March 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 80

Embryonic Stem Cells: A Potential Cure-all or a Myth?

    There is a battle raging over the use of embryonic stem cells in man's quest to prolong life.

    Stem cells are the basic building blocks for most tissues in the human body, and researchers believe they hold great promise in the treatment, even cure, of many diseases. They may provide a means for replacing damaged nerve cells and thus help patients with strokes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's etc.

    The problem is -- do we sacrifice one group of human lives for the potential benefit of others? The answer is a resounding NO -- unless, of course, we are a barbaric society, which we may well be, as we do kill our unborn children.

    Whether you have a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, a newborn baby, an adolescent, or an adult -- they are all the same. The only difference is TIME. We now have DNA for the ultimate scientific proof, as to the beginning of human life for those, who will not take God's word.

    In 1996, Congress passed a law prohibiting federal funding for human embryo research where an embryo is destroyed, discarded or otherwise damaged. However, the Clinton administration tried to find a loophole in the law so they came up with something that said the law did not apply to embryos obtained through private funding. In other words,'let the private groups do the killing and since the human beings are now dead; give us the funds to do research on them. After all, don't punish us. We didn't kill them.'

    Sounds typical of Clinton -- always looking for ways to circumvent the law.

    So, despite the ban, the NIH (National Institutes of Health ) issued guidelines allowing its scientists to do research on embryo stem cells harvested by the private sector. Pro-life groups are seeking to have the guidelines overturned.

    Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson who is pro-life, describes himself, however, as "passionate about research." He vowed last Wednesday that the administration's decision on stem cell research would be based on legal grounds, rather than personal philosophy about abortion.

    Thompson told a Senate hearing that independent reviews were under way to determine whether the research can proceed in light of a law barring the use of federal dollars for stem-cell research using unborn children. He said he'll appoint a panel of government researchers to advise him on the scientific issues involved in stem cell research, including whether it could be done without using cells from destroyed embryos.

    He said that the Bush administration would decide by summer whether to let research using cells from aborted unborn children continue and had given the green light for researchers to apply to NIH for the funding of stem cell research. The deadline for these applications was March 15.

    But President Bush's spokesman reiterated this week his opposition to federal funding, siding with a pro-life stance associated with the Catholic Church and conservative Evangelicals who say human life begins at conception.

    Several additional pro-life groups called on HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson this past Wednesday to "enforce existing federal law and reject [NIH] guidelines that promote...semantic gymnastics" that allow research on embryos.

    The pro-life groups, including the American Bioethics Advisory Commission and the Concerned Women for America, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to "act to uphold the sanctity of all human life" and "uphold the federal law known as the Dickey Amendment ... which prohibits federal funding for human embryo research where a human embryo is destroyed, discarded or knowingly subject to risk of injury or death."

    The letter adds, "This unethical research allows medical science to treat the unborn child as a source of 'spare parts' for medical experimentation and is totally contrary to the pro-life position." The letter states, "We realize that some in the scientific community support such research in the hope of finding cures for certain diseases. However, such support ignores the scientific reality that to date the only positive results have come from research with adult stem cells, and using human embryos with the intent to destroy them for their stem cells is medically unnecessary."

    Dr. David Prentice a professor of life sciences at Indiana State University, says that the claim, made repeatedly in NIH documents that adult stem cells do not have the same potential as embryonic stem cells is WRONG.

    Dr. Prentice, who is an adjunct professor of medical & molecular genetics at the Indiana School of Medicine said that, "studies done with adult stem cells (studies which mirror the ones done with embryonic stem cells) DO show that adult stem cells have the capacity to form essentially any tissue. There are several excellent alternatives to embryos, and they are actually better potential sources of stem cells for numerous reasons. The best sources are from our own organs termed "adult stem cells" or "tissue stem cells." Another excellent source is cord blood; the small amount of blood left in an umbilical cord after it is detached from a newborn is rich in stem cells. In the last two years, we've gone from thinking that we had very few stem cells in our bodies to recognizing that many (perhaps most) organs maintain a reservoir of these cells.

