Stem cells are in the news again. In July, President George Bush vetoed a bill that would have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Proponents of this controversial research will now pressure state government to support their efforts.
Rep. Tom Tangretti (D-Westmoreland), Rep. Tom Tigue (D-Luzerne/Monroe) and Rep. Richard Grucela (D-Northampton) hosted a hearing of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee on the issue. Tangretti said embryonic stem cell research is confusing; there are many scientific and moral questions to consider. He hoped the hearing would inform the public that embryonic cells are not the only type showing promise. Ethical adult stem cell research is succeeding and yielding therapies that are healing people now. The July 25 meeting was the committee’s third on the topic.
Steve Johnson and his daughter Zara spoke to the panel. Johnson and his wife “adopted” Zara when she was a frozen embryo through the Snowflake Frozen Embryo Adoption Program. After implantation, Mrs. Johnson was able to give birth to Zara naturally. Johnson, himself a paraplegic from an accident, supports ethical, adult stem cell research.
Stephen Webster, CEO of Nureonyx, discussed the business opportunities of stem cell research. His company researches and develops cellular treatments for heart disease.
Dr. Gary Friedman of the New Jersey Stem Cell Research and Education Foundation explained how successful stem cell therapies will be more important as the aging American population puts a strain on our health care system. For example, stem cell therapies might help the people on the rapidly growing organ transplant list.
Dr. Katherine High of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was the lone speaker supporting embryonic research. She contends that without state funding Pennsylvania might be a “follower” instead of a “leader” in stem cell research which could hurt the Commonwealth’s economy.
Ethical considerations of embryonic stem cell research were discussed by Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He asked, “Just because we can, should we?” He reiterated that the Catholic Church does not oppose stem cell research, but advocates research on non-embryonic cells that does not destroy human life. Fr. Pacholczyk cautioned that describing embryos as “spares” to be discarded like medical waste creates “an unacceptable subclass of humans.”
The Pennsylvania Legislature reconvenes in September. Expect embryonic stem cell research to be on the agenda.
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In other news, Sen. Jane Orie (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Jerry Birmelin (R-Monroe, Pike, Wayne) added language in the law barring providers from spending certain federal and state family planning dollars on abortion related activities; and, requires them to physically and financially separate their abortion related activities from family planning services. The new law applies to counseling and referral as well as performance of abortions.
Senate and House leaders and Sen. Robert Mellow (D-Lackawanna), Senate Minority Pro-Life Caucus Chair; Rep. Tom Tangretti (D-Westmoreland), House Minority Pro-Life Caucus Chair; Sen. Robert Wonderling, (R-Montgomery); Sen. John C. Rafferty, Jr. (R-Montgomery, Chester, Berks); Rep. Katie True (R-Lancaster); and Rep. Tom Tigue (D-Luzerne, Monroe) were instrumental in the law’s passage.
PCC Column August 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.