WASHINGTON -- Although the 30-day period for public comment on the National Institutes of Health's draft guidelines for funding of embryonic stem-cell research has ended, the U.S. bishops are continuing their campaign urging members of Congress not to permit such funding.
Through its Web site at http://usccb.org/stemcellcampaign, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its affiliated organization, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, directed 9,436 comments to NIH about the draft guidelines before the May 26 close of the public comment period, according to Deirdre A. McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications in the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
Donald M. Ralbovsky of NIH's Office of Communications and Public Liaison told Catholic News Service that more than 48,000 comments were received in all on the draft guidelines during the comment period. He said he did not know the breakdown on how many of those comments were for and how many against the proposed guidelines.
In the bishops' campaign, McQuade said another 46,931 messages went to U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to "oppose any use of my tax dollars to promote destructive embryonic stem-cell research or any form of human cloning."
"Instead please support adult stem-cell research, which is ethically sound, harms no one, and is already helping suffering patients with dozens of conditions," the message continues.
The draft guidelines -- drawn up at the request of President Barack Obama after his March 9 executive order overturned President George W. Bush's ban on federal funding of research involving the destruction of human embryos -- would allow the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research only on embryos created for reproductive purposes at in vitro fertilization clinics and no longer needed for that purpose.
They specifically ban funding "for research using embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes."
Also prohibited is funding of research in which stem cells "are introduced into nonhuman primate blastocysts" or research "involving the breeding of animals where the introduction of human embryonic stem cells or human-induced pluripotent stem cells may have contributed to the germ line."
In 11-page comments submitted May 22, the general secretary of the USCCB said the draft guidelines support "a course of action that is both morally objectionable and, increasingly, scientifically obsolete."
Msgr. David J. Malloy called the draft guidelines "more permissive than any policy approved in the past by any branch of the federal government," and said NIH "is missing an enormous opportunity to show how sound science and responsible ethics can not only coexist but support and enrich each other."