Human stem cell research
Overview: Quotations. Comparing
adult, & iPS cells. Faulty reporting.
"...research involving human pluripotent stem cells...promises new
treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries,
including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple
sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries. The NIH believes the potential
medical benefits of human pluripotent stem cell technology are compelling
and worthy of pursuit in accordance with appropriate ethical standards." National
Institutes of Health news release. 2
"...it is ridiculous for people who have already decided that it is
moral to kill babies in the womb to show some squeamishness about
destroying human embryos in a petri dish. Hell, man, once you decide to
become a child-killer, their ages no longer matter. Or the numbers.
Damnation of your soul is completed with the first one." Charley Reese
"Cal Thomas' article against stem cell research....is not
particularly useful, because it does not deal with his fundamental
belief that human personhood begins at conception. Similarly, articles
by medical groups that promote stem cell research are not helpful,
because they do not touch on their fundamental belief that embryos are
not human persons. If there is to be any hope of resolving these issues,
we must debate when human personhood begins. If we can reach a near
consensus on this, then abortion, in-vitro fertilization, stem cell
research and other debates will neatly resolve themselves." Comment
letter to the Jewish World Review.
The web site of CovenantNews.com on
articles about stem cell research. Headings were:: "Murder by Abortion," "Get Your Human Sacrifice Grant Here,"
The file name is "murder.htm."
Embryonic stem cells:
An embryonic stem cell is a primitive type of cell that can be coaxed into developing
into most of the 220 types of cells found in the human body (e.g. blood cells,
heart cells, nerve cells, brain cells, etc). Some researchers regard them as offering the
greatest potential for the alleviation of human suffering since the development
of antibiotics. Over 100 million Americans and two billion other humans
worldwide suffer from diseases that may
eventually be treated more effectively with stem cells or even cured. These
include heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Stem cells can be extracted from very young human embryos -- typically from
surplus frozen embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures at
A couple undergoing IVF is faced with four alternatives for
their 16 or so surplus embryos:
||Have them discarded.
Donate the embryos to another infertile couple in what is sometimes
called "embryo adoption."
||Donate the embryos for research
||Have the embryos preserved at very low temperatures for their possible future
There are very few parents willing to give their embryos to another couple
for a variety of emotional reasons. There are very few couples willing to receive
them for emotional reasons and because thawed embryos have a lowered chance of
starting a pregnancy. Preservation can be expensive. So most ask that they be discarded.
There are currently hundreds of thousands of surplus embryos in clinics. One
source estimated that there were 400,000 stored embryos by mid-2003, and that
the number is increasing. 3 However,
a minority of pro-lifers and a majority of
pro-life organizations object to the use of
embryos in research. They feel that a few-days-old embryo is an actual human person. Extracting its
stem cells kills the embryo -- an act that they consider to be murder. Stem cells can
now be grown in the laboratory, so (in a pinch) some research can be
done using existing stem cells. No further harvesting needs to
be made from embryos. However, stem cell lines gradually degrade and new stem cells need to be harvested for research to continue.
Government research using embryonic stem cells has been authorized in Britain, but was
initially prohibited in the U.S. by the Dickey Amendment to the Labor, Health
and Human Services, & Education Appropriations Act of 1996. That amendment
banned the use of federal funds for research that created embryos for research
purposes or that damaged or destroyed embryos. President Clinton signed that act
into law. 5
On 2001-AUG-9, President George W. Bush decided to allow stem cell research in government labs, but restricted
researchers to use only 72 existing lines of stem cells. By 2003-MAY, most of
these lines had become useless. Only 22 remained by mid-2006, and many of them
were of limited usefulness because of DNA damage or contamination.
Embryonic stem cell research
has always been allowed in private labs in the U.S. However, there is little
private money available because investors typically require a quick return on
their investment. They are unwilling to wait for decades to see a profit.
Research also continues in both government and private labs in the
UK, Canada, Japan, France, Australia, and other countries.
On 2002-SEP, Governor Davis
of California signed bill SB 253 into law. It
is the first law in the U.S. that permits
extensive embryonic stem cell research. Davis simultaneously signed a bill that permanently bans all
human cloning in the state for reproduction purposes -- i.e. any effort to
create a cloned individual.
