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Deputies endorse research on human stem cells, set budget priorities

By James Thrall and Sarah T. Moore
8/2/2003
[Episcopal News Service] 

Despite objections, deputies voted Friday afternoon to endorse the continuation of stem cell research and to call for making embryonic stem cells more widely available to researchers.

Randolph Dales of New Hampshire, chair of the Social and Urban Affairs committee, said that the resolution (A014), which combines two resolutions on “new genetics” (C020 and C021), supports stem cell research “with very specific provisos.”

In addition to urging Congress to support medical research on embryonic stem cells with federal funding and supporting the choice of those who wish to donate embryos unused after in vitro fertilization, the resolution calls on the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a national interdisciplinary body to oversee all research in both public and private sectors. A provision urging that “adult stem cell research” continue was amended with the removal of the word “adult” to refer to stem cell research in general.

The resolution stipulates that research be supported only if the donated embryos are no longer required for procreation and would otherwise be discarded; are donated with signed informed consent that they may be used for research; were not created for research purposes; and are not sold or purchased.

John Vanderstar of Washington argued that the research was not a pro-life, pro-choice issue, noting that even conservative Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is a strong supporter of putting the embryos to “life-giving use.” Hundreds of thousands of babies are born through the successful technology of in vitro fertilization, a technology endorsed by the 1982 General Convention and reaffirmed by the convention of 1991. The process has created a stockpile of more than 400,000 frozen embryos that will only be discarded or destroyed if they are not used, he said. The embryos, which contain “undifferentiated stem cells,” are “extremely useful for research” into possible treatments or cures for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other illnesses, he said.

The Rev. David A. Elliott III of Mississippi said that embryonic stem cells are considered more promising than adult stem cells for producing a cure for such diseases as the spinal muscular atrophy, the “number one killer of children under two in America,” which affects his granddaughter. Research using the frozen embryos that will be discarded anyway, he said, is “in its own way pro-life because this will give others a chance for a cure.”

But Andrew E. Figueroa of Southern Ohio said, “I am increasingly clear in my own mind that creating these embryos, knowing that they will eventually be discarded or sacrificed for research is morally wrong. Even though my own mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, I would encourage the house to defeat this resolution.”

And the Rev. Jennie C. Olbrych of South Carolina argued that a central principle of the Judeo-Christian ethic “is that the end never justifies the means.” Endorsing research using the embryos “would place the good of research above the good of life” and would encourage the view that an “embryo with all of its potentials” is only “a thing of utilitarian value.”

She urged the deputies instead to endorse adoption of embryos, an avenue she said she and her husband would have loved to have had when they discovered they were infertile. “Why not encourage movement in the other directions from life to life?” she asked.

The Rev. Donald Curran of Central Florida said the promise of stem cell research has been exaggerated by those wanting access to the embryos. “The Episcopal Church should not compromise our baptismal covenant that respects the dignity of every human life based on the promises of some whose only interest is the advancement of science regardless of the cost,” he said. “No human life, not the embryo, not the elderly, the disabled, or death-row prisoners should be destroyed for the potential benefit of others.”

The resolution was adopted by a margin of 590 to 212. It now goes to the House of Bishops for consideration.

Budget priorities

In other business, deputies approved  (and the House of Bishops concurred on) a set of five budget priorities identified by the Executive Council that are being used by the Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) to guide allocations in the triennium budget (D039).

“This creates a priorities-based budget,” said Richard Miller from Southeast Florida.

“The priorities enable Program, Budget and Finance to best decide how to allocate the budget and better enable commissions, and agency boards to assess and report their work,” said Donald Bushyager of Pittsburgh.

The priorities for the mission of the church, identified by the Executive Council, embrace diversity and seek to promote inclusion and power sharing which underlies and informs decision-making, said Bonnie Anderson of Michigan, chair of  PB&F.

The budget priorities are:

• Young adults and youth: Reaching out to young adults and youth through intentional inclusion and full inclusion in the thinking, work, worship and structure of the Church.

• Reconciliation and evangelism: Reconciling and engaging those who do not know Christ by participating in God’s mission of reconciling all things to Christ and proclaiming the Gospel to those who are not yet members of the Church.

• Congregational transformation: Revitalizing and transforming congregations through commitment to leadership development, spiritual growth, dynamic and inclusive worship, greater diversity, and mission.

• Justice and peace: Promoting justice and peace for all of God’s creation and reaching out to the dispossessed, imprisoned and otherwise voiceless needy.

• Partnerships: Reaffirming the importance of our partnerships with provinces of the Anglican Communion and beyond and our relationships with ecumenical and interfaith partners.

