Thursday, May 19, 2005

President's Council Reports On Alternatives to Embryo Destructive Research

The President's Council on Bioethics recently released a report that called for the exploration of alternatives to destroying human embryos for stem cells. The report outlines four possible means for obtaining embryonic-like stem cells that the authors say have the potential to be "morally uncontroversial." The report coincides with the release of a US Conference of Catholic Bishops poll that reveals that by a margin of 4 percentage points most Americans prefer that tax-dollars be spent on adult stem cells and other alternatives to embryo destructive research.

The Council's report suggests four ways for obtaining pluripotent cells, cells which are similar to embryonic stem cells, which do not require the willful destruction of human embryos. The report then examines each method to see if it is ethical, scientifically feasible and realistic to adopt from the perspective public policy and scientific research.

The first proposal calls on stem cells to be "derived from early IVF embryos . . . that have spontaneously died . . ." The report stresses that such an approach would require that "only those once-frozen embryos that are thawed and that die spontaneously during efforts to produce a child will be eligible for post mortem cell extraction." The report says that such a method would be acceptable for the same reasons that it acceptable for a fully developed human to donate his or her organs after death. The greatest ethical challenge to this proposal, according to the report, would be finding a way to make sure the embryo is really dead.

The second proposal says pluripotent stem cells could be obtained from a 6 to 8 cell embryo through a biopsy that would not harm the embryo. Both the feasibility and ethics of this method are highly questionable. It is unknown if the procedure can be undertaken without really harming the embryo and the long-term effect the procedure could have on humans that are born from such embryos is unknown. In a personal statement contained in the report's appendix by Council member and Culture of Life Foundation board member Robert George, this proposal is called the least promising of all four. "I do not hold out hope of obtaining pluripotent stem cells harmlessly via blastomere extraction from living human embryos," George says.

The third method is based on Dr. William Hurlbut's proposal in which stem cells would be obtained from a "biological artifact" that would be similar to an embryo but would not be human. This approach has been widely discussed but many are still unsure if the "biological artifact" would not in fact simply be a deformed human embryo.

The final method proposes reprogramming adult cells in such a way that restores to them the properties of a stem cell. There are no ethical objections to this proposal but it faces difficult technical obstacles that would require "new scientific advances and new technological innovation."

While the proposals are encouraging because they demonstrate that scientific advances may be used to develop morally acceptable approaches to stem cell research, George cautions against unrealistic expectation in the entire field of stem cell treatment. "[T]he effort in which I am happy to join to find morally legitimate means of obtaining embryonic or embryonic-type stem cells should not be interpreted as indicating any acceptance of the hyping of the therapeutic promise of embryonic stem cell research that has marred the debate over the past four years. This promotion of exaggerated expectations dishonors science and shames those responsible for it by cruelly elevating the hopes of suffering people and members of their families. It should be condemned."

Copyright 2005---Culture of Life Foundation.

1 Comments:

Blogger J A Y @ C I A said...

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10:24 AM  

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