OGR Letter to US House: Stem Cell Legislation

May 23, 2005

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Members of Congress:

On behalf of the Episcopal Church, USA we write to urge your support for H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, bi-partisan legislation that provides for the ethical research of stem cells derived from human embryos. This legislation is consistent with policy established by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. A copy of the Church’s position is attached.

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. In the context of research on human stem cells, the Church has seriously considered a number of moral and ethical implications—particularly in the area of the use of early human embryos—through a Task Force on Ethics and the New Genetics established by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in 2000. In its report to the Church encouraging approval of Research on Human Stem Cells, the Task Force explained:

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 use of these cells might also provide an alternative to organ transplantation. Stem cell investigators have therefore begun to carry out research involving both adult human stem cells and early human embryonic stem cells at the blastocyst stage (five days after fertilization).

Ethical concerns have been raised about whether this research should use stem cells that have been derived from early human embryos. Episcopalians generally recognize that early embryos are owed special moral consideration. For some this is because they are already persons in the eyes of God; for others the fact that embryos may mature and be born as children makes them special. Even before stem cell research became a scientific possibility, the use of the new reproductive technologies required the creation of early human embryos. Early embryos have been developed at fertility clinics in conjunction with the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to assist persons who face physical barriers to procreation. At most infertility clinics, several embryos are created at one time during the IVF procedure to ensure that there will be a sufficient number available for later attempts at implantation should the first try prove unsuccessful. We have acknowledged and accepted this as a society and as a church body. Two resolutions of the General Convention have also approved the use of IVF by those who experience difficulties in having children (GC Resolution -1982-A067 Approve the Use of “In Vitro” Fertilization and GC Resolution-1991-A101 Reaffirm the Recommendation Considering External Fertilization).

Early embryos remaining after IVF procedures have ended could morally be donated for embryonic stem cell research. The alternatives for couples who have completed their reproduction are to donate the embryos for research, to donate the embryos to other couples, to discard the embryos, or to preserve them as long as possible. Most couples prefer not to donate remaining embryos to other couples, and indefinite preservation simply postpones the inevitable. Thus the two remaining alternatives are to discard the embryos or to donate them for 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.

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. If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact John Johnson in the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations at 202-547-7300.


Maureen Shea

Cynthia B. Cohen, Ph.D., JD
Member, Ethics and the New Genetics Task Force

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