The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 10, 2001 Issue

Smoke screen

Push for embryonic stem cells may be part of an attempt to justify abortions

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Is embryonic stem cell research a smoke screen?

As research reveals the increasing potential of adult stem cells, the argument for embryonic stem cell research weakens. Yet we -- and Pres. Bush -- are still asked to support it.

Stem cells are the parent cells of all cells. The difference between adult and embryonic stem cells, we were told, is that embryonic cells can develop any type of cell: brain, heart, bone or blood. Adult stem cells, usually extracted from blood or bone marrow, were only capable of developing that type of cell.

New research questions that. The National Institutes for Health, while seeking more funds for embryonic stem cell research, recognizes the value of adult cells: "In animals, it has been shown that some adult stems cells previously thought to be committed to the development of one line of specialized cells are able to develop into other types of specialized cells."

For example, stem cells from the bone marrow of mice can produce liver cells. So adult stem cells may be able to develop into all organ cells, even those where they have not yet been isolated.

Many people do not know that, while embryonic stem cell research developed recently (cells were first isolated in 1997), adult stems cells have been used for 30 years. For example, they are why bone marrow transplants work.

Also, while there are no serious side effects from adult stem cell use, there have been major ones with embryonic stem cells: from implant rejection to tumors. So adults stem cells aid in curing cancer, but embryonic stem cells may well cause it.

Then why experiment with embryonic cells when adult stem cells are used safely and show potential for new applications?

The answer may lie in the source of embryonic stem cells. Most come from abortion and fertility clinics. Does anyone like discarding unborn human life? Probably not. However, many seem to think it's inevitable: Women have abortions and embryos are discarded.

Could supporters of embryonic stem cell research be trying to deflect attention from a negative - ending human life - to something that looks positive? "Yes, it's sad abortion happens and excess embryos are destroyed, but why not find some good in it? Why not use discarded embryos and fetuses to help other - already born - humans?"

Nazi scientists used similar arguments about experiments on Jews. As Rudolf Hess said at his 1946 trial: "From time to time, we conducted medical experiments on women inmates, including sterilization and experiments relating to cancer. Most of the people who died under these experiments had been already condemned to death by the Gestapo."

It was a smoke screen the Nuremberg Tribunal ignored, refusing to believe we can create good out of evil or life out of death. The tribunal saw beyond the "medical experiments" smoke screen to the reality of human suffering and death. And condemned it.

When we debate about ending human life to aid other human life, is that just a smoke screen, too?

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