Former president Ronald Reagan died from Alzheimer's during
2004-JUN. It is a slow, lingering disease that took a decade to kill him. Nancy
Reagan her entire family, except for Michael Reagan, mounted a campaign to encourage President Bush to
relax restrictions on embryo stem cell research. Fifty-eight senators,
almost all Democrats, sent a letter to President Bush, urging the same
action. The effort failed.
A federal bill passed the House on 2005-MAY-24 to allow government funded
research on embryonic stem cells extracted from surplus embryos in fertility
clinics. It was later passed by the Senate. President Bush
vetoed it on ethical grounds -- the first veto of his presidency. President Obama promised to support
embryonic stem cell research during his 2008 campaign. Shortly after he took office, he issued an executive order asking the National Institutes of Health to prepare a guideline for the funding of new stem cell research. More details.
Adult stem cells:
Stem cells can also be extracted from adult
tissue, without harm to the subject. Unfortunately, they are difficult to
harvest, are severely limited in quantity, and -- above all -- are limited in
their flexibility. There is a consensus among researchers that adult stem cells
can only produce a few of the 220 types of cells in the human body.
Adult cell research has a twenty year head start
over embryonic stem cells. According to Focus on the Family Action:
"... more than 70 diseases and ailments are being treated and more than
1,500 clinical trials are using adult stem cells for treatment." 4
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells):
This is a third type of stem cell that show
great promise for the future. They have the flexibility and potential range
of applications of embryonic stem cells without the ethical concerns
expressed by religious and social conservatives. The process by which iPS
cells are generated involves the conversion of ordinary cells -- like skin
cells -- so that their properties simulate those of embryonic stem cells.
Shinya Yamanaka pioneered the process in 2006 by inserting DNA into an
ordinary cell through the use of viruses. Scientists in Canada and England
developed a far safer process in 2009 on both mice and human cells.
According to the Washington Post, he lead scientist from Canada, Andras
Nagy, said: "It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells. We
expect this to have a massive impact on this field." 7 More details
Unethical reporting on stem cells:
Focus on the Family Action noted that investors have little interest in investing in embryonic
stem cell research at this time because there is little likelihood that fully
tested treatments or cures will be made available for general use in the near
future. Private investors normally require fast return on their money.
"Focus" emphasized that:
"The truth is that embryonic stem-cell research has yet to
yield a single successful treatment for patients. Meanwhile, adult stem cells
continue to provide success stories." 4
This is a common assertion found in countless social and religiously
conservative news sources. The implication is that embryonic stem cells will
never successfully used to treat or cure human diseases or disorders. They view embryonic stem cell research as a blind alley. We have
seen this same story mentioned dozens of times from at last a half dozen
conservative news sources. None of them have ever mentioned that adult stem cell research has a two decade lead over research using embryonic stem
cells. The latter is in its infancy and will probably need another two decades to
arrive at the same stage as adult stem cell applications have reached today.
Ironically, embryonic stem cells may never result in cures and treatments for
illnesses and disabilities, because Induced Pluripotent
Stem (iPS) Cells will probably be used instead. The main accomplishment of embryonic stem cell research may
well be that it made the generation of iPS cells possible. 7
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Charley Reese, "Liberals are making hell on Earth," Orlando
Sentinal, 2001-JUL-22, at:
"NIH publishes final guidelines for stem cell research,"
National Institutes of Health, 2000-AUG-23, at:
Andis Robeznieks, "Researchers ponder best use of 400,000 stored embryos,"
American Medical News, 2003-JUN-16, at:
[Paid access required]'
"Embryonic Stem-Cell Firm Abandons Efforts," Focus on the Family Action,
"Legislators Toolkit: Federal Public Policy," Kansas University Medical
Judith A. Johnson & Erin D. Williams, "Stem Cell Research," Congressional
Research Service, 2005-AUG-10, at:
http://fpc.state.gov/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
Steven Ertelt, "IPS Cells, An Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative, Make
Major Advance," LifeNews, 2009-MAR-02, at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-SEP-29
Author: B.A. Robinson