Written by Tim Kershner
Delegates to General Synod 23 called on President Bush to release federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.
Olivia White, a professor of genetics and ethics at the University of North Texas, introduced this resolution as new business because, she says, she knew the subject would figure prominently in the news this summer. She is a member of Central Congregational UCC in Dallas and serves as vice-chair of the Justice and Witness Ministries board.
Privately-funded research using human embryos is already taking place, without regulation or oversight from government agencies, she says. This could lead to abuses of embryos in the research process, including payment to women for harvesting eggs for research.
Federally-funded research, she says, would conform to guidelines established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that mandate that stem cells used in this research be from excess embryos created for fertility treatment only; no embryos would come by way of the abortion process or harvested in exchange for payment.
The church resolution also calls for research to be conducted with "concern for justice, privacy and access to the benefits of the research for all."
The General Synod also adopted a resolution calling for the church and its members to take an active part in the "ongoing dialogue on the ethics of genetic science and technology." That matter was referred directly to church agencies for implementation.
White says stem cell research could lead to cures or treatment for a variety of ailments including Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Within the first seven days following fertilization, the embryonic cells are all the same and "unprogramed." As the embryo grows and develops, each cell receives information directing it to become a specific cell, such as heart, lung or skin tissue. The goal of the research, White says, is to learn how the cells receive their programming and to use that knowledge to treat diseases and to make implantation less risky.
Currently, in transplanting an organ, a donor must be identified and a lengthy and costly tissue-matching process followed in order to reduce the risk of rejection. If an organ can be grown from a stem cell, White added, tissue matching is not an issue.
Kershner is director of public relations for Alvernia College in Reading, Pa.