we are called to help mend and renew the world in many ways. The Episcopal Church celebrates medical research as this research expands our knowledge of God's creation and empowers us to bring potential healing to those who suffer from disease or disability," the letter stated. "We appreciate the thorough and sensitive approach the authors and co-sponsors of this legislation have taken in crafting the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 and urge its passage when the full House considers this important measure."

Like the Episcopal Church's resolution, the bill specifies that human embryonic stem cells would be eligible for use in research if the cells meet specific the criteria. The legislation requires that stem cells derived from human embryos must be donated from in vitro fertilization clinics where the cells were created for fertility treatment and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking treatment. Donors must have informed consent without financial inducements, and it must be determined by the donors that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and therefore discarded.

The Task Force reported to the 2003 General Convention, "In recent years, biomedical investigators have explored the possibility that the use of human stem cells might be effective in treating such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries."

The report concluded, "Early embryos remaining after [in vitro fertilization] procedures have ended could morally be donated for embryonic stem cell research. If these embryos are donated for stem cell investigations, they could assist promising research that might enable those who are seriously ill with little hope of recovery to be healed."

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