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

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

It's a line never to be crossed

Embryonic stem cells have not even benefited anyone -- adult cells have


By Bishop Robert Banks

This is the first time I have ever shelved a column already written for this corner and then written another one. The shelved column you will see some time in the future, but I felt it was imperative to write something on the issue of the funding of stem cell research while it is being so hotly discussed in the media and in Congress.

There is no question that stem cell research holds great promise for medical advances and even cures in the future. I am all for stem cell research, but the kind that uses ADULT stem cells.

To use and destroy human embryos for stem cell research is to cross a line that never should be crossed. It means that human life will no longer be considered sacred.

Proponents of embryonic stem cell research are not talking about taking one embryo in order to save the lives of millions of people. The proposal is to use as many embryos as needed, just as rabbits or mice or monkeys are used for research. Already plans are in place to conceive embryos precisely so they can be used, and thus destroyed, in stem cell research.

A recent issue of Life Insight, a publication of the U.S. Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has some interesting information concerning the present barrage of media articles and editorials in favor of the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

First of all, it makes the point that the national media, with few exceptions, have taken the side of the pro-funding forces. Reporters and columnists have all but ignored what can and has been done through research using cells from adult human tissue, umbilical cord blood, placentas and even the brain tissue of cadavers.

Instead, the media focus on some modest advances using embryonic stem cells, leaving the impression that cures for diabetes, paralysis and Parkinson's disease are just around the corner.

One example was all the media attention given to a report that mouse embryonic stem cells had been programmed to secrete insulin. But there was little if any mention in the media about a much more significant research development a year earlier in which adult mouse stem cells successfully reversed diabetes in mice.

Of course, neither research discovery means that the cure for diabetes has been discovered and will be available in the next year or so.

But let me repeat here some of the amazing advances in research with non-embryonic stem cells that Life Insight lists:

-- Human patients have been successfully treated for heart disease using stem cells from their own arm muscles;

-- Umbilical cords offer a new source of repair material for fixing brains damaged by strokes or other ills;

-- Stem cells from the adult bone marrow of rats and mice have created new heart muscle cells and blood vessels;

-- UCLA researchers have created human bone, cartilage and muscle tissue from human fat stem cells;

-- Adult bone marrow stem cells have been found to form almost any cell type - liver, nerve, brain, etc.

A second fact that seems to be missing from so many of the articles about embryonic stem cell research is that, up to this point, there have been no cures reported from the use of embryonic stem cells on humans. Bert Vogelstein, M.D., professor of oncology and pathology at Johns Hopkins, said all claims of therapeutic benefit from embryonic cell research are "conjectural." Marcus Grompe, M.D. from Oregon Health Sciences University, agreed: "There is no evidence of therapeutic benefit from embryonic stem cells." And Fr. Michael Place of the Catholic Health Association says, "In fact, embryonic stem cells have provided no benefit to any human patient."

We know for a fact that the embryos to be used in the research proposed for funding are alive with human life. We also know that adult stem cells can serve for significant research similar to that involving embryonic stem cells. We know that the research proposed for federal funding can involve the destruction of thousands of human embryos. Why go down that path, a path that has already led to the cloning of human embryos and the creation of human embryos precisely so that they can be destroyed?

Why not support legislation like the "Responsible Stem Cell Research Act of 2001," sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ)? It would allocate $30 million for stem cell research from non-embryonic sources and create a "cell donor bank" to serve researchers nationwide.

I do not know how much good it would do to write your U.S. senator or representative, but you can try. You can also sign a petition to Pres. Bush that already has 24,000 signatures. It has been organized by the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics at www.stemcellresearch.org.

Once again, I am all for stem cell research. It has great promise to help so many people who are dealing with incurable diseases that have changed their lives. Thankfully, according to the information I have received, there is no need to destroy human embryos in order to do the necessary research.



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