Vatican angered by US stem cells decision

Vatican City - A top Vatican official for bioethics on Tuesday criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to fund broader research into stem cells.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella said Obama's executive order was a "victory of politics over ethics" and suggested the U.S. administration was looking out for the interests of drug companies.

Fisichella, who heads the Pontifical Academy for Life, was quoted by Italy's ANSA news agency as saying that "probably some drug companies, or some economic interests" influenced the decision to reverse the restrictions on funding imposed by the Bush administration.

Scientists hope to use embryonic stem cells to regenerate diseased cells in those suffering a variety of fatal or debilitating diseases. Former President George W. Bush had limited the use of taxpayer money allowed for the research, saying it required the destruction of embryos and is therefore morally wrong.

On Monday, Obama said he was ending what he believed was "a false choice between sound science and moral values," adding that the research shows great potential and that "with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided."

The US Bishops' Conference has also criticized the move and the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper ran an article on Tuesday reiterating the Catholic Church's position, which holds that embryos must be considered human beings.

The article did not directly mention Obama's decision but said that protecting embryos should be "the basis of a real democracy, capable of recognizing the equality of all men and of avoiding any unjust discrimination based on their development or health."