US President Bush has used his final State of the Union address to call on Congress to introduce legislation to ban human cloning and to also provide additional funding for 'ethical' stem cell research. 'On matters of science and life, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries', he said. 'I call on the Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life'. The President spoke about research reported late last year, in which two sets of scientists were able to 'reprogramme' human skin cells returning them to an embryonic state, and hence regaining their pluripotencey. One of the teams, lead by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan, used skin cells taken from the face of a 36-year-old woman. The other group, lead by Professor James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin, used immature skin cells taken from a human fetus and the foreskin of a newborn baby boy. 'This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life', Bush said in his address, adding, 'we are expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research'.
Bush's outspoken opposition to human embryonic stem cell research was echoed a couple of days later in Pope Benedict XVI's address before the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pope said that artificial insemination and human cloning techniques had 'shattered' human dignity. 'When human beings in the weakest and most defenceless stage of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure 'biological matter', how can it be denied that they are no longer being treated as 'someone' but as 'something', thus placing the very concept of human dignity in doubt?' he said.
The Pope called upon Catholics to issue greater condemnation of practices that involve the destruction of life. Pro-life Catholics believe that life begins at the moment of conception and an embryo, even one up to 14 days of development such as those used in research, deserves protection as sacred life and a potential human being. Like Bush, the Pope also encouraged the use of stem cell research that does not involve embryos.
Meanwhile in the UK, pro-life Cabinet ministers have continued exerting pressure on Gordon Brown to permit them to vote according to their conscience when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill arrives for debate in the Commons. Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, and Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, are leading a group of pro-life Catholic MP's unhappy with the Prime Minister's reluctance to allow Cabinet ministers a 'conscience vote' on the issue. In total there are 64 Catholic MPs who are entitled to vote.