The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 7, 2001 Issue

Stem sell out

The more information that comes out about embryonic stem cells, the worse they seem

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

The more information that comes out on embryonic stem cells, the worse Pres. George W. Bush's decision looks to allow federally funded research on 64 existing cell lines - including five at the University of Wisconsin.

The stem cells were obtained from embryos created through in vitro fertilization for childless couples. Some of the embryos were implanted and the remainder were frozen and stored. Eventually, most such embryos are discarded when a couple no longer wants or needs them.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that, instead of throwing away unwanted embryos, their stem cells should be extracted in hopes of curing diseases, thus improving lives.

There are numerous problems with this plan. While stem cells may have the potential to reproduce themselves forever and become virtually any type of cell, it's not quite that simple. That's one reason why some researchers complained that Pres. Bush's policy was inadequate. Actually, these scientists say, hundreds - perhaps even 10,000 - cell lines may be needed for a close genetic "match" with patients. The creation of each cell line requires killing many embryos. For example, a fertility clinic in Virginia created and destroyed more than 100 embryos for three cell lines.

Although it's immoral, many Americans might reluctantly accept the extraction of stem cells from "extra" embryos created for in vitro fertilization. But, it's doubtful that most Americans would accept the idea of factories in which embryos are produced in mass for the sole purpose of extracting stem cells.

Nor is there any guarantee that embryonic stem cells will work. Nine years ago, researchers promised that fetal brain cells would miraculously cure Parkinson's Disease and many diseases that now, they say, embryonic stem cells will cure. But, these fetal brain cells - usually taken from aborted fetuses - didn't work. Even worse, 15% of those treated became worse and the medications they had been taking became less effective. There is no solid scientific reason to believe that embryonic stem cells will work any better than fetal brain cells and every reason to fear that embryonic stem cells will cause transplant rejections and tumors.

Beyond that, as a society, we must reject the utilitarian argument that says "Since the embryos will be discarded anyway, we should use them to benefit suffering people." As Commonweal magazine noted in an editorial, "embryos should not be used in this way for the same reason that we would not cannibalize the heart, kidney, liver or corneas of an unconscious person for transplantation purposes" (8/17/01, p. 6).

Nor should we forget that federally funded embryonic stem cell research will mean that large amounts of federal money will go to researchers who hope to parlay these dollars into larger sums through various patents. That quest for money cannot be ignored.

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