Petition targets stem-cell debate - Catholic Courier

Petition targets stem-cell debate

Over the past year, members of the diocesan Public Policy Committee have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about stem-cell research.

“We’ve talked to over 1,000 people at the parish level, which is unprecedented,” said Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator.

Parishioners can now put their knowledge to good use when Public Policy Weekend takes place the weekend of Feb. 11-12. Before and after Masses at parishes across the diocese, they will be asked to sign petitions advocating that New York state pursue adult stem-cell research but not embryonic research.

The petition states: “We call upon the governor and the state legislature to provide support for adult stem-cell research and treatment. We object to the use of human embryos and any cloning procedures for experimentation or research. We urge the governor and the legislature to expand adult stem-cell research and treatment, which is both morally sound and medically beneficial.”

Each year the Public Policy Committee prioritizes one advocacy issue and two educational components. Stem-cell research was selected as this year’s advocacy issue, after having been an educational piece in 2005. Armantrout noted that numerous people had been previously unaware of the complexities surrounding this topic.

“Even legislators have appreciated a concise presentation,” she said, referring to a talk she gave to politicians who attended Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s annual legislative luncheon on Jan. 6 at St. Patrick’s Church in Victor.

While obviously hoping that many Catholics will sign the petition, Armantrout urged them not to do so without obtaining background knowledge of the issues at hand. For further information, she suggested visiting the diocesan Web site at and clicking on the “What’s New” icon. In addition, several articles about stem cells are available in the story archive on the Catholic Courier‘s Web site at (archive searches require free registration).

Bishop Clark also discussed his position on stem-cell research and treatments in his “Along the Way” column in the July 2005 monthly edition of the Courier.

“In this experimental research, the lives of human embryos are ended when their cells are extracted for scientific use. As Catholics, we believe that the dignity of the human person flows from creation in God’s image, established at the instant of conception,” the bishop wrote, adding that “our faith, then, calls us to insist that the small and most vulnerable are afforded the same rights as the strong and powerful.”

Yet Bishop Clark said he strongly supported therapies involving adult stem cells, noting that recent breakthroughs “which quite ethically use adult stem cells that may be isolated from each of our bodies and from umbilical-cord blood retained during the process of birth — are nothing less than remarkable. At medical centers throughout the world, damaged hearts are being mended, sensation is being restored to paralyzed limbs and cancers are being successfully treated with these adult stem-cell treatments.”

Also this year, the Public Policy Committee has selected as its two educational issues children in poverty and solidarity with Africa.

Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, noted several ways in which parishes have provided, or can provide, educational opportunities on these topics:

* Children in poverty: Present Children’s Sabbaths and Advent giving trees during the fall; promote such programs as food stamps, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Health Plus; offer financial support to or volunteer at summer camps for low-income children; welcome migrant families.

* Africa: Invite an African priest or lay person to speak; watch and discuss the movie “Hotel Rwanda”; gear homilies and bulletin pieces toward the “Africa Rising: Hope and Healing” project of Catholic Relief Services; serve Africa-grown fair-trade coffee at parish meetings and coffee hours.

Mich added that the Public Policy Committee is also giving special priority to educational tax credits, in conjunction with an initiative led by the state’s bishops. This effort, which aims to reduce tuition for parents of students in nonpublic schools, received an encouraging boost last month when Gov. George Pataki for the first time included tax credits in his proposed state budget.

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