ROME -- Scientists who engage in stem-cell research using human embryos should be excommunicated from the Catholic Church, a senior Vatican official said, raising the likelihood that the church is poised to take a more aggressive stance on this controversial issue.
In an interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana published Thursday, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo said that stem-cell researchers should be punished in the same way as women who have abortions and doctors who perform them.
``Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion," Trujillo said. ``Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos."
It was unclear whether the pope supported the position, and the Vatican did not return calls for comment. But such blunt remarks from a powerful cardinal just before the church convenes a major meeting to discuss the topic could well foreshadow a hardening of Vatican policy on the issue, specialists said.
Today, Trujillo will open the church's Fifth World Meeting of Families, in Valencia, Spain. Pope Benedict XVI will attend on July 9.
As head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Trujillo will be the one to propose new church policies. The church has long opposed embryonic stem-cell research, and has actively campaigned against any medical procedure or research technique that harms human embryos or fetuses.