Advertising

Deputies also endorsed a campaign of television and radio advertising that would be developed by the national Office of Communication and include advertisements already designed through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (A081). The resolution as amended by the Communications Committee requests an allocation of $1.5 million for the campaign, twice the amount originally requested, in order to extend the length of the campaign. The resolution was amended by the deputies to direct that the advertisements reflect the multicultural and multilingual nature of the church.

The Rev. W. Lee Shaw of Utah said he recently baptized two young men “who came to our church to check us out because they had seen these ads,” and James Bradberry of Southern Virginia said he and other Executive Council members had been impressed when they saw a preview. “I cannot begin to tell you how effective and good the ads are,” he said.

But others cautioned that even $1.5 million may be too little to support an effective national campaign

“The Lutherans and the Methodists each spend more than $10 million,” said the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson of New Jersey.

Multilingual publication

Another resolution on church communication addressed even more directly church members’ plurality of languages as deputies voted that all official documents, publications and digital publications of the national church be issued in both Spanish and French by 2006 (C029). The materials include, but are not limited to, Episcopal News Service press releases, the presiding bishop’s monthly message, pastoral letters of the House of Bishops, summary reports of the actions of General Convention, Executive Council resolutions and actions, and other official church communication. The resolution requests an allocation of $85,000 a year for the triennium to support the translation.

An opening presentation delivered in Spanish illustrated the issue of translation as only those in the hall who understood Spanish knew they had been asked to stand up if they understood what had been said. A similar exchange offered in French and English successfully moved an amendment of the original resolution to include French.

Ethnic ministries, ministry development

Deputies also voted to retain the national church desks providing Asiamerican, black, Hispanic and Native American ministries and voted that those offices be “given the budget and resources they need in order to function as an integral part of the … church’s work on evangelism” (C015). The resolution does not change the funding currently included in the proposed budget for the offices.

Deputies also encouraged the national Congregational Development Unit to work with the Office on Ministry Development to develop systems for identifying, training and supporting persons skilled in planting new churches, and to develop training and mentoring programs in church planting for laypersons and congregations (A073).

Other actions

In an effort to improve the process of nominating, electing and consecrating bishops, deputies approved a resolution that would charged the Standing Commission on Ministry Development with preparing a report for the next General Convention with recommendations of  “ways for these processes to model ministry for this present time” (D007).

Deputy Louie Crew of Newark endorsed the move, saying it was not intended to establish a centralized format, but to share ideas among dioceses. “We are using models of ministry that come out of a different era,” he said. “This is a chance to look at models that reflect where we are now.”

Deputies urged all parishes to schedule an annual day of prayer for all people living with AIDS and support AIDS ministries locally as well as in Africa and other areas of the world that are particularly affected by AIDS (C022).
 
Deputies reaffirmed the church’s historic commitment to eradicating racial injustice in the church and society and voted to continue the anti-racism program with funding and appropriate staffing (A010). The resolution also recognizes the provincial network of anti-racism trainers as an important resource and mandates that anyone seeking election or appointment to standing commissions, other committees of Executive Council, related boards and auxiliary organizations either have or agree to have anti-racism training.

Deputies confirmed the elections of the Rev. Canon Johncy Itty as bishop of Oregon and the Rev. Steven A. Miller as bishop of Milwaukee. They also greeted the Rev. George Councell, the new bishop-elect of New Jersey, and Joe G. Burnett, bishop-elect of Nebraska, whose elections have been confirmed by both the houses.

In other business, deputies:

• discharged resolution A024 that would have directed bishops and deputies to contact their senators in support of ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women because the action was already taken at an earlier General Convention;

• sent a resolution on convention planning (A143) back to the Committee on Constitution and Canons for further deliberation;

• recommitted resolution A147 on legislative committee membership back to the Committee on Structure, saying it was not clear and did not seem ready for action;

• adopted a resolution to continue funding the positions of Provincial Coordinator (A146);

• authorized the continuation of the Executive Council’s Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS for the 2004-2006 triennium and continuing its work including a focus on hearing about people with AIDS/HIV in the nation and world and undertake a survey of HIV/AIDS ministries in the church.
 
The deputies also approved three resolutions, treated by consent as a group. They:

• approved discharge for other reasons of a resolution from the Committee on Social and Urban Affairs that directs the Office of Government Relations to work for legislation to eliminate or revise mandatory sentencing guidelines to give federal judges more discretion in sentencing offenders to overcome racially discriminatory impact of these guidelines (A127);

• thanked Jubilee Ministry  for 21 years of ministry working with poor and oppressed people to build a just society and affirmed that it continue to be the heart of the mission of the church and that it be commended to the church (A105);

• approved a resolution recommending five sites under consideration for the 76th General Convention and that no less than three be selected in final consideration. The sites are Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Charlotte, N.C.