Moral Crusade Against Stem Cell Research Undermines Hope of Life for the Living


In August, an injunction was placed against federal funding of stem cell research by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, who also later rejected the Obama administration’s request to lift his preliminary injunction, ruling that the administration’s research guidelines violated a 1996 law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. On September 9th, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a request from the Justice Department to stay the injunction. In a major victory for supporters of the research, the court said the Obama administration could resume funding the research pending a full appeal of the case.  The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice here discusses the lawsuit that lead to the injunction, and the dangers inherent in limiting stem cell research according to specific religious ideologies.

The lawsuit leading to the injunction involves a serious moral issue that the Religious Right has seized upon as part of its crusade against women’s reproductive rights and dedication to establishing its interpretation of Christianity in law: namely, the status of embryos that are the source of stem cells used for research. Halting this research shows great regard for embryos – but not the millions of people with incurable conditions including diabetes and Parkinson’s who could benefit from this research.

Respect for all human life is a basic principle of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC)  – but the facts are that these embryos were created for fertility treatments, are no longer needed, and are slated by those who created them for destruction. In RCRC’s view, in weighing competing moral claims, it is less ethical to keep them frozen indefinitely and then to destroy them than to allow them to serve a healing purpose.

According to statements by faith traditions that are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice as well as other religious bodies, which together have many millions of members, embryonic stem cell research is both ethical under certain conditions and potentially life-saving  – a fact that Religious Right organizations should champion.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Board of Directors, in a policy adopted in 2000, stated:

“… embryonic stem cell research using embryos that would otherwise be discarded is not only ethical, but it can improve the quality of life and potentially save the lives of those suffering with chronic and incurable diseases.” 

Prohibiting funding of research with stem cells from embryos created for fertility treatments and slated for destruction

“…would elevate the showing of respect to human embryos above that of helping persons whose pain and suffering might be alleviated due to the knowledge gained from studying embryonic cells,” the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Board of Directors stated.

Fortunately for scientific integrity, common sense, and the lives of those with incurable diseases who could benefit from this research, the Obama administration was willing to fight the Religious Right on this issue. It is our hope that the administration will continue to fight these theocratic exploits and that funding for this invaluable research will be resumed.

The lawsuit was brought by the Religious Right groups Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association and Night-Light Christian Adoptions – the latter on behalf of itself and “Plaintiff Embryos” – and several researchers and individuals; the judge threw out the claims of all parties except the researchers, who contended that funding for this research deprived them of funding for their own research.

Bioethics is a critical issue to these organizations, which not only reject using excess embryos for research, calling it “contrary to God’s plan,” but also oppose abortion in all cases and have tried to revoke approval of mifepristone for early abortion.

  • The multi-issue Family Research Council’s mission statement states that it “promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society,” according to its website. It supports abstinence-only-until marriage programs in public schools are the most effective method of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and , out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and “negative outcomes associated with premarital and extramarital sex,” despite a lack of research-based evidence.
  • The Christian Medical Association (also called Christian Medical and Dental Associations) “exist to glorify God–by motivating, educating and equipping Christian doctors and students to serve with professional excellence as witnesses of Christ’s love and compassion, and by advancing biblical principles of healthcare within the Church and to our culture,” according to its website.
  • Night-Light Christian Adoptions runs the Snowflake Frozen Embryo Adoption Program; it finds parents for embryos left over from fertility treatments, stored in fertility clinics and “waiting to be adopted into loving homes,” according to its website. The website does not say how many embryos have been adopted. It also accepts embryos from those wishing to donate them.

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