Excommunication sought for stem cell researchers


ROME -- Scientists who engage in stem cell research using human embryos should be subject to excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, a senior Vatican official says.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who heads the group that proposes family-related policy for the church, said in an interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana published Thursday that stem cell researchers should be punished the same way women who have abortions and doctors who perform them are.

"Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion," the cardinal said. "Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos."

It is unclear whether Pope Benedict XVI supports that position, and the Vatican did not return calls seeking comment.

But such blunt remarks from a powerful cardinal a week before the church convenes a meeting to discuss the topic could foreshadow a hardening of Vatican policy on the issue, experts said.

Today, Trujillo will open the church's fifth World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, and the pope will attend July 9, the closing day. As head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, it will be up to Trujillo to propose new church policies.

Adopting any such measure could require a long and complicated process.

The church has long opposed embryonic stem cell research and has campaigned against any medical procedure or research technique that harms human embryos or fetuses.

Individual excommunication is the most serious punishment meted out by the church.

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