    "We've known for some time that bone-marrow stem cells can make more blood, but now we know that these adult stem cells can also make bone, muscle, cartilage, heart tissue, liver, and even brain. Interestingly enough, we now know that our brain contains stem cells which can be stimulated to make more neurons, or to take up different job descriptions as muscle or blood. Bone marrow and cord blood are already successfully being used clinically, while clinical use of embryonic stem cells is years away. Current clinical applications of adult stem cells include treatments for cancer, arthritis, lupus, and making new corneas, to name a few.

    "One distinct advantage of using our own adult stem cells is that there will be no transplant rejection, since it is our own tissue. Use of human embryonic stem cells will require lifelong use of drugs to prevent rejection of the tissue. Or, the patient will have to be cloned (a second ethical issue!), and that embryo (the patient's twin) sacrificed to obtain the embryonic stem cells for the tissue (essentially creating a human being whose only purpose is to be harvested).

    "Another advantage of adult stem cells might be considered from a manufacturing viewpoint: A 2-step manufacturing process is more direct and has much less likelihood of a problem than a 10-step process. Adult stem cells have shown success at forming many specific tissues so far, certainly more than human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory.

    "Several scientists are investigating uses of adult stem cells to form new tissues or repair damaged/diseased tissue, such as for diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and stroke. As mentioned before, others are already using bone marrow and cord blood, as well as corneal tissue, for clinical applications. But the number of researchers in this area is still small, as is the amount of grant dollars needed to fund the research. And sadly, embryonic stem cells have been held up as the panacea for disease and a fountain of youth, despite the advantages of adult stem cells both scientifically and ethically.

    Given that adult stem cells have shown themselves to be scientifically more successful than embryonic stem cells, and ethically palatable, much more needs to be heard and said about adult stem cells and much more funding needs to go to adult stem-cell research."

    Dr. Prentice implores pro-lifers, "to be INFORMED WITH THE FACTS on the alternatives, as well as the facts (rather than the hype) about embryonic stem cells. Do No Harm, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, has a wealth of articles about the alternatives on their website, plus links to other sources. Then tell your family, friends, neighbors, any groups to which you belong, and especially your Senators and your Representative. Impress on them that there is more to the story than is usually told, and urge them to check out the real difference in results between embryonic and adult stem cells, the promises versus the reality. And INSIST that the media tell the full story, complete with all of the adjectives and the evidence.

    "Human embryonic stem-cell research is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary.

    "It is ILLEGAL regarding use of federal funds because Congress has stated that no funds should be used for research which involves the creation or destruction of human embryos for research purposes, and human embryos are destroyed in the process of deriving human embryonic stem cells.

    "It is IMMORAL, because human beings are killed in the process. Scientifically there is no disputing that we are a human being even at the one-cell stage. It has never been acceptable to sacrifice one set of human lives for the potential benefit of others (and they are only potential benefits at this point). Human embryonic stem cell research assigns different values to different human beings, designating some as people and some as property.

    "It is totally UNNECESSARY. Ethical alternatives exist such as adult stem cells which have already shown much more promise than embryonic cells, these results for adult stem cells are fully detailed in the scientific literature, and that adult stem cells are already being used clinically, making good on the potential that embryonic stem cells only promise."

    President Bush has gone on record stating his opposition to such research, but pressure is mounting from all sides to push him to accept the Clinton administration's loophole. The LA Times says Bush is facing "tremendous pressure from the scientific community to fund the research," including a direct appeal from "80 Nobel laureates." Only a citizen-led grassfire can stop this trend, and we need your help!

    The Center for "Reclaiming America" is conducting an URGENT PETITION DRIVE to encourage President Bush and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to uphold the Administrationís stand for life by closing the Clinton loophole. They are gathering petitions and will deliver them to both President Bush and Secretary Thompson.

    Please go to the following web site and sign your name to the petition. Help Close the Abortion Loophole.

Dr. Frank Joseph

For past columns by Dr. Frank, see PRO-LIFE PRESCRIPTIONS Archives

March 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 80
Dr. Frank Joseph's PRO LIFE PRESCRIPTIONS column
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